Saturday, September 24, 2016

So, You Want To Be a Falconer?

I was driving on the back roads of Salem, a town just north of Jackson where I live. I had been trolling those lanes for days. Watching telephone poles and tree limbs like a real creep. More than one neighbor, pulled up beside me to asked what I was doing and why. I couldn’t blame them. I mean, an 89’ Ford Pickup is slowly rolling past their farm several times a day with a thought-full driver stopping every so often to raise a pair of binoculars… Talk about shady. But whenever anyone asking I was looking for a young hawk to train for falconry, they were excited as I was. The most common response I got was, “Wait? You can do that? Like anyone can get into falconry?!”


I trapped Aya on a hot day in the early afternoon. I had spent the morning frustrated, having failed to catch another bird (as I had been failing for 21 days since trapping season started). I had staked out a large female Tail at the Polo Club. I arrived before dawn and watched her sit on a branch for three hours above the white fences where people play (what I am guessing is horse hockey?) on the weekends. All that time and then she just casually flew over the trap without landing on it. No dice. I thought that was my trapping for the day, as I had plenty of work to do at home.

But after lunch I had the urge to go on a local loop. I spotted her hunting on a low power line at the edge of a field.  She was watching the ground furiously, head bobbing, clearly focused on grabbing lunch. I drove by and threw down the trap gently and she was flying to it before I even turned my truck around. After 3 weeks of hope, there she was.

“...anyone can get into falconry?!”


Even as the numbers of participants slowly grow, falconry will always be a niche sport. Mostly because you need to go out of your way to practice it; more so than any other sport in America. Just applying to learn took me a year. And before anyone dares let you drive around with a hawk trap to freak out the locals, you got hoops to jump through: You need to take a written exam (and score 80% or higher), build a hawk house (called a mews), get that house inspected by a game warden and signed off on, take a 2-day long hunter’s safety course, obtain a hunting license, gather falconry supplies suitable to the bird you will trap (Redtail or Kestrel), and have an experienced falconer sign on to teach you. So, no one who isn’t serious about hunting with hawks goes through all that trouble and evaluation. The application process is also a screening process that way. So, to answer that common question, yes, anyone who can get a hunting license in their state can go through the process of becoming a falconer. It's just that so few do. It's a pain in the ass and for good reason.

That’s the hard part. That’s the work - the being allowed into the club. The actual trapping, training, and eventual releasing of a wild animal to hunt beside you is the adventure.

And as you build your mews and save up for your first hood and gauntlet - you are expected to read up and study falconry and raptors. Books are suggested and loaned from private libraries. Videos are watched, stories swapped, and events like field meets and small hunting trips are encouraged. This is a subculture that requires immersion. Even the most aloof person can’t be a solitary falconer. We’re a community by default. And if you want to join us it starts by researching your state's hawking club and asking for more information. They can direct you to the application process, local falconers, educational outlets, books, websites and more. In most states you can start at 14.

Right now Aya and I are just days into our story. She is spending a lot of time with me. We watch Netflix and go for long walks. She eats out of my hand, and last night she took a small mouse from my glove and swallowed it down in one gulp. She’s still skittish, but learning that when she sees me there’s going to be some take out. I am her Postmates guy. No one is bummed to see the person delivering Ben and Jerry’s.

Over the next few days we’ll go from learning to eat together to learning to fly to me from a distance. It starts with hopping to the glove for a tidbit of food. Of the following weeks it then changes to a 100 yard flights to the glove. It happens on her schedule, not mine. Right now I am thrilled she’s tolerating me.

More updates on her as training progresses. But my next post is going to be about finally thwarting the landscaping attempts of my piglets - who have destroyed the yard in their rooting and when my mom comes to visit in three weeks she is NOT going to be into it.


Blogger Goat Song said...

Good job catching her! Looking forward to reading more about your adventures together. :) I'm taking my exam next month... Been waiting eight years to do this, and now I'm finally in a position to start the long process of hunting with raptors. Here in Missouri the laws are slightly different about what birds a beginner can start out with; we can choose almost any hawk/falcon that is native here (the Harris hawk is also allowed; although not native), and can either trap a wild one, or buy a captive bred. This law change happened two years ago and has made all the local falconers quite happy!
Good luck with your girl... May you have many successful hunts together.

September 24, 2016 at 8:55 AM  
Blogger Ngo Family Farm said...


September 26, 2016 at 10:53 PM  

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