This is a trip report about the Lassi Rautiainen set up in Finland
The trip took place at the end of July 2014
My all time photographic dream has always been to photograph a black wolf with yellow eyes in the wild. As it is not possible to do this in Europe, I decided to go for the next best thing, to photograph and watch a wild wolf. I had heard of a place in Finland where this was possible, and it had been recommended by several photographers. A friend and I decided to go and we planned our trip for the end of July 2014.
Our location was near Kuhmo, about four hours drive from Oulu, and we arrived on a Wednesday afternoon. We were greeted by a man who was cooking. He was very charming and offered us a coffee, we were made to feel very welcome. After coffee and a quick chat this man showed us our accommodation. The set up seemed simple, but we were there to photograph wolves, bears and wolverines, so we were excited and not duly concerned. At 17.00 that same evening we were taken to our hide. In total, they had about sixteen hides and four feeding stations. We were placed at the ‘lake hide’. I’ve found that Finnish people make very good hides, and this was no exception. We waited all night and did not see anything. At 08.00 someone arrived to take us from the hide and back to the centre. We had a good breakfast and met with Mr Rautiainen for the first time. He advised us that we had been very unlucky to have not seen anything, and we paid him the agreed fee. We went to bed and after we had had supper at around 16.00, we were taken to the ’no man’s land hide’. At 23.30 we saw our first silhouetted wolf in the darkness, but is was a considerable distance from us and it was impossible to take any pictures of it. That was our only sighting that night and the following morning someone again came to collect us and take us back to the centre. So far, two whole days and still not a single shot. On the third day we were being taken to the ‘paradise hide’ but before we could leave we had to wait for an hour for a group of Norwegians to arrive, which meant that we did not leave until 18.15. Mr Rautiainen did not seem at all concerned that we had all been kept waiting to get to our hides and I thought that was very unprofessional. That night we just saw a bear in the dark, and again it was very far away. However, at 01.00 we suddenly heard a wolf howling, which was incredible, but we still had not taken any pictures. We had now been here three days and still not a single photograph had been taken. The Norwegian group had been taken to the ‘lake hide’ that night and they hadn’t seen anything either, they weren’t at all happy, and I was beginning to worry. On our last day we went back to the ‘lake hide’ and we saw a wolf and a bear in the dark. Whilst we were able to take a few pictures they were about 250-300 metres away and I was not pleased at all. I had a chat with Mr Rautiainen and he told us that we could have a ‘free day’. I did not find this very satisfactory as I would have preferred a refund of some of our money. In any case we did not have the time to take up his ‘free day’ offer and as we both lived some 3000 km away the likelihood of us returning to claim the free day was remote. Mr Rautiainen told us (as he had every day) that we’d just had bad luck, but that bad luck had been very expensive for us both.
I find the fact that we took 20 pictures in four whole days very poor, especially in light of the cost. We saw a total of three bears (always the same three) in four days. While we were there I had the opportunity to talk to several guides and they told us that a lot of bears had been shot in that area, and maybe even some wolves too! All the people that were at Mr Rautiainen’s set up at the same time as us were complaining that they had not seen anything. I personally think that they have far too many feeding stations as the density of large mammals in that area does not warrant four. It is my opinion that they have four feeding stations so that they can accommodate more paying clients and whilst I’ve heard reports that some people have had success here, I had not, so I would not return as I believe we had been ripped off.
‘Bad luck’ seems to their motto, and I heard that phrase a thousand times during the four days. I have arranged my own workshops from time to time and if the customer doesn’t succeed on the species they want, I give them a total refund. I just cannot take money when I don’t deliver.
Whilst we did experience the extraordinary sight and sounds of a wild wolf this was meant to be a photographic trip and we came home without any satisfactory shots. This company prides itself on their ability to provide photographic opportunities with wolves, bears and wolverines. When you charge the prices that they ask you expect to be able to get good shots of your quarry, and we most certainly did not.