With my mother-in-law in town, my wife had help with the kids and I managed to get a full day of hawking in with my friends. Kent arrived at my house first and we took the Kestrel out for a spin. Unfortunately we got 10" of snow the night before and it was hard to find starlings on the ground. We did end up with one good slip though. Gizmo (yes I know its probably the most common Shih-Tzu name in the world, but do those kill stuff?) shot out the window without even thinking and just missed as the starling ducked down into the snow. So the K-bird and I finally got skunked.
About this time, Scott, Daniel, and Jonathan were pulling into Bartlesville and off to the bunny fields we went for some dirt snow hawking. Kent's young Harris' Hawk was up first. He was following as a young inexperienced bird does, low and behind, but was very focused after about 10 minutes of flushing and not seeing anything we make a turn to one of the better spots and see mister cottontail hopping along the bunny trail about 50 yards ahead. The hawk saw it took and shot off in that direction. With such a head start the rabbit easily made it to cover, but we marked the spot and after some shuffling to get the hawk in a good position we reflushed the bunny. It ran directly toward me and about 2 feet from my legs made hard left, scramble two steps and was nabbed in the rear by the Harris. I had a front row seat as I saw the hawk quickly reposition his feet from the rear to the head and it was over. Kent's new Harris' Hawk had it's first rabbit!
Next up, Jonathan and his passage female Red-tailed Hawk that was trapped the first day of trapping season this past fall. Jonathan is a 2nd year apprentice and has become an extremely efficient game hawker. He and his bird had caught 27 rabbits coming into this hunt, and the majority of those were caught in extremely thick greenbriar, I'm talking over my head in some cases and I'm 6'3". Jonathan's bird quickly took up position in a nearby tree and we went to work flushing. I'd say 2 minutes in she nails her first rabbit on her first flight at one. After hearing Jonathan say, "we got done quick today," Scott and I decided to apply the peer pressure and convinced him that we needed to try for a double.
So the bird was traded off and went right back up into the trees and we started walking. Ten yards later the Hawk slams the ground again and we hear "she got it" from Daniel. At this point Scott and I realized that we created a monster because Jonathan chimes in, "lets try for another." Well we've only been hunting with the bird maybe 7 or 8 mins at this point so we all agree that another would be fun. Back in the trees she went and again we started flushing.
This time we made is about another 50 yards before she dove into the grass behind us and sure enough, rabbit #3. We've still been out hunting with this bird less than 20 minutes and yes Jonathan wants to try for 4.
This time we don't flush anything for a while and we decided to cut across the field to another spot. The Hawk follows along power pole to power pole until we reach another good spot of cover which Jonathan and myself quickly work our way through. Fortunately though, the much younger Daniel toughs it out in the thick stuff and flushes another rabbit. The Red-tail launches herself off of a high power pole folds into a stoop, levels out about half way down, repositions, and recommits to her stoop, smashing into rabbit #4! Four flights at rabbits and four catches! 28, 29, 30, and 31 for the year and there is plenty of season left. About as good a year as I have seen out of any apprentice and its not over yet. Before Jonathan can even think about #5 we all let him know that we've had just about enough walking in 10" snow and I'm pretty sure that he was relieved. Of course now we are probably close to a mile from the car, but I can assure you that the walk back was far easier for the group than it was for Jonathan, because I held his game bag went we got back to the car and it had to be over 10 pounds. That may not sound like much when when you have to carry through all that snow it adds up and I'm sure he slept well last night.
At this point Jonathan and Daniel had to head back to Tulsa and Kent, Scott and I loaded up the longwings and went searching for ducks on the ranch. We found a good setup with about 50 mixed ducks on a small pond and Scott insisted that I fly first. We put Tulsa in the air and he stunk it up from that start. He had a pretty slow wingbeat, would climb for a bit then fly around losing height then climb a bit, then tool around some more and when the ducks were flushed he buzzed them and landed on the ground. I called him to the lure and put him up. Today was the heaviest I have ever flown him, 722 grams, so I'm pretty confident that todays shenanigans can be attributed to high weight since I'm usually flying him around 685-690. Surprisingly two ducks stayed on the pond through all of that and Scott put his bird up for a shot at them. Bullseye climbed really well in the perfectly calm evening. At 1000' or above we went in for the flush and a Gadwall was hit but not solid and she bounced of the hill leading down to the water and returned to its safety. The falcon was called down and this time the peer pressure was applied to Scott to fly again. He decided that we would try one of his new ponds and sure enough there was probably 100 or more ducks on it. After a bit of a rest Bullseye was in the air again quickly climbing in front of the truck and toward the pond. Not quite as high as he was on the first pond, but still at a very respectable pitch, he stooped the fleeing ducks from a near vertical position. We could hear the thud of the impact from probably 100 yards away and knew that there was a dead duck behind the dam wall of the pond. After watching Scott run to his bird (there are eagles that hang out here), Kent and I made our way down the hill to find the falcon happily munching on the neck of a drake Wigeon as the sun went down.
Overall a great day of falconry. Of course I was the only one to draw a blank, but it was a blast just hanging out with like minded people and watching some great birds doing what they were made to do.
*update* Back in the Game
Took the K-bird out this morning with my wife tagging along, her first time car hawking. Made one turn out of the neighborhood, saw some starlings, turned right, one slip one grab, back home in less than 5! Finally some falconry she enjoyed.