“The Falconer’s Apprentice. A Guide to Training the Passage Red-tailed Hawk” by William C. Oakes was the first falconry book I ever read. It’s quite short, only 173 pages, and has relatively small pages and large print. It’s not the most technical manual about falconry ever written, but it is a very good introduction to the sport for someone who thinks they may be interested.
The book offers a step-by-step guide for the first year apprentice. It starts with a short introduction to falconry as a sport and it’s history. Next is a rather lengthy chapter devoted to pre-trapping preparations, such as game prospects in your area, building mews, equipment you’ll need, hawk food, and figuring out where you’ll hunt. These are all very important aspects for the falconer-to-be to consider and may be enough to turn some people off.
The section on traps and trapping is very short, only two pages, as Oakes expects the apprentice to get most of their instruction in this from their sponsor. And rightly so, the sponsor should be very involved in the trapping of an apprentice’s first bird.
Manning, feeding the bird and using food as a training tool, and flying a bird all follow in fairly rapid succession. He treats hunting and game with some brevity, again because the sponsor should be involved with this. The conditioning and diet chapter addresses what to feed the bird, different ideas on exercise, weight control, and keeping a log book. He covers how to build a giant hood and how to use it in the short section on transportation. The book finishes off with a chapter on releasing the bird back into the wild.
One aspect I really enjoyed about the book is the focus on ethics in falconry. As much as some people would like to make it out to be, falconry is not a blood sport when practiced correctly. While both falconer and hawk enjoy catching game, it’s not the head count that matters at the end of the season. It’s the thrill of the flight, whether it ends in a kill or not, and enjoying being near a wild animal following it’s natural instincts and being allowed to join it. There is a respect for the quarry. I share his sentiment: “I accept the kill as a natural conclusion of, but not the ultimate reason for, the chase.”
The illustrations are acceptable. They’re not the best I’ve seen in falconry books, but they serve the purpose. Ideally an apprentice should see their sponsor’s equipment in hand to understand how it should look anyhow.
All in all I find this to be a good, if short, intorduction to falconry. It’s best suited for someone who is on the fence as to whether they want to take the plunge or not as it does a good job as demonstrating how much effort is required to train and fly a hawk. For a more serious apprentice it is best paired with a more comprehensive book though is still a good resource to have on hand.