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An instruction piece on how to dig a hole?
I would not write such a piece if I had not seen it done poorly often enough.
Let's start at the beginning: Slow down.
As odd a piece of advice as that sounds, that's where to start when it comes to digging holes. Most people are too quick to dig, and don't give their dog enough time to push quarry to a stop end or a bolt hole. If you've dug to your dog only to find it has moved farther down the pipe, you are probably guilty of digging too soon -- welcome to the club!
Once you think the dog has worked the quarry to a stop end, and you've located the spot with the locator box, drive the bar into the ground a foot or two, and give it a good rattle. Stomp on the ground. Then wait a few seconds and box again. If the dog and the quarry are still in the same place, you're ready to dig.
If the box suggests the den pipe may be only two to three feet down, I would recommend using the bar to make sure you have the exact location of the den pipe fixed.
Using a digging bar as a probe is not difficult, but it’s not quite as obvious as it sounds either. The trick to getting a bar through two, three or even four feet of dirt and small stones is to repeatedly slam the bar into the first bar hole you create, and then widen that hole with a strong stirring motion, after which you slam deeper into the soil.
SLAM, slam, stir, stir. SLAM, slam, stir, stir.
Sideways pressure on the bar should put strong pressure on the bottom side, and top edge, of the hole. The goal is to use repeated strong persuasion, and not brute sideways force. You do not want to ruin a good bar by bending it!
As you get close to the depth of where the dog is located, bar more slowly and methodically -- you do not want to slam the bar into the dog, which can kill it. Slower beats faster at this stage!
In normal soil, you should be able to tell when the bar breaks through, as the bar will suddenly pass through a 6- to 12-inch void. Bang -- you found the den pipe! It's not quite so easy if the soil is as soft as cake batter.
Digging a hole sounds simple enough, but sometimes it isn't. In the U.S., most holes are shallow, which is why we can get away with posthole diggers much of the time. They are a nicety in the dense roots and brush of a hedgerow, but many still prefer to dig with a shovel alone, and on a dig deeper than three feet, shovel excavation is always required.
If your box shows a depth of up to three feet, the quickest way to get to the dog, and still have the room you will need to work, is to trench across the pipe about 3 feet long and a shovel-head-and-a-half wide. When you get down to within a foot of the pipe, use your bar to locate it, and then use a posthole digger or the shovel to carefully cut down into the pipe. A posthole digger is excellent here because it will remove the dirt cleanly. You will have to overlap the cutting circle of the posthole digger to cut an earth hole that is 10 to 12 inches across or more. I recommend digging deeper than the pipe and allowing the dog to push any extra dirt into the small "well" that results. Your final result should be a clean hole that is large enough that you can easily pull the dog when it is time to do that.
In truth, most digs require two holes. Often the terrier and the quarry move a bit farther up the pipe just as you break through. This is not a case of the dog moving backwards, but of the dog moving forwards -- often past a turn in the pipe where it had been stymied by the slashing teeth of the quarry.
If you find you need to dig another hole, do so, but again wait until the dog has pushed the quarry as far as it can. Pound on the ground one more time before you dig; you want to avoid a third hole if you possibly can.
If you are up to the quarry, it's important to block off the back end of the pipe before you pull the dog. If you fail to do so, the critter will bolt back into the rest of the sette as soon as the dog is pulled clear. Blocking off the back of the sette can be accomplished by either collapsing the pipe or by blocking it with dirt, rocks, shovel, or posthole digger.
Once you pull the dog, be careful the critter does not bolt out right over your foot and up your pants leg! Put in a shovel head if you have to step out of the hole for a minute.
Once you have pulled the dog, you may realize you have to cut the pipe back another 8 or 10 inches to get right up to the quarry in order to either see it for dispatch, to get a snare on it, or to encourage it to bolt.
One way to encourage a bolt is to drive a bar down behind the animal, and give the bar a good rattle. This is often enough to startle the quarry considerably. If the quarry is right there, simply place a branch or shovel handle in the hole, and give it a few minutes to gather its courage for the dash to freedom.
One thing I find distasteful are people who allow a dog to “work” quarry once the animal is firmly fixed in a stop end and has nowhere to go. This is baiting, and morally wrong, as well as dangerous to the dog. The job of the terrierman is to locate the quarry and dig down to it, not to “test” the dog by allowing it to subject a scared animal to more stress, or to allow the dog to become over-adrenalized to the point it may end up taking foolish risks and harming itself. There is a place to slip in the shovel and put up the dog, and that point is as soon as the quarry is firmly bottled in a short stop end.
Holes deeper than three and a half feet require a different approach, as you will need to be able to get into the hole to pull the dog and dispatch the quarry, otherwise you will find, at the end of the dig, that your arms are too short to reach.
At a depth of four feet, you should be digging a hole that is at least four feet around. When digging deeper than five feet, I recommend a square hole that is at least five feet on each side, as you will have to get the shovel sideways in the hole in order to toss out the dirt. You may want to make the hole a little bit longer than it is wide so that you have room to stand on one side of the hole while digging out the other side.
The deeper the hole, the more important it is to keep the sides square, and to level off the bottom of the hole as you dig. At depths greater than five feet, the danger of collapse has to be paid attention to, as does the logistics of clearing the hole with the dirt. Having someone topside to move spoil back from the edge is an excellent idea.
In holes that are deeper than six feet, you will want to cut footholes into the wall in order to be able to get out. In addition, you will need to cut a deep bench in one side of the hole so that the primary digger, at the bottom of the hole, can toss dirt up to a halfway point. Another digger will then stand on this bench and toss dirt clear of the hole.
If you are unlucky enough to hit running sand, you will need to put in a stick to keep track of the den pipe as you dig, and it will help if you come in from the side, rather than straight on top of the dog.
After a dig, take time to fill in holes, and in hedgerows or forest settes, jam sticks and branches crosswise into the hole so the den pipe is not packed solid with dirt when refilled.
Most dens will eventually be reoccupied, and the more dens that remain intact, the more likely your farms will remain productive for seasons to come.
- Related Post:** The Architecture of Burrows.