Weekly Eagle Journal

Field notes from my 2011 hunting log

November 18th, 2011 Posted in Journal 2009 | No Comments »

Greetings from Kansas,
 

I arrived yesterday with three eagles in my truck, JH, Davis and the female, Washington. Chase has been in the area for the past two days. His eagle, Dexter, is just the slightest bit heavy so has not been too serious about hunting, but will come around quickly.
 

I left Oregon on Monday with the idea that I could get here on Tuesday in time to fly at least two eagles before the sun set. Chase met me and we drove to some close fields that he had looked at and said they were holding jacks. 

69′, very little wind….

Jackhammer was first up, a little road weary at first but after seeing a couple of flushes he got serious. The field was covered with tumbleweeds, quite thick in places, but towards the middle of the field they thinned out and that was where he focused our hunting. It is fun to hunt in tumbleweeds because you never know which one will produce the slip. With Chase on my right side we worked the field. Jacks were breaking all around. JH, however, remained focused and ignored them. As we moved closer to a group of tumbleweeds a jack exploded from under one running at an angle to our left, nearly straight away. JH came off the fist with power and speed-closed on the jack which tried to use a tumbleweed as a shield. But JH arrived much too fast and had the first jack of our little meet. 

Jackhammer on 1st jack of trip
 

I chose to fly Washington next. She has been doing well with the conditioning and her reaction to the lure has been spot on, flying it down at over 20 mph. She is molting rather heavily and I hoped this would not affect her flying. The plan is for both Chase and I to hunt her, thus cutting the load of me flying three eagles. We entered a field that had tumbleweeds in it but they were small and should not pose any issues with the eagle. Picking the right field for an inexperienced eagle is everything. Too much cover is not good, too little cover is not good; you need just the right amount to give the young eagle the opportunity for success. There were not loads of jacks in this field and Chase and I walked a long ways only getting a few flushes. Time was starting to become an issue so Chase broke off to fly his male eagle and I continued to hunt Washington. I began working the edge of the field that was boarded by completely plowed ground, not one stick of anything left. The open ground is not the place for a young eagle; that is JH country but not for this female, not yet anyway. But jacks like to sit on the edges of fields giving them options on where they can run. I walked along, working my way back and forth moving slowly through the tumbleweeds so as to not flush the jacks too far away.  Off to my left a jack burst from cover and flashed into the open field moving straight away from me. Washington locked on the running jack and launched on a coarse that was directly parallel to the running jack rabbit. As they both reached the end of the tumbleweed field the jack accelerated across the open dirt road heading out into CRP. Washington banked and came straight down the dirt road, slamming into the large jack sideways with a whole lot of attitude. She was quite pleased with herself after making her first kill. I was just as happy to see the light come on in her eyes, realizing that this is what she was made to do. All the preparation that went into getting her ready for this moment paid off. I traded her off to a nice chunk of quail and put a satisfied eagle back in the truck.

Washington with her first

Washington with her first

 

Next was Davis’ turn. Last year he took 4 jacks all in good style so I am hopeful he’ll do as well this trip. Time was running short, as the sun was going down fast. I never like flying late in the afternoon for this very reason… I hate racing the sun! But with no other choice I headed into the field, looking for another slip. At first Davis was showing affects of the travel. He wanted to chase everything he saw, meadow larks, sparrows, you name it, he wanted to fly it. I hunted the edge of a field just like with Washington and it was not long before a jack broke out and ran to the open field. Davis launched in perfect timing and closed as the jack went into a zig zag pattern of short turns with Davis matching him turn for turn. With the last turn Davis reached out and almost hooked the fleeing jack rabbit. As the light faded into darkness and with Davis still hunting I reluctantly put his hood on and called it a day.

Davis after a great flight

Davis after a great flight

 

I drove out of the field thinking not bad for the first three hours — two out of three eagles scored. So tomorrow is another day in Kansas…. more to come…….
 Greetings once again from Kansas,

 

 

Today brought stunning weather conditions, the wind has dropped down from
yesterday’s gusts of 60mph to a delightful 10mph.

We started the day early, skipping breakfast, heading directly to the
fields. First up was Simon with his very nice Finnish female goshawk who is
more than holding her own with the large Kansas black tails. We entered a
field that was mostly short tumbleweeds and worked in a line to see her take
two jacks, giving her some wonderful memories on the trip back to Canada.

 

 

Washington was up next. We reentered the short tumbleweed field, moving
slowly, looking for closer slips. Young eagles want to fly at any and all
jacks they see but that is a waste of time. They do not have the condition
to fly down speedy jacks on long slips and will quickly get frustrated and
give up. They need close slips and walking slowly in the field is the best
way to produce these closer slips. Washington was very focused. She was
dialed in, hunting along with us. Both Chase and I have been flying her and
she has handled this nicely. We cut the field into sections with Chase
hunting up one side and back the other, then we would trade off with me
taking over. I gotta say, hunting three eagles is not easy so having Chase
to share the load is a great help. We were moving slowly, no more than ten
feet apart, when a jack jumped up and ran not more than 15 feet in front of
me. Washington came off the glove perfectly. As she launched I was giving
her forward momentum and she went up high using the little wind available.
She quickly got over the jack, doing a very nice wing-over, and had her
second kill of the trip.

 

Chase wanted to fly Dexter later in the day so Davis was next up. I chose to
hunt the same field that we were just hunting as there was still plenty of
unhunted ground remaining. Davis has been showing signs of coming on as a
very nice eagle; he is quick and will nearly always give you a good effort
on all slips. We had walked a long ways almost reaching the end of the field
when a jack jetted out of its form and ran straight away from us. Davis
reacted instantly and closed on the jack as it pinned its ears and went into
high gear. As Davis arrived the jack went around a tumbleweed and Davis
pitched up some 20 feet in the air. Looking over his shoulder he spotted the
running jack and stooped straight down and nailed it. I traded him off and
continued to hunt, took about 20 steps more when right under my feet a
jack exploded and Davis’ reaction was so fast that it left us asking the age
old question ‘how can a bird as big as an eagle move that fast?!’ Davis
caught that jack 15 feet from where we were standing, very nice explosive
flight. 

 

Next up was Jackhammer (JH). After driving 1/2 mile down the road we walked
into the field with JH who was showing all the signs of having a big day.
The field was old wheat with small and large tumbleweeds growing in groups
all over the field, and jacks love to hide under the tumbleweeds. Again we
divided the field into workable sections so we could fly more eagles and
keep track of where we had hunted. We no sooner walked into the field when a
jack popped up, running into the wind going north. JH was off and in a flash
closed on the jack as it ran on the mostly open ground. JH came in low and
scooped up the running rabbit, taking it some 7-8 feet in the air. JH went
on to catch three more jacks bringing the days total to 7 jacks taken by my
team.

 

With time running short Chase broke off to go and fly Dexter while I
continued to hunt JH. Dexter was successful and caught his second jack of
the trip.

A look in the back of my truck

A look in the back of my truck

Eagle Team:

Jackhammer : male golden eagle  8.6 lbs

Davis :   male golden eagle     8.4 lbs

Washington:  female golden eagle  10 lbs

GOE 2010

February 11th, 2011 Posted in GOE 2010 | No Comments »

2010 GOE
I started to condition our two eagles for the upcoming trip to Kansas back in mid- September. This year was going to be a very interesting meet because, aside from bringing Jackhammer, I was bringing along a young male eagle that was raised in captivity and had never flown very far, let alone ever laid eyes on a jack rabbit. We call him Davis. I trained Davis in my method of reduced stress and he progressed nicely. At first he was somewhat reluctant to jump to the lure. I have video of me holding him just inches from the lure and he is not interested in leaving the glove. Davis is typical of the young eagles we get — he is a blank slate, he knows nothing about anything, very tame but has no idea about life. It took a few tries but he eventually figured out jumping to the lure and from there his training progressed smoothly, ending with him flying thirty feet to the moving lure. At this stage of his training he was put up for the molt. He is exceedingly tame so perching him out during the summer was not a problem and his molt went without incident. Other than to perch him out I did not handle him at all, which is my normal routine. Many falconers mistakenly believe that eagles must be worked with all the time — fed on the fist, hooded and unhooded — in order to reduce aggression. This could not be further from the truth. Unless my eagles are at hunting weight I do not handle them other than, like I said, to perch them out during the day. They are fed simply by tossing them food and they eat on their own. The idea that one must work through aggression issues or bad behavior is, in my opinion, causing more harm than good. Let me explain……If you train your eagle to come to the fist before you hunt him/her you are setting the stage for an eagle that is going to be aggressive. Here’s why. By calling the eagle to the fist and calling it to the lure you are designating yourself as its only food source. So what happens is you have your eagle coming to the fist nicely (good fist response it’s called, I think) and then you go hunting. The eagle does not chase well or show much interest in jacks so you reduce its weight to make it hunt or chase harder. But what you have done is make the eagle more aggressive towards you because that is where, in the eagle’s mind, the food is supposed to be. Introduction of the lure and, most importantly, a lure that is moving away from you, changes everything. The fact that the lure is moving away from yourself and the eagle is the key; that starts the eagle looking out in the field for food. So now all you have to do is make a slight tweak in the eagle’s weight to increase the hunger, actual weight reduction is not necessary, and your eagle will hunt more aggressively. Take Jackhammer (JH) for example, all he knows is hunting jacks off the fist and I fly him at a higher weight because if I were to drop his weight, say from 8.6lbs down to 8.0lbs, he would be killing everything that moves, nothing would get away.
 
All I had ever done with Davis was to feed him, that’s it. When the lure was introduced he went to it, I walked up, and gave him some food. As the distance was increased the amount of food on the lure was decreased until there was no food on the lure at all. Davis built up to flying at the moving lure at speeds of 23 mph or faster and I would still walk up and trade him off. This process was repeated three times…. end of training for the day. I did this every other day with both JH and Davis; the off days they got no food. However, on the training days they were fed enough to maintain their weights. JH was at 8.8 lbs and Davis was at 8.5 lbs. Yes, both big male eagles. I did lower their weight slightly the closer we got to leaving for the meet. I did not know what Davis was going to ultimately fly at so that was a guess but JH needed to be down some to have his full attention; 8.6lbs is good.

So I headed out to Kansas with two eagles and our good friend Andrew Knowles-Brown from Scotland. Andrew is one of, if not the, most respected eagle falconers and eagle breeders in Europe, and a nice guy. Davis, at this point, had never flown back to me or seen a jack rabbit so this was going to fully test my training method. I did have some things working in my favor. First off, in Davis’s mind, he had no reason to fly away because he was conditioned to know that when the hood comes off he is looking for that furry looking thing that moves fast that he can catch and then he gets fed. So when he misses a jack, and he will, he’ll do what all the countless other eagles I have trained do, just sit there and watch me come up and offer him a tidbit on the glove and jump on the fist. The scary part is I’ll be in Kansas, not in the hills around Vale, so if things went bad it could get interesting.

Andrew and I arrived almost a week early before the GOE, mainly so we could finalize the contacts with land owners and check out the many fields we had to fly. We arrived on Wednesday in time to make a dash to a nearby field, hoping to get the birds out before the sun went down. JH wanted to fly so he came out first and flew in his typical style, fast and explosive. To be honest, sitting here at this moment, I don’t recall if he caught a jack or not, though I think he did. I wanted to just get the trip out of his system and mainly wanted to get Davis out and show him a jack. With Davis on my fist I walked into a cut wheat field looking for a slip. Davis was acting very much like the young inexperienced eagle he is. He was looking for the lure and when nothing appeared, his patience wore out and he bated a lot — not unexpected. A jack flushed and Davis launched. Not a great slip, a little far, but he closed on it nicely and then lost sight of it in the cut wheat. Davis then kept flying a long ways and landed in the next field of short winter wheat just an inch or two tall. Things went downhill from there — each time I approached, Davis wanted nothing to do with me and flew farther and farther out into this huge field. At this point I was thinking I’d have to run him down. The problem with that was he was in descent condition and, believe me, I was rethinking the whole conditioning thing as I jogged after an eagle across the wide open Kansas plains with no end in sight. The other problem was that the little darling was flying off so far that by the time I got close to him he was well rested and ready to fly off again. I would repeat the whole thing again, get close, whistle, show him a nice tempting morsel of food and he would turn away from me and fly off. I was starting to question my lack of training with him. Then fate smiled on me, as it often does in falconry, and Davis flushed a jack. He chased it, closed on it and missed. I was not terribly far behind when he landed and this time when I whistled he turned to face me, ran over to me and jumped up on the glove as if to say what’s going on? I was greatly relieved, to say the least, so I hunted the spot where I had seen the jack stop and, sure enough, flushed it once more. Davis went after it, missed, and came walking back to me. There, see, he’s trained!
 
I was, I admit, just a little reluctant to fly Davis again as I did not need another two mile chase on foot after a bird that was not interested in me at all. However, I had brought him there to hunt and, by golly, that’s what I was going to do. So the next morning I walked out into a field with Davis on my arm. Again, he was doing all the stuff I would expect — bating, losing focus, not hunting, getting pissed because I wouldn’t let him go after every jack that got up€¦. stuff like that. After a few slips at least it was clear that he was not going to fly away. After he’d land he would look for me, which is normal in my training method. It was very interesting to watch his learning curve. At first he wanted to go after any and all jacks, regardless of how far off they were. It is very important for the falconer to not let a young eagle fly itself out by keeping the slips close but that is easier said than done. When Davis would fly out after a jack and miss he would get back in the air and go after it again, which is a nice trait to have in an eagle but, at this stage in his development, a waste of energy. I knew from experience though that he would soon realize that this was not productive and, as the days went on, Davis made all the necessary adjustments.

Andrew and I moved slowly cross the area looking for that one perfect slip, that one jack that would break in just the right way and Davis would react correctly and catch it. We were walking in a cut wheat field that seemed to go on forever. Not far from the truck we had flushed a couple of jacks that Davis flew well at but had come up short, and after walking another half mile or so we had not flushed another jack. That was pushing Davis’s patience to the max and ours frankly. It was asking a lot of him to remain still with nothing happening for that long but we kept walking. The flush finally came somewhere between Andrew and myself. The jack was running at a very slight angle to our left. Davis came off the fist clean and with power. He closed on the jack as it accelerated into a full burn out, grabbed it with both feet and had it, just like that. All of the preparation and time had just paid off. What a sight!

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rBMmXqgsjwM

 Davis would not catch another jack for a couple of days, mainly due to high wind which I saw no point to fly him in. We spent a lot of time looking for perfect fields to fly him in and finally found one, a field we would come to call the mother lode field. The mother lode field is, in my mind, the perfect kind of field — 640 acres of CRP (conservation reserve program) native grass (if there is still such a thing as native grass left), about 6 to 10 inches tall and full of jack rabbit signs; trails, pellets, and clamps, as Andrew calls them. Over here we call them hides or lays or sets. I call them starting blocks for jacks. Anyway, this field was covered with sign. The jacks seem to be in concentrated areas in these kinds of fields. Once you flush one jack you can count on several more within ten feet or less. This was good and bad for Davis. Good in that I wanted the shorter slips and bad because his re-call is still a work in progress. After a flight I would have to meet him halfway and pick him up which meant I’d be risking flushing jacks as I went. Most of the time Davis would not fly after those I’d accidentally flush which is good but on occasion he’d be off after one and trail it for some time. Then I would go get him, walk back to the hot zone and continue to hunt. The learning curve goes up significantly when you are in a hot zone because your eagle quickly realizes that each time it gets on the glove another jack is flushed, and it did not take Davis long to figure this out. He would fly a jack, land, turn and come back, either by running to me or by flying, and this improved hourly.
Andrew and I had been moving very slowly through one of the many hot zones of the mother lode field when from seemingly nowhere a jack popped up and was off. Davis came off the fist with attitude, pumping hard after it. He closed and footed the jack on the head and back and had his second kill of the meet. Davis trades off like a champ, way better than his idol Jackhammer who might just learn a thing or two from his minion. We ended the day for Davis with him being rewarded with a jack rabbit front leg. He was a happy eagle.

2010 GOE 049

Jackhammer flew exceptionally well, most notably in the days leading up to the GOE. The weather was very challenging, cold, wet and very strong winds, sustained at 25mph with gusts over 35 mph. We had been checking out possible hunting fields and were not overly encouraged about the numbers of jacks we were finding or, better yet, not finding. So we changed our tactic and began hunting the corners of pivot fields which are not farmed. These corners are not overly big but are, for the most part, undisturbed and can hold lots of jacks. We pulled up and braved the wind, lining up with the wind at our backs, and marched across this one particular corner where we flushed a couple of jacks that ran out in front of us and immediately turned upwind. JH had little chance at those. With the wind howling in our ears, unless you saw JH leave you would not know anything had happened, so my group of so-called friends, Andrew, Scott and Chase, were all getting on me for not yelling’ when JH left the fist. Apparently they were not paying close enough attention. I am not used to hollering’ or anything else, for that matter, mainly because I usually hawk alone or with Cordi and she is alert enough not to need an announcement that JH is off. But under these conditions I said I would work on it. Having covered half the field we figured the best way to get to the end where we started from and again have the howling wind at our backs was to walk single file out of the field, go down the road and start at the top. Did I mention the wind was howling?? We turned and started walking in a single file line following a jack rabbit trail. My buddies were all in front of me and maybe six feet separated each of us. All three guys had passed and I was just taking a step when a large jack flushed right between me and Scott, not more than 4 feet from the trail. JH reacted so fast that he came off the fist and had the jack ten feet away, upwind. I only managed to yell’ well after JH had the jack. Everyone turned around to see JH holding a jack rabbit and then looked at me.!’ I said. Hey, at least I tried. Okay, a little late but it’s a start.

Jackhammer

Jackhammer

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-JeuWA9y6zc

We continued to hunt each day, mainly flying three eagles, my two and Chase Delles’ eagle that has no name. I think he should name his eagle Dexter after the serial killer on TV. Chase’s eagle did extremely well, taking, through the course of the entire three weeks, 51 jacks. That is a number that will stand for awhile, well at least until next year.

For me it was a great pleasure to see the new eagle falconers that took the time to prepare their eagles properly for hunting jacks off the fist and it paid off. They all caught jacks. You don’t just walk into a field and catch a black tail jack rabbit with an eagle or any bird for that matter. Many a falconer has watched his or her bird get blown off by the speed and moves of black tails. Eagles, I believe, have their size working against them, mainly for the obvious reason that they are easier to see by the jack rabbits. But they make up for this with speed and power, which is why I fly them. Speed and power. that is a golden eagle.

With the many folks from all over the world attending the GOE it is becoming a global meet. Russia, Scotland, UK, Germany and, in the past, Austria and France have all been represented. All of these folks have made the GOE the best meet going. See you next year!

2010 GOE 013

Me and Davis with his frist kill
Game totals:

Jackhammer   37 jacks
Davis 4 jacks, including his first double in the field

Total over 18 days  41 jacks

Chase and me a good day in the field
Chase and me a good day in the field

GOE 2009

December 13th, 2009 Posted in Gathering of Eagles 2009 | No Comments »

Gathering of Eagles

2009

With the meet three weeks away I started my preconditioning to get both Jackhammer and Mini-Me in shape. There are lots of theories on how to condition raptors but, in my opinion, nothing gets eagles in shape better then chasing something down. They simply fly harder and get more excited and amped up when they can chase something. And there is an added benefit when you set up hunting scenarios where the lure suddenly appears out of nowhere and goes away at high speed. Not only are you conditioning your eagle physically, but mentally as well. By using this method your eagle is now looking for something brown and furry that is running away at speed, and that can only be a good thing. I mow a track out in one of our hay fields that is roughly 100 yards long and I fly each eagle 3-4 times after the lure being pulled behind our gator at speeds of approximately 24 mph. After each flight I make in, transfer JH or MM off the lure, hood them, reset the lure, and repeat the process. By doing the conditioning in this manner I am also setting them up for multiple catches. As the days grew closer to the meet both eagles were very ready, flying hard and fast at the lure, showing all the signs that they were ready to hunt.

count down to GOE 004

We arrived in Garden City on a Tuesday, five days before the official first day of the GOE. I wanted to give the boys some time to recover from the trip and make sure that I knew where the jacks were. As meet chairman I needed to know where to tell people they could find game and, as it turned out, it’s a good thing I was in town early. The jack population had taken quite a drop off from June when Cordi and I were out for the Nat-Geo shoot. No one could say why, only that there were fewer jacks around.

With the jacks down in numbers in the main area that was to be the GOE hunting ground, I contacted some ranchers that I know some 30 miles south of Garden City in an area called Sublette. We went down and looked around and, from the start, we could see that this area was holding more jacks than Garden City and was showing lots of promise. However, we would not be able to hunt the ranches until next Monday as pheasant hunting season was opening up that weekend and the ranchers asked us to stay off their land until next week. But I did know of some CRP land that is open to everyone and we headed there to try our luck. We had filmed in this particular field in June and it had produced many slips so I was optimistic.

I flew JH first. We hunted a good portion of this sizeable field with JH only getting long slips that he tried hard on but did not connect. With the rain the night before, everything was wet and JH was starting to get drenched. I knew he had only a few flights left. We turned back in the general direction of the truck and JH suddenly stood up on his toes and was very interested in something 30 yards out. He left the fist, flying low at first, and then started to climb and kept gaining height until he set his wings, let his speed carry him for a second or two, and then did a wingover and stooped straight down, slamming into something. I walked up to find JH on a rooster pheasant — a first for JH, and me as well, with an eagle.

Copy of GOE 2009 001

Mini-Me:

MM’s work outs with the gator had gotten better and better; by that I mean his intensity had been building. In the last two years he had flown high at the lure and seemed to be feeling his way as he went, with some gliding in the flight, which slowed him down. This year I noticed from the start that MM was pumping hard the entire way and had dropped down to ground level which is a very effective way to catch jacks. I recall saying to Cordi on more than one occasion that if MM flies like this out in Garden City he is going to catch a lot of jacks!

There is a field down in Sublette we call the Mini-Me field because at one point while filming our latest DVD, Eagle Road Trip, MM had a jack run right through his legs which is on the DVD. MM’s field is as flat as a table top and almost perfect in terms of cover and it holds many jacks. MM is, on any given day, amped up. It is just his nature and it takes some time for him to calm down. For example, he bates at every little thing, thinking it could be a jack. So, at first he is all over the place but he will calm down and start to hunt. Cordi and I and a new falconer we met, Ed Hepp, started to work the field. MM will fly at any jack, regardless of how far off it is, which, for a young eagle, is not productive. In all likelihood they will not catch the jack and will only get frustrated, so it is my job to hold MM back and work for closer slips. One way to do this is by walking very slowly, as the jacks will hold tighter. We walked for maybe 10 minutes, keeping the 10 mph wind at our side, so that any slip would, for the most part, be crosswind. MM was sitting with his back to the wind as I walked crosswind when a jack popped up about 20 feet in front of us. MM exploded off the fist. his first live target since June. MM closed quickly and slammed into the hind end of the speeding jack rabbit. He gained control of his prize and, as the dust settled, looked oh so pleased with himself. MM transfers off kills as good as any falconer could want, in fact, almost too well. He will drag the jack to me and jump up to the fist, so when he catches something I cannot make a move in his direction as he may leave his kill and fly to me.  Once I was sure MM had things under control I offered the glove and he jumped off the jack rabbit, swallowed his reward, and I hooded him up. Now came the major test because, even though I had been working him on multiple flights behind the gator, I was not sure how he would react after killing a live jack. Would he do like he did in June and send the Nat-Geo film crew running as he flew at them? Therefore, I was very pleased to see MM calm down, roust, and start hunting again. So off we went looking for another slip. Not long after we started to hunt, a jack appeared right in front of us, running crosswind. MM came off the fist with attitude, pumping hard and coming in low right on the jack, grabbed it in the butt and walked his way up to the head. Wow, number two in the bag and MM’s first double ever!!

GOE 2009 003

GOE 2009 006

On Thursday morning, while driving out to the hunting fields, MM suddenly died.  We can only surmise that MM suffered some kind of stroke, as his passing was very quick.
With all of Min-Me’s past physical problems and the challenges he has had to face it could have been any number of things. Cordi and I are deeply saddened by this and are still coming to grips with the loss of one of our team members. We do, however, find comfort in the fact that we were able to give Mini-Me a few years of being an eagle“ flying, hunting, and catching game. He will be sorely missed

_MG_0516Joe's eagle about to landJoe Atkinson eagle in flight 2Joe Atkinson eagle in flight 2

Jackhammer was on his game, as good as I’ve seen him, flying at a very high level and maintaining it throughout the entire meet. I won’t recount the day by day flights as there were simply too many to remember so I will just give some highlights.

One of my goals was for Jackhammer to show what he can do to our friends from overseas because the last time they hunted with JH he did not do well. He was slightly overweight (my fault) and was put off by people in the hunting field, which I told myself I would correct at all costs, and I have done. People in the field hunting with JH have not been an issue for a couple of years now; so much so that he is a veteran of two Nat-Geo programs and will hunt in front of anyone.

It’s a funny thing about JH some fields just don’t hold his attention, and these fields, more times than not, don’t produce very many jacks or none at all. However, I can tell the second I step into a good field as JH is very focused and that is when things get fun..
With many folks in tow, Cordi and I drove out into the main ranch outside Garden City looking for a field to fly. I had noticed an area on the outermost edge of the ranch that had caught my eye the few times I drove past it. The field is a cut wheat field with a pivot in the middle and patches of tumbleweed that have grown after the wheat was cut. This area of cover was, for the most part, out in the middle of the field, far away from any other heavy cover and made for a dramatic landscape with the light tan of the wheat stubble and the very dark, almost black, of the tumbleweed stuff growing out in the middle of the field. To me it just looked like it should have a jack or two in it and this is the perfect JH field, wide open where the jacks can hit full speed.

We walked out into the field, positioning ourselves in a way that we could work the prime area in sections, keeping the strong wind either at our backs or in a crosswind direction. As I moved into the cover JH suddenly became very focused and I could sense that something was about to happen. I don’t know if he saw some slight movement of a jack or what, but he was going to explode on the fist, flinching at anything. I heard the slight rustle of the cut wheat and felt JH reacting before I ever saw the jack flash up from its hiding spot. Being out in the open, this jack was in a full burn, ears down and moving out on some predetermined escape route. JH exploded from my fist with big powerful wing strokes, turning over at a rate that seems impossible for a bird so big. I stood and watched as JH closed in on the jack that was now running for its life. I could see the very slight directional changes JH made as he built speed and tracked his jack rabbit. I say his because, over the years and thousands of flights, I can tell the second JH leaves the fist that a jack is going to be caught. As the flight built in speed and distance, the jack realized it was in serious trouble and, in a desperate attempt to shake JH, it turned upwind and reached for what speed it had left.  Already with considerable speed and momentum built up, the wind now was not a factor. JH closed on the jack like a runaway freight train and simply overpowered it.. Jack rabbit flushed at 15 yards away, jack caught at 30 yards out.

Mid week of the GOE:

With 17 cars following us I found a previously unflown field that looked like a Jackhammer type field, low cover with big areas of open space. Earlier in the morning I had stopped in and gained permission to fly this whole area and many fields looked good. But I chose this one and boy did it pay off.
The wind was at 25 mph with gusts up 30 mph so it was going to be a factor again. All I could do was keep it cross- or downwind from us and hunt, that’s it. JH was in prime condition so I knew he could handle many slips in all directions. My first indication on how this field was going to be was that jacks were already flushing as I was wiring up JH at the truck. I had everyone, some 20 plus people, walk off my right side and I stayed just slightly in front of the line. Sometimes, if the line gets even with me, JH and I cannot see the jacks flush and, in strong wind like we were in, that is a factor. I don’t think we had gone 20 feet and up popped a jack and JH had it, just that fast!  We continued to walk and another jack got up. JH just missed him due to an outstanding move by the jack rabbit using a tumbleweed and the wind to its full advantage. I’ll try and set the scene as best I can recall  off to my right were 20 people walking in a straight line and I was keeping maybe 10 yards in front of the line. Up in front of us all, on the left side, was the photo gallery consisting of Cordi, Rob Palmer and Mark Williams. So, what we had done was to create an alley for the jacks to run in, effectively funneling them in a crosswind or downwind direction. We were walking slowly because many jacks were flushing way ahead of us and, with the wind, those would have been very difficult flights and out of the cameras range.  I asked everyone to stop so I could work the cover just in front of them to look for the close, fast slip that JH loves. I took maybe 5 steps and a jack was up and running straight upwind. JH was on it just as fast, closing regardless of the strong wind. The jack went left, then right, with JH matching it move for move and he slammed into the jack. number two for the day. With tons of field left and no other birds ready to fly I traded JH off and we continued to hunt, working our way back to the trucks.  JH went on to catch two more jacks, making a total of four for the day. The last two flights were just the kind I like, speed on speed, with the jacks running in full burn-out mode and JH cranking all the way in fantastic!

GOE 2009 019

This short video will give you a good idea on how the wind was blowing while we where hunting!

Throughout the course of the meet we saw many great flights with the jack rabbits using all manner of escape tactics particularly using the jump high in the air over the eagle” move very effectively.

GOE meet game total;

Mini-Me  2 jack rabbits

Jackhammer 23 jack rabbits
1 cotton tail
1 rooster pheasant
More meet photos and video:

GOE 2009 029

if you’re going to fly an eagle expect to get your picture taken.

Copy of GOE 2009 007

Daryl Perkins, me and JH, and Scott Simpson after some wonderful hawking

Copy of GOE 2009 011

Getting JH ready to hunt

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JH and me  photo by Rob Palmer

August 4th, 2009 Posted in Festival of Falconry 2009 | No Comments »

Festival of Falconry 2009

If you have never heard of the Festival of Falconry it may be because this was only the second one ever held, the first one in 2007. Plus the Festivals were held in the UK so, living over here in the US, one could easily not have heard about them. Basically, the Festival is a gathering place for all things falconry from all around the world. Fifty plus nations were represented, all with their native dress and falconry equipment on display.
There must have been at least 100 tents with falconry equipment, wildlife art, you name it. And in the middle of all this was an arena where flying displays and displays of falconry from horseback were held. One in particular was very cool — three riders on horseback each stooping a falcon to the lure at the same time very nice.

People looking on from the lake :
Falconry Festival 2009 086

At each day’s conclusion all the nations gathered for the Parade of Nations, each group carrying their nation’s flag and marching into the ring in front of huge crowds with most participants holding the kind of bird they would fly in their native country. All the birds were on loan from UK falconers as it is not allowed to bring your own birds into the UK. I was holding a beautiful male golden eagle on loan to me from my friend Andrew Knowles-Brown, famed eagle breeder and eagle falconer from Scotland.
Andrew is seen here holding his gorgeous young female African Crown Eagle: Falconry Festival 2009 081

The Festival, in my opinion, was too large to see in two days. Each tent was loaded with things to see and learn about falconry in other nations.there just was not enough time. The fellowship between falconers from so many different places was heart warming. Regardless of where you come from falconers share a common bond and that was the point of the Festival — to drop all else and enjoy our love for the sport of falconry.

I couldn’t help wondering if we could put on a Festival of Falconry in the US and, I must say, I don’t think so, the most obvious reason being that there are only a few thousand falconers in the US as compared to tens of thousands in Europe. Another factor is that I just don’t think American falconers would loan out their game hawks to complete strangers to carry and handle — some would, but the vast majority, I believe, would not and, truthfully, I couldn’t blame them. A perfect example is my 13 year old hybrid, Blackie. The only time he gets handled is during hunting season so when I pick him up he thinks he’s going hunting. I guarantee he would not be a happy camper if he was put on display or carried around. In Europe falconers do way more flight show demonstrations and fairs than we do over here and so their birds are used to those kinds of situations.
Another factor is that falconry in Europe is looked upon differently than here in the States. In Europe there are many professional falconers that make their livelihood from falconry, something we cannot do here. And there are many falconry schools where one can learn to handle raptors and ultimately become falconers. All of this has put falconry in the public eye and made it a more accepted sport than in the US. And probably the single largest present day reason for Europe having so many falconers is that there is no sort of license or permit required to own a raptor. If you have the money you can buy the bird, including a golden eagle! This is good and bad and that is a subject for another day. Back to the festival..

The Festival of Falconry showed me just how much history and tradition there is in the sport of falconry worldwide. We don’t have that here in the States, at least not to the degree there is in the rest of the world. In many places falconry is a way of feeding your family and has been for hundreds of years. Training techniques and the way people handle and hunt their birds definitely differ from country to country. Each falconer adapting to the game there is to hunt, the environment to fly the bird in, and the birds that are available, all shape the style of falconry in each part of the world. And after seeing my fair share of falconry here in the US and in Europe I have realized that, in general, the European falconer shows much more respect for the game and the land they hunt their birds on, much more so than we do here. That is something that, I think, needs to change in our country.

For me the Festival of Falconry was like going to Disneyland where, instead of the rides or large mice running around, there was only falconry related stuff. Like I said, there was a parade each day just like in the Magic Kingdom but, again, no Donald Duck or Goofy, just people proudly carrying their nation’s flag and proudly displaying falconry in their land. There is some talk about not having another Festival — I truly hope that is not the case. The Festival of Falconry was spectacular in every sense and something all falconers should see.

Photo gallery: 

Cordi getting a temporary henna tattoo in the United Arab Emirates tent village.

The Festival, in my opinion, was too large to see in two days. Each tent was loaded with things to see and learn about falconry in other nations.there just was not enough time. The fellowship between falconers from so many different places was heart warming. Regardless of where you come from falconers share a common bond and that was the point of the Festival — to drop all else and enjoy our love for the sport of falconry.

I couldn’t help wondering if we could put on a Festival of Falconry in the US and, I must say, I don’t think so, the most obvious reason being that there are only a few thousand falconers in the US as compared to tens of thousands in Europe. Another factor is that I just don’t think American falconers would loan out their game hawks to complete strangers to carry and handle — some would, but the vast majority, I believe, would not and, truthfully, I couldn’t blame them. A perfect example is my 13 year old hybrid, Blackie. The only time he gets handled is during hunting season so when I pick him up he thinks he’s going hunting. I guarantee he would not be a happy camper if he was put on display or carried around. In Europe falconers do way more flight show demonstrations and fairs than we do over here and so their birds are used to those kinds of situations.
Another factor is that falconry in Europe is looked upon differently than here in the States. In Europe there are many professional falconers that make their livelihood from falconry, something we cannot do here. And there are many falconry schools where one can learn to handle raptors and ultimately become falconers. All of this has put falconry in the public eye and made it a more accepted sport than in the US. And probably the single largest present day reason for Europe having so many falconers is that there is no sort of license or permit required to own a raptor. If you have the money you can buy the bird, including a golden eagle! This is good and bad and that is a subject for another day. Back to the festival..

The Festival of Falconry showed me just how much history and tradition there is in the sport of falconry worldwide. We don’t have that here in the States, at least not to the degree there is in the rest of the world. In many places falconry is a way of feeding your family and has been for hundreds of years. Training techniques and the way people handle and hunt their birds definitely differ from country to country. Each falconer adapting to the game there is to hunt, the environment to fly the bird in, and the birds that are available, all shape the style of falconry in each part of the world. And after seeing my fair share of falconry here in the US and in Europe I have realized that, in general, the European falconer shows much more respect for the game and the land they hunt their birds on, much more so than we do here. That is something that, I think, needs to change in our country.

For me the Festival of Falconry was like going to Disneyland where, instead of the rides or large mice running around, there was only falconry related stuff. Like I said, there was a parade each day just like in the Magic Kingdom but, again, no Donald Duck or Goofy, just people proudly carrying their nation’s flag and proudly displaying falconry in their land. There is some talk about not having another Festival — I truly hope that is not the case. The Festival of Falconry was spectacular in every sense and something all falconers should see.

Photo gallery:

Falconry Festival 2009 093
Gathering the nations for the parade.

Falconry Festival 2009 078Two proud American falconers myself and my friend Shawn Hayes.

Nat-Geo Shoot

July 28th, 2009 Posted in Nat-Geo shoot | No Comments »

Mini-meJH

May 10, 2009

JH 8.6 lbs
MM 7.5lbs

Today marks the first day that we started conditioning the two boys to go to Garden City, Kansas for filming with Nat-Geo. I started reducing their weight a week or so back and I felt that today they would both respond to the lure being pulled along by Cordi in the gator. With their weights still being a little high, even though both birds love me, I felt it would be smart to have a creance on them. They don’t love me that much yet!

JH was up first and despite his high weight I figured he go for the lure, which he did just fine on the first flight, flying the few yards and pounding the lure which is his style. He stepped off okay but was a little prissy about being hooded. This is necessary, however, because we need to reposition the lure and I do not want JH to see what we are doing that would not be good. On the second flight JH saw the lure moving and launched after it but, feeling his oats, he over flew the lure heading for who-knows-where but the creance stopped him. I had forgotten just how powerful eagles are as JH hit the end of the rope and I was jerked forward a step or two. The step up was not all that smooth as he pulled the meat free from the glove and I had to scoop him up.

Mini-Me’s two flights went fairly routinely. He can be a little challenging to hood; he just needs time to understand or, better yet, remember that nothing bad is going to happen to him. He still has bad memories from all his time spent in the hospital but I noticed a big change from starting him last year compared to this time. He has last year’s road trip under his belt which gave him a ton of confidence in me as well as himself.  One thing about MM — it does not matter if he is on a jack or the lure, I had better be ready with the food because he is coming at me dragging the lure or jack rabbit.

So, all in all, things went well..
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cqhqISjDct8

May 14, 2009

JH 8.5lbs
MM 7.2lbs
Temp 65’
Wind 14 mph

JH on lure

JH on lure

The last few days the wind has been blowing pretty hard with gusts up to 30 mph. But that is fine because when we get to Garden City one thing is for sure, it will be windy.
I had planned on free flying both eagles today; however, they both still need their tail mounts replaced so the free flight will have to wait a few more days.
I kept them in the same routine, flying both eagles two times to the lure. All went well and I was able to keep all the lines free so nobody got tangled up.

May 16, 2009

JH 8.4 lbs
MM 7.3 lbs
Temp 60’
Wind 0 mph

Today the plan was to fly both birds free at the lure, which we did, and all went well. We flew them 3 times each at the lure, each time increasing the distance.

getting ready

Getting JH ready for free flight.

May 30, 2009

JH 8.4lbs
MM 7.2lbs
Temp 72’
Wind 1 mph

We are on the final countdown before we leave. I’ll fly them on Monday and we go on Tuesday. Both eagles are ready. They have become bored with the routine so it’s good that we are almost finished with the conditioning. Tonight I will have them sleep with the hoods on so they get used to it before the long drive.

The plan is to arrive on June 3 and start hunting on the 4th. We will be shooting on the 10th, 11th, and 12th.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9D_i2bLNAtE

June 2, 2009

Cordi and I loaded up everything we could think of for the trip — extra leashes, jesses, hoods, a back-up glove, outside perches, bath pans, another tail mount for the transmitters in case JH or MM drops a feather. I checked all the hand radios to see if they are in working order. I have been on many shoots and there is nothing worse than trying to figure out what the camera man or woman wants you to do via hand signals. We sat in the driveway going over the check list and, once satisfied that we had it all covered, we pulled out and headed for Garden City, Kansas, 1186 miles from our ranch in Vale.
We have traveled to Garden City a couple of times so we know that it is a two day drive. We try and make it to Cheyenne, Wyoming, stay the night, and make Garden City the following day in late afternoon. On June 3rd we pulled into the hotel between 5:00 and 6:00 in the afternoon, checked in, and kicked back, resting up for the next day.

With the film crew arriving on the coming Tuesday our job was to find areas that would look good on camera and have lots of jack rabbits. The plan was to fly and hunt the boys daily so they would get into game catching condition as we looked for good field possibilities. We had a pretty good idea where good fields are having been in the area many times before, but that was in the dead of winter. This is summer and everything is vastly different; more cover, more food. This could make finding jacks in flyable situations very difficult.

June 4, 2009

We drove over to a ranch that is roughly 25 minutes from the hotel and is 4000 plus acres big. Corn, wheat, milo and alfalfa are grown in large fields of several hundred acres each. We met the owner and he took us to some areas on his ranch that he thought could be nice to film and that had plenty of jack rabbits. The second Cordi and I took a look at this place we were, to say the least, blown away. The entire place was covered in wildflowers with the most dominate one being the blanket flower covering entire hillsides. Here’s Cordi sitting in some.

nat-geo-025

.

It was simply the most amazing thing to see all those flowers, and not just the blanket flowers. There were blue ones, yellow ones, deep purple colored flowers, orange ones, and the prickly pear and barrel cacti all blooming. It was a feast for the eyes.

There are several unknowns going into this project. Weather is one of them with the threat of tornados lurking around the area, 70mph winds from thunder storms, and the golf ball size hail. The other issue is, with it being summer, the cover for the jacks is going to be thick. The crops are all growing at the max and the jacks could be very hard to find in the right places. The question is would we be able to find jacks in flyable situations and, more importantly, in filmable situations. Catching jacks in knee deep cover is certainly possible but that is not what the Nat-Geo people want. They need to see all the action, which means low cover. Garden City is considered high desert and, therefore, gets low amounts of rainfall so the natural grasses do not grow very tall. At least we had that working in our favor. But still, would the jacks remain in the corn or wheat and only come out during the night into the lower cover?  Asking the local ranchers it seemed that the jack numbers are up significantly in some areas and, according to them, jacks can be found in all types of cover. That was good news.

8:00am
My first goal was to get both eagles in the air and catching game, so we drove out to fields that we have hunted before. I didn’t want to waste time looking around until after both the boys had been hunted. We drove over to a small feed lot where, just to the east of the cattle, there is an area of rolling hills with small tea cup like bowls in it. This has been a great jack rabbit area in the past and it did not disappoint us. We wired up JH and walked into the field. We could see jacks moving far out into the cow pasture but where we were hunting there was better cover, ranging at the tallest to. The entire place was covered in wildflowers making for a spectacular area to film. JH launched on a jack that was downwind and off to the left, just missing it. We moved forward taking maybe 20 steps and another jack flushed straight away from us. JH launched and had it 30 yards out! So much for any worries of him being rusty.

nat-geo-021

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPFIqBgV474

this gives you an idea of the fields

Now it was MM’s turn….

MM’s role on this trip is to be the back-up to JH and, more importantly, to gain more hunting experience. MM’s health issues are well written about in the eagle journal so I will not go into them again but he does require time to get into the hunting mode. He just needs time to remember why he is out there, to see some jacks running, and then he comes around. But at first he is all over the place, going after anything that moves — butterflies, wind blown grass — he just launches without thinking due in part to his great desire to catch something.
Cordi and I moved to another field looking to put MM in the best spot possible. He likes long slips which in the beginning are not the best choice as his condition is low, so we needed to find him some shorter slips.  I went out into a dry field that had milo stubble and tumbleweed in patches, thinking that this field could be a good one to film in, plus I needed to find out if there were jacks in this kind on field. After an hour of walking I could safely say that no jacks were in the field and MM was not happy with my choice of fields either. Next we found a corner which is what the farmers call the end of a circle. Now, a circle is the area that a pivot covers, kind of like what the windshield wipers on your car do. The area the wipers clean would be a half circle and pivots can also go full circles or ¾ circles. However, pivots cannot get the corners of a square field and that is how corners are made. Corners generally have tumbleweeds and various grasses growing in them and that’s where you can find jacks. Cordi and I hunted 3 or 4 corners with MM taking several nice hard slips. And he did finally catch a jack just before it got to the open field. We spent the rest of the afternoon checking out other fields.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hq8EZjUlY-U

this will give you an idea of a corner

June 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9th

Over these 6 days Cordi and I found 5 fields that we felt would work both visually and that would produce enough jack rabbits. Some were 30 miles away in the small town of Sublette. Jackhammer caught a jack each day, sometimes very quickly, catching the first jack up. I did not multiple fly him at first as I felt I should slowly bring him up into catching more than one, thus building his excitement at the proper time. MM, on the other hand, I flew longer wanting him to get in the grove. He did get on a roll, took a jack three days in a row, and seemed to be settling into the hunting partnership with me.

June 10, 2009

First day of filming:

We rolled out of the hotel at 8:00am. My crew has changed as Cordi flew up to Calgary, Canada to see our oldest daughter ride at a Spruce Meadows Horse Show and Chrissy, our youngest daughter, flew in to help me with the boys. I would particularly need help when JH made a kill, which is when things could get real dicey. I will explain..
When I was contacted by the Nat-Geo people about flying an eagle for them one thing they wanted was for the eagle to be without cuffs. They felt that the sight of long eagle jesses hanging down from the flying eagle would not look good on camera. JH can be very aggressive and a real handful to handle and although most of the time he is well mannered other times, because he is a misprint, he can be difficult. When asked if I would remove the cuffs I thought long and hard about this idea and figured I’d give it a shot, not really knowing how I was going to handle him.
A couple of months ago I had the pleasure of meeting the sons of famed eagle trainer and film maker Morley Nelson, and they gave me a pair of snap on-and-off eagle cuffs that Mr. Nelson had used during the filming of his movies. I had a pair made that would do the same thing but looked just like the ones that JH is used to so there would be no change in appearance. I also had a pair made for MM in case he was called into action.
To be truthful I did not know how this was going to work. I was unsure that I could reach up and snap on the cuffs while JH was feeding without getting footed. I did not know if the snaps would hold when JH was acting up because, as I said, he can be very aggressive and would think nothing of footing me anywhere. I knew a couple of things though. JH would fly just fine without cuffs, sit on the fist, and do all the things I would want from him. Half the time I don’t hold the jesses when hunting anyway. It’s the transfer off game that had me concerned — that moment when I pick him up off the jack, he has finished all the reward, and is looking for more. That is the danger zone. That is where things could go real badly for me!
Knowing JH as I do, I did have an idea of how to put things a little more in my favor. For example, once I picked JH up off the rabbit I would have Chrissy cover the jack up to remove it from view. The last thing I needed would be for JH to see the jack there and go back on it. That would be a disaster. And I was hopeful that I could hold his outermost foot with my gloved hand, keeping him under control enough to hood him. JH hoods perfectly but it is when he thinks he should get more food that he can get aggressive. So those would be the two most critical times and, I must say, I was greatly concerned. The other thing I hoped would help is that JH will behave himself when someone else moves in on him. For example, if he is fussing about on the kill and not readily stepping up he will step up immediately if someone walks in on him. So, after covering up the jack rabbit Chrissy was to move in close and force JH to quiet down thus giving me the chance to either hood him or cuff him — hooding would be best.
We drove out to a field that would, in the end, produce the most dramatic flights on camera that I have ever seen. I was slightly nervous on the drive out. Removing the cuffs from my eagle was not something I ever dreamed I would do.

 

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nat-geo-058

In the first shot you can see the snap system with the cuffs on his legs. The other shot is a sight I thought I would never see — JH with free feet, on my glove, at hunting weight. He still has his Federal Falconry band on; that I would not remove.

We arrived at the field and the moment of truth was here; time to remove the cuffs!
Hunting in front of cameras is a whole different ball game. First off, you must figure out a game plan, such as where the cameras are going to be to give them the best opportunity to film all the action and how will they want me to work the areas that are within the range of their lenses. Once in the field hunting I must be in constant communication with the film crew. They will need to relocate from time to time as I work my way through the field, plus, there is stoppage time to change batteries, download flight scenes, and stuff like that. So, in a nutshell, I walk and stop and walk some more and stop all day long. JH is great with all this. He is content to sit on my fist and chill. The only problem is that when he sees a jack he’s off, whether everyone’s ready or not. Once I walked up on a sizable bull snake and JH went nuts trying to see it. Fortunately I was able to block any direct vision of the snake with my body and JH did not go after it.
So, with everyone in position Chrissy and I started working the field, looking for jacks. The thing is that any given step could flush a jack rabbit so Chrissy and I had to be on full alert because we would need to get out of the shot quickly. We did this by moving in the opposite direction of the flight which sounds way easier than it actually is.
JH had several flights and near misses and, for the most part, the action was not in the best place but that’s the way it can be as the jacks are not real concerned with all that. All they are interested in is getting away from JH and rightly so. Chrissy and I had worked to the outer edge of where the camera lens could reach and started to rework the area in front of the cameras. On many occasions we found that there were still rabbits hiding where we had already walked. Working our way in front of the cameras with Chrissy off my right side about 10 yards, a jack flushed between us out of nothing really, as the cover was only 1 to 2 inches tall. JH exploded off the fist and was closing fast. The jack was running straight away from us at high speed with JH coming up fast from behind. JH slammed into the jack and they both did a roll-over with dust flying and rabbit legs and eagle feet all in one neat flight. I hoped they got it and, judging by the high fives among the camera crew, I thought they had! Now came the hard part — the trade off. I made in to JH as I always do and had Chrissy ready to cover the jack. JH stepped up nicely enough and swallowed his reward. I wrapped my gloved fingers around his outer foot and reached for the hood. JH reacted and demonstrated his displeasure by getting all puffed up and footy. By holding his one foot all he could do was reach out with his free foot and hook me on the arm above where the glove ends. Chrissy moved closer and JH took the hood and quickly settled down. We took care of the jack and started to hunt once again.  Despite having two holes in my arm, things went well.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66Thow1AnaM

We continued to hunt the field and JH took two more jacks. We called it a day for him as we needed to have him ready for tomorrow.

We then turned our attention to MM. There was still a good area left in the same field we had just hunted so I took MM and started to hunt. The Nat-Geo folks decided to film MM despite the fact that I had not removed his cuffs. Chrissy and I walked out into the field and when I unhooded MM he went into his usual antics of launching at anything that moved. I did not release him knowing full well that a jack would be coming shortly. Off to my right a jack flushed and MM flew it well, just barely missing it, and landed on the ground. It had started to rain and the camera crew was pulling out plastic bags so they could cover their cameras, which was a good idea because the one camera, called the Phantom HD, is valued at $276,000, not including the lens! MM saw all the activity and, more importantly, the plastic bags and figuring there must be a jack rabbit in one of them, took off straight at the crew who were not totally sure of what to do! MM raked past the first camera and went in on the second camera man who put up a foot to stop the attacking eagle. MM then looked around, jumped up on an equipment bag and waited for me to arrive. So that went well!
Chrissy and I went to a different field and flew MM alone! We walked out into a bowl of native grassland with sage brush surrounding it on all sides. I had hunted this little area before and found jacks in good numbers there. We had walked most of the way through and turned in a crosswind direction when MM launched and was flying fast out to the end of the grass, heading into the sage. We could see the jack running up the small hill going into the sage brush. I said to Chrissy Why does he do that? He’ll never catch that one! MM flew higher and higher, stalled in the air about 50 feet up, did a wing-over and stooped, catching the jack rabbit!

 

nat-geo-069

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGTL4yXAIps

MM on his jackshows you what I know!

June 11, 2009

The game plan for today was to drive out to Sublette which is 30 miles south of Garden City. On a side note Sublette was hit by a tornado last night and more were expected the next few days so that was nice to know. The very field we flew today was hit that night with a tornado!
The difference between Sublette and Garden City is clear once you get there. Sublette is flat as a pool table whereas Garden City has some rolling hills. The area that we went to was 640 acres of CRP ground that is not farmed and has been allowed to go wild. The cover was perfect, just tall enough to have jacks but not too tall for filming.
The downside of Sublette is that the skyline is not the most attractive with lots of man- made junk around — power poles, houses, oil pumpers.. stuff like that. The film crew spent quite a while finding an angle to film that was free of clutter. I was anxious to fly this field as days before I had walked it and flushed numerous jacks in a short time. JH and MM both caught jacks here and I was careful not to over-hunt it, saving it for filming. I did, however, have a good feel for where the jacks were mostly likely to be and we focused on those areas.
With the crew all set Chrissy and I walked into the field with JH and started to work back and forth in front of the cameras. I was surprised that it took awhile to get the first flush. There’s always a big unknown.Had a pack of coyotes come through here last night? Or some dogs that cleared the field? One never knows. It was the better part of an hour, with us methodically working each section across the field, before we found the jacks. Nothing changed really. The cover was exactly the same but suddenly up popped a jack, then another and another and another, and we were in them big time. When JH was off after one, I couldn’t move, not even to turn my head, as that would cause another one to flush. I just called him back as quietly as possible. One of the great things about JH is that he returns to the fist quickly, many times not even landing on the ground. He just pulls up and comes back. This is huge because, with him in the air, the jacks will stay put. The flights came fast and furious; close slips, speed on speed. The jacks would explode 20 feet in front of us and JH would be instantly off the glove and cranking after them. In this short cover the jacks would get up to speed fast, in full burn outs, but JH would overtake them like a freight train. When he is this dialed in they have little chance. He took 4 jacks in a row and, with the rain picking up, we called it a day. That was fun!

June 12, 2009

Yesterdays rains had passed and today brought clear skies and sunshine so we decided to stay in Garden City and hunt the beautiful rolling hills covered with wildflowers. JH needed more time as we hunted late yesterday and, although he did not get a full crop, he did, in the course of catching 4 jacks, get a lot of food. I knew he would hunt a little later today. It was just that as his weight comes up, which it is bound to do after flying many days in a row and catching jacks each day, the less tolerant of the cameras he gets. So that would be the only issue. I do not weigh either bird. Knowing JH and MM as I do I can tell when they are ready. Plus, frankly, I’d fly them anyway. If either bird would have shown any signs of being weak or anything abnormal, I would put them on the scale for sure, but that was not the case.
Therefore, the morning was taken up getting all the shots, called B roll that are needed to set the story — background shots of JH’s feet, head shots, stuff like that. All the while JH was getting more and more ready to fly. After a short lunch break we headed for the hunting area despite nine days in a row of flying and taking, up to this point, 16 jack rabbits. JH was showing all the signs of being ready to go. He foots the perch and starts to pump up and down in what looks like an effort to pull the perch apart. The minute I touch his foot with the glove he is on it and then starts his pumping thing again which now looks like an effort to pull my arm off!
With everyone set I walked out into the field. Chrissy was back with the camera crew helping them with instructions to come running when a catch was made. The first two flights were wonderful. JH was, again, dialed in. It is the last flight that I will try and describe as best I can.

The camera crew was up on a small hill that overlooks a beautiful tea cup bowl. All I can say is that it is what paradise would look like, to me anyway. Bright green lush grass with blanket flowers everywhere and other flowers of blue, yellow, white, pink, and orange — a feast for the eyes. I don’t know what kind of sage brush it is but it is very delicate and a wonderful bluish-green color. It looks like a well thought out planted garden and on top of that jack rabbits, box turtles, bull snakes, and lizards abound.

 

nat-geo-070

I had walked way around, 100 yards or more, working my way so I could walk straight at the cameras giving them the best opportunity for a flight. I started my way into the field and jumped a jack which did not cooperate at all and ran over the next hill with JH hot on its tail. Fortunately he missed and returned to the fist. I moved closer into the zone that is the most preferred distance for the cameras. I had just entered the zone when a jack flushed off on my left, running across the cameras. JH just missed it and as he was returning to me another jack flushed and ran off. Now I was thinking…. 4 jacks in this small confined space, that could be all she wrote. I radioed the crew and said I would work this area a little more hoping that there could be one more, but that we might have to relocate. I took a few more steps and turned to go back when I saw a large male jack rabbit laying flat up against a sage bush. Just as I completed my turn JH spotted the jack as well and the jack realized he needed to get out of Dodge and was up and moving out. JH exploded off the fist and closed quickly. The flight was going from left to right and I was back peddling as fast as I could to keep from being in the shot. Just as the jack was getting to the top of the small ridge JH came crashing in, slamming into the jack with speed.
Back at the trucks we were shown the flight and it was the most spectacular slow motion flight I have ever seen. Shot at 400 frames a second with the Phantom HD camera, I could see each feather bend and move as JH closed on the rabbit. When I hear the name National Geographic I expect to be amazed and the stuff they shot did not disappoint!

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCRtGBMNvM0

Epilogue:

Each night Chrissy and I sat in our hotel rooms watching the weather channel, counting the tornados coming into the area and hearing that they hit the very same fields we just flew in. That was not fun. Every day as we drove back to the hotel we could see the thunderstorms building up and knew what the night would bring — golf ball size hail, 70mph winds, flash floods.. My plan was to stay and hunt the boys thru Monday and drive up to Denver, meeting Cordi, and the two of us would drive home. Chrissy was going to fly out of Garden City on Sunday. But the thought of staying more nights glued to the weather channel,  hoping not to get killed by one of many different weather related things that Garden City has to offer was, to say the least, not attractive. We left Friday afternoon with the film crew, heading west, and Cordi flew to Boise.

nat-geo-080

Driving back to the hotel …more thunderstorms!

I would like to thank the following people:

  • Brian Kellogg for making the snap on-and-off eagle cuffs. they worked great.
  • Mike Craig for making me the field jesses for both JH & MM. they worked perfect.
  • AmericInn, the hotel where we stayed. They went over and beyond the call to help me with all the things eagles need.
  • Mark Kilby for sending me his arm support which will extend my flying eagle days another 10 plus years, thanks Mark.
  • Renick Farms for allowing us to film and hunt on their ranch. And to Renegade who took time out of his busy daily schedule to show us his beautiful ranch.

Getting Penny ready for release

April 6th, 2009 Posted in Journal 2009, Penny | No Comments »

 

Penny

Passage female golden eagle

Today starts the process of getting Penny ready for release; she is overdue for sure. Penny came to us by way of the Blue Mountain Wildlife Rehab in Pendleton, Oregon, hence the name Penny, and had come to them after being hit by a truck. Penny had a slightly damaged wing near the last joint and was unable to fly well enough to escape being captured. After spending time in BMW’s flight chamber she seemed to be healing up fine but it was still difficult to determine if she could fly correctly or, in the least, well enough to be turned loose. We were contacted and agreed to fly Penny to see how she did and determine if she could be released. So starts the story of Penny.

My plan was to start Penny right away in training and get her on the wing. It was late spring and if I could get her in condition and all went well I felt I could release her in late summer when the weather was still good. Plans don’t always go as planned. Shortly after we received Penny I came down with West Nile Virus and was laid up all summer unable to do much other than feed the birds. Certainly training and flying a female eagle was not in the cards for this summer. I recovered at the end of summer and restarted Penny’s training, still hoping to release her as she is an older eagle in the three to five year range, meaning she is a capable hunter and should be able to care for herself.

It is an interesting thing that happens with eagles that are new to captivity and training. At first, naturally, they are frightened and under stress but as they come to realize you are providing food for them they tame down surprisingly fast. The pattern goes something like this: the eagle comes to us scared, angry and wanting to fight any and all creatures that come close. can’t blame them. And in most cases, depending on how long they have been held in captivity, they have not molted due to fear and stress. As I begin to train them and gain some trust they change. Sometimes it takes awhile because to them people are something to fear and, having been netted and poked and all the things that it takes to get them healed up, their fear of man has been confirmed over and over again. Then I come along and, instead of chasing them around with a net, I just feed them, and food is the direct route to an eagle’s heart. Once they settle down to a more relaxed routine their stress level drops way off and they molt, sometimes quite heavily. Well, that’s what Penny did. She dropped three primaries on each wing, effectively rendering her flightless and temporarily ending her flight training. I did not want to continue working with a mostly untrained eagle that had new primaries coming in and risk damaging one or more, so I shut Penny down again to allow her to complete her molt. By the time Penny was finished summer was just about done and releasing her as winter was coming seemed unfair so I decided to hold Penny over the winter, get her going early this spring and release her sometime late spring depending, of course, on how things went

March 14, 2009

9.4lbs

I called Penny to the fist, something that she is quite familiar with having been started so many times already. Penny is a typical female golden eagle” not real pleased about working for food. This is not because female goldens are lazy, they are anything but lazy, it’s just that they are very smart and figure out real fast that you have the food and they want you to give it all to them now, all at once. They don’t see why they should have to jump to your glove over and over again for food. Penny, being a wild eagle that had been on her own for a few years, would have done what all female golden eagles do, find a male, follow him around and take food from him. That way they can put their energy into more important things like laying eggs. It’s a good plan but, for the purposes of training female golden eagles to fly and hunt, this attitude can be difficult to work through. So, Penny does things like this: she’ll fly over to me from about ten feet, gladly eat the reward and fly back to the perch, but then when I call her again she will turn her back to me and pout; it can take her three to four minutes before she finally decides to fly over again. Once she has thought about it she’ll come several more times nicely. Now, some would say drop her weight which would make her hungrier, but that is not the best way to train an eagle. Low weight equals significant health risk, most notably aspergilosis.

I called her six times, hooded her up, and returned her to the mews.

March 15, 2009

9.45lbs

Photo: Penny on scale*

Penny on scale

In the early stages of training I believe that the training sessions should be kept short and sweet. I want to give the eagle time to realize what I want from her so today, much like yesterday, I weighed her and walked out of the mews weathering yard and jumped Penny onto a large boulder in our yard.

The wind was up (9-15mph) as we have a storm coming in and there was a slight drizzle falling. Now, combining wind with an untrained bird could cause some problems, as Penny will want to go with the wind. However, I just dealt with it. She did try and fly off a couple of times, landing on the grass at the end of the creance, but I just picked her up and put her back on the boulder and when she settled down she flew to me. So, a little bit of a rodeo today with the wind but, we’re still moving forward.

*The scale that Penny is on comes from Germany and is simply the best scale I have ever seen. It will box up into the perch and be protected while traveling. It will weigh anything up to 55 lbs. which means I can weigh all my raptors on it, from the 9.5 oz. perlins to the largest female eagle. This scale will be sold exclusively though our website: more info coming soon.

March 17, 2009

Wt. 9.49 lbs.

For a couple of days I have been jumping Penny onto the rock which has brought on some interesting changes in her behavior. When calling her off a standard perch, from which she knows that she cannot fly away, she is fine but on a rock, which to her is a more wild-like situation, she over- flies me most of the times I call her to the fist. I just go and return her to the rock where she pouts for a few moments and then she flies to the glove. I do not want to drop her weight; I’ll just keep working through this. Once she settles down she will be more willing to come longer and longer distances to the glove.

March 21, 2009

Wt. 9 lbs.

Penny has been acting just slightly overweight, so I skipped a day and did not feed her which made a difference.

I reintroduced the lure today and I was pleased that she reacted well to it. I put two quail legs on it which got her attention. I jumped her to the rock, threw out the lure and she immediately focused on it and flew to it, grabbed it and hauled it up to the rock. I then walked up to her and transferred her onto the glove with her meal. She did well. I am pleased. My thinking at this point is that I’ll just get her coming to the lure and not to the fist so much. As always, all things are subject to change, to be sure.

March 26, 2009

Wt. 9 lbs.

pennys-first-flight-in-field-002

I did not work Penny yesterday as the wind was up over 20 mph and I thought it was best to wait for a day.

Today was a better day and my plan was to load Penny in the truck (she needs to get used to going for rides anyway) and take her out into one of our alfalfa hay fields where I can extend the distance she flies on a line. I take the block perch out into the field in the beginning because it is something they recognize and feel comfortable going to, plus I can place it anywhere I want. I walked over to the block which I had already placed in the field and unhooded her. She was excited about the breeze blowing in her face and bated off in the other direction, but regained the glove and then flew to the block. While I was getting all the lines in order she flew into the wind and landed about 50 ft. from the block. I tossed out the lure and she did not react other than to look at it. After a couple more tosses, however, she flew over and grabbed it. I stepped her up on the glove and walked her back to the block. I called her to the lure 6 more times and she responded nicely each time.

March 30, 2009

Wt. 9.3 lbs.

pennys-first-flight-in-field-006

I have skipped a couple of days due to high winds but today was gorgeous and I prepared Penny for another training session. I called her about 50 yards to the lure, 5 or 6 times, and she did super. Tomorrow I will fly her free. This is a huge step for her on the road to freedom. Truthfully, I could have flown her free the last two times but she needs a considerable amount of conditioning and if she was to fly off I think the odds might not be in her favor. One sign I look for before flying an eagle free for the first time is how it reacts when the hood comes off out in the field. For example, the first time they look around and then want to leave, but as time goes on and they figure out what the deal is, things change. The last couple of days when her hood was removed Penny flew out into the field, landed on her own accord and turned looking for the lure. That’s how I know she is ready for free flight.

March 31, 2009

Wt. 9.3 lbs.

Cordi and I drove out into the sage to an area that we hoped would be good for Penny’s first free flight. The wind was up a bit but I did not think it would be a problem. I was wrong.

The area we chose is wide open with some hills on the east side but there is a huge grassland area. After changing her jesses to ones that are thinner and less likely to get hung up, and zip tying the transmitter onto one cuff, I carried Penny out into the field. I unhooded her and she launched off down- wind landing about 60 yards from me. I pulled out the lure and started to drag it along, wanting to call her in. She turned and launched into the wind and turned quickly downwind heading for the hills. Suddenly a female ferruginous hawk came from upwind and stooped her, hit her, and Penny was out of there. She caught the wind, climbed up and over the now bigger hills, and was gone. Cordi and I spent the next three hours tracking her in and around the mountains with the signal going from strong to weak to nothing. We finally located her out in a sage covered area that is loaded with game ducks, pheasants, quail and jack rabbits, and one very pissed off pair of red tailed hawks. It was the red tails that showed us where Penny was. We just simply watch them for a few minutes and, sure enough, they started to stoop on Penny. Red tails are good that way” if there is an eagle around they will be after it. I walked out into the sage heading in her direction but the moment she saw me she was gone. I could not get within a ¼ of a mile to her. I did notice, however, that when she was in the air I was getting a signal from the opposite direction, which meant that Penny and my transmitter were no longer connected. I tracked down my transmitter not far from where I was standing. That quickly she had removed the transmitter and is probably working on the jesses and cuffs which will come off easily. I have always said I don’t mind loosing eagles that are going to be released; I just want my transmitter back. So thanks, Penny.

April 1, 2009

I went back this morning to see if, after flying around all day, I could call Penny in, cut off the cuffs and feed her. So I drove up on a high road which would give me a view of the area where I had last seen her. I watched one of the red tails thermalling over the sage. It went quite high, climbing in the sky, and suddenly broke off in an ever increasing stoop. This could mean one of two things  a courtship display while heading to the nest tree or the presence of an intruder which I hoped was Penny. The red tail’s stoop ended in a wingover going straight down, obviously on the attack. A second red tail followed the first bird with a stoop as well. This could only mean one thing, Penny! I drove over and stood on the tail gate of my truck, looking out across the sage and there, sitting on a fence post near the river, was Penny. I headed out in her direction and as soon as she saw me she was gone, flying strongly across the river, disappearing in the cover. I realized that any chance of calling her in was not going to happen. Penny had made herself perfectly clear, she is wild. And so it ends and I wish her luck.

March 30, 2009

April 3rd, 2009 Posted in Journal 2009 | No Comments »

March 30, 2009

Wt. 9.3 lbs

I have skipped a couple of days due to high winds but today was gorgeous and I prepared Penny for another training session. I called her about 50 yards to the lure, 5 or 6 times, and she did super. Tomorrow I will fly her free. This is a huge step for her on the road to freedom. Truthfully, I could have flown her free the last two times but she needs a considerable amount of conditioning and if she was to fly off I think the odds might not be in her favor. One sign I look for before flying an eagle free for the first time is how it reacts when the hood comes off out in the field. For example, the first time they look around and then want to leave, but as time goes on and they figure out what the deal is, things change. The last couple of days when her hood was removed Penny flew out into the field, landed on her own accord and turned looking for the lure. That’s how I know she is ready for free flight.

March 31, 2009

Wt 9.3 lbs

Cordi and I drove out into the sage to an area that we hoped would be good for Penny’s first free flight. The wind was up a bit but I did not think it would be a problemI was wrong.

The area we chose is wide open with some hills on the east side but there is a huge grassland area. After changing her jesses to ones that are thinner and less likely to get hung up, and zip tying the transmitter onto one cuff, I carried Penny out into the field. I unhooded her and she launched off down- wind landing about 60 yards from me. I pulled out the lure and started to drag it along, wanting to call her in. She turned and launched into the wind and turned quickly downwind heading for the hills. Suddenly a female ferruginous hawk came from upwind and stooped her, hit her, and Penny was out of there. She caught the wind, climbed up and over the now bigger hills, and was gone. Cordi and I spent the next three hours tracking her in and around the mountains with the signal going from strong to weak to nothing. We finally located her out in a sage covered area that is loaded with game ducks, pheasants, quail and jack rabbits, and one very pissed off pair of red tailed hawks. It was the red tails that showed us where Penny was. We just simply watch them for a few minutes and, sure enough, they started to stoop on Penny. Red tails are good that way — if there is an eagle around they will be after it. I walked out into the sage heading in her direction but the moment she saw me she was gone. I could not get within a ¼ of a mile to her. I did notice, however, that when she was in the air I was getting a signal from the opposite direction, which meant that Penny and my transmitter were no longer connected. I tracked down my transmitter not far from where I was standing. That quickly she had removed the transmitter and is probably working on the jesses and cuffs which will come off easily. I have always said I don’t mind loosing eagles that are going to be released; I just want my transmitter back. So thanks, Penny.

April 1, 2009

I went back this morning to see if, after flying around all day, I could call Penny in, cut off the cuffs and feed her. So I drove up on a high road which would give me a view of the area where I had last seen her. I watched one of the red tails thermalling over the sage. It went quite high, climbing in the sky, and suddenly broke off in an ever increasing stoop. This could mean one of two things — a courtship display while heading to the nest tree or the presence of an intruder which I hoped was Penny. The red tail’s stoop ended in a wingover going straight down, obviously on the attack. A second red tail followed the first bird with a stoop as well. This could only mean one thing, Penny! I drove over and stood on the tail gate of my truck, looking out across the sage and there, sitting on a fence post near the river, was Penny. I headed out in her direction and as soon as she saw me she was gone, flying strongly across the river, disappearing in the cover. I realized that any chance of calling her in was not going to happen. Penny had made herself perfectly clear, she is wild. And so it ends and I wish her luck. .

Penny

April 3rd, 2009 Posted in Penny | No Comments »

Penny on scale

9.45lbs

Photo: Penny on scale*

In the early stages of training I believe that the training sessions should be kept short and sweet. I want to give the eagle time to realize what I want from her so today, much like yesterday, I weighed her and walked out of the mews weathering yard and jumped Penny onto a large boulder in our yard.

The wind was up (9-15mph) as we have a storm coming in and there was a slight drizzle falling. Now, combining wind with an untrained bird could cause some problems, as Penny will want to go with the wind. However, I just dealt with it. She did try and fly off a couple of times, landing on the grass at the end of the creance, but I just picked her up and put her back on the boulder and when she settled down she flew to me. So, a little bit of a rodeo today with the wind but, we’re still moving forward.

*The scale that Penny is on comes from Germany and is simply the best scale I have ever seen. It will box up into the perch and be protected while traveling. It will weigh anything up to 55 lbs which means I can weigh all my raptors on it, from the 9.5 oz perlins to the largest female eagle. This scale will be sold exclusively though our website: more info coming soon.

 

March 17, 2009

Wt 9.49 lbs

For a couple of days I have been jumping Penny onto the rock which has brought on some interesting changes in her behavior. When calling her off a standard perch, from which she knows that she cannot fly away, she is fine but on a rock, which to her is a more wild-like situation, she over- flies me most of the times I call her to the fist. I just go and return her to the rock where she pouts for a few moments and then she flies to the glove. I do not want to drop her weight; I’ll just keep working through this. Once she settles down she will be more willing to come longer and longer distances to the glove.

 

March 21, 2009

Wt 9 lbs

Penny has been acting just slightly overweight, so I skipped a day and did not feed her which made a difference.

I reintroduced the lure today and I was pleased that she reacted well to it. I put two quail legs on it which got her attention. I jumped her to the rock, threw out the lure and she immediately focused on it and flew to it, grabbed it and hauled it up to the rock. I then walked up to her and transferred her onto the glove with her meal. She did well. I am pleased. My thinking at this point is that I’ll just get her coming to the lure and not to the fist so much. As always, all things are subject to change, to be sure.

Penny

Penny

Eagle Road Trip Mini-Me

Eagle Road Trip Mini-Me

Jackhammer and Mini-Me road trip GOE & NAFA

January 6th, 2009 Posted in Jackhammer and Mini-Me 08-09 | No Comments »

Eagle Road Trip Mini-Me

Eagle Road Trip Mini-Me

 Eagle Road Trip Jackhammer
Eagle Road Trip Jackhammer

Jackhammer and Mini-Me

12/5/08

After what seemed an eternity we left for what promised to be a fun GOE (Gathering of Eagles) and NAFA (North American Falconry Association) meets with the boys in good condition having been chasing the gator for weeks. Days before we left I finished a new eagle traveling perch that I felt both eagles could ride safely and comfortably on. But it was, as yet, unproven over the long haul and that fact alone had me slightly nervous. The last thing I needed was to be hundreds of miles from home and realize that the perch was not working; so I packed a back-up plan, bringing two of my older style perches that do work nicely but require more space. Both eagles are perched at the end of the truck bed, a partition keeping them away from each other, but leaving little room for anything else. At home I had started to perch the two boys longer and longer on the new perch and all seemed well. I even took them on short trips to see if any problems might come up, but all went well. And I am pleased to say that after 3,000 plus miles both eagles rode well and no feathers were bent which is the true test of a perch.

We started our hawking journey by flying at a ranch in Strafford, Oklahoma and flew in a field below the main ranch house which Cordi could not stop taking pictures of, it was beautiful, overlooking an area which is dotted with soak weed, or yucca, which is a mean looking plant. As we went into the field I was just a little apprehensive, not wanting JH or MM to get stabbed by the sharp points these plants are armed with. My apprehensiveness vanished immediately though as two steps into the field 3 jacks flushed. I unhooded JH and moved out into the field with jacks flushing everywhere. JH rolled one and then just barely missed another. I got him back on the glove, worked my way near a yucca bush and out popped a jack which JH promptly flew down in front of the farmers and a bunch of other folks. So, only 3-4 minutes in the field and JH had one! I then took out Mini-Me who flew strong and hard with 12 or more downhill slips that were something to see; MM powering down the grassy hillside, 500 or more yards out, only to just miss the jack

We left Strafford and headed up to Kansas and Garden City for the GOE meet. Wind is the big thing in Garden City and on a couple of days it did not disappoint us with sustained winds at 18mph and gusts to 30mph all day. The jacks were definitely down in numbers from pervious years but slips were still had by all and our boys had plenty of jacks to fly at. The sight of a large black tail running out across the open hay field is worth the drive alone, but to see both of my eagles in hot pursuit made it all worth it.

JH was showing signs that he would be his old self and started catching jacks all over the place. Mini-Me was a different story. He was having some difficulty adjusting to life on the road. Prolonged hood time was bugging him despite the fact that I had prepared both eagles for this by having them sleep in the hood weeks before we left. And as the time drew closer to leaving I had had them spend more and more time wearing their hoods during the day as well so they would be settled in with that routine. The hood time was one factor and the other was not having any real hunting experience. MM, in the early days, was showing impatience while in the field, not sitting on the fist, with lots of bates. But he never once failed to take a slip and as the days went on he started to realize what we were trying to do, which was hunt. He began to sit nicely on the fist and was intently searching for jacks, and as his condition built up he began to show surprising quickness and speed .He did, however, invent new ways to not catch the jacks not from lack of effort but just due to great moves from the jacks and his inexperience. MM had jacks dart left, right, jump up over him, one jack ran straight at MM and right through him. He hit fences and wires just as he was about to snag one. These flights were very typical of what was happening to MM.

At the NAFA meet in Amarillo, Texas we heard about a field down in Lubbock about two hours drive south from Amarillo that people were saying was loaded with jacks. Some falconers that had flown there said that the ground was alive with jack rabbits. There was some controversy swirling around this field, mainly due to the fact that tons of falconers wanted to go there, however, we were lucky enough to get permission and so we headed to Lubbock, Texas. The field was 100 acres, slowly being surrounded by new housing, and the jacks were holding up in this field. Yes, there were hundreds of them and, yes, at times the ground was alive with black tail jack rabbits. But for hunting with eagles the biggest section was not good, lots of mosque bushes and in some areas a lot of dense tumbleweeds and cactus.

I flew MM first for no reason other than he was ready and he simply could not handle seeing all those jacks. With so many running in front of him he did not know which one to fly after and was becoming more and more frustrated, so I put him up to let him settle down. While hunting him I had noticed other fields on the outskirts of the main field that were more open and should have jacks in them. I took JH out to a field that was almost dirt, hardly any cover at all, which reminded me of the fields down in California. Well, my hunch was right because a jack popped up in front of us and JH was off and powered it down in front of all to see. I continued to hunt the rest of the field and after JH caught another jack it was time for MM to return. I had saved a large section of the open part for MM and headed right for it. Jacks were flushing along the way which MM flew well, but I was heading for a patch of tumbleweeds that I was sure held some jacks. When we all got there it looked great except for a single smooth wire running along some tee posts, maybe a hot wire long since out of use. Eagles, I have found, don’t care much about fences. They have little respect for them so I try and take the fence out of the flight equation by working the cover in a way that reduces the chances of an encounter with the fence. Well, so go the best laid plans a jack flushed in the general direction I hoped, away from the wire, but MM was on it so fast that the jack freaked out and turned back under the wire with MM right on it’s tail, and just at the precise moment that MM reached out to snag the jack he hit the wire! It just seemed, once again, that the odds were going against him but the one thing that can be counted on is that MM has a big heart and will not give up.

The last day of our trip was, in my mind, a noteworthy day. It started off with MM first up. Walking in milo stubble we worked the long rows with guests from, I think, four different countries in the field. I was trying to line up the rows in a way that would resemble our fields back home with Cordi pulling the lure behind the gator. So I arranged the line of people accordingly and we marched down the field. Sure enough, a jack flushed and ran straight down the row just like the lure back home. MM was off in a flash and just cranking after this jack, closing fast, and at the last second the jack threw itself to the left and MM missed wonderful flight though! After that MM was not quite on his game so I put him back in the truck to think about things for a while and pulled out JH.

We went to a section that had not been hunted yet, and as we walked in JH launched on a jack and flew it hard, narrowly missing it. I could tell by the way he returned that he was annoyed, I could feel the build up, JH was about to catch fire! We moved in a line with me, on occasion, walking across in front of the line working the places that looked promising. We had just re-formed the line when a jack flushed off on my left, running across the row of milo, heading for the open ground that had little, if no, cover. JH exploded off the fist and I knew that this jack was in serious trouble. The jack ran out across the milo, out into the open ground. With JH closing fast the jack realized that it had made a huge mistake, tried to turn back, and BAM, JH arrived with attitude! I stepped JH off and continued to hunt. I walked in front of the line going for some good looking cover when a jack flushed right in front of the line. JH came off the fist and had the jack in what, to me, was just a heartbeat.. Unbelievable how he can do that! Someone in the line just shook their head and said man, he makes that look too easy! I stepped him off the jack and continued to hunt. (Yes, I can be a game whore!) We started the line moving and another jack was up and running but JH just missed it. Back to the fist and moving again, we were making a turn and someone yelled ho!! JH was off the fist and closing on the jack which was running in a full burn, ears pinned, running straight away from us. The jack flushed at 20 feet and JH slammed it at 40 feet. Speed on speed, that’s what I love! Everyone got to see JH catch fire and see what a golden eagle is capable of

I went back to the truck and picked up MM who was just slightly annoyed at having been put up. I hoped he would be a little more focused and he was! I started out into the field and showed MM a chunk of rabbit meat, he went nuts. I call this priming the pump. I don’t think one should do it very often but it does get an eagle thinking about eating and does give you an insight as to how aggressive they’ll be in the field. I liked what I saw and moved off faster, looking for a slip. A jack flushed off to my right, about 20 yards out, and MM came off the fist with attitude. He flew strong and fast, coming in on the jack from behind and just nearly grabbing it! He flew back to the fist without hesitation and we continued to hunt. I turned to the left heading for an area that had not been hunted and I kept everyone in tight as I wanted the slip to be close. MM was flinching at any and all things that moved. I loved that he was totally into what he and I were doing. As the group of us worked our way down the field a jack popped up and ran fast, heading for the street and some fence lines. MM exploded off the fist and powered after the jack, closing fast. We have his flight on DVD and I just looked at it again as we’re in the process of compiling a new eagle hawking DVD, Eagle Road Trip. (Sorry for the shameless plug.) But anyway, MM closed on the jack and the instant before he got there the jack jumped up in the air and MM hooked the jack in the head as he went past very cool! So in total MM caught two jacks at his first falconry meet, the first ones in more than a year, and these black tails are no easy rabbits to catch, they are big and fast. So this was a great way to end the trip for MM and I could not be prouder of him. He is a cool eagle with a huge heart.

So for now all our eagles are shut down for the winter. The two females I’ll get into shape in the spring and release them, and the two boys I’ll start hawking in the late spring through the summer.

Take care.. Joe and Cordi

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November 6th, 2008 Posted in Jackhammer and Mini-Me 08-09 | No Comments »

September 11, 2008

JH    8lbs 10oz

MM 7lbs 4oz

I have been slowly bringing both of them down in weight and started showing them the lure, first in the weathering yard, then moving out to the lawn area. We have now graduated to one of the wheat stubble fields on the ranch with Cordi pulling the lure behind our gator (all purpose ranch tractor). I have never tried this before as a means of conditioning instead of just hunting, but jacks are scarce around here so one must get creative.

 

Both eagles have taken to this little game nicely. They fly hard and seem to enjoy the chase. JH is not as thrilled as MM since he never cared much for the lure anyway, but seeing something moving across the field is something he cannot resist. Today we have built up to multiple flights and soon we’ll be hunting.