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.
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….
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.
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….