Dirt Hawkin' Part 2
You hunt (falconers say "fly") a bird when it is at flying weight. A falconer with a bird they are hunting with has to be weighed and journaled about daily. The person flying it needs to know at what weight is the bird still active and healthy, fit and well, but hungry. That hunger is important since all falconry training is based on reward and associated humans with dinner. Enola wasn't hungry. A hungry bird will pay attention, do as told. Her performance was that simple. Raptors in this training program pay attention to their vending machines, but sated birds do not. So instead of risking the bird flying off for good (which happens all the time) Dawn pulled out a fake dead pigeon on a string and spun it around, calling Enola's name. The bird's head turned and she flew back across the fields and landed on Dawn's gauntleted hand.
Dawn knew from the hawk's attitude and actions that hunting with her be at best frustrating and at worst tragic. She could simply sly off in search of lust and a big swell of hot air. Dawn returned her to her wooden perch box in their Jeep. Mark and I were rounded up by then following behind her. Their little beagle mix (they call her the Bagel) came up from behind. It didn't take long for mark to get out his young male, Ulfberht out of his box and on his arm. Loaded with a new bird hungry for the hunt, we headed back to the high brush.
What followed was a lot of hiking, briars, cuts and scrapes and a few falls. I am talking about me here, not Dawn or Mark. I am used to my farm and roads but scrambling through the brush isn't something I have done since pheasant season. I caught up quickly though, and before I knew what was happening a rabbit was flushed by Mark and the Bagel! At this outburst of activity all the people yelled HO HO HOOOOO! And at that rally cry Ulf took flight after the bird, deep into the brush past where we could see. Dawn was close to me and I turned to her, excited as could be, "Do you think we got him?!" and she replied with a doubtful shrug.
"I didn't hear a scream…"
Oh right, I was so used to killing rabbits without any sound at all from the broomstick method I didn't realize how loud and wild their screams would be in a full-out ariel attack. Dawn's hunch was right. No rabbit was smote by Ulf's talons, not this flight anyway.
Even though that first hunting flight didn't produce any game it was a thrill to watch. I couldn't believe I was out doing this, talking with and hunting alongside falconers. It was less than a few weeks ago that I decided I was going to take this up. It was a gut reaction, the same one I felt for Merlin, or Archery, or leaving my job at Orvis. So far I have learned to really trust my passion, regardless of the outcome. I don't mean being reckless or taking on more than you can chew, but having the sense to understand bliss isn't a dirty word. I think a lot of folks hold back in life because they worry that exploring a subculture or hobby might make them seem foolish or be mocked. Others think doing something fun is borderline irresponsible. Those are decisions for us to make for ourselves, but this girl has found success living her ridiculous farm life. And here on this sunny winter day I just yelled HO HOO HOOOOOO to a diving hawk with the fervor of watching a fourth-quarter Hail Mary pass.
We kept up the hunt for another hour or so. Ulf had another flight, after another rabbit. That one also got away but at this point I don't think any of us really cared. The sun was shining, hawks were flying, the dog was smiling and we were good and winded from hours of sludge and brush. When we threw in the towel at dudk I asked if I could treat them to dinner at the Burger Den. They accepted and we headed back to Jackson for the best French fries in town.
At the Burgen Den (the local diner near Cold Antler)we sat in the booth, ordered our meals, and while we waited for our food I heard some amazing Falconry war stories. Mark and Dawn laughed and talked about meets in other states, stories of first rabbits, and gave tips on suppliers and gear. I could not have felt more included, more a part of this sport. That's amazing to me seeing as just last month it was something from image searches online and Discovery Channel specials. We talked about where I go from here, basically continuing to study for my written exam and follow along on more hunts. I explained I needed a sponsor and Dawn suggested a fellow in Washington County named Ed Hepp. He was retired now, but still hunting with birds and has been for over fifty years. I knew it would be a long shot, but I'd give Ed a try. The worst he could say is no.
I loved the day, loved the hunt. And I think it showed. Dawn and Mark saw a member of their tribe that day and I did the same.