Sarah and I took Ogedei and the dogs down to Francie’s last weekend. We got in late Friday and hunted Saturday and Sunday morning. Chad (another first-year apprentice) and Ashley (his wife) drove over to hunt with us both days. We had a blast flying all the birds and Sarah got some great photos.
Saturday morning we started with Ogedei. He was at 727g, 20g lower than I’ve hunted him before. After a brief detour to get me a hunting license we got into Francie’s rabbit field by 8:30. It was already warm, in the 50s. The rabbit field we hunted is mostly waist-high grass and dewberry, though there are patches of trumpet vine, horsetails, and small stands of thick, young trees, all of which is dotted with 15′-20′ trees.
Before I got Ogedei out I saw tall trees a few hundred yards away across one field and a levee and thought “Ogedei’s going to like the look of those”. I hoped he wouldn’t though and got him up on a t-pole. He looked around for a few seconds at the grass and sparse, short trees available and off he went, straight for those tall trees. Ugh. We gave him a few minutes and he flew back across the levee towards us. Then he went up and up and sat on top of a transmission pole. At least he was closer. He stooped off of the transmission pole, but missed whatever he was after. We went over to beat the brush around him and produced a lot of rabbits, but he ignored all of them. He flew between trees, never really far away, but not really staying close either. He eventually took two cotton rats, but all in all didn’t perform well.
After I put Ogedei away we hunted Kraken for the rest of the morning.
Kraken flew well. At 1000g, she’s significantly larger than Ogedei, though average for a female red tail (large RTs can be 1300g at hunting weight). Kraken caught a cottontail fairly quickly and Chad traded her off of it. It was still alive and he wanted to keep it that way so he could train his new beagle puppies with it. We got it into his hawking vest, but the pouch it was in is secured by two snaps at the top. The rabbit pushed up, got a snap undone, and escaped out the top. Kraken wasn’t ready and off the bunny ran. Kraken made some more great flights and bagged two more rabbits along with a handful of cotton rats and a ribbon snake.
We broke for lunch, which was a delicious jambalaya Francie made.
In the afternoon we flew Francie’s Harris’s hawks – Nova (who’s 19 years old!) and Tirzah. They were apparently a bit sluggish but still put on a great show. They’re very active on the ground if they miss, running around trying to find what they were after. They caught a handful of rats and made some nice flights at rabbits from t-poles. We were walking back to the trucks, beating the brush in a last attempt, when a rabbit flushed and they caught it. One of them crashed through a bush for it and ended up straddling a branch, one leg on either side, with the rabbit caught hard. The other bird came down to help and the rabbit was done by the time we got to it.
On Sunday Ogedei was down to 720.7g. He still refused the t-pole, but seemed fairly content in the small trees. It was an improvement that he didn’t fly the coop across the levee. He ignored the first handful of rabbit slips but finally made a long 75 yard flight at one that ran straight away from us. He missed and started lagging further and further behind as we moved around the field. I was quite frustrated and suggested we hunt Kraken instead, but Chad said he’d rather keep trying with Ogedei.
We moved across the road, towards the levee. Ogedei followed after a failed stoop at a rat. We flushed some more rabbits and he made a really nice, hard-pumping flight at one that ran past him. He winged over at it and was so close. There was a flash of white as the bunny flipped a few feet in the air, but Ogedei either missed outright or got bucked off by the rabbit. He finally seemed to really commit though, so that was nice. We beat the brush some more but he didn’t commit to another slip.
We moved to a small patch of brush, grass, and trees that is surrounded by short, lawn-like grass. Ogedei didn’t chase the one rabbit we flushed from it. We tried another strip of grass a few dozen of yards away and Ogedei stayed in his tree. We flushed a rabbit and it ran straight at him across the lawn. He launched but didn’t connect.
We moved locations to a farm with some massive oaks. Ogedei flew into the first tree and looked focused like I’m used to seeing him.
We flushed a rabbit from around an old barn and he crashed hard through some brush, but barely missed. The rabbit ran across a very open lawn but Ogedei couldn’t untangle himself from the bush to get up at it. I got him up and he flew back into the oak. The rabbit ran back at us across the open (why I have no idea) and Ogedei chased it, but checked off as it ran under a fence. We started beating along the line of oaks and Ogedei followed along well, either being in the tree right behind us or getting ahead. We flushed a rabbit and he tried again but missed. I moved in to pick him up, and there was the rabbit, two feet from me and three from Ogedei. Everyone froze when I saw it and Chad starts yelling for me to get Ogedei up. I didn’t want to move and scare the rabbit, but I thought I could push it towards Ogedei. He ran at it through the brush, ducking and turning, trying to get at it. The bunny flushed before Ogedei got close enough at a ground catch. We got Ogedei up again and found the rabbit, not 15 feet down the tree line. It really didn’t want to move and I ended up poking it with my stick to flush it.
Ogedei flew hard at it and just as he was about to grab the bunny it slipped under a fence, which Ogedei crashed into. It was a welded wire fence and not barbed wire, but it still wasn’t good. I didn’t see it but Chad was worried he broke something because of how he flopped after the hit. Ogedei sat dazed for a minute, but shook it off and got back up into the trees. We found the rabbit and this time Ashley had to poke it for it to flush. It ran up under a cedar tree and Ogedei didn’t try for it. We found it, again, and instead of poking it with a stick I tried grabbing it. I missed, much like my hawk. The rabbit finally decided to go into a hole. While we tried to flush it Ogedei grabbed a cotton rat within 5′ of everyone. He danced around a bit and carried it 6′ up into a nearby tree. I wasn’t happy that he carried it, but at least he was alive to carry, and he did catch something. After downing the rat in a few bites he came straight to the lure. I finished feeding him with 30g or so of tidbits and we called it a day.
I’ve been posting updates about Ogedei on the Arkansas Hawking Assoc. forums, including what I wrote above. Cody replied on the forums with this and I think what he said is pretty spot on (I feel like he’s told me similar things before, so I hope I don’t sound like a broken record asking the same question over and over…):
“Sounds like you were able to get a bunch of slips to help you make an assessment. The little males can be quite difficult to get to the point where they are consiatant. In general, when the females are at a weight where they are following tight, riding the t-pole, and responding instantly, they are ready to jump on any rabbit that moves. The males generally have to be flown at a lower weight percentage and it seems the smaller they are, the thinner they have to be flown. Keep in mind, they are normally catching much smaller prey. I flew a small male that at 720 he was the most responsive, best following bird you have ever seen. At that weight, he would only try a rabbit in the most ideal situation. Not until he was down around 680 was he chasing all the rabbits flushed, still he didnt like cover. I had an advantage dialing him because i had access to dozens of slips a day in realtively wide open ground.
If you think you need to go lower with his weight, do it slowly and verify that small changes result in improvement. You may see better following, more use of the t-pole, before you see total commitment to rabbits.”