With the animals until I die
Eva Bromée is a professional hunter – born into the hunting world with animals as her closest friends. Although she is a successful hunter who has trained hunting dogs to national competition level, it is a tough patriarchal culture to work in. But Eva is not afraid to stand up for herself. “You should call the article ‘The woman who hates men but loves animals’,” she says, reffering to the Swedish title of the first Lisbeth Salander novel.
The final stretch from Sorsele feels like it goes on forever, but apparently we’re “nearly there”. This says something about the perception of distances this far north. The straight road doesn’t change much, but is livened up by the turbulent Vindelälven river. The river that beloved balladeer Evert Taube fought for over so many years still continues to course through the mountains, spruces and pines.
It’s dusk in Ammarnäs. Eva is in the yard with dogs rushing around, curious about the strange car that is approaching. She greets us quickly. “I’m almost done, I just have to get the elk into the garage.” From the flatbed, she lifts half an elk carcass that is much larger than her. It’s probably the maximum she can carry, but it doesn't look like it’s bothering her. Remains from the reindeer bull cull are drying out close by. Antlers, hide and bones neatly sorted.
Eva wears a camo anorak, probably three sizes larger than she needs. “It’s good to be able to tuck a dog under the coat if you need to in the mountains.” She has clear, dark facial features and nature has left its mark on the bushy, highlighted blonde hair.
Eva grew up on a farm in Klövsjö in Jämtland with her mother, father and five sisters. There was never any talk about the daughters having any form of childcare – the days were spent in the forest with father Arne, who was also a professional hunter. “We were probably quite an unusual family. One time psychoanalyst Rigmor Robert studied us for a while and she felt that we almost had an animal-like upbringing. She compared our family with baboons.” When Eva started school, she was a bit of an outsider. “I didn’t have much in the way of social skills. And one of Dad’s dogs, Banna, always followed me to school. Then she would run home by herself and come back to pick me up at the end of the day.” Hunt training started early. Dad Arne bought a shooting simulator so she could practice shooting. “Every old man who visited would challenge me, but I always won. It was all a bit of a show.” She grins and it’s noticeable that this is a heartwarming memory for her.
“I don’t follow the norm for how you should be, and some people find it difficult that I don’t fit in any box. But I’ve learned not to worry about that.”
Eva and her sisters were raised under the motto that you can do anything, but you have to do it yourself. “It was pretty tough, we had to do everything for ourselves. At the same time, it’s made me who I am today, otherwise I would probably never have been able to cope in this male-dominated industry.” “I don’t follow the norm for how you should be, and some people find it difficult that I don’t fit in any box. But I’ve learned not to worry about that.” She shows off the new edition of a famous hunting magazine. “Look here, for example, we’ll probably have to wait another 100 years before we see a single woman on the cover.”
“I see it as an honor to walk through life alongside the dogs, unfortunately it’s such a short time of my life that each dog gets to be part of. If I could give them a few years of my life, I would. Without a moment’s hesitation.”
As well as being a professional hunter, Dad Arne was also a successful breeder of Swedish Elkhounds at home on the farm. Five weeks ago, Eva’s first own litter of Elkhund puppies was born. The dogs mean everything, they are not only her work colleagues, but also her life companions. “I see it as an honor to walk through life alongside the dogs, unfortunately it’s such a short time of my life that each dog gets to be part of. If I could give them a few years of my life, I would. Without a moment’s hesitation.”
Her voice breaks when she talks about her gun dog Minn, who died a few years ago. “The disadvantage of being so close to the animals is that your heart breaks when something happens to them.” She wipes a tear from her cheek, leaving behind a streak of dirt from her hand.
Last year during the peak of the elk hunt, things nearly went very badly. Eva was hunting with a borrowed dog and had just shot an elk that had ended up on the other side of a river with strong currents. Purely on instinct, the dog chased after the elk and fell into the flowing water. “I had no choice but to jump in and save the dog. Eventually, I grabbed its collar with one hand and a few overhanging tree branches with the other, so I could pull myself up. Afterwards I thought: Well, I’m willing to sacrifice my own life for a dog. I sure know that now.”
The phone rings and a few words are exchanged before the call ends with a curt “OK, I’ll be there tomorrow”. One of the reindeer has escaped to the neighboring village.
The reindeer bull cull
It’s early autumn, but the mountain birches have already started to turn. There is an excited atmosphere and warm breath emerges from the mouths of people and animals alike. Warmth radiates from the freshly skinned reindeer carcasses; they’re hanging everywhere, like having death sniffing around from all directions. There are a lot of people here for this year’s cull. Everyone has their job to do. Young children scamper around the pools of blood as if they were water. Dogs play with trimmed reindeer tails. An old woman makes coffee on the fire. There’s an eerie quiet hanging over the place.
Everyone knows that Eva is coming to deal with the runaway bull. But nobody says anything. In the enclosure, the reindeer are moving like a carousel. Round and round they run, completely unaware that life will soon be over. The men take turns throwing a lasso and catching their reindeer, some more skilled than others. The hierarchy between them can somehow be seen in the way they throw. Eva enters through the gate with no hesitation and soon there is a rope around the antlers. After a tug-of-war, the reindeer is brought out of the enclosure. The killing is quick, a shot from a bolt gun in the forehead and it falls heavily to the ground.
“It’s difficult for younger girls to pluck up the courage to start doing things if they don’t see us other women doing it.”
Eva takes command of the butchery. She has been doing this since she was little and it is evident in her bold and methodical way of handling the animal and the knife. Step by step with confident movements. The butchery usually falls to the men, it’s always been that way. But not now. A young teenage girl quietly joins her, keen to learn how to do it. Eva is happy to take her under her wing and explains each step as she handles the animal. “It’s difficult for younger girls to pluck up the courage to start doing things if they don’t see us other women doing it.”
In the car home, tepid coffee is slurped, but otherwise there is silence. It’s noticeable that everyone is tired after the day. “I don’t want any animal to suffer. I’d rather be there at the end and make sure everything goes right. The moment of death can be really tough, who am I to decide that this animal is going to die. But as long as it’s done right, it’s okay. I recall a quote from the film Cold Mountain when an old woman is stroking her favorite goat before the imminent slaughter: ‘I’ve learned a person can pretty much survive off a goat. A goat gives you company, and milk, and cheese... and when you need it, good meat’. That’s how I feel.”
We continue home in silence.
Text & photos by Linda Svensson, Lundhags.