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The magazine of the photo-essay
April 2017 issue
A Hunter in the Wilds  of Svalbard
by Sverre Chr. Jarild & Julie C. Knarvik
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For several years, hunter Tommy Sandal has lived alone in the wilderness of Svalbard. With a hunting cabin as his starting point and his dogs as his assistants, he follows the changing seasons and nature's own rhythm. He uses hunting methods handed down through generations and makes use of the resources that are available throughout the year, whether he's hunting reindeer, fox or seal. Tommy Sandal is a traditional hunter, but with present and future perspectives on his hunting activities.
It is a long journey across the ice. Tommy crosses his own tracks and the tracks of polar bears and foxes. The ice is receding further and further into the fjord because it is melting and breaking up. The seals’ habitat is gradually growing smaller. The seal follows the ice, and the polar bear follows the seal. Tommy is not alone hunting on the ice now.
“During the polar night, I’m either outside inspecting the fox traps or sitting indoors by candlelight with a good book, contemplating life. It is peaceful – I know I will get no visitors.”
“I like the polar night. It provides a special calm.”
“During the polar night I have to drag myself away from the cabin and travel out to tend to the traps as often as possible. Then I return exhausted. It is like returning to a palace. If I lived here the whole time I wouldn’t have seen it this way.”
“Resistance gives memorable moments.”
“The more spartan my lifestyle, the more harmonious it is, I believe.”
“It’s not much, but the most important thing is to have a roof over your head. You’ll often find that as long as you have the most essential items like a stove and wood and you get to dry your clothes and eat – that’s all you need. The smaller the cabin, the better I feel. I can stay a long time at a auxiliary station. I have food and wood that I prepared in the autumn. And when the dogs are with me, there’s nothing I have to return home to. This gives me a great sense of freedom.”
Tommy with Sverre and Julie.
“I use fox fat to lubricate my shoes. It’s really good!”
“I can get annoyed by a bothersome polar bear in the moment. But this is the polar bear’s world, and I have to live with it.”
“I want the freedom to live the life I want to live.”
“I don’t live an idle life here during the autumn. I don’t have a day off.”
Blending in with nature. He squats down and moves silently across. Defies the wind blowing in his face. Several hundred metres from the water’s edge is his prey – a large reindeer buck.
”I think it’s good that hotels in Longyearbyen buy local meat. It’s more eco-friendly, and the meat is of the finest quality,” says the hunter.
“I’m not against hunting as long as the population of a species is viable. In this respect we humans have caused enormous harm to nature. In the past perhaps they knew no better, but with the knowledge we have today we should rise above wiping out whole species. Moreover, we should use resources to restore the balance in nature.”
He carefully approaches the seal. Each time it looks up, he stops, and then creeps forward again a few metres. He surveys the landscape for polar bears. All the way across the ice he has followed fresh polar bear tracks. He knows that the polar bear is in the Vest fjord somewhere.
Go to part II