American hunters help German farmers keep pest animals at bay
September 23, 2016
WIESBADEN, Germany — It’s harvest season in Germany, the perfect time for farmers to reduce the population of pest animals as their cover — acres of cornfields — is removed. It’s also a beautiful day for a hunt; the sky is clear, the sun shining and visibility is perfect. There’s just one problem: It’s a Thursday.
For the past four years, however, farmers near Wiesbaden have been able seek help from a group of American hunting enthusiasts who live in the area, many of them retirees or spouses of military members who have flexible schedules. Calling themselves the “Cornfield Reaction Force,” they can come out to the farmland within a matter of hours and perform a much-needed service.
“It’s difficult to get people for a fox hunt in the middle of the week, and you don’t always know when (harvesters) will start,” said reaction force member Stefan Diehl, who is the orchard master at Domaene Mechthildshausen, a farm just outside Clay Kaserne. “Some Americans from this group have time, and it’s a good thing for us here because we have a lot of foxes.”
Besides being carriers of disease, foxes can sometimes make their way into his farm’s chicken grazing area, Diehl said.
“They hunt our chickens and geese. And also we have some small pheasants. There are not so many in Germany overall, so we need to protect them,” said Diehl, speaking of the farm where he works.
Central to such efforts is the Cornfield Reaction Force, whose members get a chance practice their hobby free of charge while providing their time and skills to reduce the pest animal population. So far this year, they’ve helped with 16 harvests and have requests for more nearly every week, said Steve Steininger, a retired soldier.
Now a liaison officer for U.S. Army Europe, Steininger is also the vice president of U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden Hunting, Fishing and Sport Shooting.
Thursday, the reaction force focused on a few farms in and around Clay Kaserne, including Domaene Mechtildshausen.
As harvesting machines churned away, members of the reaction force stood guard on the perimeter of a field, ready to shoot if a fox attempted to escape to the woods or ajoining land.
The animals typically wait until the final row of corn is taken before running, a situation that results in long periods of inactivity followed by bursts of commotion.
“We found out about this harvest 36 hours ago,” Steininger said. “Sometimes it’s as close as four hours. Sometimes the (farming) machinery breaks, the weather turns bad, or it turns out the crop isn’t ready. We have to be relatively flexible, and that’s why we’ve got about 18-20 people on the force.”
The landowner decides what happens to the kill. If the farmer doesn’t want to keep the animals for food, the hunters have the option to buy them; animals without food value are usually kept by farmers for bait for wild boars or other animals suitable for consumption.
All the members of the group have taken the German hunting course and have up-to-date hunting licenses, Steininger said. It’s something farmers, as owners of the land, are required to check before allowing the hunters on their property.
German hunting regulations are strict . The course takes the better part of a year, and before a license is issued, prospective hunters have to demonstrate their technical proficiency.
“It’s not just going down to a local store and buying a deer tag, a gun and ammo and going out and trying to whack Bambi; it’s a lot more,” Steininger said.
Though the red tape might be more extensive than it is stateside, Steininger says, American hunting enthusiasts stationed here shouldn’t be intimidated.
“If you want to do it and you’ve got two or three years left in Germany, go ahead and do it,” he said. “A German hunting license is recognized around the world as something special.”
Neil Zoromski, a military spouse who lives in Wiesbaden, is in his second year of participating in the reaction force.
“My wife is working on the base, so sometimes I don’t have a lot to do,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun to get together with a big group of like-minded people. We can talk and have a good time. You never know what you’re going to get into.”
Along with the Americans, a few German hunters, including Diehl, took up their rifles on Thursday, something Steininger said is common.
“The ability to interact with Germans doing something that I really am passionate about is fun,” he said. “Since we threw the walls up around our kasernes and withdrew behind our fences after 9/11, this is one of those areas where we really do interface with our hosts.”