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How to Hunt Blackberry - Ian Colley.

I donít know the full history of how the Blackberry arrived in Australia, but I assume it would be something to do with our English forebears missing Grandmaís blackberry pies. But for sure and certain the pest has adapted to life in Australia and has established itself over vast areas. Classified as a noxious weed, considerable amounts of money are spent each year trying to reclaim large areas of country rendered virtually useless by this plant.

The bushes themselves grow to varying heights with the highest being around the 4 meter mark, and continue to spread out each year by new shoots emerging from the existing root system via suckers and new plants germinating from fallen fruit. If left unchecked, they eventually cover huge areas completely and are virtually impenetrable to stock and people. The bushes are similar to the common rose bush and unfortunately have the thorns to match.

My association with this pest goes back to my childhood days spending hours picking fruit for Nanís pies. However my obsession for hunting pigs soon gave me an entirely different reason to renew my acquaintances with this plant. When hunting for property access to hunt pigs a local told me of a property that held large numbers of feral pigs. When I suggested that the only thing that property supported in large numbers was blackberry bushes his reply was ďjust throw a rock into one of them and see what comes outĒ.

Access to the property was duly arranged and he was dead on. The blackberry provided the cover needed to make the local swine population comfortable when camping up during the day, offering both shelter from the elements and most importantly being concealed from prying eyes. Over the next 30 years the numbers of pigs I caught in blackberry would number in the thousands.

So, how do you hunt blackberry?

What to look for:

To work out if there are pigs in the area, all the normal indicators apply, the cocky has been seeing them, rooting, tracks, wallows etc. Once you know pigs are living in the area how do you know if they are camping in the bushes? The easiest way is to look for tunnels, or runs going into the bushes. If they are being frequently used you will be able to see the tracks if the soil is soft, or trampled grass etc will give away all current activity.

Once these signs have been found it is just a matter of letting the dogs do their thing. Bushes with large dead logs in them or trees growing through them are favourite spots, allowing the pigs the extra benefits of something to scratch themselves on while being completely concealed. In the summer, bushes in deep gullies with water laid on are also favourites. In the winter however, when Jack Frost pays a nightly visit these low lying bushes are to cold, the pigs then prefer a bush thatís gets the sun during the day and shelters them from any cold wind.

But, as with most pig hunters the big old cunning boars are the primary targets. The low lying bushes in gullies etc are normally occupied by mob pigs, with the large boars being in attendance only when the sows are in season, but as always there are a few exceptions to the rule. I have found that the majority of, not only large boars, but the real old cunning buggers, like to camp up high on the ridges or just on the lip of the ridges. Concentrating on the gullies will pay off, especially if hunting pressure is light and feed is handy, but if youíre looking for the big old rough fellas a higher success rate is to do a bit of lung busting and get to the tops of the ridges and hills. Blackberry bushes growing right on top or near the top of these ridges and hills should be checked thoroughly.

The Dogs:

Probably the most important part of hunting blackberry is a good team of dogs. Some pigs will not leave the sanctuary of the bushes regardless of what you try and it will be necessary for the dogs to actually get into the bushes to flush them out or catch them in the bush for you. Everyone that hunts blackberry regularly will have their favourite breeds, but my preference is a medium sized dog that will have no trouble accessing the pig runs. You will find larger dogs get caught and tangled in the bushes making it much more difficult for them to catch a fleeing porker.

I always tend to hunt one or two finder/bailers and a hard dog to hold. The finders should be of the busy type, and I would recommend a dog that will check through each bush without you having to throw rocks etc into the bush to try and get the dog to go into them. If you are running all hard dogs you will find that in most cases you will only catch one pig, mostly in the middle of the bushes, and it will be necessary to get the dogs off the hard way if you want them to run on after the mob. If the pig happens to be in a large bush, this takes a bit of time and the other pigs are long gone. A good bailer that can be called off with a quick verbal command or whistle will greatly increase your chances in catching more than one pig from a mob. Another good way to get those runners is having one or two dogs on leads to be let go when the pigs break from the cover of the bush. If you use a rifle when hunting with dogs you will get lots of opportunities to pop off a few as they break from the cover of the bushes.

One problem you may encounter with inexperienced blackberry dogs is that some dogs donít like going into the bushes because of the thorns. Be patient with these types of dogs, they will soon get the idea that if they want to catch the pigs; in the bushes is where they need to be.

Getting the pigs out:

This is when the fun starts and will test the faith you have in your holders. I find that wearing overalls is the best protection I can get from the thorns. The weave helps prevent the thorns catching the material, and makes progress easier, not much easier in some cases though. As a comparison say, if wearing track pants you will spend most of your time untangling the thorns from the material and digging the thorns out of your legs. Also a good pair of leather gardening gloves will help protect your hands if you think it necessary.

One of the easiest ways to get to the pigs is to crawl into the tunnel either on your hands and knees or on your stomach. Be prepared though, when the pig spots you they normally lose all interest in the dogs and focus their attention on you. It is advisable to wait until the pig is facing away from you and then grabbing the back leg and hanging on. This gets very interesting sometimes especially when lying on your stomach trying to hold 80kgs of irate pork. This is when holders should hold no matter what, the time for powdering has long since passed.

The other way to get to the pig is over the top of the bush. A large branch is used to knock the bush down until the pig is reached. This can get frustrating at times with the pig moving around once it sees or hears you coming. I have also tried machetes a few times trying to cut my way into the bushes similar to the branch theory, but finally gave them away. The canes on the bushes tend to move away from the machete with each slash and you will knock up quickly without making much progress. If using this method make sure the machete is sharp, this will make the job a lot easier.

I have also driven a four wheel drive into a bush to clear a path. If using this technique, make sure that you know where your dogs are so you donít run over them. Secondly try and make sure there are no large gullies or logs in the bush that you canít see, you can do some major damage if not careful.

The best time of the year to hunt:

If pigs frequent the area most times of the year is a good time, but if you are limited to hunting once or twice a year, when the fruit is on would be the optimum time. The old hogs canít resist a good feed of blackberry and any examination of their droppings at this time of year will prove the point.

You will find in areas where pigs travel a lot they will always turn up when the Blackberries are ripe no matter where they range. The added bonus when hunting during this period is you can grab a feed yourself. In my particular area of the New England in NSW the bushes bear fruit around late January through February.

Now, all you need to do is find a good patch of blackberry, occupied by a couple of pigs and you are in business. If you are lucky enough to live in an area with no blackberry, all I can say is half your luck, but everyone should try it at least once to find out exactly what you are missing out on.


Above: Well used pig tunnel

Above: A sows nest.

The hill above is covered in Blackberry bushes. The bushes are just starting to lose their leaves after a couple of frosts. In the summer the bushes in the shady part of the gully are top spots, but in the winter the bushes in the small depression left of the trees on top is a top spot to look.

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