One of the best way to get into the sport of falconry is to meet other falconers. That may seem like a no brainer or easy to do, but it may not be depending on where you are. Arkansas, for instance, has only a few dozen people who are licensed to fly and keep captive birds of prey (across the US there are around 4000), most of whom are in the central and southern parts of the state. In northwest Arkansas where I’m located there are four. I didn’t know any of that prior to deciding to start falconry. I did look around for other falconers and found The Arkansas Hawking Association. I figured that was a good place to start my journey and after tooling around their website discovered they had a summer picnic and a winter meet.
The picnic was only a month away at the time, so I emailed the apprentice coordinator, Heath Garner (who is also the president). He was enthusiastic and encouraged me to come to the picnic. I waited for what seemed like forever but eventually the day rolled around. Sarah and I packed up the dogs and drove 3.5 hours south to Lake Catherine State Park. I was honestly a bit apprehensive when we got there, but mostly excited. Kind of like that scene from Armageddon. We showed up an hour or so late and everyone was already eating (there was no way I was going to get or even ask Sarah to be in the car by 7 am, so we didn’t leave until 8). We were greeted warmly enough, I think Heath warned everyone to be on the lookout for some new people. We tied the dogs up – Emma to a tree so she had some shade and Buster to a water spigot – and grabbed some lunch. It was BBQ chicken, brisket, and pork, baked beans, cole slaw, chips… basically what you’d find at any good BBQ. Also pop and beer, which were equally important. We found Heath and sat with him and another apprentice, Derek. It was great to finally talk to someone about falconry. I talk at Sarah about it, and she pays attention because I like it, but it’s not really the same. It was neat to find out that Heath’s job has him do various environmental assessments and he’d worked with American burying beetle. Even had photos of them on his phone. He also has a MS degree. A surprising number of the other falconers also had higher degrees as well. It was good to know that at one point he’d been able to mix school and falconry and had managed to pull them both off.
After lunch we hung out and bs’d with people. I met one girl who is finishing up her MS in biology or wildlife management and keeps her Cooper’s hawk in an indoor mews in her apartment. I talked a bit more falconry and met more people, but it all kind of blurs together now.
The main event after lunch was the raffle. They had various equipment and books on the tables. Most of it was donated from falconry suppliers around the country and included telemetry gear, two different leather gloves, some calf leather (useful for making jesses, anklets, lures, hoods, and other equipment), framed pictures, bells, and other things. I bought 10 tickets for $1 a piece and Heath got me another 10 for showing up. I think he really wanted me to win something to keep me interested, but I was already hooked at that point. I didn’t draw for the glove I wanted or most of the other equipment. There was only one more item left I’d put tickets in on when I finally heard one of my numbers called. I’d won a pair of bells. Maybe not the most expensive or exciting item I could have won, but it was still something I could go home with. My first pieces of falconry equipment.
The picnic wrapped up a while later and Sarah and I started the long drive home. I’d framed going as just checking it out, seeing what falconry was all about and how it was in Arkansas. Sarah says I have all these crazy ideas and talk them out but only really ever go through with one in ten of them. She knew on the ride back that this time this crazy idea was going to happen for real and wasn’t just talk any more.