A basic hunting skills course launched by the Nagano Prefectural Government to combat increasing damage to crops and trees by wild animals has proven popular, drawing many more participants than expected.

One rainy day in mid-December, Hitomi Nishijo, a 21-year-old college student from Ueda, Nagano, was part of a group who attended a hunting exercise in a forest in the Sanada district.

“As I learned about the damage caused by birds and animals in a university class, I decided to take the course in order to contribute to my local area,” she said.

More than 10 participants in the exercise were divided into smaller groups to support local hunters targeting the Japanese serow, a native goat-antelope species. They were told to climb a hilly area, shouting a traditional local hunting call, hoh-i hoh-i, to let animals and hunters recognize their presence.

They looked for serow footprints and listened for signs of the animal stumbling or getting caught in weeds, but did not catch any during the one-hour exercise.

Participants then moved to the local hunting group’s workshop to watch the slaughter of a serow caught by hunters.

“You cannot be a hunter unless you master how to butcher hunted animals,” said Goro Sato, 69, who heads the group. “This is an important and sacred aspect of taking a life.”

“No meat should be wasted,” a participant whispered. Some of them gasped when the animal’s stomach was cut open, revealing its muscular red meat. A female participant felt exhausted after struggling to cut a piece of meat from the carcass.

Mami Ichikawa, a 19-year-old vocational school student from Kiso, Nagano Prefecture, said it was “a precious experience.”

“I realized we can live thanks to animals that give up their lives for us,” she said.

While Japanese serow are protected by a hunting ban, the Nagano Prefectural Government lifts it when necessary for protection of agriculture and forestry.

The Nagano government launched the course in 2014 for local residents 18 and older who either hold hunting licenses or plan to obtain them. To take the course, offered free of charge, applicants are also required to show their intention to take part in activities to capture wild animals after completing it.

The annual course comprises five seminars to teach participants laws and regulations related to hunting and how to use rifles.

Actual hunting is also part of the course. The current course for fiscal 2015, which ends in March, has 75 participants.

Many people are interested in protecting farms and forests but actually are unable to, said Keiji Kitahara, 41, a prefectural official in charge of the program. The course has successfully taught them about this field of work, he said.

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