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Michigan Hawking Club Field Meet 2012

February 7th, 2012

Michigan Hawking Club Field Meet 2012

 

Intro

This past weekend was the yearly Michigan Hawking Club Field Meet. This is the only meet in Michigan that is open to the public where folks can come in and go out hawking with experienced falconers and their birds.  It is also a big day for fundraising for the club each year with the silent auction of falconry items and then after the dinner, the live auction.  Many folks from all over donate items to the club specifically for the auctions. Artwork, falconry equipment,  and several other types of outdoors and hunting items.

I was looking forward to flying my PFRT* “Sable” in the meet but she had been sidelined earlier this year due to some injuries sustained while hunting. Regardless of not having a bird to fly, I was determined to enjoy a great day of falconry with some wonderful falconers and some exciting birds.

The weather was unusually warm for a field meet in the early part of February.  It was 45º F and sunny.  A great day, perfect weather for falconers, not necessarily perfect weather for hawking, hunting, or rabbits. Last year at this time, the Lansing area had about 26 inches of snow and it was tough walking.  The cold and the wind made it difficult for walking and the birds had some troubles with flights. So the weather was vastly different from a year ago and I believe, was a contributing factor to the successful hunting that I was witness to.

Hunt I

In the morning, we were sitting around enjoying some coffee and bagels until it was time to go hunting with a small group of folks.  We went out with Falconer Dave and his PFRT* “Bandit.” Bandit has been doing very well on rabbits this year and the field meet was another good exercise for her in the field with an extra set of brush beaters. Bandit got three chances at rabbits in this small field that was thawing out quickly in the sunlight.  The rabbits had extra traction today without the snow, so on the last flight, all Bandit got was the tail.  At least Dave had a small trophy to take home for the day.  After a good morning of hawking with Dave and Bandit the brush-beater crew was getting hungry so we decided to make it back to the community center (meet hub) for some refreshments.

Hunt II

The second hunt took place after lunch.  With some good food consumed and excitement for hunting, I grouped up with Falconer Sue and a few other folks to go out to another hunting spot.  There are some days when I don’t mind being  the excursion leader, but being put on the spot to lead folks to a hunting area that I’ve been to once makes me a little nervous.  With a very chatty passenger, I had some difficulty keeping track of how to arrive at my destination and I inadvertently led a caravan on an extended detour along I-96 north of Lansing. In any event, we arrived at the spot a little late and got the hunting crew all suited up for a good squirrel chase.  “Indie,” Sues PFRT* was first out of the box, she was ready for hunting today and  has had lots of practice at squirrels.  She had two squirrels going about 60 feet up in this tree. The first one was caught by Indie right away, but the hawk had the squirrel between the crook of a branch and couldn’t get down, so Indie let the squirrel go, and the chase was on. The squirrel bailed down a branch and the hawk missed on the second attempt. As the squirrel made its way down the branch, it disappeared into a hole in the tree and the chase was over.

A second Squirrel appeared after Indie saw it and that squirrel, too, made it’s way into the same hole in the tree where the other squirrel went. Great, now there are two squirrels that Indie can’t get to.  By this time the brush-beater crew is all hacking at branches and making general racket to excite the squirrels.  A third squirrel was still sitting motionless in the very top of another tree.  This little critter was about 80 feet up and hadn’t been spotted by Indie yet.  The noise level started making the squirrel nervous, so he twitched just right and Indie was hot on her tail.  The squirrel bailed out, down the tree and nearly landed directly on my head. I saw the squirrel land on the ground just three feet away, and immediately Indie was on the squirrel.  I stuck my hand in to hold the head and Indie had no injuries or bites. Indie was traded off the squirrel without an issue. The hunting crew today consisted of some VIP’s and a family, and they were treated to a first rate falconry experience thanks to Sue and Indie.

Hunt III

Our third adventure took us away from the Lansing area up to St. Johns where we joined Jeff and another brush-beater crew already in progress.  Jeff’s 1xFRT** was on fire in the afternoon with one fresh rabbit in the bag.  Every ten steps that the beating crew walked put out another rabbit. After several flushes, the hawk connected on a cottontail and was traded off.  Another two rabbits flushed and the hawk got it’s third cottontail on the day.  The flights were quick and the hawk was fast enough, but it was very exciting to watch the hawk go after another rabbit and keep up with the large crew.

If you hunt often, having your hawk catch one rabbit is a great thing; you feel like an accomplished falconer for the day and you feel good that your hawk caught something worthwhile.  If you are lucky enough to have your rabbit hawk catch two  rabbits for a single hunt, not only are you doing well, and you have a great hunting spot;  you are having a banner day with your hawk!  This would be cause for lots of pictures and a great celebration at the end of the day. I’d be talking about it for weeks!  Three rabbits in a single hunting afternoon with the same bird is practically unheard of!  The hunt ended with three rabbits in the bag for Jeff’s hawk with a very excited hunting crew ready for more!

Hunt IV

With daylight dwindling down and the fatigue from the day catching up to us, it was time for one last hunt with a goshawk.  Falconer Dave got out “Spike” and brought him out to the field.  I’ve been attending field meets for about five years now and this was an event that I had eagerly anticipated; watching a goshawk flight after rabbits.  Knowing the temperamental nature of Goshawks, this hunt was going to go one way or the other; really good or it would be a bust.  Spike flew up into a tree in a central location in the field while the brush-beating crew walked around looking to kick out rabbits from the brush.  It took us a while before we were able to get a few going, and the rabbits seemed like they were popping out everywhere.  The goshawk had a decent perch with a good view of the landscape, but just didn’t give chase to any bunnies.  At one point, while waiting for the bird to see if it would take off, I stood still for a moment, catching the sunset as the sun lowered into the horizon. It was good to take in the moment and enjoy the light as it scattered rays of sun in all directions through the clouds.  Then I took a step and GAAAAAAAAHHHH!!!  A rabbit had been sitting still right under me and the next step he decided to bust out of that cover and shot behind me in the opposite direction of the Goshawk.  That was a hunting ‘first’ for me, actually stepping on a rabbit to make him flush.

That goshawk never did give chase to a bunny, and even appeared to turn up it’s beak at the quality flushes that that the brush-beating crew put out for him.  Sadly, it was a disappointing goshawk hunt, but it was still enjoyable to be in the company of some great folks.

A Good Day of Hawking

There were some falconers lamenting the fact that there was no snow and that the temperatures were warm. It was overheard from more than one falconer that they saw a Gardner Snake in the field. A Gardner Snake sunning itself out in February??? What’s up with that?  I for one, witnessed a great deal of excellent hawking today and enjoyed the weather. The two feet of snow from last year was impossible to walk through without the assistance of snowshoes.  But the warmer weather has it’s drawbacks too; for instance in one hunting place, the field had been plowed under by farm equipment, and the water had not drained off yet, making about 6 inches of mud to slog through with  a decent pair of boots.  Once the boots get covered in mud and weighted down, there is not much difference than trudging through two feet of snow.

The only thing that would have made my day better was if I could have flown my hawk “Sable” out today and her be successful on some game. That would have been the only way to make the day better, but I sure had a great full day of falconry. I’m looking forward to next year already!

 

-Chris

 

*PFRT – Passage Female Red-Tail Hawk

** 1xFRT – One-Time Intermewed Female Red-Tail Hawk



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