As the end of rabbit season approached (Feb. 28), I tried to get in as much hunting time as possible. Cody sent me a message, said he and Bob would be in Fort Smith the week before the end of the season and invited me to come hunting. I jumped on the opportunity and took a morning off of work. We met near the Ft. Smith airport around 9 am (I was running 30 minutes behind, whoops) and I loaded Ogedei and my gear into their truck. It seemed fitting to end the season in the same back seat I started it off in when I trapped Ogedei.
We hunted Marge, Cody’s 9 year-old red-tail, first. She always hunts first and throws a fit in her giant hood if the truck stops and she hears Cody and Bob preparing to hunt without her. MArgedoesn’t like people other than Bob and Cody in the field, but I hunted with her so Bob thought she might be alright. I flushed a rabbit 20′ from the truck but Marge was out of position. She still chased it hard and the flight ended over a small hill out of sight. After that chase Marge started getting spooky and we eventually decided she was nervous of with me and kept flying away when I approached. So I went and sat in the truck while they finished the hunt. I listened to most of an episode of the HPPodcraft while I waited. Cody reported that Marge missed more rabbit slips than she’s missed all season. She was harried by a pair of haggard birds and he suspected she may have hit a fence when she chased the first rabbit.
After Cody put Marge away we drove to a nearby field that Bob and Cody had found numerous rabbits in. I got Ogedei out and he weighed 731g. Within the first minute we flushed a woodcock and Ogedei launched after it after a second of deliberation. He flew after it a couple hundred yards but couldn’t connect. Woodcocks are fast once they’re under way. Ogedei had good posisiton and had he decided to fly instantly he may have had it, but not after a second or two of deciding. I’ve heard of and seen photos of red-tails taking woodcocks, but it seems to be uncommon. I flushed a rabbit in the perfect slip when I went to retrieve Ogedei. It ran through some thin grass and across some open rocks straight away from where Ogedei had been perched. If only he hadn’t chased the woodcock… I called Ogedei came to the glove. He was a few hundred yards away. It’s probably partially a problem with my training, but he refuses that kind of distance without a tidbit. He can be stubborn and smart, and once I made the motion of pulling a tidbit from the pocket they’re always in he started coming back even before I blew the whistle. We kept beating the brush and flushed 7 more woodcocks – Ogedei chased two of them without success – but no more rabbits. Cody and Bob were really surprised at the lack of rabbits so we packed up and went back to the first location.
Back up in the trees Ogedei made some nice flights at rats, including a really nice waiting-on hovering flight for 10-15 seconds. He followed along pretty well, though consistently refused the t-pole. We flushed some rabbits from scrap piles but Ogedei refused to chase most of them. He made one half-hearted attempt but gave up when it crawled into a junk pile and didn’t chase it on the reflush. One rabbit even stopped in the open under the tree he was in and Ogedei just looked at it. I was quite frustrated. I ended his day by calling him a a hundred and fifty yards to the lure.
Cody and Bob were impressed with how well I’d trained Ogedei. Cody suggested if I dropped him another 25g if I wanted him to chase rabbits. They said if he were a female (which fly from 1000-1300g) with the same attention and ability to follow on he’d be banging rabbits left and right, but that as a small male (some males fly at 900g, so at 730 he’s pretty small) he was probably intimidated by the rabbits. He was obviously motivated enough to chase the woodcocks and rats that were small enough he thought he could take them, but in order to tackle larger prey he would need some additional motivation in the form of weight reduction. The problem with that is Ogedei would have a razor-thin keel and no fat reserves if he lost another 25g. He would be on that line where one missed feeding might push him over the edge and he might not be able to recover. Some falconers don’t mind flying their birds like that (and Cody and Bob weren’t suggesting that I should, just that if I wanted Ogedei to chase rabbits I could), but I don’t, especially as a first-year apprentice. I’d rather have a slightly high bird that chases prey it’s comfortable with and refuses some slips, but will also survive the night if it is lost or if I miss a feeding (not intentionally, but accidents happen. I may get in a wreck and spend the night in the hospital. You never know).
After Ogedei fed up Bob got Sega, his passage red-tail, out. She followed along great and worked with the dogs well. The first flight she made was a hard-pumping flight across an open field upwind at a bunny. She tried but never gained ground against the wind. The dogs kept on the scent and we followed the rabbit through some cedar trees. It gave the dogs the slip a couple of times but they kept finding the trail again. After 10 minutes the dogs flushed the rabbit again and I thought Sega had it. She made a nice flight with a wingover, but the rabbit juked and she missed. It ran through a scrap pile, where I thought it stopped, but the dogs thought it kept on going. We followed the dogs and the rabbit quickly reflushed. Sega didn’t miss this time.
Even though Ogedei didn’t perform like I wanted it was still a fun day of hunting and a good way to end the season. I’ve started fattening Ogedei up and cut contact so I can release him. I already removed his anklets and bell; it’s weird to to hear him jingle in anticipation as I open the mews door. The rabbits around here don’t have large fetuses yet so it’s too early to release him. I’d hate to have him starve because the only prey available is smart and survived the winter and predators, instead having easy, dumb newborn bunnies and mice to catch in a few weeks. Also, there are still a lot of migrant northern red tails around, so more competition. So I’ll wait a bit until mid- to late-March before letting him go.