Varmints, Beware!

Most people don't associate hunting ferocity with dachshunds. But the rabbits and woodchucks of suburban New Jersey can tell you different...

Outdoor Life Online Editor

Most people don't associate hunting ferocity with dachshunds. But the rabbits and woodchucks of suburban New Jersey can tell you different. During the falconry season in late autumn and winter, Teddy Moritz, a falconer from Mahwah, N.J., and a leading authority on hunting dachshunds, flies her Harris's hawk, Buckshot, over a team of three miniature long-haired dachshunds. The dachshunds flush pheasants, rabbits and hares, and the hawk joins in to make the kill. But in the off-season, Moritz's houndsÐher dachshunds teamed with a larger houndÐtake down woodchucks for farmers in central New Jersey. Moritz feeds the quarry to the dogs. Imagine that scene: a gang of dachshunds scarfing down fresh woodchuck.

Dachshunds bred for the fieldÐ"standard-size" hounds as well as the diminutive "miniatures," which weigh less than 11 poundsÐhave no fear, owners say. Their German name means "badger hound," and in Europe dachshunds were bred to go to ground to root out and kill badgers (no easy task). Dachshunds will also dive unhesitantly into the dirt to take on foxes, raccoons, rats, muskrats and woodchucks.

"Dachshunds will not back down from anything. They are fearless," says Larry Gohlke, a veteran dachshund hunter. He should know. Once he hired a professional handler to take five of his dachshunds from Wisconsin to a field trial in Oregon. Gohlke told the handler to exercise the dogs when she reached an empty stretch of the Oregon desert. As soon as the woman let the dogs out, a coyote began howling nearby and all five dachshunds immediately gave chase.

"This woman started screaming and hollering, and four of the five dogs came back," Gohlke says. "But my wife's nine-pound mini kept going after the coyote." When the dog finally did come back, she had three bites on her backside.

"What made me mad," Gohlke continues, "was that the handler didn't go out there to look for the dead coyote."

The tenacity and versatility of hunting dachshunds goes on display often each year at various field trials around the country. The gallery locates game by beating the bushes until a cottontail appears. At the call of "Tallyho!" a handler brings a brace of dachshunds to the line to begin their pursuit as judges watch. Experienced dogs stay on the rabbit's scent, following a tight "line," while newcomers often bounce back and forth through the brush. Though the top two dachshunds on the field-trial circuit in early 2001 also happened to be show dogs, some field-trial veterans worry that show breeders have begun to breed dachshunds with legs that are too short, coats that are too long and voices that are too weak. But somehow show-dog breeders have not ruined the breed's nose.

And that nose is essential to the dachshund's bread-and-butter work: running rabbits. When Moritz takes a team hunting (she hunts her six hounds in twos and threes) she first releases Buckshot and the hawk flies to a tree to watch the hounds make their first cast into the brush. When the dogs find scent, they "open," making the music hound owners love to hear. When the rabbit flushes, Buckshot takes wing and the dogs hear the hawk's bell tied to its talon; they know that if they stay under him, they will stay on the scent. If the rabbit stops and the dachshunds lose the scent line, the hawk will swoop on the covert, spooking the rabbit into running.

"Sometimes it's the dogs that keep the rabbit moving, and sometimes it's the hawk that keeps the rabbit moving," Moritz says. "If the dogs can keep the pressure on the rabbit, it eventually will make a mistake, and the hawk will grab it."

Busting woodchucks is a different game. Moritz's hounds sniff out a woodchuck in its burrow, dig their way inside and force the big rodent to bolt out another hole or smash its way through them and into the open.

"Once I was crouching behind my dogs as they went into a burrow when a woodcchuck shoved past them, came flying out the hole and ran right over me and down my back," Moritz says of one of her more merry chases.

The dachshunds will run after a bolting woodchuck, but a "lurcher" dog does the killing. Moritz's lurcher is a stolid greyhound/collie cross. She keeps her hounds back when her lurcher moves in. "The lurcher needs to make the dispatch quickly and he doesn't need a couple of dachshunds hanging off the woodchuck," she says.

After such a hunt, all six dachshunds, the lurcher and Buckshot get to enjoy their woodchuck dinner back at the house. "The bumper sticker on my truck says, 'Hunt hard, kill swiftly, waste nothing, offer no apologies,'" Moritz says. "That's my motto. No game comes home that isn't used completely."