SI Vault
Charles W. Thayer
October 28, 1963
A former diplomat, shown here stalking deer in the Alpine solitude of his private Bavarian reserve, tells America how to profit from a centuries-old European system
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October 28, 1963

A More Sensible Way To Hunt

A former diplomat, shown here stalking deer in the Alpine solitude of his private Bavarian reserve, tells America how to profit from a centuries-old European system

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First of all, he said, the law requires that only a qualified hunter who has had a German hunting license for at least three years can bid on a reserve. My own license dated from 1939, so this was no problem. However, it can be a formidable one, since getting a hunting license in Germany is no simple matter of paying the local sporting goods store a license fee or taking a perfunctory test in weapon handling.

The German law lists six subjects in which an applicant for a license must be proficient: 1) zoology, as it pertains to local game; 2) the use of weapons, including permissible loads for shells and cartridges; 3) hunting practices; 4) the law pertaining to hunting; 5) the handling of hunting dogs; and 6) the basic principles of conservation. In addition, the law requires the use of ancient German hunting jargon and familiarity with European hunting customs.

There is nothing superficial about the examination, and the standard textbook for beginners is a 300-page volume containing information that ranges from the diseases of badgers to the notes of European hunting calls. Under the heading "hunting practice," an applicant must be able to do such things as distinguish the hoofprints of a running stag from those of a walking hind and dress an animal with his sleeves rolled down, without getting a drop of blood on his cuffs. The examining board in each county is made up of specialists who test the applicant orally. If he should refer to a stag as "dying" instead of "succumbing" as the jargon requires, he gets a red mark, and if he does not know that a hunter's toast is drunk with the left hand he is looked upon as an uneducated oaf.

In addition to the legal limitations of prospective bidders, the local farmers' association had imposed certain rules of its own. No outsiders were permitted to bid, and bidders had to agree not to sell hunting permits to strangers by the day. The association would determine by vote which of the three highest bidders should be granted the lease.

"There," said the chairman, "is where you will run into trouble, since not a dozen farmers here know you." It was an understatement, for I lived at the very edge of the community, high up the valley, and, aside from the village officials and shopkeepers, scarcely anyone knew me except as the somewhat odd Amerikaner who could often be found standing chest-high in their icy river casting for trout.

Nevertheless, supported by a half dozen friends, my wife and I decided to make a bid. We were in Washington when a frantic cable from my friends announced the bidding was about to take place and that I would have to send my hunting license so they could get my Jagdpachtf�higkeitsbescheinigung. The Washington cable office seemed to suspect I was communicating in a secret code, but skeptically accepted my explanation that my friends wanted to get me a "certificate-of-ability-to-lease-a-hunting-reserve." I airmailed my license, submitted my bid and waited.

Weeks later I was given the dramatic details of what followed. My two principal competitors were the B�rgermeister of the village and a farmer known as "The Knogler," after his farm, the Knogl. The rivalry between the two and their supporters in the village grew bitter as the auction day approached. Wherever a group of farmers assembled heated arguments took place. "For two weeks I couldn't even go to the inn for my evening glass of beer," one of the contenders told me later.

When at last the association met at the inn and the names of the three highest bidders were announced, feelings had reached a high pitch of tension. Top bidder was The Knogler. When my bid was announced as second highest it was greeted with shouts of derision. This convinced my backers that, as they had suspected all along, I did not stand a chance. Hastily they withdrew to a smoke-filled back room of the inn, where, in the best of political traditions, a deal was made. My candidacy was withdrawn in favor of The Knogler's and my votes went to him. In return, he would accept me as a junior partner. When the votes were counted, The Knogler won handily.

When I returned to the village a few weeks later and subscribed to the agreement, I had the odd feeling that I was being sent up the river for a 12-year stretch, for a hunting lease imposes heavy responsibilities. The right to shoot is limited by a quota established for the reserve. This my partner had already arranged. First, with the help of the state forestry officials, he made an estimate of the game population. Then, using a formula that is based on the size and type of area, he proposed a shooting quota for each species and type of game—so many 1-A stags, so many hinds, so many roebuck, etc. This proposal was submitted for approval to the county hunting agent and the chairman of the local farmers' association.

The object of the formula on which the annual quota is based is, in the words of the law, "to maintain a healthy stand of all native species of game within the limits imposed by the justified demands of agriculture, forestry and fishing." For example, in a mountain reserve such as ours, which consists of about 70% pasture land, a population of 10 roebuck per 100 acres is considered healthy.

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