Working at Badgers

Introduction

Saskia Oud lives in Belgium and Hunts across Europe, mainly in Germany. She has kept working terriers most of her life after starting out hunting Musk Rats in Holland with terriers as a child where there was a 5 Gilder bounty on them. From there her terriers went to foxes themselves and she says that being young and not knowing what to do with the foxes she just released them again. She began serious terrierwork with German Hunt Terriers or “Jagd” terriers but found many of them unsatisfactory as were the Russell type in her country in many ways and found working British Patterdale, Fell & Lakeland blood in her home country which had originally come from Wales and bred to better German hunt terriers and continued from there. Saskia works her dogs on Fox, Badger and driving Wild Boar and Deer for guns.

Germany is a beautiful country, in most states, the badger is open to hunt from 1st August till – 1st November, but in some northern states it can be hunted all year round.
They are prolific enough, since not many people hunt them with terriers, or even shoot them when they take the maize from the boar feeding places. Hunters have a superstition that when they shoot, the pigs will hear it and not show up. Germany for me, is 2 hours driving away; not the end of the universe. The state next to Belgium where I live, happens to be quite actively hunted, with lots of wild boars, red deer and exceeding numbers of badgers. We mostly hunt badger setts with terriers when they are in the way, when they extend their burrowing missions into pastures and do damage to the crops and maize fields. Also, badgers can carry bovine tuberculosis, so the dairy farmers are not their greatest fans. I like the idea that terriers exist which are quite capable of hunting badgers.

Semtex at 10

Semtex at 10

After all, we still never yet invented a more accurate device to tell us whether they are in the sett, then, where they are, and at last, to either keep them in one place so we can dig them and shoot them, or have the dogs bolt them for guns. Germany is a shooting country and when the guns who own or rent the hunts are satisfied, they will invite the dog people and their dogs again. Before that, in the Ardennes, where badgers are protected, all my terriers were steady to badger and could take the foxes out from among them. The terriers I have now are not lasting stayers, one reason being that I want them out when they find the omnipresent badger setts during the boar sweep hunts. They must hunt above ground on those days. However, I have a special swat team of evictors, Semtex, my old trustworthy matrone, and her daughter Duvel.
When Semtex was young, she could do it alone, but at the time of this story she is nearly 10 years, lost the sight of one eye and has worn and missing teeth, so Duvel is there to give her a hand.
I need a clever terrier, not brute strength, since “hard” dogs are chew toys for any badger.
If you are successful at this game, you owe it to the brains of your terrier and its endurance, after all it is going uphill to at least twice its size and weight. And, more often than not, there are more badgers in one sett. One of the tricks of badgers is to barricade between themselves and the dog. In a jiffy, they can close the pipes behind them with soil, throwing sand, mud and stones in the following dog’s face to discourage him to stay up close and keep the pressure on. Sometimes, the dog happens to be in a dead end where the badger has driven it, and is then closed in. Good and experienced terriers don’ t let that happen!
This was a new hunt, where we had had a maize pig hunt before. In spite of indecently hot weather, that hunt was quite successful and the terriers gave it their all and got the pigs out. The hunters warned that they had lots of badgers. “Isn’t that nice, now,” I replied, “I happen to have terriers.” So, the appointment was made. On a crispy cold, but sunny November day, I and my accomplice appeared with our terriers and digging tools and 5 Guns. We were going to bolt the badgers. Yes, on purpose! Or, so I had promised….

Pest control in Germany - A large sett

Pest control in Germany – A large sett

A local farmer was to show us the setts, beginning with one that did the most damage.
We came upon the underground catacombes, which were bigger than I thought first. This made it more difficult for the terriers, since the badgers had plenty of space inside to run around and hide from the dogs. There were 17 entrances in the sloping hillside, and another 10 or so up in a meadow. They had been digging merrily and to avoid the cows breaking legs in the holes, the farmer was forced to wire off one third of this field. Equalising and ploughing the field never helps, on the contrary, the loose soil encourages the burrow masters to make even more vent holes and observation posts. One month after, it is chaos again.
Upon inspection, I thought the place was inhabited by several grey cave dwellers. Big, well used runs, full latrines, grass and hay drawn in and out. We didn’t know yet if it was diggable or if they had a basement storey as well. The ground was hard clay and stones and there was just the 2 of us for digging.
We began by sawing and cutting away all the branches that were in our way, or dispersed the view of us and the guns. My friend in terriers Johnnie was, and always is, very helpful.

Johnny listening carefully

Johnny listening carefully

There were some big spruce trees with dead branches in the ground, and intertwined thorn bushes. After 20 minutes, we had removed the branches. Then, I placed the guns all apart so they could not talk, at a safe distance from the sett, (so they would not be seduced to shoot at the sett itself) near the runs, and informed them to be quiet and very patient. Their time of duty could last for several hours, while we and the terriers would do the work. The badgers, when they bolt, always go over their runs, I had learned. Now, we were ready to enter a terrier.
It had happened to us before that even in mid summer, a fox was present in such a royal hotel. We started off with Mouse, a small German hunt terrier which was steady to badger, and good at running through at racing speed and producing a lot of noise, to make up for her lack of real courage. Mouse played off her repertoire and told us clearly, by running in and out yapping, that no fox was in there. She stayed as far away from the badgers as she could, without, according to herself, loss of honour. She only hollered at the top of her voice: “hey, boss, these big invincible grey monsters are in there! No fox, no fox, just the monsters!” Now, only the expertise of the best terriers could give us a bolt from such a difficult, big place. And this is how they do that: After finding, they must pick out one badger and never, ever leave him or change to another, but stick to the first one found, follow him like glue and if he would be put at bay, tease him unceasingly, like small wasps can make a big man run, but not nail him in a dead end. Instead, if they felt he was willing to leave, they would have to let him pass and then again drive him around and never leave him alone, nor give him a chance to make a tunnel collapse behind him. In the process, they must avoid getting bitten as much as they can. Should the dogs change their attention from one to the next, they would get tired, not the badgers, and we would never see one come to the daylight. No matter how beautiful an autumn day it was.
It works just like rat catching: only one at the time, separating it from the group first thing, and so giving the others the false idea that it doesn’t concern them. Disturbing them as little as necessary, if possible, so they will not dig themselves in while the dogs work the first one. This is the same tactic that wolves use to pick a prey from a herd.
Except that the terriers will not choose the weakest, but rather, the first found, or the one that doesn’t run before them. And this is mostly the biggest, most nasty of the lot.
Badgers will be as easy to persuade to leave their stronghold as the tenant who cannot pay the rent. I mean: they will not. Not because they are afraid, or they feel their castle is besieged, but rather they have no natural enemies in these countries, and consider the dog an intruder in their home and treat him as such, after they have lost their patience.
First, we let in Paddy, another German hunt terrier, owned by my mate Johnnie.
We are very polite and always begin with a dog who negotiates with the inhabitants to please co-operate in leaving! Badgers never really co-operate voluntarily, so Paddy never succeeded in catching or bottling up one yet. Paddy knew the fox and was now in the process of learning how to handle the badger. Her task was to find the chamber where they were all sleeping and get them up and going and let them jog around a bit, for anything between 15 and 30 minutes. Then, she would come out, and we had the swat team ready. Johnnie, listening to the action through the eavesdropping stick. This is a handy tool with which you can feel the pipes and also hear through a welded cup on top what’s going on inside. After 25 minutes Paddy reappeared, out of breath and was taken to the car. 1-0 for the badgers.

To be continued next month….

The Perfect Miniature Hunt …Almost!

To have a hunt there needs to be a quarry and one or more hunters. To have a good hunt there should be a find, a travelling hunt, maybe a check or two and a conclusion. The conclusion can be a kill on top, or a mark and a dig or a bolt. But it is surely not imperative to have a kill; others may argue.
  
Today, me and my little inexperienced pack comprising one 5 month-old lurcher pup, a 4 month-old Teckel pup, a year-old Teckel and a five year-old Teckel, had what was nearly the perfect miniature hunt.

Bella, waiting patiently

Bella, waiting patiently


Only yards from my door Amie, the one year old Teckel bitch spoke haltingly. The five-year old, Toby, looked up from fiddling about with a molehill and went to join her. On the way he shot sideways, sniffed about, spoke twice and started to hunt towards me at an angle. He was hunting hard and quite loudly. Amie, independent as ever continued to snuffle along the bank of the burn which after the recent storms was deep and flowing hard. She didn’t speak stridently but rather snuffled along making soft, whimpering noises.
  “Mink.” I thought. “Probably from the night before.”
  Mink scent lingers. The inexperienced Amie still spoke but was going in small circles and not moving far. The furthest she got was about ten yards and kept going back to where she first gave tongue. When reliable old Toby had started speaking and hunting hard I knew scent was comparatively fresh and not from the previous night. He ignores very old scent like he should.
  Toby was hunting away from the burn which is not the natural path for a mink to take; they like to stay near water but I’ve had this before and that day it was a mink. He passed within ten yards of me crying like a banshee. I think his pitch was far lower than a banshee’s but as I’ve never heard a banshee I’m guessing. I saw not a thing. His fervent cries brought the lurcher pup, Bobby, followed by Lilley, his little friend the Teckel pup. Amie is the most independent Teckel I’ve ever had (liar) and I’m convinced she goes deaf when she’s hunting but she looked up, listened and raced towards us.
Listening for movement

Listening for movement


  Toby continued to hunt with gusto but paradoxically was moving quite slowly. Bobby kept getting in his way. Little Lilley didn’t know what was going on but followed gamely through the thick, reedy grasses and tussocks. Amie arrived and immediately screamed. She did sound like a banshee. No, I haven’t heard one since I wrote the last paragraph so I still don’t know what a banshee sounds like but she makes an unearthly noise and puts me in mind of what I think a banshee would sound like so there.
  Toby checked by a large tuffet and tried to get inside it but was hampered by the rest of the gang. He ran around the other side and started to speak and I still saw nothing. He spoke again and Amie joined him. She spoke as well but not with confidence. The two pups got in the way again. Suddenly Toby went away at a good clip, speaking well. Amie followed and let out her banshee howl (I know, I know). Bobby, being far quicker than a Teckel ran alongside Toby and bit him in play. Toby didn’t like that and bit him back harder. Bobby is at present a young thug and still wanted to play so he bit Toby’s ear. Talk about a hindrance. Toby didn’t like that one bit and drew blood from Bobby’s snout, Bobby stopped getting in the way but didn’t seem to notice the blood; bull breeding I suppose!
  
One of the babes

One of the babes


I watched as the two Teckels hunted steadily away with me still not knowing what was in front of them. Amie has as good a nose as Toby’s but at five years old his is more experienced. At a check he invariably found the line before she did. This was not a long distance hunt, it all happened within a hundred and fifty yards of me. In one place both Teckels were at fault for over a minute and I thought that their quarry, whatever it was, had beaten them but Toby cast himself a bit further and picked up a line. Both adult Teckels were put off by the youngsters time and time again. They persevered but had to hunt this line as if it were a stale one constantly going over ground that the pups had foiled. I knew it wasn’t stale so left them to it. Sure enough they sorted it out, picked up the pace and off they went again. This had to be a diminutive animal they were hunting or I would have seen it so it could still be a mink or what I call a minkette – a young mink.

  They lost it again about twenty yards from the ruins of a bothy the walls of which had been reduced to a mere foot high through pilfering for repairing the dykes (dry-stone walls). Neither Teckel could hunt a yard in this area until Toby lifted his head, quested and following an air scent and directly to the ruined bothy. He thrust his snout into a crack and barked. Amie did the same and within seconds all four dogs were decidedly interested in the wrecked stonework. I tottered towards it and as I got there, Toby flushed something small and brown. I only saw it as a flash but the youngest member, Lilley spotted it and so did Amie. It darted out and darted back between the two young Teckels. I would have been surprised if the puppy, Lilley, had grabbed it but she did make the attempt. Amie also missed it and it got back to the safety of the stones. Lilley pushed her little snout into the stones. Amie dug and scratched at them barking furiously and this time it was Toby bullying his way to the front and shoving his snout under the rocks.

A brace of rabbits

A brace of rabbits


 Bobby joined in the fun and danced over the ruins, tail wagging and play-biting the Teckels until he too scented something, stopped playing and pushed his own snout under a stone.
  
By now Toby’s nose was bloodied from the sharp stones but he continued to dig and scrape and push with his snout and move some quite hefty rocks. I rather ineffectively moved some small stones.
  All of a sudden, interest peaked and all four dogs went frantic. Toby shoved large rocks aside that must have hurt him, Bobby jumped over everyone and dug anywhere and everywhere in the most haphazard fashion. Amie bit stones and I feared for her dentition and little Lilley, much more sensible than I would have thought, thrust herself between legs and under backs and was right where Toby indicated the action would come. Unfortunately for her at the last moment Amie lost patience with Bobby’s antics but bit Lilley instead so Lilley had backed off a bit when Toby made his last effort.
The young teckels knew not to go near it but the clown Bobby pushed his luck

The young teckels knew not to go near it but the clown Bobby pushed his luck


  Toby was accurate in his marking and his persistence paid off. With a last big heave he shifted a rock and it bolted. Fittingly he was the one who caught it and crunched it instantly without bothering to shake it. I’m not a good photographer but I am pleased with this one. Weasels and stoats are lightning-quick and notoriously difficult to photograph on the move. The weasel can just be seen in Toby’s mouth.
The prudent teckels look on but Bobby gets a bit close to Toby’s tiny booty

The prudent teckels look on but Bobby gets a bit close to Toby’s tiny booty


  Toby bit him on the face and Bobby danced away. Toby chased him and then seemed to forget where his weasel was. This gave Amie and Lilley the opportunity to grab it and start a tug-of-war but before they could skedaddle with it Toby was back. (I missed that shot). His mere presence was enough to make Amie drop it and Lilley was too fearful to snatch it back up. Toby stood guard over it and Lilley started to tantalise him barking and rushing trying to grab it. Toby is normally very tolerant of puppies but this time he chased Lilley for a few yards. This allowed Bobby his opportunity and he made his move.
Bobby makes of with his minuscule prize

Bobby makes of with his minuscule prize


  Before the powers that be pounce and drag me away in chains for “hunting a mammal with a mammal” I had my little double, folding four-ten with me. Unlike in the rest of the U.K., up here in Scotland you can use as many dogs as you like to hunt a mammal but they must be used to “flush to the gun” so carrying one is imperative.

  It was not quite ‘the perfect hunt’ because I have an avid admiration for these tiny mustelids. They are voracious, persistent and courageous hunters themselves and yes, I know they kill a high number of nestling birds, and voles. Had it been a rat I would have been happier.