The Arkansas Hawking Association held it’s annual field meet in Ethel, AR last Friday through Sunday (31 Jun-2 Feb). A handful of people showed up Thursday to get some hunting in early, though most everyone, myself included, showed up Friday. I arrive at the Butler Lodge around 1 pm and found that, besides Ms. Ida, I was the only person there. The other falconers were out hunting their birds. I unpacked and changed into some field clothes, during which time Francie also arrived. She brought her bag inside and then we headed out to find the other falconers. We checked a few spots she thought they might be, but no dice. After half an hour of driving we saw a half dozen vehicles parked along the side of the road. We found everyone! Except they were leaving to go back to the lodge.
Everyone regrouped at the lodge while we decided what to do next. It was getting on in the day and the longwingers wanted to fly their birds at some ducks so we decided to go watch them. Greg was the first up. The caravan parked along the road a quarter a mile or so away from him to avoid flushing the ducks he was after. Greg released his peregrine, Delta, (one of two wild-trapped peregrines taken in Arkansas this year) and up and up it flew. Within a few minutes it was circling around 500′ up. The peregrine could get much higher (upwards of 2000′), but it was quite windy. Greg flushed the ducks and a group of five flew up. The peregrine came screaming down and knocked a duck out of the sky. The duck spiraled to the ground as Delta pitched up in a J shape. Delta must thought the two ducks flying away were the ones she hit because she flew after them instead of the duck on the ground. She realized her mistake after a few seconds, but the stunned duck she’d hit was up and moving again. Delta switched her pursuit to the first duck and blasted off to it, covering the 200 yard gap. She pitched up and stooped the duck a second time. But that wasn’t enough to knock it down again. The duck turned into the wind and Delta couldn’t keep up. It was still a great sight to see though, even if it didn’t end up with a duck in hand.
Chris was up next. His tiercel peregrine (the second of two wild-trapped Arkansas peregrines) is smaller than Greg’s female and can’t take on all the ducks Greg’s bird can. We changed location and found a small wet area with snipes. Chris put his bird up and it immediately flew to a grain silo. It perched there for 10-15 minutes before deciding it was safe enough to start flying and gaining altitude. Much to Chris’s dismay the bird zoomed off after it reached a few hundred feet. I thought it was leaving the county but apparently it saw something it wanted to kill. That something turned out to be a crow 500 or 600 yards away. The tiercel made a nice stoop and knocked the crow to the ground. Cody and Rusty ran after the bird in order to ward off and hawks or eagles that might be in the area. I took off after them to see how the flight ended. By the time we reached the bird the crow had gotten away.
Heath was the last longwinger to fly. His bird is a captive bred barbary-gyrfalcon hybrid. It flew up and up and I eventually lost it in the clouds. I could still hear it’s bells every now and again when the wind was right, but eventually jumped back in the truck with Bob as he wanted to leave and I couldn’t see Heath or his bird any more. Heath said later his bird stooped a duck but couldn’t hold on to it on the ground.
After the longwing flights we all headed back to the lodge to hang out. We ended up in the living room watching videos of Cody and Bob’s red-tails hawking in Texas. It was a great time talking to all the falconers about their birds and experiences. Everyone drifted off to bed, leaving Heath, Jim, Chad, Cody, and myself up. We ended up BSing until 12:30.
Breakfast was at 7:00 Saturday morning. Everyone was up by 6:30 as Ms. Ida does not tolerate tardiness at meal time.
After dogs were fed and birds were weighed we all went out. Everyone (20 or so of us) went out to a field that had been productive the previous year. Chad got his red tail, Kraken, up on a t-pole and we began to beat the brush. Rabbits weren’t abundant and after an hour and a half we only flushed three. Cody said they flushed a dozen rabbits last by the time we saw the first one this year. Kraken did catch a cotton rat, but didn’t bag a bunny.
We broke into smaller groups, with the Harris hawkers going to hunt squirrels and the red-tails going to hunt bunnies. I jumped in with Cody and Bob while Chad and his wife (Ashley?) followed. We scouted a few fields that used to produce lots of rabbits but they were overgrown now. I flew Ogedei in one field for a few minutes before we decided there wasn’t any rabbit sign; he made some very nice soaring/kiting flights above us as we beat the grass and brush. I was a bit worried that Ogedei wouldn’t come down from his tree to a tidbit as he’s been stubborn before but he responded almost immediately. We moved fields and I got Ogedei out again. He followed along well and made a nice 75 yard flight at a rabbit. The rabbit made it into some thick saplings and Ogedei pulled up. We didn’t flush any more rabbits unfortunately.
After lunch we went out to fly Kraken again. Chad did a great job of wedding Kraken to a t-perch so we flew her in some very tall brush. Cody ran his two beagles with Chad’s beagle. We flushed a rabbit within the first five minutes and then followed the beagles while they chased it for the next hour. None of us saw the rabbit again, though Kraken apparently made a try at it towards the end of the hunt. She didn’t connect and we came up empty again.
We headed back to the lodge and everyone loaded up to watch the longwingers fly again. Greg got Delta ready and was walking into a field when a couple people showed up late and accidentally flushed the ducks he was trying to fly at. He was not happy and we moved locations. Greg got ready again and was walking across a field when a tractor from an adjacent field blew by at top speed. It blew it’s horn at the ducks and flushed them before Delta was off the fist. I couldn’t believe it.
We headed back to the lodge for dinner a bit disappointed. After dinner we held a raffle and business meeting. I won a very nice leash and two pairs of safety glasses (rabbit hawking involves beating lots of brush, often briars, so you need eye protection) in the raffle, so was pretty happy with that. The business meeting went smoothly, if a bit uneventful. Rusty shared some photos from the trip he and Francie took to Texas for the NAFA field meet during Thanksgiving. It was neat to see the jack rabbits he bagged.
Sunday was windy and rainy and cold, so much so that no one hunted their birds. Heath weathered his bird on his fist instead of tying him out in the rain. I flew Ogedei at the lure as he’s never been trained to it in such conditions, but even with as wedded as he is to the lure he was rather miserable in the conditions and had a slow response.
All in all 31 people (18 of which stayed at least one night at the lodge) and 17 birds came to the meet. Three rabbits and eight squirrels were taken over the course of the weekend. I saw some great flights and it was nice seeing everyone again as I haven’t seen most of the club members since the summer picnic. I’ve got some ideas about what I want to do next season and can’t wait to go back to Ethel for the meet next year.