The Royal Hunt: The tsar’s diary and the history of the pastime

Despite being considered a royal privilege for many a long year, hunting in Russia — in terms of both variety and scale — enjoys a far richer history than in most countries.

Despite being considered a royal privilege for many a long year, hunting in Russia - in terms of both variety and scale - enjoys a far richer history than in most countries.
Many of the Romanovs were known to be quite partial to the hunt. Stretching all the way back to the reign of Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich, father of Peter the Great, princes and grand dukes regularly went hunting with birds of prey. Falcons were captured for the royal court by special hunters.
This type of hunting in Ancient Rus was not just a sport, but was also used to build relations with neighbors: falcons were sent as gifts to neighboring states.
Hunting with hounds became widespread under serfdom. Alexander II was known for his hunting prowess and dedication to teaching his sons the practice from early childhood.
His son Alexander III even took part in bear hunts as a boy. Married, he never missed an opportunity to hunt big game. His wife, Empress Maria Feodorovna, soon took a keen interest in her husband's passion.
She gladly accompanied her husband to such faraway places as Spala and Skierniewice in present-day Poland, where hunts were organized for the emperor and his family. The imperial couple also went on frequent hunting excursions in the Crimean Mountains, not far from their residence at Livadia.
Confident and graceful in the saddle, Maria enjoyed deer hunting on horseback with hounds.
Neither were Alexander III and Maria indifferent to shooting. Both were fascinated by guns, and on May 9, 1887, paid a visit to the Tula arms factory, where they were each presented with a Berdan II rifle.
Nicholas II shared his father's love of the chase. His diaries record his daily kills of deer, hares, and goats: "We returned home with a small catch: a deer and several goats."
"There were only three enclosures. The kill consisted of a large wild boar, three goats, and a bunch of hares. My share was a one-horned goat and two hares."
However, even emperors were sometimes short of luck and had to go back empty-handed: "At 7:30 mama set off on a private hunt, while we journeyed to the back-of-beyond with nothing to show on our return."
"We lunched with Vladimir, who took great amusement in our failure. We felt dragged through the mud such was the shame, since I'd bagged just a single hare."
Within a few years of this hunt, in 1898, the newly formed All-Russian Congress of Hunters banned the year-round hunting of predators: common fox, Arctic fox, and stoat. The hunting of sable was outlawed, and sable reserves were set up.

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