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Big Game and German Utility Dogs with Nadja Niesner: HDC Episode #24

Big Game and German Utility Dogs with Nadja Niesner: HDC Episode #24

Nadja Niesner with her Weimaraner and a pheasant

Versatile dogs of German origin have a rich history in hunting big game

We start this episode with a discussion about versatile dogs or, as they are known in Germany, “useful” or “practical” dogs. In North America they are primarily used for bird hunting, their roots stretch back to a variety of purposes related to hunting and tracking. We discuss a couple of fun examples of the usefulness of hunting dogs, including a Boykin Spaniel who finds and retrieves box turtles in the name of science, as well as a hunting dog that is used to locate invasive Burmese pythons in the Florida Everglades.

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Our guest interview this week is with Nadja Niesner, a German hunter, dog breeder, and hunt test judge with a vast range of experiences in the German hunting dog world. Her primary breed of choice is the Weimaraner, but she also enjoys her Brandel Bracke, Fox Terrier, and Cocker Spaniels.

We discuss the mechanics of hunting in Germany, which is entirely unlike the North American experience. Hunters are required to undergo an extensive education and testing system in order to be licensed to hunt. Similarly, the dogs must be tested and evaluated for their abilities in the field. Hunting is taken very seriously not only as a recreational activity but also as a crucial management method for the wildlife of Germany.

We split this interview into two episodes, so this first installment focuses primarily on the hunting of big game such as roe deer, fallow deer, and boar. This is traditionally done in a large group setting with a driven hunt, where various dogs are released into the forest to move the game toward the waiting hunters. Contrary to what you might expect, the dogs do not chase all of the game out of the woods. Instead, they are expected to locate and carefully move the game without setting it off at a sprint. This allows for a safe encounter with the waiting hunters and a better overall experience for all participants.

Because the dog work is done almost entirely out of sight of the handler, it is important for the dogs to be spurlaut, or scent-loud, on the fresh track of the game animal. This alerts the hunters to the incoming game and, if you know your dog’s voice well enough, can even allow you to identify the species of game before it arrives.

The German philosophy and approach to hunting is unlike anything that most North Americans have ever experienced. This rich culture provides the context for some of our most popular bird dogs as well as the foundations of NAVHDA. Understanding this context can enrich your experience with your own versatile hunting dog.

As always, we thank you for listening and invite you to submit feedback or questions to us at We would love to feature your questions in an upcoming episode! Record a voice memo and email it to us to be featured on the show and to have your question answered.

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Hunting Dog Confidential is presented by Eukanuba Premium Performance Dog Food and supported by Dakota 283, Syren USA, and Kent Cartridge.

View Comments (3)
  • Hey Jennifer, if you like to bird hunt, then get a setter, pointer, britt…breeds that have been bred to hunt BIRDS

    But, if you like to pursue skunks, badgers, coons or giraffes, by all means git’ yer’ self one of ‘dem continental “versatile” dawgs

    • Hi there, the beautiful thing about gun dogs is there’s a flavor to suit every taste. Hope you enjoyed this episode about hunting big game – pretty amazing what these dogs can do!

  • Hahahahahah , Setter Hope if you want a dog that will hunt and hunt and hunt till it simply and literally CANNOT move forward but do it in concert with you and with creativity get a german bred dog. If you want windshield wiper patterns, blinking with pressure, dogs that wont enter cold water, wont chase cripples into cactus but can be trained with an e-collar to be highly responsive to over handling get an “Americanized” bird dog (AKC trial or test) bird dog. That isn’t even a facetious statement, I just buried a Wachtelhund that if I had taken the action on all the guys who bet “she’ll never get that bird” would have paid her purchase price many times over, she was a seething ball of prey drive and LIVED to see game killed in the field and was a quiet housepet and easy going vet clinic (at work with me) dog and blood donor. She was a near perfect dog for the odd mix of duck/snipe/rail/quail/rabbit/pheasant/occasional blood tracking dog I was looking for. But all things are a compromise I had to live with the fact that she wouldn’t run blinds quite as well as a lab or cover as much ground for upland hunting as a pointer (wachtelhunds are flushers anyways). The upshot was she had WAY more nose than any other bird dog or retriever I have seen, was impervious to any above zero temperatures, and had a keen concept of how to work birds back to the gun. Her favorite activity post duck hunt was to herd the coots into a 100X300 yard cane brake and then chase them out to me (cajuns eat coots) in easy gun range. She also moved clapper rails this way and rabbits. The first time I saw her do the coot trick I thought it was a fluke, the 4 th time I was a believer. She could also be a handful if she saw ducks settle at the far end of a pond, leaving a retrieve to circle and jump birds sitting way yonder in such a way that they flew over the blind and we killed them, after which she completed the original retrieve. Also although she could be called off hogs it was always a point of frustration to her that I didn’t let her hunt them. The toughness too could be an issue since no injury was ever apparent till the hunt ended causing what might have been minor injuries to exacerbate but you can’t really be mad at a dog that would hunt with a scratched cornea or 2 inched of stick in their foot and never slow down. She did bark on running game after the jump but never babbled as the German Huntress describes and since we hunted birds that ran like rabbits, clapper rails and gallinules, that can be useful. But the reality is the average weekend hunter would have struggled to have a meeting of the minds with Ava since she was perpetually at the edge of control, occasionally blew off hand signals (often then locating dead birds where I was certain they weren’t), busted birds out of range, killed vermin (often extremely stinky possums late at night) and would fake birdiness whenever we seemed to be circling back to the vehicle. In return for dealing with a little obstreperous behavior I had a jack of all trades that was well suited to hunting the flooded marsh and brush of the bayou in any weather and was smart/tough enough to survive 14 seasons of dodging snakes/hogs/yotes/gators and boat traffic. So it really does depend on what you want. My boykins can do 80% of what she did with about 50% the effort to run them………but I am already thinking of adding another Wachtel!

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