Friday, December 31, 2010

Holiday Adventures

I had a bit of time off of work for the holidays so I spent a good deal of time letting Goliath do his thing.

On Christmas Eve we had the best flight of the year. I decided to swing through a high school parking lot where I'd chased some starlings last year. I hadn't hit the spot this year so I wasn't sure what I'd find but to my delight there were quite a few starling around. Unfortunately, none offered ideal slips but I was figuring a slip was a slip and I'd take whatever I saw.

There was an embankment on the far edge of the school about 20 yards back from the edge of the parking lot. The embankment itself was probably 10 feet high and there was a chain link fence at the top. There were probably a dozen starlings feeding on the far side of the fence and that perked Goliath's interest. They were barely visible from our vantage point. Then two popped through the bottom of the fence and I figured, "what the heck, we'll give it a go" not expecting much.

Goliath left the fist about 40 yards from the birds. I thought he was way too far away and the fact that he had to go up a hill to get to them meant he didn't stand a chance. As expected the starlings spotted him coming in from below when he was still a good 15 yards out and took to the air. The two that had been on our side of the fence popped straight up and Goliath poured on the speed snagging one right out of the air at the top of the fence!! I could hardly believe my eyes! What a flight! He had to gain at least 15 feet of elevation to catch that thing! I know that's not much for the bigger birds but pretty impressive for a kestrel!

On Christmas day we had another fantastic outing. We went 2/3 on slips and it was actually the one that he missed that was the best flight!

It was the first slip of the day, a group of starlings was hanging around a restaurant parking lot but they were about 30 yards out and down a small hill. Goliath could see them dropping off the wire but after they landed they couldn't be seen from where we were. I was trying to figure out how we could get a slip on them but a few flushed when I started toward them ready to throw Goliath so I retreated a little and put him back on the fist like normal. He bobbed a couple times and then took off towards the starlings even though we couldn't see them! He swerved down the hill and around a tree and a bunch of starlings busted where he went down. He'd missed, but what a cool flight!

The next flight was about 20 yards at some starling feeding on the edge of a dumpster. He plowed in to one right on the edge and tumbled into the dumpster with it! Luckily (unluckily?) it was a pretty full dumpster and all I had to do was reach over and pull him off the top. Starling one in the bag.

Now I'd never been successful at doubles until today but my buddy was supposed to come out with me earlier and had gotten caught up on the phone with relatives. Since he'd never seen Goliath take a starling and I kept catching them when he wasn't around I figured I owed it to him to try for another! We found a group near the same restaurant where I'd gotten the first missed slip and this time they were in a much better position. Goliath smacked one near the top of a small hill and they went tumbling down into some landscaping. I pulled them out and claimed my first double!

It had actually been a rough week as far as slips go. I was planning on putting buckets full in the freezer during my time off but on most days I only got one slip, if that. I did catch another starling in there somewhere but it was nothing incredible.

New Year's Day made up for it though! We had a big storm come through and things got cold. I got up and even though Goliath was a tad on the high side (92.5) I suspected that the cold would keep the starlings on the ground and we could get a few more slips then we'd been getting. Boy was I right!

I left the house at 9:03 and the first starling was in the bag by 9:09. It was a nifty little flight at some birds hanging out near a dumpster. They flushed before he got there but he snagged one out of the air at about the height of the dumpster. I love air catches!

I had a few more slips before we connected again. One miss was pretty cool in that he took a 40 yard flight at some birds we couldn't see behind a wall. We watched them drop from on top of a building and he just took off. It would've been even more cool had he caught one but he was awful close.

The next catch came near a doughnut shop. There were starlings EVERYWHERE. I don't think I've ever had that many starlings just hanging around. He had a couple misses there too but the starlings would literally land right beneath him after a miss. They were tempting fate and #2 collided with it as Goliath pounded him while he was snacking on some bread pilfered from a nearby dumpster.

I thought about calling it a day and fed Goliath quite a bit after that but as I was feeding him more starlings landed right in front of us! Can't argue with that! So I pulled the starling wing away and we went again.

It took a little bit of convincing to snag #3. Since he was already high when we left the house and he'd gotten some good tidbits after the first two, he balked on several that he usually would've hammered. #3 was just too good an opportunity though as it landed right in front of us and was busy gobbling up some dumpster goodies. Goliath smacked him so hard they rolled about 4 feet.

3 was as many as I could ask for though and better than I've ever done. I fed him up and we headed home. A fantastic way to start the new year!

Alas, my time with Goliath looks to be short lived. I got news over the break that I will be starting a new job out of state in the middle of February. Its really too bad since Goliath is turning out to be a phenomenal bird but this change is for the better. I have a few more weeks and then I'll fatten him up and turn him loose. He'll do just fine on his own and he'll always be a bird to remember.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Another Sparrow

Goliath snagged another sparrow over the weekend. Not much to write about, one slip, one bird. I thought I had the camera on the picture setting but ended up taking a little video instead. The subsequent pics I took didn't turn out too hot so I'll just include the video here:

Apparently a lady that feeds the sparrows (in a Walmart parking lot??) saw the catch and she was none too happy with our shenanigans. First time I've ever had a negative encounter! I know those types are out there but I've been lucky to avoid them thus far. She may think sparrows are cute but they can be nasty little critters that harm native bird populations. I wasn't going to argue though. She said it was "sickening to watch a bird prey on her sparrows", I said, "You know this happens every day in the wild, right?"

"I know, but it's sickening."


And I left. She feeds "her" birds, I feed mine. This is how things work. :-P

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Back in the Swing of Things

Goliath flew like he was on fire at 90.2 grams. We had a few great off-the-fist chases at sparrows in hedge rows before he nailed this starling in a hospital parking lot:

Now that man week is over, it's time to slay some starlings!

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Manliest of Man Weeks Part 3: Elk Hunt

After NAFA Joel and I headed home to spend Thanksgiving with our families. We stuffed our faces, kissed our wives and kids, and headed out the next morning to hunt elk in the Rocky Mountains.

We started by sighting in the rifle I would be using. A .300 Magnum I'd borrowed from my father specifically for this hunt. It had never been shot before and my father pounded in to my head the need to sight it in correctly before I shot it at any animals. It's been awhile since I shot a high-powered rifle and well, I was rudely reminded of how powerful the kick is on my first shot:

It was the scope that put those nice little marks on my forehead! Ouch! But I learned my lesson and we got the rifle pretty well sighted in.

From there we chained up the truck and began our ascent to elk camp:

And further up the mountain we were breaking trail. Apparently we were first up the mountain this weekend:

We had a bit of an adventure with our canvas wall tent in that the spikes that are pretty much essential in holding the tent up weren't in the bag when we got to our spot. With a little bit of good ol' fashioned jerry rigging and the help of some nearby trees however we finally had our living space for the next couple of days:

It wasn't pretty, and to be quite honest we were worried that a strong gust of wind might take us out, but once we got the little pot bellied stove going it was a heckuva lot warmer inside than out. It got down to something like -9F that first night but honestly I was too warm if anything.

We were up before the sun the next morning. It's funny but if I'm going hunting I'm instantly awake when the alarm goes off. We loaded up for the day and headed out. I was to sit in a blind half way down a ridiculous slope but there were game trails both above and below the spot. Joel promised me this was a good spot. He was going to head another ridge over and work his way through some aspens down to another blind he knew of there. The plan was to meet back up around 9:00 or 10:00.

As I made my way down to the blind I spotted a couple of deer walking right beneath the blind about 400 yards away. I sat for a moment and put my scope on them just to see what they were doing and they looked right up at me. They weren't in too big of a hurry but after spotting me they weren't sticking around. I casually watched them saunter off in the direction Joel had gone but didn't pay them too much attention. I continued on for about 5 minutes before glancing in the direction the deer had gone. I noticed one working its way up a hill and then a much larger shape materialized next to it. Elk!! I sat down again and put my scope on a small bachelor herd of about 6 bulls. They were much too far away to shoot but it got me excited and both Joel and I only had cow tags anyway. I watched them disappear into the aspens and figured Joel would probably catch a glimpse of them from his spot as well.

I finally got to the blind just before the sun came up. There was a lake beneath us covered in fog and it made quite a beautiful scene. I snapped a few photos from the blind:

We met up a little before 10:00 as planned and discussed what we should do for the remainder of the day. Joel had seen a few more elk on a ridge a little further away but they disappeared into another stand of timber and he suspected they were going to hole up there for the day. I offered to work my way up and around the timber to try and push a few out to Joel who would stay in the blind.

It was a good idea but I hadn't quite considered the logistics. As mentioned before, the blind was on a ridiculous slope and I had to go back UP the hill to get around the timber. It was a brutal climb. I finally reached the top though, surveyed the territory and saw that the timber was much larger than I had originally thought. I went about half way over and decided to drop down into it to make my push. I hadn't gone far when I saw a nice big 5 point elk shed sticking out of the snow! My son would love it! So I strapped it to my pack and continued on. I told myself to take it slow because the timber was so thick it would be easy to miss something. 3 steps and stop, 3 steps and stop. It wasn't more than a dozen steps after finding the shed that I glanced down through the trees and thought I saw something looking back at me. I slowly sat down and put my rifle on my shoulder. It was an elk! And what's more I had a perfect shot at about 50 yards...only I couldn't see it's head. My crosshairs were right on its shoulder and it just sat there. I was afraid to move but I was surprisingly calm. I ran my crosshairs up its shoulder to its head and much to my dismay I saw antlers. It was a bull, no shot. I walked a couple more feet and it noticed me, swung it's butt end around and trotted off through the woods. I was amazed that for such a large animal in such heavy timber it didn't make a sound.

I continued down through the trees, took a short snack break, and finally made my way back over to Joel in the blind. I had pushed one bull out to them but again, we only had cow tags. The number of animals we were seeing however was encouraging. We spent the rest of the day skirting the top of a ridge and being amazed at all the sign we were seeing. At the end of the day we made our way back to camp and just before the sun went down we saw 4 cows about 1000 yards away. We'll see you tomorrow, I thought.

After a grueling day wandering up and down that mountain we were hungry. We did an inventory of our foodstuffs and decided to just throw it all in a dutch oven and call it good. There was turkey, summer sausage, thai soup, and various vegetables, and in the end it was...well, interesting.

I ended up eating 3 or 4 bowls full just because I was THAT hungry but it wasn't something I'd save the recipe for!

The next day Joel and I split up before the sun came up again. I intended to go to the ridge where we'd seen the cows the night before and he was going to work the edge of the timber I'd gone into the day before and make his way back to the blind. I got a little mixed up once I entered the timber though and ended up on a ridge we'd worked the day before. The good news was that just as I got to the edge I saw two bulls making their way up the side of the mountain and a cow about 500 yards away. I don't know if she saw me or what but she was headed in the opposite direction in a hurry. I wasn't going to lob a shot at her from that distance though. She was safe...from me anyway.

Shortly after I'd settled myself for the morning I heard a shot ring out across the valley. Joel had taken a shot at something! Shortly thereafter, another shot, followed by a third! And then...silence. "Hmmm," I wondered, "Did he get one? Should I head over there to help him out or should I stay put and see if I can get one myself?" After about 20 minutes of debating with myself I decided to head over to see what had happened. I found Joel sitting the blind looking disappointed with himself. Apparently he'd shot at a cow a good distance away and missed all three times.

From what Joel had told me about how smart elk are I figured that our hunt was pretty much over at that point. All the other elk within hearing distance would be running for 20 miles or more. But after a brief discussion we decided to sit in the blind until at least 9:00 just to see if we could get lucky. Here's what the blind looked like:

Here's the view directly up from the blind:

And looking down from the blind to the right:

And to the left:

We hadn't been sitting more than half an hour when I noticed 4 deer working their way up from the small aspen grove directly beneath us. Apparently animals were still moving, I took that as a good sign. Another 15 minutes later and a shot rang out from above us. I spun around and saw two bulls at the top of the ridge. More bulls? Frustrating, but at least there were still elk in the area. Probably 10 minutes later Joel whispers, "There's some, don't move." And of course the first thing I do is whip around to see what he's talking about. 3 cows came sauntering out of the aspen patch you see to the right of the picture that is looking down from the blind on the right.
"They're cows." Joel whispers and my scope is on the lead animal. "You take the leader, I'll take the next one." I whispered back to Joel and I moved my crosshairs to the next animal.

I was surprisingly calm. The biggest thing I'd hunted before this was pigs in Hawaii and I remembered shaking considerably when I'd gotten shots at them. I was excited this time for sure but overall there was little emotion. My only thought was, "We're going to get our elk."

"Do you have a shot?" asked Joel.

"Not yet," I replied, "They've got to clear the they come...I'm going to shoot on 3...1...2...BOOM!" Apparently I shot a little bit before 3 and to my amazement my elk didn't drop! I heard Joel shooting to my left and since there was more than one shot I assumed that his elk didn't go down either. It took me a second to realize I needed to shoot again. I chambered another bullet and fired again. She flinched like I hit her but was still on her feet. I was amazed that they hadn't run further but after the initial volley they'd only gone another hundred or so yards. They stopped again directly beneath us. I chambered one more bullet, calmly laid the crosshairs on her shoulder and fired. She stumbled and fell.

"Mine is down!" I yelled. I'd just killed my first big game animal ever.

The story of Joel's cow is a bit unfortunate. He had hit her in the back left hindquarter. She made it down the ridge and to the edge of the timber you see on the left edge of the picture from the blind looking left. She wasn't going anywhere but we didn't have a good shot on her from our position so Joel began working his way across the mountain for a better shot when another hunter spotted her standing there and took a shot to knock her down. Joel did take the final shot but the other hunter claimed that since he knocked her down the cow was his. Joel said that in all the years he's hunted that area, even when it's covered in other people, he's never run in to that problem before. There was a bit of an argument before I suggested that we had our hands full with the other cow. Joel reluctantly gave up his animal but we got a picture and talked the other hunter into giving us the hindquarter where Joel had initially hit her.

It was a little after 7:00 a.m. when all was said and done. We spent the rest of the day dressing my elk, breaking camp, and then dragging her down the mountain to where we could pick her up with the truck. Despite being relatively downhill the entire way it was quite the drag. We started at the top of this mountain, the picture was taken from the truck looking back up to where we'd been.

I was exhausted by the end of the drag. Pulling a 800 lb animal down a mountain is as tough as it sounds even with three people involved. But the meat from this animal will feed both of our families well into the summer and the experience is something I will remember forever.

We spent the next two days butchering the cow and stocking the freezer with elk steaks and roasts and grinding up elk burger. We took another 25 lbs to a processor to be made in to sausages and brats.

And thus ended Man Week 2010. It was a week that Joel and I will be talking about for years to come. Pheasants in Kansas, a hawking trip, and elk to top it off. I can only hope that this will become a yearly tradition!

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Manliest of Man Weeks Part 2: NAFA

My last post ended with Joel and I pulling in to our camp at the North American Falconer's Association annual meet. Most people who attend this meet stay at the official meet hotel but for $80 a night it felt a little too luxurious to a few of us who elected to find a nearby trailer park that would allow us to put up a tent for a mere $5 a night. We were deemed the "Gypsy Hawkers" and even had a banner made for our tent:

As you can see though, this was no ordinary tent, a fellow falconer from Colorado brought his outfitters tent complete with a pot-bellied stove that kept the interior toasty warm despite the cold nights. $15 for our entire stay rather than the $240 it would've cost at the hotel (which I hear wasn't a great experience in and of itself...)? No complaints here! And the whole crew agreed we should do it again next year. Hopefully Gypsy Hawkers will be come an annual tradition.

We headed out early the next morning to get the hawking started. We actually began by meeting up with a fellow kestrel hawker to see if we could catch a starling with her female. As luck would have it, as we pulled into a rather empty looking lot to see if some starlings on a telephone wire would come down, a jackrabbit popped up out of nowhere! We had 4 red-tails with us so one was quickly pulled out of the car and sent on the chase. Despite there being no more than an inch of brown grass mowed to a stubble on this lot jacks began materializing left and right! We'd found a fantastic jack field right in the middle of town! The kestrels were abandoned for the moment while we chased jacks with several birds and eventually caught one with a big female flown by a falconer from Illinois. It was his first jackrabbit ever and he was ecstatic (even though his bird mistakenly grabbed his hand while he was trying to help with the jack...). I know many pictures were taken but I haven't seen any of them floating around on the Net yet. I'll insert them when I find them.

On the way back to the hotel to pick up another red-tail to take back to our awesome field, we found a large group of starlings feeding on the side of the local Walmart. The other kestrel hawker had her chance! She took the slip and her little kestrel nailed it's first starling. Again, pictures were taken but I haven't seen them yet. It was a fantastic start to the first day of the meet for our little group!

The days that followed were filled with more jackhawking with red-tails. I had intended to go out with a few other folks to see birds fly but we were having so much fun chasing stuff with the birds we had we just kept at it. One morning a fantastic photographer, Tasha Leong (who contributed the tent photo as well) came out with us and took these great shots of Joel's red-tail in action:

A narrow miss!

Joel's red-tail actually hit this jack and rolled it a couple times, this photo was just after the rolling stopped and the bird and jack took stock of the situation:

Other shenanigans in the field:
"Look, a mouse!"
"Got it!" (Look closely on my arm...)

Back at camp we threw some of the pheasants Joel and I had gotten into a dutch oven along with anything else we could find lying around and made a sort of pheasant "goulash". Usually when I cook pheasant it dries out quite a bit and is fairly tough, this was delicious!!

As we all crowded around the table to partake of the goulash, a pvc pipe that had been installed as a hose spigot (not very smart since pvc gets rather brittle in freezing temperatures!) was bumped and a water fountain erupted near the table when it broke completely off! We quickly called maintenance but quite the pool was forming as we waited and the water was creeping toward our tent. We tried to shove a towel down the pipe to stop the flow of water but there was too much pressure so we tried to hold it down with a flushing stick we had in the back of Joel's truck. Still too much water pressure, but we were on the right track, we just needed something to hold the pole in now. We decided to use the carrier that attached to an SUV trailer hitch, propped it on the table and balanced it on the pole that was keeping the towel in the broken pipe. It's not nearly as funny in writing as it was in person but we all thought it was a fine bit of redneck engineering! The maintenance folks finally did shut the valve off and the water was kept from our tent.

Despite all our efforts, the jackrabbits eluded us but Joel's bird finally snagged a cottontail on the last day we were at the meet, earning Joel his first ever NAFA game pin.

Overall it was a great time and it was a shame that we had to leave before the official end of the meet (Saturday night I believe) to get home for Thanksgiving. On our way out of Dodge we did stop at that little walk-in with the abandoned farmstead and put one more rooster in the bag before we made the drive back home to Colorado to spend Thanksgiving with our families.

As delicious as the meal was, it was only a brief respite before we were out hunting again. We left the day after Thanksgiving to pursue elk in the Colorado mountains. Part 3 soon...

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Manliest of Man Weeks Part 1: Pheasants

November 19th began an epic week to remember. The week was so epic, in fact, that I can't possibly contain the tales in a single post. This will be a three part series (plus or minus) detailing:

A pheasant hunt in Kansas (Nov. 19th~21st)

The 2010 North American Falconers Association (NAFA) meet in Dodge City, Kansas (Nov. 21st~24th)


An elk hunt in the mountains of Colorado (Nov. 26~28th)

I guess the best place to start is at the very beginning!

One of my best friends, Joel, and I loaded his truck and headed out late Friday morning headed to Kansas. Our eventual objective was the NAFA meet in Dodge City but for the last few years I've gone to Kansas to shoot pheasants with my father. He couldn't make it this year but since Joel and I were headed in that direction anyway we thought we'd leave a bit early and do some shooting before the meet started.

To be honest there's not much to write about the first couple days. We drove to a few of the walk-in areas around the town we were going to be staying in the first night just to get the lay of the land and only had time to walk one before the sun set on us. Unlike when I go with my father, we didn't have dogs, so it was a tall order for just the two of us to push some of the native grassland. We got two hens up but didn't fire a shot. In fact, we saw more prairie falcons that first day then we saw pheasants! One actually hung around the field we were hunting and did a few flybys. Being falconers and all, we thought it was pretty cool but we did want to find some pheasants! As we were packing our guns back at the truck we saw a MONSTER whitetail buck but went to our hotel empty handed.

We misjudged when the sun would rise the next morning. We crossed from mountain time to central time on our way over which put sunrise closer to 7:30 rather than 6:30! So we bounced along the back roads in the dark and arrived at our first planned location well before shooting time. I'd hunted this area a few times with my father and knew there were pheasants about but dogs were definitely the difference in the equation this time.

When the sun finally did rise we set off over the grassland and I quickly realized that without dogs the birds were likely to run circles around us. Again we flushed a couple of hens but nothing we could shoot at. We went a little further down the road and watched a rooster fly from a controlled shooting area (basically a place you have to pay to hunt) across the road to a field where we could hunt. A good sign! Just behind him we watched another rooster sneak out of the grass with a hen in tow. They were smart birds though as they stopped in the middle of the road and looked right at us, frozen for about 30 seconds before deciding they would rather take their chances in the controlled shooting area than deal with us. The rooster and hen in the road flew back in that direction and when they did the grass around them erupted in 30 or 40 pheasants following their lead in the opposite direction of where we wanted them to go! So much for that spot as the lone rooster that had flown across the road heard the ruckus and made his escape as well.

We headed southeast toward Garden City, our next destination. A small stand of evergreens along the way yielded three roosters that flushed out of range but flew to a field where we knew we could find them. We spotted all three out in a wheat field and opted to go after the pair that were closer together hoping to get both. My nerves get the best of me when hunting though and a poorly timed flush on my part prevented Joel from getting a shot (a recurring theme on this trip). I did drop one rooster though so we had our first bird for the trip.

The rest of the day was nothing to blog about. Lots of walking through large grass fields where I'm sure most of the birds just hunkered down and let us walk right past them. We pulled in to Garden City having hunted hard all day with only the one bird to show for it. Luckily we were able to find a nearby sports bar that was showing the UFC card that night and that took our minds off an otherwise disappointing day.

Sunday was going to be our last day of shooting and by now we had a better idea of the kind of cover we needed to find if we were going to be effective. With just the two of us we had to have something to push the birds in to, an empty field or road, otherwise they could avoid us rather easily. We were also hoping to find walk-ins that had been planted with some type of crop since the grasslands were obviously unmanageable. We found a perfect spot with cut milo and a thin row of grass separating it from thicker cover. Joel walked on one side of the grass and I walked on the other and low and behold right near the end a rooster flushed out Joel's side and a single shot brought it down. Finally Joel had gotten a bird and I didn't feel so bad about screwing up the first opportunity when I'd gone mine!

We headed back to the car and realized that it had gotten rather warm. I had on two pairs of pants and winter boots and it was simply too much. Joel also opted to shed some layers at the truck and as we were both changing he suddenly yells, "Two roosters just landed in that field right behind you!" Talk about being caught with your pants down! I quickly laced up my shoes, grabbed my gun and we both headed to where he'd seen them put in. I jumped into the brush and sure enough a rooster flushed just to my left. I took a wild shot with my first barrel, missing completely, and then his tail exploded as Joel shot. I regained my composure and dropped him with my second barrel. Good team work! We called it an assist as I gathered the bird and went looking for the other that Joel had seen. Unfortunately, the second wily bird snuck out behind us and made his getaway well out of range. But we were starting to see birds, and put a few in the bag, this was good!

We were getting closer to Dodge City, our final destination, but still wanted to check out a few more walk-ins before we called it good. As we continued our search I saw a suspicious looking minivan parked on the road. Hunters? we wondered as we approached but a minivan didn't fit the typical profile. "I'll bet they're falconers!" I told Joel and as we passed we noticed that one of the two individuals standing at the back of the vehicle had a falcon in hand. We pulled over and chatted for a minute and they showed us a freshly trapped prairie falcon they'd just caught. It turned out that me and one of the guys knew each other online! They were looking for merlins so we told them were we'd seen a few and wished them the best before continuing on. We definitely got the sense that we were getting close to the falconry meet though!

We stopped at another walk-in when Joel noticed a hen walking toward the road. She flushed but we thought it was a sign that this would be a good spot. We stopped the truck, hopped out and no sooner had I loaded my gun and shut the door when pheasants erupted all around me! There must've been 40 birds that started popping up like popcorn. I quickly dropped one rooster and yelled for Joel who was on the other side of the truck still getting ready. We both missed our subsequent shots but wow, what a start to this area! It turned out to be as good as we hoped with cover that worked perfectly for the two of us. Joel made a beautiful shot on a rooster that was quite a ways away and despite watching him drop like a stone in a wide open spot we made the critical mistake of taking our eyes off him once he hit the ground. He must've had enough left in him to crawl to cover somewhere because despite looking for him for 45 minutes we couldn't find him. I really hate to lose birds, again, we needed dogs! We got one more rooster up at the end of a small patch of cover and I put him down with my first barrel. The only other exciting thing that happened in that field is that I walked right over a rattlesnake! I thought it was kinda cool, Joel wasn't as excited...

So 4 birds for the day, 5 total for the trip, and we ran in to another set of falconers before we called it good. Not excellent by any means but all things considered we'd done fairly well for two guys without dogs once we found the type of cover we could work effectively. I should've taken more pictures but didn't think to pull out the camera until we'd arrived at our camp in Dodge City. Here's all I've got:

We actually found one more spot, a small abandoned farmstead, that produced a whole bunch of birds but they flushed two far out for either Joel or myself to shoot at. We made a note of it though and figured we'd hit it again on our way back from Dodge (more on that later!).

So the shooting had ended and we'd arrived at the Gypsy Hawkers camp in Dodge City, Kansas. It was time to fly birds. Part 2 of the manliest of man weeks will follow...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

UNESCO Recognizes Falconry

Great news! The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization has officially recognized the sport of falconry as a living human heritage.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Something A Little Different

Saturday was the opener for both pheasant and quail here in Colorado so I gave Goliath the day off and headed out with some good friends of mine to see what we could scare up. We hit the road about quarter to 5 and got to my friends property right about 7. There was a big group of hunters pushing the field right next to his property and we hoped they were pushing birds into our field.

Guns at ready, we headed out along a low row of trees. We could hear birds cackling in just about every direction but we made our first pass with nothing to show for it. We paused briefly at the tree line that marked the edge of his property to plan the next pass and then I took one more step toward a small clump of bushes and suddenly there was a flurry of wings. "Quail!" I shouted, and fired a shot, bringing down my first bobwhite ever. I was too focused on the bird that dropped and whiffed my second barrel but my companions managed to bring down two more. We certainly weren't expecting that but it was a great way to start the morning!

We pushed the edge of the property without seeing anything but heard occasional cackles below us so we turned that way. We set up to push a small area of thicker cover and flushed a hen pheasant, our first look at a pheasant for the day, so we were encouraged. We sent a couple of the guys to the other end of some thicker cover to try another push and they flushed a rooster. Both were using shotguns more designed for self-defense then hunting though and their effective range was probably less than 20 feet. That rooster got away scott free.

The whole group made it back near the road with no more flushes. We decided to move back toward the other end of the field when suddenly we hit the motherload! First one rooster got up, then a few hens, and then like popcorn birds were coming up all around us! Unfortunately I was at the far end of that cover and the birds were angling away from me. I took a few shots but the nothing fell. The group had managed only one rooster but we sure had fun shooting at them all!

We reloaded and regrouped before finishing off that patch and right at the end one more rooster flushed. Two of us shot and the rooster dropped. Our second for the day!

We headed in the direction that the large group had flown and pressured a couple more into the air. Lucky for them none of us are very good shots! One daring rooster flew down the entire line offering each one of us a broadside shot at 20 yards and STILL got away!

Before we knew it we were back at the corner where we'd originally flushed the quail and from another small patch of cover a single flushed. No one took a shot at that one but one friend said, "If there's one theres gotta be more!" and went off kicking the brush. Sure enough another small covey busted and I swung around and fired dropping my second bobwhite of the day!

By that time we'd marched quite a bit and headed back to the truck for some brunch. After some great food at a tiny cafe we headed back to the field. 4 hens greeted us by flushing right as we pulled up! We pushed the opposite end of the field and got a few more flushes. I dropped another rooster and despite our best efforts for 30~45 minutes we couldn't find him. I really wish we'd had a dog with us as I hate losing birds! Very disappointing.

A long walk and only one more flush later and the group was pretty much spent. I could hunt all day but getting up at 4 in the morning was pretty taxing for the majority of our party. We did try and push one small pivot corner on our way home but it was pretty obvious our group's heart wasn't in it so we called it a day and headed home.


Fortunately, one of the guys I was out with is my hawking buddy and we decided we had enough daylight left to try for a bunny! His bird was kind of a butthead but put in a couple good chases before finally tying one up against a fence. So we ended the day with 4 quail, 2 pheasants, and a bunny in the bag.

Not a bad day of small gaming!!

On Friday I leave to Kansas for another weekend of gunning for pheasants. On Sunday the North American Falconer's Association annual national meet begins in Kansas as well so I will spend Sunday through Wednesday hawking before returning home for Thanksgiving day, filling up on turkey, and then leaving on Friday for a late season elk hunt.

Life is good.
(Many, many, many, thanks to my wife for putting up with these adventures! I love you honey!)

Monday, November 08, 2010

Pushing My Luck

Goliath weighed in at 91g on Saturday morning. Still on the fat side of things but heck, he's caught stuff at 92.2 so I figured there'd be no problem.

And there wasn't. First slip of the day at a group of about 6 starlings feeding in some low grass behind a shopping center. It was a beautiful 30 yard flight where Goliath dropped off the fist and skimmed the tops of the tufts of grass keeping his profile low. They saw him right before he got there but it was too late for one and he smacked it about 6 inches off the ground. Best flight of the season so far!

But it was too dang quick!! I decided to go for two. Traded him off and we were back on the hunt. I found another group just across the street. It was an awkward slip though and he didn't seem to have the same fire in him that he had for the first slip. I'm always worried about going for doubles because I've never been successful and I feel like I'm not giving the bird it's just rewards after catching one and not letting him feed up. When there's lots of birds I usually don't have time and when I have time, I can't find any birds! I drove around for another hour or so but wasn't able to find any ideal slips. We had another decent flight where I threw him at some sparrows in a McD's parking lot but they were so close to the bushes that they just ducked under before he got there. I ended up calling him back down and fed him up on the morning's first starling. I wasn't paying attention though and after the feed he weighed 112! If I remember right he was trapped him at 109g...Flying Sunday was questionable.

At flying time Sunday he was a whopping 93 grams. And the wind was blowing about 20 mph. So what did I do? Went flying of course! We only got one quick flight at some sparrows that he barely missed and when I held up my fist with the starling wing he kited only briefly in the wind before coming right back. :-D

Conventional wisdom about kestrels is that you have to be excruciatingly exact with weight control. I know folks who weigh them every two hours and insist that tenths of grams make a difference. So I imagine I'm pushing my luck but Goliath seems up for the challenge.

There's a lot that I do with my kestrels that tends to defy conventional wisdom but I've been successful so far so I can't complain. In all honestly I don't think these guys are nearly as difficult as people make them out to be. If I can be successful with them, anyone can be!

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Bird In Hand...

I didn't have a lot of time Saturday morning since I had to be somewhere at 8. I had about 40 minutes of daylight to hawk before 8 and then figured I'd head out after my appointment if needed. Well, it wasn't needed! We snagged starling #2 in a short flight in a restaurant parking lot. Unfortunately I forgot the camera! (But don't worry, there's a pic later...)

Goliath was actually heavier than I've ever flown him on Saturday at 92.2g. Early in his training he was great at 93g inside but outside would try and bolt even at 89. I guess he's figured out the program though. I'll admit I was nervous on our first couple slips at sparrows and while his response wasn't what it is at 88, it wasn't like I was waiting a long time for him to come back. 30 seconds max. What a great bird.

So on Sunday when he weighed in at 90.5 I wasn't too worried.

We actually had some really great flights. The first was at a shopping center with this huge sign that attracts starlings by the hundreds. The problem is, the sign is probably 50 ft. tall and they were all staying up near the top. There's some construction going on near the road below the sign and a lot of standing water in a depression made by the construction. The starlings would leave in large groups and head to that 'watering hole' periodically so I thought I'd see if I could get close to where they were going down and get a flight. Unfortunately I found that the construction consisted of putting a new, fairly busy road in between the sign and the water. I had Goliath cocked and ready to go (dart style) as I made my way back toward the sign just as a group of about 30 starlings came up from the water. They were about 20 feet over my head so I tossed G. just to see what he'd do. He was right in the mix but didn't like the situation for whatever reason and didn't even chase. He just headed to a nearby tree and I called him back. Kind of a cool sight though, I could just imagine him just throwing out his feet and snagging one mid-air but it was not to be.

I wandered around the parking lot for a bit kicking sparrows out of hedges and evergreen trees and tossing him at a few but my timing just sucks. A group will bust and I'll think okay, there's a few more that are going to come out...and then nothing does! Or I toss him and the sparrows just dive right back into the cover. I need a second flusher!

I finally found a great set-up with a lone sparrow bathing in a shallow puddle in a McD's parking lot. I made the toss about 20 feet out and the sparrow saw him coming and got the heck outta dodge. Goliath really turned on the afterburners and put in a good 30 yard chase with a couple twists and turns before the sparrow made it to the safety of a thick evergreen hedge. Really beautiful flight! Even without a catch, probably the best of the day!

We headed over to another spot that's usually loaded with sparrows and had another pretty good flight at some sparrows near some hedges. It was about as close as you can get without putting one in the bag with the sparrows doing the panic dance and Goliath just zigging when he should've zagged. Fun times though.

I debated kicking those sparrows out of the bushes but I just wasn't feeling the whole timing thing and that's a loooong hedge so I decided to head over to another section where Goliath caught his first sparrow. Sure enough, I was rewarded with a small group of about 6 feeding along the edge and Goliath nailed one in a nice 20 ft. flight.

Now what I should've done is just let him calm down and start plucking. When I got within about 5 feet I could see he was getting a bit squirrelly. I should've just stopped. I kept walking toward him and he hopped into the hedge. No biggie. This was the area where we had the run in with the wild female kestrel and coops last week though so I wanted at least to be able to see him. I ducked down to see where he went and couldn't see him so I hopped the hedge to look in from the other side. Of course then he went back to the other side so I hopped back over and this time he'd had enough and decided to boogie.

Here's the result:

Of all the places he could've gone in that area, I count myself unbelievably lucky that he only went about 75 yards and landed in a small, sparse tree. Another 75 yards and he would've been on the edge of a neighborhood lined with lots of large thick evergreens. I doubt I would've been able to find him. Or he could've gone to the top of numerous buildings in the area that would've offered him a much better platform to pluck on. I think that a) I'm extremely lucky, b) he's not big enough to carry a sparrow too far, and c) he just wanted to get far enough away from me that I would let him pluck in peace and that tree was as good as any. Whatever the case may be, I'm counting my lucky stars.

So that's what I did wrong. The next few things I think I did right. I didn't panic. I just sort of chuckled to myself and thought, "Oh great." and walked over to the tree. I didn't want to run up and spook him again. I stood under the tree for a minute and tried to asses the situation. He wasn't super high up, maybe 8 feet out of reach is all, but the tree wasn't big enough to climb. I saw that the sparrow had gotten wedged between two tiny limbs and Goliath physically couldn't move it at the moment so I got out the camera and took a few shots and video you see above. Goliath started going to work on the head and I had some hope that when he finished the head the body of the sparrow would fall down and he'd follow it (wishful thinking). Anyway, I made some calls to tell my wife I'd be late for a Halloween party we were supposed to be going to, and my falconry buddies so they could laugh at me. (None of them did of course but two were off flying their birds and too far away to help, the other offered to bring a ladder if that became necessary. I didn't think it was at that point.)

So I sat and watched him eat the head of the sparrow, occasionally offering a starling wing on my fist. He'd look, but wasn't too interested. After he finished the head he tugged a bit and was able to free the sparrow. He was looking around with the sparrow dangling from his beak and I was more than a little concerned that he wanted to head to a better spot. Luckily he just repositioned the sparrow and went to work the best he could on it's back. On a whim, I tossed the starling wing I had into the air and suddenly he perked up. Another toss and he was looking hard. 'Huh,' I thought, 'Let's see what we can do with this!' I tied my lure line to the wing (just in case he did come for it) and tossed it again. He wanted it but wasn't willing to give up his sparrow for it.

I'd read on a merlin group list-serve about how someone had retrieved a merlin that had flown over a fence by tossing a skinned starling tied to a line right next to it. The merlin had left it's kill for the skinned bird and the falconer was able to lift it over the fence attached to the line. I thought I'd give it a shot and tossed the starling wing pretty much right at Goliath. He jumped for it but the sparrow was caught in the branches and he wouldn't let go. His had one foot on the sparrow, the other grasping for the starling breast, and his wings suspending him from the branches. He looked at the sparrow, back at the starling breast and made his decision. He let go of the sparrow, planted both feet on the starling breast and I gingerly lowered him out of the tree! **PHEW**

As soon as he let go of the sparrow it dropped from the tree as well so I gathered it up, got out the rest of the starling carcass from the day before and let him munch on that while I clipped him in and took a victory shot of the weekend's spoils at the base of the tree:

All's well that ends well I suppose! And I was only an hour late to the Halloween party! So 3 sparrows, two starlings before the end of October. The best start I've ever had to a season. It's gonna be a fun one!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

First Starling of the Season!

Had some time this morning so we went over to a nearby Walmart to see what was about. Goliath was heavier than I've ever flown him (90 grams) but I figured 'ta heck with it' and was really quite pleased at his performance.

While I've been throwing him at starlin
g carcasses for quite awhile now he's never actually had a good shot at one. I found a group of half a dozen or so feeding on the side of the building and got about 15 yards away before they started looking jumpy so I gave him a toss...They flushed well before he got there but he made them squawk for sure and then landed on top of a Home Depot next door. With his weight being high I wasn't sure how his response would be but I held my fist up without a tidbit and he came right back. Fantastic start!

Our next slip was in the grass along the side of a restaurant. I was able to sneak a little closer this time and Goliath was right on top of one this time, I swear he grazed it's back, but it managed to evade him again. Still, he was chasing starlings so I was tickled pink!

It took awhile longer to find our next slip. I noticed a bunch of starlings feeding in between some parked cars. They seemed skittish but using the cars as cover I was able to get quite close. I should've thrown him but I thought they'd flush and my thinking was that if I held him up high on my fist he'd have a shot at them on the rise. Well, they didn't flush and Goliath smacked this one in a short flight in between the cars! Really not that much of a flight but for his first starling, I'll take it! I'd really like to work the throwing thing out but he's pretty good at these short flights off the fist!

Monday, October 18, 2010

#2 in as many days!

Couldn't be happier for our second week hunting.

With my wife and kids in tow I wanted it to be a good outing and surprisingly there were a lot of birds out and about. We had a decent slip at sparrows in a Home Depot parking lot and then found a group of about 20 starlings feeding out in a field. I tried to get as close as possible before throwing Goliath at them but they busted while I was still 20 yards away. I tossed him anyway but he just went up in a tree and yelled at me until I showed him some food. I got another toss at some sparrows on the way back to the car but that one didn't work out either.

We then headed to the Walmart where I caught the sparrow yesterday and hit the jackpot! The hedges were LOADED with sparrows. After he missed on the first slip I tossed him at some stragglers trying to hide in a small pine tree. I kicked the tree and tossed him at the fleeing birds and he chased for a bit before landing on a light pole directly above me. It was kind of cool to see him stoop to the fist from that angle when I brought out a tidbit.

We went back to the original hedge and the sparrows had returned. He shot off the fist and this time I saw him snag one on the edge of cover before he disappeared. I'd forgotten my good camera so I grabbed my cell phone and snapped this quick pic of him buried in the hedge:

I reached in and was able to grab a hold of the sparrow and lift them both out of the hedge. #2 in the bag! I snapped this photo with the good camera when we got home:

A crazy side note to the story is that last year I flew Hayduke several time in the same area. I was still experimenting with snap jesses at the time and had a pair whose snaps didn't quite "snap" like they were supposed to. Hayduke chased some sparrows into the very same hedge one time and came out without jesses. Luckily I had another pair and the day went on just fine. It's been almost a year since that happened but yesterday as I headed back to the car with Goliath and his sparrow in tow, my wife points to the curb and says, "Are those yours?" I took a look and said, "Yeah, they're mine from a year ago!" They were dirty and pretty crusty but otherwise in good shape (not that I'll use them, since the snaps are bad but still...). Crazy:

Saturday, October 16, 2010

First Blood!

We're officially on the board. We headed out at first light and found quite a few birds on the ground. I tried to sneak up on several groups of starlings and throw Goliath at them like we've been practicing but never got close enough for a good attempt. I did get a toss at some sparrows but Goliath overshot and went up to some telephone wires. At 87.4g he was back on my fist before I even had a chance to pull out a tidbit though! I knew he was ready, it was just a matter of finding the right slip.

The right slip presented itself in the way of a large group of sparrows hopping about on the edge of a low hedge at Walmart. Goliath darted off the fist and disappeared in the bushes. I honestly didn't think he got one but cautiously moved the bushes aside and found that he had one tightly by the neck. Bingo, sparrow #1 in the bag. I believe that my last bird, Hayduke, caught his first sparrow on the 17th of October last year so we're right on track.

If that wasn't good enough, we then went over to a nearby industrial park to fly my friend's red-tail. We had a couple close calls with some bunnies being flushed from some cattails and then a bit of confusion between his bird, a wild immature red-tail, and an owl all in the same tree, but his bird ended up catching a bunny off the fist in a nice short flight through some landscaping.

It was an awkward catch at first with the bird being pretty tangled in the bush:

But we got things sorted out:

All in all a FANTASTIC morning and hopefully the start of many more morning just like it!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Weekend Update

Well it was a bust as far as the kestrel went. Rainy and wet so slips were pretty much non-existent. I did find a few sparrows hopping around under a bush at a Walmart but they were so close to cover that he didn't stand a chance. Great response though at 87g. Looks like that'll be what we shoot for the next time out. Now we just need to find good slips! (Is it still called a "slip" when I "throw" him at stuff...? )

The day was somewhat salvaged though when my buddy took another bunny with his Red Tail. It was somewhat anti-climatic as we were both trying to flush a bunny out of a bush as his bird was waiting in a tall cottonwood when we suddenly heard a bunny screaming and looked over to see that his bird had nailed a different one! We didn't even see the flight! Oh well, he'll take it!

Saturday, October 09, 2010

First Hunt/Free Flight In The Books

Nothing spectacular to report.

I found a bunch of sparrows feeding in some landscaping at a shopping center and walked to within 20 feet or so before throwing Goliath at them. Had he tried I believe he could've snagged one easy but as it was he just flew above them and tried to land on the building. He couldn't quite get his footing there so he headed over to a nearby tree in the parking lot and I pulled out a starling breast/wing to get him down. A female kestrel came zooming over as soon as he got to the tree but with me there I guess it didn't want to get too close and veered off about 15 yards away. Goliath only gave her a cursory glance. He went on to emphasize that at 88.5g he's still a tad too high by doing several strafing runs on my fist, trying to pull the wing away, before he finally snagged it and wouldn't let go. I got him settled on the fist and figured that was good for the day.

I'll try him again tomorrow a gram lower and see where that gets us.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

First Kill!

Not Goliath's mind you, but I'm pretty proud of this one nonetheless.

This is my buddy's bird (from this post) on it's first bunny:

22 days from trap to first free flight, 25 until first kill. Not too shabby given that my friend had never handled a bird until this year!

I'm his quasi-sponsor due to the fact that, on paper, I'm still an apprentice and I kept telling him that once the bird is flying reliably to the fist he should go hunting. There's other training that can be done, to the lure, following on, etc., but in my opinion it's better to get the bird hunting again as soon as possible. Everything else is just frills. (Necessary frills in some cases, but frills regardless.)

He took my advice to heart and even without me or his other, real sponsor there he flew it free at 22 days and had 4 bunny chases then yesterday he sends me this picture. Absolutely fantastic! He's going to be a fantastic addition to the falconer pool and he's going to have a great season with that bird!

So you may be wondering, if it's best to get the bird out hunting as fast as possible...and he trapped his bird AFTER I trapped Goliath...AND he's got less experience...why isn't Goliath out there hunting...? Time constraints conspire against me but hopefully this weekend.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Dove Hunt

No, Goliath isn't catching dove...(yet!)

A falconry friend of mine was gracious enough to take me to a property he leases yesterday and allow me to do a bit of dove hunting with shotguns. It was a first-time experience for me. I've hunted pheasants quite a few times but dove are a LOT smaller. Luckily we had ample opportunity to figure them out and we got a fair number of birds. (Don't ask how many shells we had to go through to get that many though...)

We took them home, breasted them out, and had them for dinner that night. Some were pan fried in butter, others were wrapped in bacon and slapped on the grill, and we even did a few on a cedar plank on the BBQ as well. Fresh dove = Good stuff! For those wondering, 17 dove breasts ended up being just about a pound of meat...needless to say we had delicious side dishes as well!

It's always a treat for me to be able to eat something that I harvested (regardless of whether it's meat or vegetables), and fall is the time for harvesting. I love this time of the year!