When I was about 12, I read this wonderful book, “A Sporting Chance” by Dan Manning. Best known for writing the children’s book, “The Fox and The Hound”, few know about this book that caught my attention at such a young and influential age. Little did I know it would change my life forever. This collection of actual hunting stories documents unusual ways of hunting all over the world.
Using a cheetah to run down gazelles, a boomerang to take out flying ducks, or a blowgun to hunt, all of the stories intrigued me. The one story that inspired me most was about hunting with raptors. Falconry they called it.
The thought of chasing and getting the wild game, using birds of prey, fascinated me! Though it took 25 years to realize this fascination, I’ll never forget the influence this book had on my insatiable desire to learn about wildlife and hunting in the great outdoors.
What Is Falconry?
For those of you who have never heard of the sport, let me tell you about Falconry. Known as the Sport of Kings, it’s typically defined as the taking of free-range wild game with the use of a trained hawk or falcon. There is very little documentation of when and where it originated but most of the information you’d find now tends to point towards the Far East around 2200 BC.
To give you a better understanding of how old this sport is, the way we Falconers practice this ancient sport today is basically the same exact way that Egyptian King Khufu did. That is a lot of history to honor and quite a big pair of shoes to fill if you choose to call yourself a falconer.
To become a falconer, you must pass a 100 question test, spend two years apprenticing with a sponsor, and pass a facilities inspection (which means you have to create a very particular home for them to live in.) All this must be done to receive your Federal License before you can legally trap and train your own raptor.
Then you have to actually go out into the wild and trap your bird! Once you accomplish that feat (and let me tell you that’s truly an adventure), there are 3-6 weeks you must set aside to train your young Red-Tailed Hawk or an American Kestrel. Did I mention there is a minimum one hour interaction time each day or a 1-4 hour hunt every other day? I learned very quickly that this isn’t just a hobby or a sport, Falconry is a lifestyle.
It wasn’t until 20 years after I read that book in 1996 that I actually got a chance to participate in a falconry hunt – right on the farm where I lived on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
A friend of mine brought his pair of Harris Hawks with his falconry friend who brought her pair of hawks as well. With their dachshunds flushing out bunnies at the edge of the woods. and us with our brush beating sticks, whooping and hollering, we chased rabbits out of the hedgerows, giving the birds a good chase for a couple of hours.
If I remember correctly, the Hawks captured only 2 rabbits that day. But it didn’t matter. I was infatuated with the sport! The flame of my 12-year-old past had been rekindled and I knew that day that I was going to become a Federally Licensed falconer, I just didn’t know how or when it would happen.
Now it’s 2018 and I’m not only a 20+ year veteran to this incredible sport of Falconry, I am also sharing, teaching, and writing about my love for these incredible birds with everyone. From educational opporutnites for children at schools, to private backyard flying demonstrations, you can experience the beauty of watching a Red Tail Hawk fly and learn all about this ancient sport.
This is by far one of the most unique experiences that you will encounter during your visit to the Eastern Shore, if not in your entire life! Bring your friends and family, and don’t forget your camera because you will want to prove to everyone that you got to play with a hawk!
Thanks, Daniel Mannix, didn’t know you would totally alter my way of life.