It’s February again, which can only mean one thing – it’s time for the Arkansas Hawking Association winter field meet. It was a blast last year and I expected as much again.
A bit of an update before the meet though. I’ve taken Jebe hunting each weekend and had a handful of rabbit flushes. Working by myself without dogs I manage a flush every one or two hours. It’s not enough to keep her interested while we’re out and she’s missed every rabbit I’ve produced. It led to her being extremely frustrated I think. At first it manifested as being skiddish in the mews. I’d pick her up and she’d hop off the fist or fly to the tall perch. After a week of this, I changed the routine a bit – I had to reweight her ration so put her back in the chamber instead of taking her out to fly to the lure. When I opened the door she hit me full in the face. I dropped her ration – not a great idea as it rewarded very bad behavior. I was lucky as I got away with a few talon punctures and she missed my eyes. I didn’t hunt her the weekend after the attack as it was raining. I changed the routine and she didn’t come at me again, but I started wearing safety glasses and cracking the door so she could see me before walking into the chamber just in case. After flying hard and hunting during the meet she’s calmed down significantly.
I left at 6 am Friday morning and drove 5 hours to Ethel, Arkansas for the field meet. The drive was uneventful except for the fact that I couldn’t remember if I closed the garage door, which added half an hour to the drive after I turned around to double check. No falconers were around when I arrived, so I hung out with Ms. Ida until they started to show up. I didn’t have to wait long as it was nearly lunch and no one wants to miss Ida’s cooking.
After lunch Ron and Brenda offered to take me behind Ida’s house to hunt squirrels. Francie and some others came along to help shake vines and get the squirrels moving. Jebe climbed nice and high, but was a bit flighty and kept flying ahead of the group. She reached the edge of the small bit of forest and I thought she was going to fly off. Just then Ron flushed a squirrel. Jebe came around as soon as he shouted ho-ho-ho and landed on a branch next to the tree the squirrel was in. The squirrel bailed from thirty feet up and Jebe drove into it as soon as it hit the ground. It was a nice flight even though I never saw the squirrel. Everyone enjoyed the hunt and I couldn’t have been happier.
After I finished cleaning the squirrel, most of the other falconers had left to hunt their birds. I was lucky that Heath hadn’t, but was gearing up to take out his first year imprint goshawk Gretel. Everyone that had hunted Jebe loaded up and went out with Heath and Gretel. We managed to flush eight or nine squirrels and she made hard attempts at all of them. She nearly had two or three, but never quite managed to connect. It was a great show – goshawks are amazingly fast and Gretel is no exception. She flew up and down and around the trees after the squirrels, feet pumping and clawing like lightning the whole time. We (except maybe Heath) were just as happy with the performance at the end of the hunt as if she’d have caught something. She and the squirrels gave it one hundred percent and the squirrels managed to come out on top. There’s no shame in that.
The longwingers all fly their birds in the evening and we had just enough time to watch flights from all three of their birds. Greg was up first with his 1x intermewed peregrine. She flew up to 700 feet or so and ranged around the area. After a few false stoops at nearby ducks on large flat water, the falconers flushed the targeted ducks from a ditch. Greg’s bird came down in a beautiful stoop and bound to a duck, riding it to within 20 feet of the ground before releasing it and pulling up. She winged back over and killed the duck by the time everyone ran the few hundred yards to her.
Chris’s 1x intermewed male peregrine Little Guy (I think that’s his name, at least that’s what Chris called him) was up next. Being smaller than Greg’s bird, Chris set him up after some snipe. Little Guy flew up to 500-700 feet and also made a great stoop. The snipe survived the first hit and made into some tall grass. Chris reflushed it and Little Guy sealed the deal on the second stoop. Little Guy landed in marshy ground so carried the snipe a hundred yards to some dry ground. A red-tail was sitting a few telephone poles away, so Little Guy cached the snipe under a clump of grass.
Heath’s 4x intermewed male gyr x barbary was the last falcon of the day. He made an impressive stoop at a duck, but couldn’t take it down and the duck managed to escape.
Saturday started with breakfast at 7 am. Most of us were out hawking by 8:30. I spent the morning hunting with Ashley and her red tail Tess. The rabbits were pretty scarce and she didn’t put any in the bag, though not for lack of trying. I flew Jebe at rabbits after lunch but had similar luck – half a dozen slips, but no bunnies in the bag. It was quite windy all day and as evening came on the longwingers were unsure if they would fly their birds. A huge caravan set up with Greg to watch his bird, so I went with Heath instead. We drove around for a while looking for doves and waiting for the wind to calm down. We found a dozen birds and eventually the weather settled enough to fly. Heath set his bird up and he flew thirty feet over the doves as he gained altitude. Most of the doves flushed, but a few stayed put so we waited until he had a pitch of 500 or so feet. Heath, Billy, and I walked to field and flushed a handful of doves. Heath’s bird was in front of most of them, but saw the last dove in the field. He made a gorgeous stoop, but the dove had a 20 mph tailwind and the stoop was a bit behind. The stoop turned into a tail chase; the falcon gained ground and raked the dove, but the dove managed to put into some bushed before he could finish it.
We had the AHA business meeting Saturday night after dinner. I’ll spare the details here as they won’t interest anyone outside of the club. A few of us stayed us and bs’ed after the business meeting. I tried to keep up with them as we were having a great time, but had a ripping headache after driving around at sunset looking for doves.
Sunday morning started by hunting Tyler’s red-tail Mable. We hit two promising fields, but only managed to flush two rabbits. After a couple hours we hunted Jebe. she was obviously sore from the workout on Saturday, but made a nice crashing stoop through thick cover. She came up empty and wouldn’t get very high in the trees. I brought her in and Bob put up his red-tail Sega and dogs. The dogs quickly scented a rabbit and after a few minutes of trailing flushed it. Sega crashed into it and came up with a small cottontail.
All in all the meet was a great success. Thirty six people attended with 16 birds and took 17 heads of game. I really enjoyed seeing all of the Arkansas falconers and can’t wait until the summer picnic.