The hunter's way: Interesting hunting techniques that the Vikings used

11-minute read

Introduction

Hunting was an important part of the Viking's everyday life. Their extensive use of hunting to gather food and other products was integral to their culture. They used several strategies to capture several kinds of prey—from moose and reindeer to seals and whales. We will take a look at some of the hunting methods used. We will go through several traps. Traps, in particular, were a versatile and effective way for the Vikings to capture animals, which could then be used for multiple purposes. We also learn about the historical significance of these hunting methods and how they reflect the resourcefulness and ingenuity of our Viking ancestors.

This blog post addresses the following topics:

  • How our ancestors used natural resources to survive.
  • Iron age hunting methods
  • Different types of traps and their advantages
  • About the hunter.
  • Taking care of the catch.

The Art of Viking Hunting: How Our Ancestors Used Natural Resources to Survive

When the ice sheet melted people moved north. The first people arrived in the southern parts of Sweden about 13 000 years ago, a land that would later become the home of the Vikings. This was a time when people lived of nature. Hunting was a part of these resources and it played an essential role in the Viking way of life.

The first people were hunters and gatherers. The people had to move their settlements around to get the most out of their natural resources.

It’s no surprise, then, that the hunting methods of the Viking Age were quite varied. Animals like moose, wild reindeer, and small game were all common prey. Along the coast, seals and whales were also hunted. Excavations of a 7000-year-old Stone Age settlement in southern Sweden revealed remnants of 87 animals.

Everything from the animals was used. The meat, organs, and hides were all put to use, and bones were fashioned into tools. Although some of the hunting methods used might seem cruel, our ancestors did what they had to do to survive.

When the Stone Age turned into the Neolithic period, people began growing food and keeping domestic animals. This new lifestyle meant that people had less time for hunting, but it still played an essential role in their lives.

Nowadays, of course, hunting methods have changed considerably. But it’s important to remember the role it played in our history and to recognize the skill and resourcefulness of our ancestors.

Iron age Hunting Methods: Traps, Spears, and Bows

Viking hunters used various tools during the Iron Age to track and capture their prey.

Traps, spears, and bows were all commonplace tools used by the Vikings. Metal tips were the preferred material for these weapons, as they were more substantial and more balanced than their flint counterparts. Additionally, metal could be re-sharpened without losing shape or weight.

The weapons used by the Vikings before the invention of firearms had limited range, usually no more than 30 meters. In addition to traditional weapons, the Vikings also used dogs and trained predatory birds such as falcons and hawks for hunting. These birds were also valuable trading products.

Although spears and bows were used up until late medieval times, firearms eventually became the weapon of choice. And in 1938, bow hunting was outlawed in Sweden.

By understanding the variety of weapons used by the Vikings, we can gain a better understanding of their lives. This knowledge can also help us appreciate these ancient hunters' skill and ingenuity.

The Advantages of Traps as Hunting Methods

The Vikings were known for their adept hunting techniques, making use of various traps and weapons to capture animals both large and small. From elk and bears to otters and squirrels, traps could be used to catch even the most elusive of creatures. Not only that, but traps had the advantage of being able to hunt 24/7, far from home, and were even used to catch aquatic animals such as beavers and seals.

Another advantage of traps was their ability to capture animals alive, rather than killing them instantly. 

Some of the traps used back then are still in use today, though they have been modified to make them more effective, In other words, less cruel.

Interestingly, some animals were off-limits to the Vikings. Ravens, crows, and magpies were considered sacred and were not hunted, at least during the Iron Age. Nevertheless, traps were used for virtually all other animals, making them a versatile and effective hunting method.

In summary, traps were a great way for hunters to capture their prey and make use of their resources. Not only were they versatile and effective, but they also allowed animals to be captured alive and used for multiple purposes.

The Vikings' Clever Hunting Traps: Exploring the Hunting Pit

One of the simplest traps they used was the hunting pit. A hunting pit is a hole in the ground, usually three to four meters in diameter and two meters deep, with steep sides. The sides could be lined with planks or masonry to make it more difficult for the animals to escape. It was also common to have a square box at the bottom of the pit to lock the animal's legs.

In some cases, sharp poles or spears were found at the bottom of the pit. While this tactic was effective, it posed a risk of having the animal's intestines ripped apart, which could cause bacteria to spread through the blood and into the meat, causing the meat to go bad quickly. Therefore, when catching animals to be eaten, it was preferred to keep them alive. Predators were hunted mainly for their fur, so in pits built for predators poles could be used. The pit was covered and camouflaged to make it more effective.

A single pit could be used, but it was more common to dig multiple pits in a chain, with obstacles built to steer the animals into the pits. These hunting pit chains could be hundreds of meters long to cover a large area.

Archaeologists have found hunting pits over 8,000 years old, and 25,000 pits have been found in Sweden alone. They were used mainly to catch elk and reindeer, but predators such as wolves, bears, and foxes. Even for small game such as hares. For predators, pits were usually at least three meters deep, and wider at the bottom to prevent them from jumping out. Bait could also be set up in the pits.

In addition to being used passively, they could also be used actively. Hunters could chase the animals into the pits and the hunters could also hang ropes with pieces of cloth to steer the animals in the direction of the pit.

The use of hunting pits was an effective way to catch a variety of animals.

Viking age hunting pit

Chasing Prey Off Cliffs

One of the more unique techniques they used was cliff hunting, a local practice that required immense skill and daring.

The Vikings executed cliff hunting in places with suitable cliffs around by chasing herds of animals and driving them off the cliff's edge. This enabled them to easily collect the prey's meat, skin, and other valuable resources. To be successful the hunters had to possess an intimate knowledge of the terrain, including the location of the herds, the shape of the cliffs, and the most effective approach routes. They also needed to demonstrate patience and sharp observation, waiting for the ideal moment to begin the chase.

Despite its effectiveness, cliff hunting was limited to areas where the landscape was suitable and herds of animals were plentiful. Thus, it did not become a widespread practice.

Snares: An Ancient and Effective Hunting Method

An old and effective hunting method is the use of snares. This type of trap has been used to catch animals, from elks to squirrels to birds. They are simple but effective and could be used to great effect in Viking-age hunting.

A snare is a cord tied in some kind of rack so it forms a loop. When the snare is triggered, the animal is caught with the string around its neck. To get the animal to the snare, the hunter could use obstacles to steer it in the right direction. The snare could also be attached to a bent tree, rock, or log so that when the snare was triggered, the bent tree or weight pulled the catch up from the ground. This made it difficult to escape the trap.

Different types of bait could be used to get predators and birds into the snare.

Snares are an ancient hunting method that is still in use today. With the right setup and bait, snares are an effective way to catch a variety of animals.

snare for fox

The Deadfall Trap: An Effective Tool for Any Prey

A deadfall trap is a simple yet powerful tool that has been used by generations of hunters worldwide. In its simplest form, a deadfall trap consists of a log or rock held up with a stick. When the trap is triggered – either by bait or an animal stepping on the trigger – the log or rock falls and can either kill the animal directly or catch it by holding it to the ground.

This type of trap has been used for small game as well as large animals such as bears. For larger animals, several logs could be tied together to make a large and heavy platform, rocks could be placed on top to make it even heavier.

For small game such as squirrels and martens, the trap could be built up in a tree. For this, a log would be tied up in a tree to act as the ground, and then a leaning log on top would be held up with sticks.

A development of the traditional deadfall trap is the cage trap. This type of trap works in the same way, except instead of a rock or log, a cage falls. To further this development, a cage trap could be designed to slam a door when triggered, allowing the hunter to catch the target alive.

Even the largest and most elusive prey can be captured with minimal effort with the deadfall trap.

deadfall trap up in a tree for squirrels

The Use of Self-Firing Traps

Self-firing traps were used to capture larger animals such as elks, reindeer, and bears. The traps worked by being triggered by the animal, which would then fire a spear or large arrow that kills the animal. Trees could be used to throw the spear or the arrow.

Because the trap was dangerous to people and livestock, it usually was placed away from a person's home.

self firing trap

The Paw-Board: A Clever and Cost-Effective Hunting Method

One of the most ingenious methods of trapping game was the paw-board fox trap. This trap was designed to catch foxes exclusively.

The paw-board was built out of an approximately two-meter-tall standing tree stump or a carved plank. The stump or plank was made with three or more points in the upper end, shaped as a “W”. The point in the middle was higher than the points on the sides. A bait was placed on the highest point, and when the fox jumped to catch the bait, the fox’s feet got stuck between the points and it was left hanging there with no possibility of getting loose.

This ingenious trap was both effective and efficient, as it allowed the hunters to catch foxes quickly and easily. It also required minimal materials and tools, which made it a cost-effective method of trapping game.

the fox trap called paw board

Nets: An Ancient Way to Catch Game

Nets have been used since the stone age for hunting. Nets were used to catch animals living in the air, on the ground, and in the water. During the Viking era, nets were particularly useful for catching beavers, seals, and fish. Seabirds were also often caught using nets.

Nets could be made from plant fibers such as flax or hemp, or from the inner bark of certain broad-leaved trees.

Interestingly, nets were likely the cause of the extermination of beavers in Sweden during the 19th century.

A Successful Hunt: A Look at the Strategies and Tactics Used to Track and Capture Prey

Vikings were skilled hunters, and their methods for tracking and capturing prey were both complex and effective. From the use of all five senses to luring animals into traps, their hunting strategies and tactics were honed over generations, creating a legacy of expertise that was passed down from one generation to the next.

For a successful hunt, the hunter needed to be highly skilled and knowledgeable about their target animal. All five senses were used to locate and capture the desired prey. Vikings were also known for their use of traps. They used various baits to draw the animal in, such as food or scents, or even feathers and wings to attract their attention.

During the iron age, the fur trade became an important product of trading. Hunting was no longer just for food, tools, and clothing, but also for economical purposes. This increased the importance of successful hunting techniques, as it was now necessary to capture the desired animal in large numbers.

By learning and practicing these techniques at a young age, Vikings were able to keep their skills alive and perpetuate their hunting heritage.

From Trap To Table: Taking Care Of The Catch

Hunting was an important activity for the Vikings, providing them with both food and valuable fur. If the animal was not already dead by the trap, it was killed quickly and humanely.

Most animals were hunted for either their meat or their fur. Predators were hunted primarily for their fur, but the meat was sometimes eaten. Beavers, on the other hand, were an especially important catch for both their fur and their meat. When the beaver was skinned, the meat was carefully cut into pieces and prepared for cooking.

Taking care of the catch was a practice that showed the Vikings' deep respect for the animals they hunted. Every part of the animal was utilized, from the fur to the bones, and nothing was wasted. Bones and other parts of the animal that weren't used for food or clothing were often put to use, such as for making tools or jewelry.

The Vikings were deeply connected to the natural world, and hunting was essential for their survival. From trapping to skinning to cooking, each step in the process was carried out with care and skill, reflecting the Vikings' reverence for nature and the resources it provided.

I have written a blog post about food including preservation methods that you might find interesting! You can read it here.

Conclusion

The Vikings were expert hunters who used the natural resources around them to survive. They hunted for their food, clothing, and other necessities, developing skills to catch animals. They used a variety of weapons—from traps and spears to bows and even dogs and predatory birds—to track and capture their prey. Traps were a particularly effective method of hunting.

By examining the hunting methods used by Vikings, we can better understand their culture and lifestyle. While some of their methods of hunting may seem cruel, they did what was necessary for their survival. The Vikings' hunting techniques were a testament to their skill, ingenuity, and resourcefulness.

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