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Stalking the Elusive Badger

Beginning in July 2020, I became a regular contributor to Wisconsin Outdoor News (WON) in "From The Little Cabin In The Woods" column.

This article was published in the WON April 2, 2021 issue.

In addition, The American Airedale, the publication of the Airedale Terrier Club or America promotes the versatility of the Airedale terrier. This article also appeared in their No. 4- 2021 issue.

GCH Coldtream Major Mischief Second To None CGC JFT TKI. Major checking for badgers.

“You wouldn’t catch me with my snoot that close to a badger hole,” came the text message from Shannon in response to a photo I posted to our little cabin family text group.

Major and I were out for a stroll on one of the wonderful 40-degree days we have had since we returned from Florida. We found three fresh badger digs that day. Yesterday, we found two more, including one that looked like the classic badger dens I have been seeing in photographs on the internet.

While I sure would not want Major to tangle with our state animal, Airedale terriers were bred for the specific task of digging badgers, woodchucks, ground squirrels, and other burrow-dwelling creatures from their dens. Every Airedale characteristic: the shaggy beard and eyebrows, the docked tail, the strippable hair, the strength of the jaws, and the indomitable spirit, makes them perfect for those tasks. Much like their original badger quarry, they are master diggers. The term “terrier” means “to the ground.” The terrier group dogs that you see on television dog shows, look like a bunch of wiry-coated, perky clowns in various sizes, shapes, and colors. They are indeed that. The cute image is somewhat misleading. Every one of these terriers comes to us from breeding originally planned to create courageous, tenacious, digging, varmint-killing machines. Airedales are the largest of the group. Major is mostly a lover. However, getting his “snoot that close to a badger hole” is exactly his cup of tea.

We did not stumble onto these badger excavations. Major found them. When we went out yesterday, I took him to an area on the farm where the previous owner had piled up stumps from some clearing activities, likely done many years ago. Sandy soil covered with coarse, woody debris is badger heaven. This particular spot is situated on an oak savannah near a cornfield. It provides great cover and feeding areas. The oaks and grain attract prey animals. Badgers feed on small mammals like mice, voles and ground squirrels. They also like insect grubs. Bucky is also not above eating corn, crabapples, and acorns. The habitat we were in yesterday has the whole buffet. When I let Major out of the truck, he led me to one excavation after another. Apparently, badgers have the ability to emit some pretty stinky substances to mark territories or to scare away enemies. I am not sure if this contributed to our ability to find the holes or if he sighted them. Major holds a Junior Fur Tracker (JFT) title from the Airedale Terrier Club of America. Once I showed him what we were looking for, he went from one to another. I do not think there were badgers in any of the holes, as Major was only mildly interested.

I cannot find any current estimate of the number of badgers in Wisconsin. There were two studies done here in the last decade. One out of UW-Madison looked at badgers in the southwest part of the state. According to a UW-Extension publication, the badgers were hard to find and harder to radio collar.

Another study was done by a graduate student at UW-Milwaukee. She was looking at badger genetics. I think I spoke to that student many years ago. Stan had given me an Amish-made log deer stand (the predecessor to my current she shed). We placed it on the edge of the woods, facing our north cornfield. The first evening that I sat in it, fall turkey hunting, I saw a badger. It was about 15 yards to the north of me. It waddled out of the woods, just before dusk and disappeared into the corn. I had heard that the Milwaukee student was looking for badgers, so I called her.

“I think we have a lot of them,” I shared enthusiastically. “There are lots of badger holes on our land.

She laughed, “One badger can dig a lot of holes. According to some reports, “a lot of them” might be one or two in three sections.

The cornfield badger was actually the second one that I was lucky to see at the little cabin. The first sighting was perhaps the second year we had the place. At the time, our Airedale was Sunny, a pheasant hunting machine that we got from Nightsun Airedales in Alberta, Canada. He was bird trained by Jim Zelienka of Badger Kennels in Coloma, WI. That training and the obedience that resulted from it, came in pretty handy one late spring evening.

I was sitting out in front of the little cabin, enjoying a campfire. Sunny lounged in the yard, with his nose into the wind. Suddenly, he leapt up and ran up the trail to the west. Just at the bend in the trail, he locked up on point. I was thinking he had a hen turkey with a brood.

“Whoa,” I directed.

He did not move, but his tail was vibrating, as I walked up the trail towards him. When I saw what was unfolding, I quickened my pace. About six feet in front of him, 20-pound Bucky had faced off with 75 pounds of Airedale. True to the badger reputation, the critter was showing no fear. He had reared up on his stubby front legs. His mouth was open. We had a good view of his impressive teeth. He was emitting a sound somewhere between hissing and growling. By now, Sunny’s whole body was quivering in anticipation.

“Whoa,” I reminded him sternly, as I grabbed him by the collar.

Nightsun Beau Soleil....Sunny

At that point, Bucky had had enough. He turned and waddled to the west through the woods, stopping from time to time to glare at us over his brawny shoulder. The famous “Jim Zelienka heal-off-lead” training came in handy as we headed back to the little cabin, assuring that Bucky would have plenty of time to find his den, or dig another one.

With the badger nesting season upon us, Major and I are going to look for a place to put a trailcam on a likely looking den. Hopefully, Major will only get to experience Bucky in the olfactory sense.

Major hunts pheasants with Christine.

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