Doing business with Bulgaria
Bulgaria boasts some of the best-managed hunting areas in Europe with a thriving market that has high demand for these products. How can you get a piece of the action? Our Doing Business With guide is a great place to start.
A haven for big game hunters, Bulgaria is a country with a strong reputation for fantastic hunting conditions, diverse flora and fauna and a system that superbly protects its natural resources. The country has a dramatic landscape covering everything from valleys and open plains through to steep mountains with lakes and rivers flowing through them.
Big game is certainly the most popular type of hunting in Bulgaria, with huge populations of red deer, fallow deer, roe deer and wild boar roaming its wild landscapes. There is also hunting for smaller game too and pheasant shooting is popular. In simple terms, Bulgaria has a lot to go at.
Rifles and shotguns remain the most popular items among Bulgarian hunters as well as associated accessories for hunting styles such as stalking. The country also offers bow hunting, which is relatively rare in Europe. Bulgarian consumers are knowledgeable when it comes to these products and they are attracted to high quality brands. However they also have slightly tighter purse strings than more established European nations such as Germany or France, so keen pricing is a key method to succeeding here. Besides rifles, shotguns and their associated ammo and accessories, air rifles and air soft products are also gaining popularity in the country. You can also do a good trade dealing with knives and cutlery, optics, and outdoor clothing – particularly as much of the hunting is undertaken in the winter months when conditions are tough.
There are several big manufacturers in the Bulgarian industry of note including: Joralti, which makes holsters and accessories; Gerorgi Sotirov, which makes semi-automatic single- and double-action pistols and revolvers; Arcus, which makes ammunition, firearms and other technical equipment; and Arsenal, which makes small arms, artillery systems, ammunition and pyrotechnics for hunting, civil and military use. The strength and potential of Bulgaria’s hunting market is also clearly displayed by the presence of American brand Sellmark, which has a subsidiary company in the country – Sellmark OOD.
There are several strong industry exhibitions in Bulgaria that represent excellent opportunities to visit the country and do some ‘feet-on-the-ground’ research of your own. The first in the year is the Nature, Hunting, Fishing International Exhibition at the International Fair in Plovdiv, which is Bulgaria’s second largest city, located about two hours southeast of Sofia. This show usually takes place each March. The 2020 dates had not been announced at the time of writing but you can stay up-to-date with the organisers online at www.fair.bg.
The other show worth considering is the Nasluka Hunting, Fishing and Sport exhibition, which takes place each September at the Inter Expo Center in the capital city of Sofia. Once again, dates for 2020 had not been confirmed at the time of writing but you can keep an eye on the website www.iec.bg for updates. The Inter Expo Center also puts on Bulgaria’s Security Expo, which normally takes place in March. You can also find more details on this at the exhibition centre’s website.
Legislation and associations
Hunting and shooting are both quite strictly regulated by legislation in Bulgaria but that is mostly to help with conservation efforts on its fantastic and abundant hunting land. It is also because hunting is worth a huge amount to the Bulgarian economy – it’s estimated that it generates more than US$4million each year.
The country is divided into 37 state-owned hunting grounds. There are also more than 2,000 territories of hunting clubs and several private hunting grounds too. It is estimated that the country holds about 600,000 hectares of hunting land.
Hunting licences can be obtained from the Bulgarian Executive Forest Agency (www.iag.bg) and are mandatory for anyone who wants to hunt. Applicants must undergo a number of theoretical and practical tests. There are also separate licences you need to hold weapons – these must be renewed every three years, whereas hunting licences must be renewed each year. There are two types of licence in Bulgaria – a general hunting licence and a selective hunting licence. You need a licence for all types of guns allowed in Bulgaria, including shotguns, the test for which requires applicants to take an exam set by police authorities. Automatic and semi-automatic weapons capable of holding more than two rounds of ammunition in the magazine are banned, as are silencers and some artificial light sources in a hunting context.
Foreign hunters travelling to Bulgaria are fairly strictly controlled too. They can only stay in the country from three to seven days in a particular hunting area and they must be registered at the place they are saying. All hunting weapons must be declared and their identification numbers supplied to officials upon entry into the country. Hunting tourists mainly arrive in Bulgaria from Austria, Germany, Spain, Italy and Greece, with big game hunting and small wild game hunting the two most popular attractions. One of the most well-known hunting tour organisers is Bulgarian Hunt Service Ltd (BHS), which you can learn more about at www.huntservice.com.
Bulgaria certainly offers some of the most prolific big game hunting in Europe, a fact that is becoming increasingly well-known with each passing year. Bulgarian buyers are well informed and have a clear idea about what shooting products are worth. Companies looking to successfully export into Bulgaria should emphasise the high quality of their wares and also give an impression of reliability that consumers can trust.
Like most countries in this region of Europe, Bulgarian businesses have strong traditions and values and often seek to create long-term relationships with their business partners. Bulgaria is certainly an exciting market to consider and one that, with the right level of research and flexibility, could become integral to your business in future years.
Dialling code: +359
President: Rumen Radev
Official language: Bulgarian
ECONOMY IN FOCUS
The Bulgarian economy is much transformed compared to how it was just 10 or 20 years ago. After spending many years as a centralised economy, it is now one of the European Union’s most open, market-based, upper-middle-income economies with ambition and pride to match its potential. That said, in terms of its size and clout, it is still a relatively small economy compared to many of the larger nations in the European Union (EU) – but it is no less important. A host of structural and social reforms in the 1990s, combined with joining the EU allowed Bulgaria to grow faster than it ever had before. It did suffer a couple of minor setbacks – the global economic crisis of 2008 and a period of political turmoil in 2013 – but the effects of these have been mitigated and Bulgaria is now on firm footing for the future.
Economic growth in Bulgaria is relatively strong – the country recorded a 3.1 per cent growth rate in 2018, which although a slightly slower rate than 2017, represents good figures in modern Europe. The main factors behind this growth included private consumption, rising wages, affordable credit and an increase in EU funding. Poverty and unemployment levels continue to decrease and domestic demand continues to grow, which in combination with the tightening of the labour market and the increase of public sector wages, all point towards a positive future.
One of the main possible stumbling blocks for the Bulgarian economy is its reliance on nearby Turkey – the country represents one of its biggest import and export partners. A recent slowdown in the Turkish economy has hindered progress in Bulgaria a little, alongside general tightening of global market conditions. Bulgaria is not completely reliant on Turkey, however, so any limitations will only be minimal.
The strongest sectors in the Bulgarian economy are energy, mining, agriculture, machine building and, more recently, tourism.
GDP per capita: US$8,792
GDP growth rate: 3.9%
Unemployment rate: 5.2%
Top export partners: Germany, Turkey, Italy, Romania, Greece
Top import partners: Germany, Russia, Romania, Turkey, Italy
Estimated number of firearms licences held: 200,000
THE INDUSTRY VIEW
Name: Greg Sharpe
Company: Sellmark OOD
Established: 2016, as Sellmark’s EMEA HQ
Products: Night vison, laser sights, boresights, hunting and tactical scopes and red dot sights
“Sellmark OOD, located in Sofia, Bulgaria is Sellmark's first international headquarters. The addition of Sellmark OOD allows us to better serve the European African and Middle Eastern (EMEA) markets and target the specific needs of our consumers.
“Bulgaria has a rich history in optics and possesses one of the most renowned gun manufacturers in the world, Arsenal (www.arsenal-bg.com). Bulgarian hunters are rich in tradition. Hunting was always popular throughout all layers of the masses, and of course a way of subsistence for a lot. Bulgaria has most of the European hunting species available in the most diverse, beautiful nature. And it is a proud holder of some record big game trophies. Bulgarians, like most Europeans, want a combination of superb quality and features with their optics and, of course, for a reasonable price. While traditional brands hold sway, they are open to trying new brands.
“Sellmark will continue to focus on meeting consumer needs with high-quality products designed for the greatest number of sports shooters and hunters. We will be introducing new upgrades to our award winning mini-red dots and digital night vision. Additionally, we recently acquired Kopfjager to provide superb quality shooting rests for hunting, long-distance target shooting, and law enforcement. The Kopjager shooting rest can hold the firearm in a ready-to-shoot position for long hunts; can lock at multiple angles so the shooter can use it in a prone, sitting, kneeling or standing position and are sturdy to withstand high-calibre guns. The Kopfjager versatile head attachments allow them to mount any number of items to include firearms, spotting scopes, range finders or binoculars. With the addition of Kopjager, Sellmark has two brands with excellent options for law enforcement through the region. Additionally, Firefield has recently begun to enjoy quite a lot of success in regional airsoft competitions as shooters, who are constrained in gun ownership for hunting, look to airsoft to enjoy the outdoors.”
Name: Robert Atanasov
Company: The Bulgarian Hunter magazine (www.lovec.bg)
Products: Monthly magazine and website for Bulgarian hunters
“The Bulgarian state fully supports hunting and has done for many years by optimisingthe gun laws and improving hunting regulations. The health of the hunting industry is very strong. Many European brands already bring their products to Bulgaria and do very well, but there is a vacuum for American brands – this could be an opportunity.
“The main challenge that is facing the industry at the moment is the medium-priced and budget goods that are entering the market. Bulgarian hunters are used to high quality.”
In the crosshairs
Bulgaria is regarded by many as the number one destination in Europe to hunt wild boar, thanks to a huge population of an estimated 50,000 and the chance to shoot trophy specimens. Hunting for this species is best carried out in small parties or even as individuals and is best at night from a high seat. Stalking is also possible but, as always with this species, caution is advised as they can be aggressive. They are mostly found in dense forest where they build their dens and forage for fruit and other food.
Hunting season: October to January
The grey wolf or Canis Lupus is abundant in Bulgaria but it also an incredibly challenging quarry to target. In fact many are shot while hunters are attempting to hunt a different species. They are found on low plains but increasingly in the mountains too. Because of their high intelligence, canny nature and pack movements, they are only for the highly skilled hunter to attempt to take down, but the prize is worth it. Mountain wolves tend to weigh more than their lowland counterparts and it is also possible to have the skin and head of your fallen trophy exported out of Bulgaria if you are a visiting hunter.
Hunting season: Year round
There is a huge population of deer in Bulgaria and it’s a population that is well managed and well respected by both hunters and the authorities. The opportunities to catch trophy stags are plentiful, which makes the hunting well worth managing properly. Bulgaria has swathes of fantastic countryside that this impressive deer love to roam and it is said that hunting here during the rut period is a sight to behold. Deer can be found in the mountains and in the lowlands and the trophy fees to hunt them are some of the lowest in Europe – another reason why Bulgaria is ‘the’ place to go for many hunting tourists.
Hunting season: Males and calves from September 1st to January 311st, Hinds from October 1st to December 31s1st.