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How to stay safe during this year's hunting season in rural Spain

The Local Spain
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How to stay safe during this year's hunting season in rural Spain
Taking a hike or bike ride accompanied by the rhythmic popping of gunfire from nearby hunters is something normal to many rural Spaniards.(Photo by ROMAIN PERROCHEAU / AFP)

The hunting season is underway in Spain so this is recommended reading for anyone who likes to take a walk or lives in rural areas.


You may have heard of Spain’s most notorious hunter - emeritus King Juan Carlos I - whose now infamous 2012 elephant hunting trip to Botswana caused a scandal and tipped public opinion against him. But don’t let that persuade you that hunting is a pursuit of the elite only.

The reality is that la caza (hunting) is still, relatively speaking, a somewhat popular and accepted activity in Spain.

Around 80 percent of Spanish land is home to hunting areas, with almost a million Spaniards hunting annually; they are European leaders - surpassed only by American hunters internationally.


While the popularity of hunting in Spain has decreased officially over the last three decades (down by over 60 percent in 25 years) it is estimated that the 800,000 remaining licence holders are at least matched by illegal poachers and non-licence holding hunters. 

The practice is hugely unpopular with animal rights groups and those who care about the plight of the thousands of hunting dogs that are mistreated, abandoned, or killed each season.

Madrid authorities allow archers to cull wild boars encroaching on towns. (Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP)


Hunting activists also make economic justifications for the sport. Hunting, it is believed, provides 120,000 jobs across Spain if one includes the auxiliary sectors of taxidermy, customs companies, weapons and cartridges manufacturers, dog handlers, insurance companies, the leasing of reserves, management or maintenance of hunting reserves, and the hotel, restaurant and transport sectors. 

READ ALSO: What's the law on guns in Spain?

Spain's hunting lobby has long justified the sport as an essential element of population control, limiting numbers of species like deer, wild boar, mountain goats and rabbits.

Without any hunting for months during 2020 as a result of the pandemic, many hunters argued that these populations needed even greater control. 

Know the hunting calendar

Spain has two different hunting seasons: one in the spring, and another in autumn. The spring season runs from April through to July, with the most popular months being April, May and the beginning of June.

During this period, Spaniards hunt Ibex and Wild Boar, Pyrenean and Cantabrian Chamois, Roe Deer, and even Mouflon Sheep in some areas. 

The autumn/winter hunting season lasts from September through to mid-February, when Red and Fallow Deer hunts are most popular big game.

Licences are also issued for a huge variety of birds from pheasants, grouse and partridge to thrush, starlings and certain species of water birds. 

The exact dates of the hunting seasons are set by authorities in each of Spain's 17 autonomous regions. You can check the dates for your region HERE.



How can you keep yourself safe during hunting season?

Taking a hike or bike ride accompanied by the rhythmic popping of gunfire from nearby hunters is something normal to many rural Spaniards.

As hunting lands cover so much of Spain, during peak season they can intrude on other outdoor activities such as hiking, horse riding, cycling, mushroom picking, beekeeping, ecotourism excursions, photography and environmental education courses, and present a risk to both the hunters themselves and other citizens.

Hunters tend to be allowed to hunt on specific days of the week, most of the time on Thursday, Saturdays and Sundays, but check what the días hábiles are in your area.

Wild boars are among the most hunted species in Spain. Photo by JOEL SAGET / AFP)

In the last decade alone, over three hundred hunters have died while hunting. According to Federcaza and calculations published in the portal, the yearly average fluctuates between 44 and 54.5 deaths, and the number of people injured, hunters or not, per year is somewhere between 2,585 and 5,282. 

Hunting endangers not only the animals or hunters themselves, but also other users of Spain’s fields and mountains. One way to stay safe when planning an outdoor excursion is to contact the local ayuntamiento, or local hunting or hiking groups, to check for areas to avoid. 



Stay on marked pathways (and avoid venturing into unmarked areas)

Similarly, it is advisable to stay to official, marked paths where hunters expect to see hikers or cyclists.

Many hunts are signposted, and it is advised to avoid areas where hunting is going on altogether. Try everything you can to make yourself known to local hunters, and be aware that not all hunts are officially sanctioned or signposted.


Wear bright clothing 

If you are out walking the dog, then make it easier for the hunters to spot you by wearing a high visibility vest and even hat. And get one for your mutt too.

This is what hunters wear themselves, so they are used to looking out for it. Ramblers' associations also recommend avoiding white and neutral colours because they can be easily confused with the natural colouring of the animals that are being hunted.


What to do if you hear a gun being fired?

If you realise there is a hunt going on around you and hear gunshots, try to make your presence known to the hunters as efficiently as possible (without shouting).

Ramblers associations say one of the ways you can do this is by moving to a clearing. Avoid hiding at all costs because your movements could look like an animal darting for cover. 

Some people say to avoid shouting in this situation as this may disturb the hunt and irritate the hunters however others say to sing, shout and do whatever you need to do to be noticed. 

Keep your dog on a leash in rural parts of Spain where there tend to be hunters. Photo: Fiona Govan/The Local



Keep dogs on leads

You don’t want your pet to be mistaken for a target or to come across hunting dogs which may trained to be aggressive. If you find yourself in an area where people are hunting then immediately put your dog on the lead and head away from the shooting and to a safe area.




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