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Posts Tagged ‘Hunting’

First Impressions

December 18th, 2013

First Impressions

First Hunting Experience

I’ll never forget my first exposure to hunting when I was a boy. My father had always gone out on hunting excursions in the fall for many years, and I always wanted to go with. As a young boy, I enjoyed our outdoor adventures and any time I could go out for a hike in the woods, I was up for it. So it was one fall trip up north that my father took my brother and me out hunting rabbits for the first time. This was to be a short, hunting excursion, just to get the experience and see what rabbit hunting is all about. We drove a short while to the middle of the woods somewhere at the end of a two-track so we were off the beaten path and away from others. As we get out of the truck and put coats on, my father is telling us about gun safety as he puts on his vest and loads his gun. We close up the truck and begin our hike. My father points out a log a short distance away. “So you look for logs and stumps and kick them for the rabbits.” he says, as he kicks the log. As if on cue, a rabbit jumps out from the log. My father raised his gun, tracked the rabbit and shot it, in what appeared to be the blink of an eye! Less than fifty yards from the truck, we had a successful rabbit hunt in five minutes. “And that is how you hunt rabbits!” my Dad said, as he tucked away the bunny in his game pouch. My brother and I were excited about hunting and our first introduction was incredible! It wasn’t until my brother and I got old enough that we took a Hunter’s Safety Course together as a family. Once this requirement was fulfilled, we were able to hunt safely together for many years and continue to do so.

 

First Deer Hunting Experience

Fast forward about 20 years for the next hunting adventure at deer camp to set the stage for my next story. It was a cold fall morning and I woke up very excited and extra early at deer camp for my first deer hunting adventure. Small Game Hunting for rabbits and grouse had been great adventures for many years, but now this hunting excursion was for bigger game: Whitetail Deer. Quite the tradition in Michigan that my family just didn’t get into, but here I was. I wanted to see what the big deal was all about first hand, so I suited up early and was ready to hit the blind at first light. I’ll never forget my uncle telling me “Now, if you shoot a deer, be sure to let him sit for about 20 minutes before you go up to him.” I finished lacing up my boots thinking to myself, “If…” I’d been hunting for many years to know that it takes time and practice to perfect your hunting skills and that it might take many years of patience to shoot a deer. I’d be super lucky to shoot a deer this first deer camp, let alone the first morning. Sure enough, about 9:30am that morning, a young 4-point buck wandered right in front of my deer blind as I pulled the trigger on my 20-gauge slug-barrel shot gun. My deer was hanging on the buck-pole by 11:00 AM and I was super excited! I just shot my first deer opening morning of my first deer camp experience ever! “… and that is how you shoot a deer!” I thought to myself, noting the similarities to my first rabbit hunt. I paid for that first ‘easy’ experience by sitting in the deer blind for another 7 years without seeing another target, but what an amazing first deer camp experience!

 

Introducing Falconry

I had to tell you those stories to be able to tell *this* story. I often take folks out on hunting adventures as a first time experience to demonstrate falconry and the hunting experience. My Red-Tailed hawk, Cedar is very good with extra people in the field, unlike many other birds who are particular with extra people other than their falconer in the field. So it was this past Sunday that I arranged for an observer to come along and experience falconry out in the snow. As we get out of the car and I’m suiting up my equipment, I’m talking about how I use the lure, my gear bag, and I talk a little about Cedar. As I get Cedar out of the box, she is highly tuned into what’s going on because this is routine to her, and she’s excited (constantly bating) to go hunting as well. I show my observer how I turn on the telemetry before I release Cedar up into the tree. Right at the entrance of the hunting area, there is a small brush pile that sometimes holds rabbits. So we walk over to the pile and we’re stomping and beating brush, and sure enough, a rabbit busts out of the thick cover. Cedar saw the bunny dash out before we did, launched herself out of the tree, and caught him in a puff of snow. I rushed over to help her with her quarry, and showed my observer how to do a trade with the lure. After I packed away the rabbit into my game bag, I settled down from the excitement and adrenaline rush, I said, “… and that is how you do falconry!” as I chuckled to myself about the similarity to my previous hunting experiences. To be able to demonstrate falconry in such a simplistic order of events as if it were planned was a brilliant stroke of luck. We walked around the hunting area for another hour or so, with another four flushes on the afternoon. I was trying hard not to be discouraged without additional success in the afternoon hunt. To maintain perspective, we were hunting “for candles and balloons AFTER the icing on the cake” with the icing being that first sudden and early catch. This was a great introduction to my observer and she got a front row seat and a premiere experience and Cedar was lucky enough to be successful on her first hunt.

* Photos courtesy of Marg Sapp

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November Hunting 2013

November 18th, 2013

November Hunting 2013

cedars_bunny

Usually the middle weekend of November is reserved for Deer Camp, and while I’ve enjoyed some years of success, I was unable to make it this year. The camaraderie and traditional mens weekend would have to take a back seat this year.  This allowed for some additional falconry time  this weekend, and while beating the brush is a whole lot more work than sitting in a deer blind for the weekend, it was much more satisfying.

Friday Hunt

In lieu of sitting in a deer blind today, I spent the morning taking care of a few things around the house, and then catching a quick lunch before dashing out to the field.  Another falconer accompanied me on today’s quest, and we hit an older spot that had not been hunted in a while.  The downside to this place was that the development of the area had increased to the point where the subdivision road was opened up and now went all the way to the back of the lot.It’s amazing how forward progress of civilization can be observed by watching the rate at which fields and forests are mowed down in favor of new housing developments.

So, the first hunt involved the a Red-Tailed Hawk that specialized in Squirrels.  The beech tree forest was quite mature and had a high canopy.  The perfect habitat for the little squirrel buggers.  The first hawk took a few high perches and moved through the forest with ease.  There was one good plunge after a squirrel, but she was unable to connect.  We put her away after calling her down. Cedar was up next.

Cedar wanted out of the box as soon as I opened the car door.  I let her off the leash as quick as I could, and then gathered my gear for our hunt.  A local resident Red-Tailed Hawk came over as soon as Cedar took up her perch.  She didn’t seem to mind the visitor, but the resident clearly took offense to Cedar’s presence in her territory.  I called Cedar down and we drove down the road about another 1/2 mile to give the resident some room.

We were not 10 minutes into the hunt when I put out the first bunny.  It jumped out from a small cluster of briars and seemed to stop after a few hops.  Cedar observed the commotion and took her next perch a few trees up ahead, just in the right spot for a flush.  A few more steps spooked out the rabbit from it’s second hiding spot and Cedar dropped out of the tree and pounced on her prize! Our fist bunny of the season!

Saturday Hunt

After a successful hunt the previous day, it was nice to be able to get out again to enjoy the outdoors!  Today we hunted a spot to the south of our normal areas in order to stay well away from any possibility of running into any Deer Hunters.  Our adventures continued in grand style today with lots of action right from the start of the hunt.  Cedar got off to a great start, taking two plunges for something moving in the brush. After recovering from those attempts, we moved away from the marshy area and into an area with several good cover spots for rabbits.  The wood-piles and logs are plentiful in this area, but difficult to navigate on foot.  I started looking closer at one, hoping to spring a rabbit out.  By this time, Cedar had taken up a perch on the opposite side of the field.  I expected the rabbit to go out the opposite side and away from Cedar, but in a stroke of luck, the rabbit came out of the brush slowly, and moved towards the center of the area.  Cedar saw it.  She took off from her perch high up in the beech tree and started flying towards me. I expected her to keep flying over my head and further into the woods, but she folded up in a wingover and dropped on the rabbit like a stone with a heavy thud.  I knew she hit her mark when I heard the rabbit and I rushed to help her with her bounty.  The rest of the hunt was equally exciting with a squirrel chase, and a few more stoops after rabbits. Another successful hunt today and a great day out in the woods.

Pictures from the first hunt are shown below:

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Falconry Season for 2013 Comes to an End

March 18th, 2013

The End of The Fourth Falconry Season

The end of the falconry season is always a bittersweet realization with Red-Tail Hawks. I’ve learned to enjoy the Winter Hunting in the cool days with a light coat of snow. Watching the flight of the Red-Tail through the dusky-brown branches brings out the enjoyment each time I’m a witness. Surely, there is no joy hunting in the freezing cold with the wind blowing a 5 degree wind-chill. Even *I* don’t hunt that well in the cold. The winter season provides a beautiful backdrop to some of the most challenging trials of life and it is with great appreciation that I am thankful to share this experience with my Red-Tail Hawk, Cedar, in the wintry landscape that the winter provides. So it is with a bittersweet feeling that we conclude another hunting season in the land called “Michigan.”

There are some wonderful things to look forward to: the warming weather, the wonder of the moult, and the new life that spring brings with it each turn of the year. I enjoy those cool, spring morning walks through the forest with the opportunity to watch the forest for the trees. The green carpet of life comes to surface of the forest floor and blooms with the warmth that spring provides. I enjoy these walks without the focus on the Hawk and hunting for falconry to take the time to appreciate the wonder of the change of seasons. Watching the emergence of life during the warming days of spring is a wonder to behold, but only in the Pure Michigan manner that our climate can provide. Michigan is privelidged to have a defined season for spring where the plants and the animals awaken once again from the cold blanket that winter provided.

As with most things in life, there is something to be said for moderation, and now with the conclusion of this hunting season, it is time to turn my attention to the yard, house maintenance, and other fun family activities. Even more so, I am extremely curious about how Cedar will moult her feathers and turn herself into a wondrous, beautiful Adult Red-Tailed Hawk that I know she will be. Good Hunting, enjoy the moult, have fun in the summer, and appreciate each season for what it is. By the end of the summer, we’ll all be anxious to get back out into the field for the falconry experience with our Red-Tails once again.

-Cheers!

 

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MHC Winter Field Meet 2013

February 12th, 2013

MHC Winter Field Meet 2013

The annual Michigan Hawking Club Winter Field Meet was hosted in DeWitt Michigan on Saturday February 2nd, 2013. This year was another great turnout for fans of Raptors and high-powered bird watching.  The day was filled with Falconry, hunting adventures, and all the ‘Hawk-Talk’ you could handle.  I spent the morning out hunting with a large group of folks and the afternoon at the Community Center being an ambassador to aspiring falconers.  It was a long day of falconry culture and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Hunting

Cedar and I led a hunt with over 30 people in the hunting party on a cold February day.  Our morning started out by assembling the hunting party by getting folks organized and arranged in a convoy to drive out to the hunting spot.  After a fifteen minute ride out to a vacant field behind a shopping center, we got jessed up and donned our hunting gear.  I gave a quick introduction to Cedar and our faclonry hunt and then we were off into the field.  The hunting morning provided a great show to all those folks who came out to get an introduction into falconry.  Cedar was exceptionally gracious in flying close to the group and giving great chases on the rabbits that flushed.  For a young bird and a large crowd in the field, she did a great job and put on quite the show with several great chases, spectacular flights, and a great wing-over that just missed the mark.  It was a successful hunt, but no game in the pouch.

A second hunt after Cedar’s was with a goshawk.  The spectator gallery watched off to the side for this hunt, as goshawks can be quite picky about the hunting conditions and other folks in the field.  A short hunt in a small meadow flushed one bunny and two pheasants, which were quite unexpected considering the cold weather conditions for the day. The small hunting crew consisting of the Austringer (holding the goshawk) and a few brush-beaters walked the perimeter of the meadow and around a corn field before springing a pheasant from it’s hideout.  I snapped this picture during the hunt and captured a great shot of the action.

Raptors

Once I was back at the community center and ate a great lunch (the White Chicken-Chili was the *BEST* ), I had some time to talk to other falconers with their birds as well as other first-time visitors to the winter field meet.  One of the falconers brought her Golden Eagle, a rehabilitation animal, to the meet to show folks.  I was amazed at the size of this amazing raptor as well as the intensity of the eyes.  She had a great personality and was good ambassador for falconry. 

The other raptor that stole the show was ‘Yepa’, the Snowy Owl that was trapped in early December.  The falconer had been training her for two months and said that while the training was going well, that she was far from being free flown for hunting.   Owls, while intelligent, are difficult to train because of their personalities.   Owls do not follow the same basic training patterns as other raptors because of their hunting adaptations and methods.  Hearing and auditory cues are a big part of the training program and it’s up to the falconer to figure out what sounds and attentions that the owl responds to during the training.  Yepa, the “White Princess” was very well mannered while on the falconers glove and was amazingly alert and focused while on display.  I was personally awe-struck at her disposition and the amazing color of the eyes.   I can only imagine what training a Snowy Owl would entail.

 

New Folks

My day would not be complete if I didn’t have several ‘Hawk-Talks’ with folks looking to learn more about raptors and the sport of falconry.  I usually bring in Cedar after a little bit of lunch and a few minutes of rest.  Once Cedar came inside for a short educational session, I enlisted the aid of one of participants to help me with Cedar’s beak.  After several months in captivity, Cedar’s beak began to get quite large and was in need of coping.  Coping is like trimming your nails, but for raptors.  So with my assistant’s help, he held Cedar while I performed the coping on Cedar and made her look more dignified.  The assistant was grateful for the opportunity to assist and he learned something about caring for raptors.  In fact, he said that it made his day.  I was glad that I could provide a good experience for him. 

The Annual Michigan Hawking Club Winter Field Meet is a time of year that I look forward to with great anticipation.  It’s somewhat like “Christmas” for falconry, as there are many folks to visit with, goodies to eat, and a variety of falconry goods and wares to look through during the auction. I hope to continue to be part of such a great event for many more years to come with the Michigan Hawking Club.

 

-Cheers!

 

 

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Educational Falconry

January 30th, 2013

Educational Falconry

Recently I had the most wonderful opportunity to give a Falconry Presentation to Cub Scout Pack 37 in Lake Orion Michigan. As my son and I are now involved in Cub Scouts, this was a great opportunity to present some basic falconry concepts to some young learners. Educational programs about falconry, or “Hawk-Talks” as some of us like to call them are a great way to expand young peoples’ appreciation of animals. Discussing aspects of falconry and hunting also opens up concepts of ecosystems and food webs in the wilderness. It is a rewarding experience to know that you were the person who first introduced someone to the magic of all that nature has to share with us.

While there are some aspects of falconry that are difficult for children achieve and master due to the responsibility, time, and monetary demands, there are other concepts that can be taught to children that can be made easy to understand. There are many other wildlife lessons and learning opportunities for children in the sport of falconry; you just need to frame the content and concepts at their level. Food Webs, Predator-Prey Relationships, and natural selection are just a few of these topics. With a little effort and thought, meaningful lessons can be taught from the world of falconry that children and other family members can take with them.

One of the most common questions I get as a falconer is: “How did you get into falconry? What made you want to do that?” There are lots of personal reasons for doing so, but my number one reason for becoming a falconer is that I love birds of prey. When it comes right down to it, I hold a deep and healthy respect and admiration for these birds that I can only describe as love. I enjoy learning about their different personalities and I enjoy being out in nature as a participant with them. I use this passion in my educational talks in the hopes that young people might learn to enjoy the natural beauty found in the wilderness. There are many wonderful things to bear witness to in nature such as the way the plants and trees grow into oddly shaped branches, the way that the moss and lichens color the tree bark, and the varied degrees of color displayed by shelf fungus and mushrooms. I make sure to include these observations as part of my presentations. The things that you can see out in the woods can be found nowhere else, and are only found off the beaten path.

The sport of falconry also provides opportunities to discuss and educate young learners on food webs and ecology. The purpose of the hawk hunting rabbits or squirrels is so that they can eat and survive. The game of survival in the wilderness is a high-stakes game where the winners take all and the losers get eaten. The hawk plays the role in the ecological food web as the top predator. As the apex predator, their job is to keep the little critter population in check. Food webs that show the animals and trees in forests or marsh habitats contain many prey animals, but only a few predator animals at the top. I like to think of falconers as observers in the natural predator-prey relationship that plays out every day in the wilderness. The privilege to be a close hunting partner with the hawk is one of the most rewarding aspects of falconry for me. When I re-tell these tales of my falconry adventures, it is my hope that the audience can really get good picture of how enjoyable the sport of falconry can be.

Falconry as a sport rewards me every day that I interact and hunt with my raptor. The joy of educating other folks about raptors and falconry is an additional personal enjoyment that only comes from sharing the things you love with others.

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