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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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Holiday Hunting 2012

January 6th, 2013

Holiday Hunting 2012

This past week I had the opportunity to take a photographer hunting along with Cedar and I.  It was a great afternoon for it.  The sunlight was good and the sky was clear, so it made a great day for photography out in the fresh snowfall from the previous night.  Cedar was at the top of her game for the day, and was a successful hunter.  The pictures Archie took are great and we had a good time out in the woods.

*Photos used with permission from Archie Neil Jr. Photography.

 

 

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Early October Hunting with Cedar

October 15th, 2012

Early October Hunting with Cedar

The past week has afforded several more hunting / training opportunities for Cedar. We’ve been able to get out to the field each day this week with the nice fall weather. Truthfully, the cooler weather, the better, as it is easy to work up a sweat hacking through the thick undergrowth. The early season for hunting in October is challenging with the leaves still on the trees and shrubbery still thick and standing. The dense undergrowth makes it difficult to walk through due to the green branches that have not dried out yet from the cold. These small thickets and densely covered areas are the key places where it is most likely to find game. Rabbits love to hide in the thick briar patches where there is food AND cover.

It will take another three weeks or so for the leaves to fall completely to the ground in Lower Michigan. The leaves are already about half way done in the upper part of Michigan. The annual bird hunt weekend is scheduled appropriately in order to fall on a weekend at the tail end of leaves falling off the trees. This makes it much better for having good shots at grouse.

These hunting excursions have been conducted in order to continue working on Cedar’s hunting ability and to get her out to fly each day. We continue to work on her hunting and falconry skills with the routine. Each activity should build on the next, and as much as possible, it’s the falconer’s job to provide that. In the case of actually finding game in the field, this is a little more luck than skill, unfortunately. Cedar has been extremely well behaved in the field, flying ahead to perches and moving along when called. I’m particularly impressed with her ability to pick higher perches and move up when appropriate. So far, she has the great beginnings to making a great falconry hawk. Stay tuned for more adventures.

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Training Complete

October 7th, 2012

Training Complete

It took Cedar 15 days of manning and training to achieve first free flight and catch her first rabbit.  To say I’m excited about this would be an understatement. This is a wonderful start to what looks like it could be a great falconry season with a fantastic Red-Tailed Hawk.  It’s hard to say just where training ends and hunting begins for these raptors, but I’m quite pleased with today’s progress in the field.  The weather today was ideal  for Cedar’s first free flight;  light winds, cool temperatures, and a moderately cloudy /overcast sky.  Not only was she great at following along through the trees, she was very attentive to the hunting area,  and she was a successful hunter today.  Very exciting!  I’ll be sure not to get my hopes up too high, as each bird and each season can be different.  Each season, hawk, and adventures bringing their own set of challenges. I’m sure glad to be back enjoying the fall weather with a feathered friend in the hunting grounds. Stay tuned for more hunting updates, it’s going to be a heck of a ride!

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