It seems a day does not pass by without a box full of e-mail with the question, “How do I become a falconer ?” or “Where can I get a falconry course?” Perhaps the question should be, “Am I a suitable person to be a falconer?” The latter question is not about snobbery or elitism, both to be found in falconry, like anywhere else of course. Falconry is the art and sport of flying birds of prey at wild quarry in a natural environment. That does of course mean that birds and mammals are going to die, and there is every likelihood that you are going to have to kill them. Respect for the quarry should ensure that it does not suffer unduly making a swift dispatch essential. Now this may sound rather blunt and party pooping, but if this aspect can not be dealt with, you will not become a falconer. It will result in undue suffering when your hawk decides to attack some unsuspecting quarry, which you are unable to despatch efficiently. Most other aspects of falconry can be learnt or accommodated with time and patience.
What to avoid.
It may seem a silly thing to say but don’t go out and buy a hawk. It happens and the hawk usually suffers.
Going on a course without talking to several experienced falconers first could be a disaster. Falconers and austringers fly their hawks most days during the hunting season. So who is offering you the course? This is not to say that there are no good courses available, just be careful. Many can “talk the talk” but don’t really come up to scratch except in the department of emptying your pocket.
What it takes
You really need to look at your own temperament and durability in a serious manner before making any final decisions. Are hobbies just passing fads forgotten in twelve months? Do you have the patience and dedication to train a hawk and care for it, even if things go wrong. You can not bully a hawk into doing what you want. You have to be aware of the hawks motivation and needs if you want it to respond to you. In short, you will only get out what you put in.
OK, you decide to go ahead because you believe you will be able to provide for the needs of a hawk. The most common problem to be faced is that of time. How do you find the time to fly a hawk and keep it fit. Unfortunately, most adults have to work during prime flying time to earn their living. I know falconers in this position who keep their birds fit and in tip top condition. This of course is where the dedication comes in. Home from work in the evening and taking that long awaited evening meal, it is all too easy to let that comforting feeling dictate your evening. Are you going to be standing on top of a set of steps, jumping your hawk to the fist to keep it fit
and athletic, ready for the week-end hunting, or succumb to the temptation of putting your feet up and watching television?
What you need
Having established that you are a responsible person who can consistently meets the needs of a raptor, you will want to know how to catch rabbits or game. This is often the difficult area, because you will soon realise that unless you are fortunate enough to be a land owner, you will need to have consent to hunt over at least a thousand acres of land and probably more. This may sound a lot of land, but treading the same ground every day will soon diminish potential quarry. Having found your prime hunting ground, it is essential to present your hawk with the opportunity to catch the quarry hidden in the hedgerows and other cover. As a beginner, you will probably be hunting with a Red-tailed Hawk or a Harris Hawk, meaning rabbit is the most likely quarry. Rabbits that have not been hunted will sit around in some areas almost oblivious to your presence, until you carry a hawk of course. It soon becomes evident that finding the illusive rabbit is not as easy as first thought. The obvious tools for the
Dogs for falconry
The person who flies a harris or redtail is known as a austringer and would be inclined to use a springer spaniel. Someone flying a falcon would be inclined towards a pointer. The decision on what dog to acquire would be based on factors including available quarry and terrain. If patience is not your virtue, you will have purchased your hawk and be now wondering how to introduce a dog. If you are virtuous, you will buy and train the dog first and introduce the hawk to dog. This is the best way to achieve success with that partnership and your own with the dog. A Harris that is receiving little service from an inexperienced dog is likely to take out it’s frustration on the animals hind quarters. It encourages the dog to stay in cover but not the recommended way of doing so.
My personal experience involves many years working Springer’s to gun and hawk and for rough country flushing are unbeatable. When I started flying long-wings I bought a German Wirehaired Pointer. This !@#$%^&* was absolutely brilliant on the open ground and could almost stop on a sixpence from a fast gallop to point game. Unfortunately, GWP’s have this thing about them that makes them unreliable out of sight. The Germans breed them to kill ferrule cats and bring down deer. Mine had a super temperament but one day attacked my Springer !@#$%^&* leaving a large gash in her neck and my hand. This is why I insist you join a club, to see what is best for you before you buy.
Ferrets for falconry
There are many strange stories and myths associated with ferrets and best forgotten. The ferret’s history has mysterious missing parts and it is quite intriguing reading all the theories. However, all you need to know that the ferret is the austringer’s best friend. Yes, cheaper than a dog to feed and keep and a far more efficient hunter. Unless you are danger areas and avoid them. Unfortunately, the village where I live
has been enveloped into the city over the years. The problem this presents on my hunting land is that of light pollution. It is increasingly difficult to find a really dark night. However, with plenty of cloud cover, no moon and enough breeze to making stalking possible, lamping is a productive way of keeping your hawk active and giving your hunting an added perspective. I spend time every year hunting harris hawks and goshawks using lamps without injury to birds.
Telemetry Loosing a hawk can be very easy for a beginner with little support and even the experienced falconer who may be flying in difficult terrain or circumstances. A sensible person uses a radio tracking system which can seem an expensive investment, until the day your hawk is out of sight and you don’t have a clue where it may be. There are many systems on the market but only a few reliable ones. The weakness is usually at the transmitter end. I use an expensive transmitter but a cheaper reliable receiver, thus striking a sensible compromise. The chances are that your telemetry will cost more than your hawk, but you note I used the word investment when referring to telemetry.
A hawk that has fed-up and sitting in a tree can appear invisible to your eye and swinging the lure becomes pointless. Therefore, buy telemetry and pick up the hawk before it finishes off it’s kill. It’s far more comfortable in the pub on a Saturday evening in December, than sat under a tree waiting for day break.
The future There are people who would view falconry as cruel and those such as myself who have a different perspective. I see myself as a hunter, a natural part of the human that some would wish to suppress. I view keeping domestic cats as promoting cruelty. Despite being fed their instincts drive them to hunt and kill, yet not eat their prey but play it into a painful death. However, I would hope we will encourage education and lateral thinking as the way to resolve our differences and not the heavy handed methods of anti-hunting campaigners.
I like to look positively into the future and encourage our grey partridge to exist once again on the ground I hunt, and be a permanent part of our wildlife. They are great quarry, testing falcons to the limit, but more importantly, they need to exist as they once did. As a full time falconer, I also need to be aware of keeping my hawks flying as long as possible throughout the season and it helps by providing some extra game, thus taking the pressure off wildlife.
I have of course been rather presumptuous about your cultural and geographical circumstances. Living in England, where it is dark during the winter when most people go to work and also when they return familiar with your hawk and ferret, it advisable to have a friend to help you.
A pair of ferret hobs bought young and handled plenty will prove a good investment. I prefer to use white gills myself but gills require mating when in season to prevent heath problems. To prevent the gills having young, a vasectomised hob can be used. However, a pair of hobs kept together usually do well providing there are no gills around during the breeding season.
Lamps used in falconry
For reasons best known to themselves, this seems to be a contentious issue with some people. It appears that those lacking the field skills acquired over many years, come up with excuses for not lamping with hawks at night and make it sound inappropriate. As with all elements of hunting with hawks, one has to use common sense and be aware of
home, it is easy to forget that it does not apply to others. However, the principles remain the same.
I advise those that contact me about starting up in falconry, to find a local club. The next e-mail tells me there is no falconry club nearby. Unless you live in a very remote area, it is likely there is a falconry club near you. It may not be publicised, but it is almost certainly there. Bearing in mind that falconry is a minority sport, you may need to travel further than the nearest pub, but if you can not put yourself out to travel, you are unlikely to succeed. “Near you.” is a relative term but falconers do not tend to meet every week in the UK, so it maybe twenty or thirty miles.
It is essential to read as much as you can on the subjects of dogs, ferrets and hawks before embarking on your quest to learn more.
You need to be able to sort out the reason for a practice before buying it. I would not dream of considering myself an expert and those that do are often fools motivated by money. Falconry and dog training is not rocket science nor is it for the idiot. It requires a level headed approach and a sensible and realistic piece of planning. If you are quite sure you have the appropriate support of a mentor, a realistic plan for housing, husbandry and training of dog and hawk, go ahead and good luck.
It is important to remember the kind farmers that allow you onto their land. I found they enjoy an evening out together for a meal and a drink. I have a farmers feast every winter which we all enjoy.
In the past, I have invited those interested in taking up falconry, out for a days hawking prior to joining our local club. Unfortunately, it has encouraged those that have no intention of taking up the sport to have a free and entertaining day out at my expense. Needless to say, the free day out is no longer available.
If you are looking for an introduction to falconry you can contact my friend George on the link shown below, the venue is the West County—United Kingdom.