by Kim Dawick
The extremely demanding nature of goat control work means most hunters only last a year or two in the role. The hunters in this story have all moved on to new things, but the dogs have been passed on and are still working for DOC.
Tahi was the result of a purpose-bred combination thought up by Joe Gurnick for use in goat control. Joe had worked with dogs his entire life, and over the years he’d seen both the good and the bad. He had very strict criteria for his hunting dogs, with a desire to breed a litter of intelligent bailing dogs, but of slightly smaller stature to the classic border collie/heading dog used by the majority of goat hunters.
The mother to this litter was an easy choice for Joe. He chose his three year old Border Collie bitch Bella, who was shaping up to be an exceptional finder/bailer. However, choosing a sire was not so easy, despite the many tongue in cheek offers to use dogs owned by his team mates.
In the end, Joe found a sire for Bella. A 1st cross Fox Terrier/Whippet that belonged to Don Thompson, a professional rabbiter and a team member of DOC’s high priority Rangitoto/ Motutapu Island pest eradication team. It was love at first sight, and Bella soon began nesting and preparing herself for motherhood.
The day came when Bella was due to give birth. The entire goat team was there to witness it and each of us had our eye on Bella ready to choose one of her puppies for ourselves. Finally a puppy appeared, then… well…, then nothing…. To everyone’s surprise that was it! It is very unusual for a bitch to only have one puppy, so Joe claimed his puppy and named her Tahi (means ‘one’ in te reo Māori) and sent the rest of the goat team home very disappointed.
Tahi grew up fast, totally submerged in a hunting lifestyle. She was everything Joe had hoped for; small, fast, intelligent, very trainable, and with lots of tenacity.
In 2010 the Peninsula Project goat team came to an end when the hunters achieved their goal (after six years of hard toil), shooting themselves out of a job; a credit to the hunter/dog teams carrying out the goat control. Joe decided to venture overseas, having hunted his entire life; it was time to do something else. So Tahi (now a very sought after hunting dog) was gifted to Michael Walker (Programme Manager Bio Threats Hauraki, and an ex-goat hunter/team mate and close friend of Joe’s) who let Waikato hunting team member Thomas Malcolm borrow her on a short term loan.
It was in November 2011 when everything went horribly wrong for Thomas while hunting on Mount Pirongia (Waikato). His day started out the usual way however, at the end of the day Tahi and another dog, Haka, were missing with no explanation! Having a dog stay out overnight is not an everyday occurrence, but from time to time, as all those who hunt with dogs know, it can happen.
Thomas desperately searched every inch of the mountain looking for his hunting mates with days turning into weeks, and weeks into a month. All hope was fading for the return of his dogs, when on the fifth week we received a call from a local farmer regarding a dog which had just turned up at his house.
We asked for a description of this dog and he replied, ‘”Small, black and white, very skinny, extremely friendly, and it may have a broken leg….”
Everything matched Tahi’s description however, we didn’t want to get our hopes up—after all, five weeks (lost) in the bush is a very long time, and it may not be her.
As you can imagine, we played it cool and headed straight out there trying not to show too much emotion (as us tough hunter types do). Much to our delight, it was indeed Tahi, and the emotions were a little harder to hide this time!
Haka was also found four months later—he was being used by a pig hunter all that time!
DOC’s use of dogs
Dogs are an essential tool in the department’s wild animal control programmes because of their ability to find wary animals in dense vegetation.
Dogs are used by DOC to find goats, deer, pigs, stoats, cats, hedgehogs, mice, rats, kiwi, blue duck, wallaby, ants, and many more animals for their handlers, all in the name of conservation.
The use of dogs in areas containing endangered bird life and/or adjoining areas of farmland is of concern to some members of the public and landowners. In order to address these concerns, DOC have strict policies in regards to the use and training of its dogs.
Every hunter/dog combination has its own particular hunting style preference.
Acceptable styles for use in the Waikato region include dogs that find and bail and/or dogs that find and indicate.
- A bailing dog locates its target species (sometimes up to 300 metres away), and mostly works out of sight of the hunter. The dog will head (run it down, cutting in front of the animal to stop it), and then constantly bark in order to tell the hunter where it is.
- An indicating dog stalks its target species, tracking the animal (or sometimes a mob of the target species) always within close sight (less than 10 metres) of the hunter. When the quarry is very close to the hunter, the dog will show a positive indication, e.g. it may lock onto a classic ‘point’ with one leg off the ground, a fixed tail, with the head indicating the exact direction of the quarry.