What species are game animals?

The primary purpose of hunting is no longer to stockpile meat and hides


Moose in a forest. By: Karl Adami
MOOSE. The largest animal in our forests, the moose, is also a valuable game. By: Karl Adami


Wild game is a wild animal – a mammal or bird that lives freely in the wild. Game is a wild game whose meat, hide, or other parts are consumed and whose hunting is permitted by hunting rules [1].


The current Hunting Act, in turn, divides game into big and small game. Big game includes the moose, red deer, roe deer, wild boar, brown bear, wolf, lynx, and grey seal. While the species of big game are listed in the Hunting Act, the list of small game is provided in the hunting rules established by the Minister of the Environment. Small game includes the fox, jackal, raccoon dog, mink, ferret, brown hare, white hare, beaver, muskrat, badger, beech and pine marten. Game birds are also considered small game.


The list of gameanimals has been changed several times in history. The Hunting Act of 1934 divided game into two groups: beneficial and harmful. The former included, for example, flying squirrels, storks, swans, black geese, the common crane, owls (except for the snow owl and the eagle-owl); the list of harmful game animals included otters, European minks, short-tailed weasels, common weasels, snow owls, and eagle-owls.


In 1959, it was permitted to hunt black grouse and western capercaillie cocks, great crested grebes, magpies, jays, sparrows, wood pigeons, squirrels, short-tailed weasels, common weasels, otters, northern goshawks, sparrowhawks, and western marsh harriers. On the other hand, it was forbidden to hunt greylag geese, red deer, beavers, bears, pheasants, and eiders.


There were major changes in the 1982 list compared to the previous list. Otters, European minks, squirrels, short-tailed weasels, common weasels, western capercaillies, black grouse, eiders, black geese, and stock doves were no longer allowed to be hunted, but the western jackdaws, red deer, bears, beavers, and greylag geese were declared game [2].


The goals of hunting have changed significantly over time. The primary goal is no longer just to stockpile meat and hides, but hunting is one of the tools of environmental management and conservation. The aim of hunting is to keep game numbers within reasonable limits.


Reasons why hunting is necessary

  • This keeps the game population under control, which, in turn, prevents the spread of diseases. An example from the recent past is the spread of the African swine fever, one of the reasons for which was the high number of wild boars.
  • Prevention and avoidance of damage caused by game. In high numbers, ungulates can cause a lot of damage to young forest stands. The moose feeds on the shoots of conifers and deciduous trees, breaks the canopies, and peels the trunks. It causes the most damage in winter in pine forests and in autumn to spring in middle-aged spruce forests, especially after thinning [3].
  • Maintaining a balance both in terms of ecological bearing capacity (the maximum size of the population that a habitat can maintain indefinitely given the resources available in the environment) and in terms of social bearing capacity. Social bearing capacity is the population density of wild animals that is acceptable to humans. For example, in the case of the wolf, the environment would bear a larger population, but man comes into play – if we had more wolves than we do now, wolf-human contact would become frequent.
  • In some areas, it is important to maintain hunting as a tradition. From 2015, it is allowed to hunt grey seals. This is mainly to revive practices. Seal hunting is a traditional activity on Kihnu island and Manilaid islet, for example. It was banned in Estonia since the beginning of the 1970s until recently due to the low number of grey seals.



Last modified: 12.01.2022



[1] http://www.ejs.ee/ulukid/


[3] https://www.eramets.ee/ulukikahjustused/