Tag Archives: rabbit hunting

Jebe’s Last Hunt

Another season has come and gone.  The temperatures are going up, bud break is happening with the earliest plants, the ants are starting to appear on the sidewalks, and Jebe is sitting in the hawk house fattening up for release at the end of the month.  Before the season ended though I took her out one last time.  Tyler and Mariah, two falconers I know through the Arkanas Hawking Association, invited me to hunt with them in Russellville, Arkansas so I could have a good chance at a rabbit.  Tyler is a first year apprentice and had taken around 30 rabbits with his bird Mable, which is absolutely incredible.

I left around 7 am as Russellville is a two hour drive from Fayetteville.  Jebe was at 1030 g, the highest I tried hunting her the entire season.  I hoped she would do well and not act like an overweight bird.

Tyler and Mariah weren’t in the field I was supposed to meet them in when I drove past, so I stopped at a Starbucks down the road for a pitstop.  When I came back they’d arrived.  The field was a few hundred yards from the interstate and bordered by roads on two sides and a creek edged by trees and underbrush on the two.  It was a few acres in extent; besides the trees along the creek it was mostly open tall grass.

I opened the giant hood and started to pick up Jebe, but she wiggled past me and flew to a tree a hundred yards away.  It’s where I wanted her to go, so I didn’t worry about the flub getting her out of the hood.  Since I didn’t know the field, I let Tyler suggest where we walk and were to proceed.  We beat the grass towards her but didn’t flush anything so continued across the field to the trees along the creek.  She refused to come the two hundred yards, so I offered a tidbit.  She came for that and after eating it took a tree above us.  We flushed a rabbit in pretty short order, but Jebe missed it.  We couldn’t reflush the rabbit and suspect it swam across the creek.

We followed the creek and flushed another rabbit.  Jebe chased, but didn’t connect.  We followed the rabbit across the creek and reflushed it, but Jebe didn’t see it.  We couldn’t find it for a second reflush so continued on.  After a few minutes we flushed a different rabbit from some bushes around the base of a tree.  It ran across some open ground towards more bushes.  Jebe took a second to launch and Tyler and I both thought she didn’t have enough time to catch it.  The rabbit made the bushes but must have stopped just inside them because Jebe slammed through the leaves and we heard a squeal as she connected.  I ran for the bushes and found Jebe solidly in control of the rabbit with both feet on it’s head.  The rabbit wasn’t dead, so I put it down.  At first I tried grabbing the back legs and behind the head and pulling to break it’s neck, but couldn’t get a good grip with Jebe in the way.  I wanted to put the rabbit out of it’s suffering as quickly as possible, so grabbed around it’s chest and squeezed; it stopped breathing and went limp after half a minute, and it’s heart stopped a bit after that.  Tyler suggested I try for a double.  I planned on releasing Jebe and knew it was the last time I would hunt her, so I traded her off.  It went smoothly, especially considering it was only her fourth kill of the year.  Had I planned on intermewing her, I wouldn’t have even considered a double.

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Jebe on her first and only rabbit.

Jebe sulked for ten minutes after the trade off, but flew above us and started hunting again.  We flushed four more rabbits – she missed two and didn’t chase the other two.  Tyler and I didn’t feel that she was as hot as she had been earlier, so I called her down and we put Mable up.  Mable made many chases, but never connected.  Tyler said she’d been a bit off the last few hunts.

All in all I was pretty pleased with Jebe’s performance.  If I planned on flying a red tail next year I would definitely intermew her.  While she hit me in the face once, she seemed to be a good game hawk once I started flying her at higher weights and got game under her.

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2015 AHA Winter Meet

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.

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Jebe on her first squirrel

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.

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Gretel on the fist

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Heath and Gretel

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.

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Greg’s peregrine on her duck

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.

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Chad and Ashley’s jagdterrier Baya, who helped flush bunnies

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Rusty and Vulcan, who I didn’t get a chance to hunt with

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.

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Tyler and Mable

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Bob and Sega with her rabbit

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.

 

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Some Updates

The month since my last post has been eventful to say the least.

First, my wife had our baby, Vaun, on 27 December after 40 hours in labor (!!!).  He weighed 7 lb 14.5 oz and is perfectly healthy.  It’s certainly been an adjustment having him, but I couldn’t be happier.

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Vaun Michael Skvarla

Unfortunately, the week before Vaun came Jebe hurt herself.  I’m not sure how it happened, but her wing was injured.  I first noticed when I took her out hunting on 20 December.  She flew up to a reasonably high perch but then refused to follow.  I attributed it to high weight and called her to the lure.  The next day she refused to leave the fist when I took her out.  I walked around for a few minutes before she finally hopped off the fist.  She fluttered to the ground in the heap and obviously couldn’t fly.  I was quite worried, I thought she may have broken a wing bone, and tried calling every vet I could when I got home.  Of course none of them were open on Sunday afternoon and none of the emergency clinics would see a bird, but I managed to get an appointment for Monday morning.  The x-rays showed there was no damage to the bone, just some atrophy in the shoulder joint she couldn’t use.  The vet suggested it was a chronic condition that finally gave out, but other falconers on the AHA forum didn’t think so.  Regardless of how it happened, the vet gave me prescriptions of lixotinic and prednisolone.

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Jebe holding her wing strangely

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Another shot of Jebe’s left wing

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X-ray of Jebe’s wings. No broken bones, so it must be soft tissue damage the x-ray can’t show.

I kept Jebe confined to the giant hood for two weeks and fed her up to 1100g to allow the wing to heal.  She was able to fly between perches in the mews after the time off, so I started bringing her weight back down slowly.

On 10 January I took Jebe back out into the field.  I flushed two rabbits in as many hours and she made good chases at both.  The first was a long 60 yard flight, the rabbit ran along the edge of a field before diving back into the woodline.  Jebe was 20 yards out of place and took 3-4 seconds to decide to launch, so had a lot of ground to make up.  I missed the flight as I was tangled in honeysuckle and thorns when the bunny flushed.  Jebe remounted after I found her on the ground sulking, but I couldn’t reflush the rabbit.  The second rabbit flushed along the woodsline, but ran into the trees.  I missed most of that flight as well and found Jebe sitting angrily on a mossy log.  After a while with no more flushes a guy with four dogs started walking the opposite side of the field that I hadn’t worked yet.  I figured what rabbits might have been there weren’t any more so called Jebe to the lure.  It was a 150 yard flight into the middle of the field and Jebe gave the laziest flight I’ve ever seen.  Not sure if she was tired after hunting for two hours (which is the longest she’s been out of the mews in a few months), frustrated with lack of/missing game, or what.

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Jebe on a log pouting.

I took Jebe out again on 14 January.  My parents came to see Vaun for a few days and came out as they’d never see me hunt one of my birds.  We managed to flush two rabbits.  Jebe had a great chance at the first as it ran straight at her, but she hit the ground just behind it.  For the second rabbit she was way out of position and didn’t see it run.

We went out again today, 17 January, this time to Hobbs State Park.  I found some places there last year, but all of them were bad.  The grass had all died back, leaving open ground with no cover.  I’m not sure what happened.  I tried to hunt squirrels with her, but we didn’t see any, even though I found plenty of nests and some sign (chewed up walnut husks).  Jebe was really weird about the giant hood and didn’t want to go into it.  I’m not sure why, but I’m going to have to work with getting her liking it again.

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End of the Season

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.

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Hunting at Francie’s

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.

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Yeah, I’m just gonna sit up here awhile…
© Sarah Skvarla

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© Sarah Skvarla

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Cotton rats

After I put Ogedei away we hunted Kraken for the rest of the morning.

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Chad and Kraken

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.

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Beating the brush for Kraken.
© Sarah Skvarla

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Kraken
© Sarah Skvarla

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Kraken
© Sarah Skvarla

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.

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One of the Harris’s looking for a rat
© Sarah Skvarla

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Harris’s on the ground
© Sarah Skvarla

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Harrir’s after crashing into a bush for a bunny.
© Sarah Skvarla

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Harris’s on Francie’s truck, waiting to go into her giant hood
© Sarah Skvarla

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Chad and Francie with the day’s game
© Sarah Skvarla

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.

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Tidbitting Ogedei to the fist to move him along to where we were beating the brush
© Sarah Skvarla

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.

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Ogedei flying between trees
© Sarah Skvarla

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.

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Ogedei coming to the fist for a tidbit
© Sarah Skvarla

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.

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© Sarah Skvarla

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.

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Poking the rabbit with a stick

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.”

Finally, thanks to my wonderful wife Sarah for taking so many great photos.  If you want to see more of her work, including other photos from this trip, pop on over to her blog and take a look around.

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Rabbit Hunting

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I took Ogedei out this morning for a few hours.  We went up to Hobbs State Park, which is open to hunting.  It’s mostly open pine/oak forest.  They do controlled burns every 5-10 years, so the trees are fairly large and widely spaced in many areas.  I wanted to rabbit hunt but couldn’t find any good fields within the park.  I thought I remembered there being some before driving up, but they’re all outside the park on private property.  I eventually settled on a few small open areas that were each an acre or less in extent.The first area was a parking lot for a the Hidden Diversity multi-use trail.  The edges of the forest had grass and brambles and I flushed a rabbit within the first 5 minutes.  The rabbit ran across the open parking lot and Ogedei was after it.  I thought for sure with such an open area he’d connect, but they turned around an outhouse and I missed the last bit of the chase.  When I caught up Ogedei was sitting on a wooden fence with no rabbit. I beat the brush up and down but never reflushed that rabbit or found a second one in the area.

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The second spot was a fairly open area between the intersection of three roads. It was filled with briars and vines at ground level and looked promising.  I almost stepped on a rabbit as soon as we started hunting.  It sat perfectly still under a small pine tree less than 5′ away.  I don’t know what I was thinking, but I circled around the rabbit and flushed it towards Ogedei.  The rabbit dove into some thick vines and Ogedei crashed into the top of the pile.  The rabbit kept going but Ogedei was tangled up.  When he finally got untangled the rabbit was gone.  Ogedei apparently hit the pile hard enough to knock some breast feather loose because a couple fluttered away when he finally got up into a tree and he now has a small bare spot on his chest.  I couldn’t find the rabbit to reflush it.The third rabbit was much like the first.  I found some dead, mostly fallen pokeweed and flushed a rabbit right away.  It made a 50 yard sprint through the open trees.  It was a really nice chase as Ogedei wove through the tree trunks but he came up short again.  When I caught up Ogedei was sitting in a small tree staring intently at a hole under the root ball of a fallen tree.

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Ogedei catches a woodrat

Ogedei finally caught something!  It was an eastern woodrat- not exactly the pinnacle of dirt hawking, but at this point I’ll take it.

I drove 45 minutes to a field in the Ozark National Forest I remembered seeing during field work.  It’s a powerline cut for some high-voltage wires.  I was a bit worried about the wires but they’re spaced pretty far apart and hang under the towers, so I didn’t think they would be too big of a problem.  Once I let Ogedei go he flew to the trees next to the field and never gave the towers a second look.

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Hawking field in a powerline cut

The field looked pretty good.  I found fresh rabbit sign immediately – there was a light dusting of snow that fell this morning, so I knew the tracks were at most a few hours old.  There were pellets all around that hadn’t frozen yet too.

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Rabbit tracks!

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And fresh rabbit pellets

I followed the first set of tracks for a while but they ended in a hole.  I never saw the rabbit and suspect it was gone before we got out of the car.

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Rabbit hole

I tried to follow a second set of tracks but they circled around on themselves and I couldn’t figure out where they went.  After half an hour of beating the grass and brush I came upon a tangle of honeysuckle with some rabbit tracks going in and out of it.  I kicked the tangle and Ogedei crashed into the top of it.  He didn’t get very far in so I picked him up.  He was very intent on something so I cast him into a tree and jumped into the honeysuckle.  He crashed into it again and worked his way to the bottom of the pile.  I saw the woodrat at that point run through the snow.  Ogedei hopped/crawled through the tangle as I tried to flush the rat towards him.  At some point he made his way to the top of the honeysuckle again, launched into a short wingover and crashed into the top again.  I shook the bushes a bit more and realized he wasn’t moving.  I untangled myself from the pile and saw he nailed the woodrat.  It never made a sound or struggled, he had it by the head.  At that point Ogedei either fell backwards through the honeysuckle or purposely tried to work to the bottom of the tangle.  He ended up getting caught up in some branches but I freed him to feed on the rat.

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Ogedei crashing into the honeysuckle

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“There’s a rat in here somewhere…”

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Ogedei finally caught something!

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And then he ended up at the bottom of the honeysuckle in a heap

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