This spring, OPB News aired Gun Stories, a week-long series of reports that will examine the varying perspectives in the Pacific Northwest on guns. In the summer of 2013, we sent Amanda Peacher to Germany through the Arthur F. Burns Fellowship program. This story was one in a three-part series she produced about guns in Germany, a nation that has some of the strictest gun control regulations in the world.
I’m driving into the forest near Oberaichbach, a small village in Bavaria, with longtime hunter Gunther Eggersdorf. He’s a retired teacher who hunts nearly every day. But he’s not in it for the trophies.
“The nature. I love the nature,” says Eggersdorf. “That is all.”
In a sense, that says a lot, because getting a hunting license in Germany is both difficult and expensive. Most hunting in Germany happens on private agricultural land. Hunters pay thousands of Euros to lease a hunting area for nine years. Eggersdorf and I are on our way to see where he hunts.
We drive just outside the village.
Peacher: “Do most hunters have their land so close to their house, or are you lucky?
Eggersdorf: “I am lucky.”
His hunting lease is on 400 hectares of rolling hills and patches of forest. Some areas are planted with corn. On the edge of an bright, open meadow, Eggersdorf points to one of his hunting blinds, a tiny hut on on spindly wooden legs. It’s as tall as the surrounding pine trees. Most German hunters make use such huts, called “kanzels” in German.
On his hunting days, Eggersdorf wakes at four in the morning, climbs up the Kansel in the dark, and then waits for deer to roam into the open meadow. He has 65 kanzels in his hunting area.
Eggersdorf says hunting helps keep deer populations in check, because most natural predators are long gone in the forests of Europe. Red deer and roe deer love to strip shoots of young trees, and too much of that can hurt the forest.
“It’s an illusion to think in modern society that everything takes care of itself,” says Eggersdorf.
“Everything has been civilized for thousands of years. If you look around, all these corn fields, all this agriculture, that means that there are more deer moving in from the woods. That’s a problem for the farmers. We see it as a lot to do with care taking.”
But wildlife advocates disagree. Lovis Kauertz is head of a wildlife advocacy group called Wildtierschutz Deutschland. He says hunters are given way too much political and ecological weight in Germany.
“Hunting is mainly a leisure activity, of three or four percent of the German population,” says Kauertz.
His organization would like shorter hunting seasons. And he says hunters sometimes shoot more than they need to.
“Hunters should not be in charge of wildlife management,” says Kauertz. “If you seriously want to do that should not be done by hunter’s organizations but by nature organizations.”
But hunting as a means to control wildlife populations has been in play in Germany for hundreds of years. State agencies assign a quota to each hunter for the number of deer that must be hunted within their lease. Hunters are required to meet a quota — sometimes as many as 35 or 40 small deer each year. But hunters can call on friends for help.
At the monthly meeting of the Diana Hunting Club in Berlin, roughly twenty hunters gather around long tables. Tradition and culture is a big part of hunting communities.
They come here once each month to practice target shooting at the range next door, and then meet over coffee and kuchen. There are a few women, but most of the hunters are white-haired men wearing at least one piece of green canvas.
Hunters in Germany are an elite group, and you can sense the camaraderie in the room here. To get a license, German hunters have to take roughly a year of courses. They have to train how to shoot guns with a licensed mentor. They have to pass a rigorous, four-hour exam with questions about agricultural and forestry policies, hygiene, and wildlife biology and gun use.
Martin Rickmann doesn’t lease hunting grounds of his own. But he says he helps friends meet their quota.
“In the beginning you count how many you see, and then they tell you how many you have to hunt,” he says, explaining how state agencies assign a quota to each hunter.
“You get the list of how many for how many deer you have to hunt. And you have to shoot them,” says Rickmann.
And if hunters don’t keep wildlife in check, they pay the consequences. If a sounder of wild boars wreaks havoc on a farmer’s crops, the hunter leasing that land has to pay for the damage. One hunter I spoke with said he paid ten thousand Euros in reparations to a landowner last year, after wild pigs tore through the farmer’s fields.
But if you’re a hunter in need of help bringing down the population of wild pigs on your lease, the Diana Club Jagdhorn ensemble has one way of getting hunters together.
Eight men and women gather at the front of the meeting room, raise their gold jagdhorns and begin to play the “Call to Hunter.”
Like so many Old World traditions, the shiny, tuba-like jagdhorn has been around for hundreds of years Germany. This particular song calls the group together for a fall hunt.
Special thanks to Thomas Schmidt for translation. Bobby LaRon is the voice of the English voiceover.