On Tuesday a court in Ostrobothnia, western Finland began hearing the case of three young men suspected of aggravated hunting and conservation crimes. A preliminary investigation into the case alleged that the men shot at wild animals from a car and left some of them wounded.
The prosecutor has called for suspended prison sentences of between six and 10 months for the suspects.
Two of the men facing charges of aggravated hunting and conservation crimes are believed to have shot about 40 animals, mainly hares and roe deer. The conservation offence relates to the shooting of protected seagulls. At the time the offences were committed, one of the pair was 18 years old.
According to the prosecutor, the third man was present when some of the animals were shot. He also faces charges relating to hunting crimes.
The charge sheet also indicates that the men also shot as many as 1,000 cats. However the statute of limitations has expired in relation to some of those offences. The crimes were committed in Pietarsaari in 2016 and 2017.
Defence: Men's actions not especially cruel
The prosecutor told the court that the shootings generally took place at night. One of the men would drive the car and when an animal came into sight, another would blind it using the headlights and the other would shoot.
They took some of the prey with them, but left most of the animals without checking to see what happened to them. During the investigation, they admitted to wounding some of the animals. Some of the shooting took place outside of the hunting season.
"This is not hunting, it’s something else altogether," district prosecutor Marina Ek-Bäck told the court.
However the defence said that the men were not involved in systematic hunting. Rather, they drove around at night and shot at hares or roe deer whenever they came across them.
"Systematic hunting is when the animal is hunted down and shot. This was the thoughtless action of young men, you might call it an extremely stupid impulse," said defence lawyer Anne Mäkelä, adding that her two clients took responsibility for their actions.
Mäkelä claimed that the men’s deeds did not constitute aggravated offences: their actions were not especially callous, cruel or planned. They were not aiming for financial gain, nor was the number of animals they attacked especially large in relation to the local wildlife population.
Hunting club also seeking damages
A local hunting club is also seeking damages from the men, charging that their poaching has depleted roe deer populations in the area. However the defence countered that some estimates indicate that roe deer stock is on the rise.
Juha Gustafsson, chair of the Pietarsaari hunting club, said that members reported slightly fewer roe deer sightings last year. He noted that the entire club has shot one or at most two animals a year.
Gustafsson said that in recent years, the club decided not to hunt hares to see whether hunting was possible. He said hunting opportunities seemed poor for a few years, but now the population seems to have recovered.
The men admitted to the court that they had shot wild animals and pleaded guilty to hunting offences, but rejected charges of aggravated crimes.
In addition to suspended prison sentences, the prosecution called on the court to impose a minimum five-year hunting ban on the two main defendants and a similar ban of at least three years on the third defendant.
A verdict is expected at the end of November.