Weekly Eagle Journal

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Day 62-72

Saturday, July 5th, 2008 Posted in Journal 2006 | No Comments »

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Eagle Journal

Day 62-72

Jackhammer: 8lbs 10oz

 

Wind: 5-29 mph / Temp: 26- 60

Hello Everyone,

 

Cordi and I left Vale, Oregon on Monday morning (11/27) on the last leg of a 17 day long journey heading back to our home in California. Two inches of snow covered the ranch in Vale, changing the look as only snow can. With a 6’x12’

U-Haul trailer filled with Xmas decorations that are now making the trip back to California we pulled out on the open road. With Cordi happily playing some sort of intellectual mind game on her lap-top I found myself drifting back and reliving the past 16 days, the flights, and the wonderful new friends Cordi and I made¦¦.. (Don’t worry I can drift and drive at the same time, so we’re safe!)

 

Saturday 11/11, 4:30 am:

 

We stayed up way late the night before to pack and load the truck. Somehow Cordi was able to fit everything in, which included 4 dogs, 2 falcons, one eagle and all the stuff that goes with them and, not to mention, our own stuff. With the truck already running we took a moment to run down a list in our heads. Did we forget anything? Going over a check list started for us while our two daughters played soccer. They used to say, œYes Dad, we have everything, you don’t have to remind us, yes, yes, yes, as I’m asking œGot your soccer shoes? œShoes? NO, go back!!! These are the times parents live for. So Cordi and I continued to go down the list — dog food, bird food, extra equipment, etc, etc. As near as we could think we had everything. I cleared the trip mileage counter and out the driveway we went.

 

We wanted to get as far as Wyoming, somewhere near Rock Springs. We ended up staying at the Little America Hotel in Little America that night — nice place but they didn’t allow dogs. Maggie and Thistle sleep in the truck; they have their own compartments and they love it. But for Delbert and Charlotte, our two mini Dachshunds, sleeping out in the truck when it’s 20’ out was not an option. There must have been 20 œNo Dogs in the Rooms signs just in the lobby alone! Usually I ignore the dreaded œNo Dogs signs but with so many it was nearly impossible. So we did what we always do, stuffed Delbert and Charlotte in an empty duffel bag and smuggled them into the room.

 

The plan in Wyoming was to meet Lars and Kevin, two local eagle falconers, in the morning and hunt JH on some whitetail jack rabbits. Kevin took us out to his main hunting area, which was a vast open snow covered sage brush plateau that dropped off into a large valley with a dry creek bed running through it. The plan was to walk out into the field, all of us in a line, and hunt JH. Well, the second I un-hooded JH things went downhill. Plus, finding a white tailed jack proved difficult, well, more than difficult, because we never found any. Not through lack of effort mind you, just that they simply were not there. The elusive white ghost strikes again! JH did go after one cotton tail, and then spent the next 3 hours flying up the side of a very large hill/mountain every time I released him. I had to walk all the way up to the top, stand 3 inches in front of him, lowering my glove, and then, and only then, would he jump on the fist. Down the hill/mountain we would go, trying to hunt, hoping for a jack slip. Working the creek bed I flushed a few cotton tails, which would promptly disappear, and JH would then fly all the way back up the hill. On the fourth or fifth trip back up the mountain to retrieve the little darling (I lost count because I was gasping for breath. Thinking back I probably should have carried an oxygen tank.) I remember thinking¦¦so this is how it will all end, me walking up a mountain after a misbehaving eagle, I would have never guessed. So, that didn’t go so well. Lars and Kevin did their best but we saw only one jack. Well, I never even saw it. I had taken a knee and was feeding JH up when the one and only jack flushed¦¦..

 

On to Garden City, Kansas and the IEAA meet:

 

Neither Cordi nor I had ever been to Kansas; all I knew was that Kansas is the spawning ground for tornados, but thankfully this was not the right time of year. If you like to be able to see in any direction for miles and miles and not see anything that is taller than an irrigation pivot (a huge water pipeline on wheels that travels in a full or half circle watering a field of crops) then Kansas is your place. Oh, and you better like wind, and having nothing to slow it down, the wind does blow. But from a falconry point of view, Kansas and, more specifically, Garden City is the mother lode. Lots of pheasants, bob white quail (out in the open fields, and not knowing they were in the area, the first time they flushed right under my foot, scared the living hell out of me), prairie chickens, and the most beautiful black tail jack rabbits I have ever seen. The jacks are big, 6 lbs plus, and look every bit like a white tail jack except with a black tail. In fact, one of the first jacks that JH flew at took a direct hit in the side from JH and shook him off and kept running. I saw that and thought, oh boy, we are in for some fun.

 

As we checked into the motel the first day and were unloading our traveling zoo, more and more people rolled in for the meet. The days went pretty much like this¦..up at 6:00 am, meet across the street for breakfast at 7:00, go hawking. We almost had to eat breakfast because the motel gave out coupons for a free breakfast each day and it was good. Chase Delles did a fantastic job organizing the entire meet. The areas he lined up to hunt were first rate. The main landowner was a man that goes by the name of Renegade (must be a Kansas thing) and was quite a character. Cordi asked him exactly how much land he owned and he said, and I quote, œa lot! Way more than the 4,000 acres we could see when he swiped his hand over the horizon pointing out land marks off in the distance and then finally said œhell, I’m not sure.

 

I’m not going to give you a blow-by-blow of each day because that would take, well, 17 days, and I don’t think Cordi would proof the entire thing, so I’ll give you the highlights. My plan was to fly my falcons on pheasants in the morning and JH in the mid-day because pheasants are out and about in the mornings and jacks, well, they are around all day. Plus, JH doesn’t really care when he flies. Now, I don’t consider myself an expert pheasant hawker, I have friends that are very skilled at pheasant hawking, Art Tawatari and Doug Cummings are two falconers that come to mind, but I do know one or two things. Going to eat breakfast at 7:00 am is not in the formula for hunting pheasants, at least if you want to find flyable slips, but we had those free coupons¦¦

 

We had arrived in the field somewhere around 8:00 am, give or take, according to the number of refills of coffee and orange juice that had gone around. I struck my 8-year-old gyr/peregrine Blackie’s hood and off he went. Now the idea was to fly him kind of on speck, but we had seen some pheasants put in the CRP (the wild, non-cropland) that borders the hay fields. Blackie, while in the midst of mounting up, saw a rooster pheasant running or something and stooped, knocking him down on the gravel road, and after a big throw-up and wingover, went in on the pheasant. The cock pheasant, however, jumped up and flew across the CRP. Blackie, being a hybrid, has 3 or 4 extra gears and closed on the pheasant, knocking him down again. Blackie then landed on a pole thinking œwhere is the pheasant I just knocked down? Joe, the falconer (me), headed over somewhat annoyed that Blackie was on a pole, thinking I could get a point, and as I worked my way over there a hen pheasant flushed and Blackie flew it down, putting her in to some round hay bales. This was a bad thing because now Blackie thinks he can fly things down from poles¦¦and he’s right, he can. As I was walking over to the hay bales I went right through the area where the cock pheasant had been knocked down, Maggie got hot and locked up, and brought me the rooster pheasant that Blackie had killed. I stuffed the rooster in my vest and continued towards the hay bales only to find Blackie plucking a hen pheasant¦¦two birds, one flight. Not much in the way of style, but interesting none the less.

 

JH:

 

I love taking my birds to new places to hunt, although it does take a toll on them, long hours in their hoods, riding in the back of the truck. Weathering is a key to how the birds will fly. They need time to relax and preen and get a look at exactly where you have hauled them off to this time. Weathering an eagle, however, is problematic at best. You have to be careful that nothing comes near your bird; for example, at the Oregon Falconers Meet I placed JH out on his block and no sooner turned around than a young girl was walking up to see the œbig bird. The list of things that can go wrong is a long one and you can never really relax when your eagle is out weathering. I want to come up with a portable enclosed weathering yard that I can put my birds in and feel reasonably certain that they are safe, one that can be transported and put together in a short amount of time. I need to solve this problem. In the meantime, we weathered our birds out on the ranch, setting up a little camp to block JH from the other falcons, Harris Hawks, Goshawks, Red Tails, Ferruginous and eagles.

 

JH’s weight would prove to be an issue the entire trip. In the motel room the first morning he weighed in at 8 lbs, 10 oz, a full 7oz’s higher than his so called œin the field with guests weight! I would fly him anyway. I didn’t drive 1,435 miles not to!

The fields were perfect — large hay fields with very short grass, 1 inch high or less. Picture this, you’re looking out at a field that has a slight drop off to it, covered with green grass, and there are areas in the field where the tumbleweeds have rolled up into clumps, not very thick, but kind of sparsely lying about in the hay field. Under any one of these clumps a jack could flush, most did have a jack rabbit hiding under them. The flushed jack would then run downwind and downhill, heading towards the CRP bordering the hay field, some 500 to 600 yards away.  With many guests in the field we formed a line and began to work the field. A jack flushed and JH launched, closed on the jack, made some kind of attempt at hooking it as he went past, and it headed for the CRP way down at the bottom of the hay field. Now that I think back about it, when JH flew over the top of the rabbit I don’t think he was trying to hook the jack, I think he was giving me the finger! He flew straight over the jack and headed way out into the CRP, way out there. So off I went on another retrieval mission with all the IEAA meet attendee’s standing there watching me go. Cordi was filming but, fortunately for her, I did not have the microphone on because the language coming out of me would have made a sailor blush. JH flew out into the CRP and landed somewhere over a small hill, out of sight. Naturally, as I got closer he felt it necessary to fly even farther out into the heavy thickly covered CRP field. But as I crested the hill the little darling was in fact flying back to me and landed on my fist as if to say œhi, what’s up? I turned and started the long walk back¦¦.

 

All flights at game are memorable. Any time a trained bird goes after something it’s exciting, but some flights stand out over the rest. When thinking about Garden City three flights stand above the others¦¦.

 

–Because of the wind and cold temperatures I was concerned that all the viewers that wanted to see JH hunt would be uncomfortable, so I had them drive their vehicles in the field and watch from their car seats like a drive-in movie. That’s the kind of guy I am. OK, the truth is, JH was being such an idiot about people in the field that that’s the only way they could watch, how embarrassing. There I was, out in the field, uphill, above all the clumps of tumbleweed, and there are 5 or 6 cars parked close by, all in a line, passing drinks and cheese back and forth while watching me hunt this field.

I started working the clumps from side to side keeping the strong crosswind at my side. I had flushed one or two jacks already and JH flew them well, into the wind, with the jacks doing switch backs left and then right for 60 yards and JH matching them turn for turn. Another jack flushed 20 feet in front of me and JH launched off the fist and hit the jack directly in the side with both feet. I could see JH’s yellow feet clearly on the side of the large black tail jack rabbit but the jack just shook off the hit and kept running! I had never seen that before. These jacks were big, 6 lbs plus, and have a thick coat of fur, and they can take a hit!  JH returned to the fist and I moved on. Another jack flushed off my right side, heading uphill into the wind. JH launched, cut the jack off and, slamming into the ground, looked puzzled as to why he didn’t have it? The jack turned and ran straight away, downhill and downwind. JH launched again and powered after the jack. All I could see was the white butt of the jack rabbit running at full speed way down the hill with JH closing with tremendous speed. JH overtook the jack as it made one or two zigs and zags, came barreling in from behind, grabbed the jack, and came to a sliding stop. The gallery watching in their cars blew their car horns in appreciation of what they had just seen!

 

–After standing around most of the morning taking wind speed measurements, which were holding steady at 19 mph, gusting to 28 mph, things were not looking good. Finally I could not stand it any longer and announced that I was going to fly, regardless of the wind! JH was ready and I did not want to feed him up, nor did I want him to go hungry another day, so fly it was. I was not worried because eagles can handle heavy wind, just the quality of flights would be down. So we broke our weathering camp and headed out to an area that had not been flown yet. All the cars were once again parked in a line and I headed out into the field. Aside from finding jacks under the clumps of tumbleweed out in the hay field, they could also be found in the areas of natural grass that grow where the irrigation pivot does not reach. They look like the patches that you miss when you mow your lawn, oddly shaped triangles with long fingers that run along the edges of the hay field, only to get smaller and smaller until they are gone. It is in these funny shaped areas that you can find jacks, pheasants, and bob white quail. I walked a few feet from the line of cars and started hunting one of these areas. I started working my way across the face of the cars with JH barely able to hold onto my glove. In fact, he had a good death grip on my hand, and had turned to face into the gale wind. From somewhere a jack flushed right in front of us, going straight into the wind. JH got a great jump off the fist and was almost instantly over the jack which was running for all it’s worth, heading for the dirt road 20 yards in front of it. Flying just off the ground, JH was closing on the jack rabbit as it reached the road. The jack turned right and started down the dirt road when JH came bombing in and grabbed the jack in the butt. I came running up and so did all the gang. The jack, to me, appeared dead so I stepped JH off and hooded him, only to have the jack jump up and take off. Well, I quickly unhooded JH and he caught the jack rabbit again, this time finishing the job. I lobbied heavily for a second score but was voted down, the group saying that it looked too suspicious the way I had stepped JH off the jack, like I knew the jack was going to run off ¦whatever!

 

–Cordi and I were hunting a field that was off the main dirt road. We were mainly killing time waiting for Chase to catch up to us. I was in the field and Cordi was on the road filming. I wasn’t overly confident that we were in a good spot as I had not seen much, if any, signs of rabbit activity as I worked the field. From out of nowhere Renegade showed up and was talking with Cordi, who then called me on the radio saying that Renegade knew a place that had jack rabbits like fleas on a dog and that no one had hunted it yet. Well I instantly thought, forget Chase, let’s go! We followed Renegade through and around several gates and around thick patches of tumbleweeds that had gotten caught in corners of the fields and piled up against the fence lines. It’s actually quite amazing. There were many places where the tumbleweeds had piled up so thick against the fence that the shear weight of the tumbleweeds and the power of the wind had pulled the barbed wire off the fence posts. As you were driving along you would see strands of fence wire pulled way out into the field covered in tumbleweeds. Anyway, we followed Renegade past a hay barn and a full set of working corrals where he informed us that he would tell his hired man not to bother us. When the ranch owner tells his employees not to bother you, you just gotta love that!! Driving past the corrals the fields took on a different look altogether, a little hillier and not hay fields but fields that were used for holding cattle. The one field in particular was roughly 50 acres with most of the grass eaten off by cows but with a considerable number of tumbleweeds in clumps everywhere in the field. Well, this was the mother lode. Each clump had one, and many times, two jacks under it. I would say I easily flushed fifty jacks out of that field. This is the field where I wished JH would have been on his game, no telling how many jacks he could have caught. With Cordi set up to film I entered the field and within two steps up jumped a large jack running for the open irrigated field out beyond the field I was hunting. JH was off like a shot, closing fast as the jack ran under a single wire electric fence. JH just missed the wire with his body and both jesses hit the fence. I heard the sound and could see the fence wire bouncing up and down. JH landed out in the pasture and was a little shook up. He would not return to the glove so I had to walk over and get him, flushing rabbit after rabbit as I went! JH flew the last 20 feet to the glove and after a once-over to make sure that everything was in order we continued to hunt. I was trying to work my way over to where Cordi was set up to get better camera angles but kept getting flight after flight. One interesting aspect about these jacks was that when they flushed, unlike the jacks back in California that flush and run as fast as they can, these Kansas jacks would flush, see the eagle, and immediately turn sharply under the approaching eagle, sometimes not more than ten feet from where I was standing. This presented a major problem for JH. JH comes off the fist with such power that he would literally be over the jack already as it turned and didn’t have any time to adjust. It was clear from the start that these jacks did not want to get in a race with a golden eagle — that is one race they would lose. Given time I am sure JH would have made the adjustment and become very successful. But time we did not have and I saw JH over-fly 20 jacks at the very least.  But not all¦¦it occurred to me that by going into the clumps of tumbleweeds, making as much noise and commotion as possible, the jacks would flush harder and run more. Working the field I had my eye on a particular inviting cluster of tumbleweeds and I headed in that direction. JH was actually hunting now, looking at all possible hiding places when we went into the cover. Sure enough, a jack flushed with speed and ran, turning to my left. JH launched and hammered the 6.5 lb jack rabbit not more than 20 feet from where I stood! That was the sixth jack rabbit that JH took at the IEAA eagle meet and since we were planning on leaving the next day that would be his last of the meet.

 

Cordi and I had a wonderful time in Garden City, lots of game and very friendly people. But what really made the meet special was the new friends we made, what a fun group to hang out with. The truth is Cordi and I had not planned on spending much time at the NAFA meet, but we were having such a great time, with Chase, Michael, Andrew, Alan, Mike and Julie, Geoff, Lauren, Mark, Sam, Bill, Dave and Pam we extended our stay. Not all the gang went on to the NAFA meet but most did and we had a blast there as well.

 

Overall I would give JH a C+ grade for the meet. Yes, he caught 6 jacks, but he was way too concerned with people in the field which made hunting him rather difficult and at times somewhat embarrassing, having to go and retrieve him most of the time. I know he has issues with guests in the field but this was over the top, even for him. If he would have just dialed in for any length of time, man oh man, I would have needed a trailer to haul the jacks back home. But such is falconry.  Next year I will have him ready even if I have to stand at the front door of Wal-Mart for 3 hours a day to get him over this.

 

Cordi and I traveled many roads without ends and met many new friends and that, after all, is what it is all about.

 

Hope all is well,

Joe

 

Photos:

Pic 1:   First double catch of the meet, two 6 pounders.

Pic 2:   Getting ready. Andrew just couldn’t keep his hands off JH.

Pic 3:   Look at that eagle!!! JH gets held by a falconer from Kazakhstan who flies

           a 16 lb female golden eagle at wolves. Nice pants.

Pic 4:   Banquet night at the IEAA meet. A great time was had by all.

Day 58

Saturday, July 5th, 2008 Posted in Journal 2006 | No Comments »

Eagle Journal

Day 58

Jackhammer: 8lbs 5oz

Temp: 50′ / Wind: 3 mph

Hello everyone,

I started flying my gyr/peregrine falcons last week and as I’m writing this journal entry I noticed my hands, they look like I put them in a meat grinder. Gyr/peregrine hybrids are known for not liking their feet touched, for instance, while putting on transmitters, they will bite. My two knot heads take the biting part to new heights; they seem to take great pleasure in inflicting pain on me. It’s not like they are first year birds or anything; heck, Blackie is eight years old this year I think and Sputnik is 4 years old. They are flown every day during the winter, adding up to hundreds of flights. You’d think they would get over it by now, but no they bite the living hell out of me! They do settle down some as the season goes on, I have to say, but my hands still hurt.

 The new male eagle:

I have to think of a name for him, so if anyone has any ideas e-mail them to me; that’s how JH was named by the way. I have been feeding him in a way that brings him closer and closer to me. I’m not sure if that’s a smart move but, nevertheless, that’s what I’m doing and he is not shy about coming in on food. He does have a look about him that makes me a little nervous, like he’s one heartbeat away from coming after me. The other day he grabbed the food and landed on the perch that is next to the exit door with me still standing in the flight chamber. I would have had to open the door in such a way as to be very close to him, at eye level, and in a very exposed position, so I waited him out and when he finished he moved over. He is still trying to get a read on me and I do not want any confrontations with him where he thinks he has the upper hand. Seeing that he is free in the flight chamber all I could do would be to retreat. But so far he has not come after me.

 Widow:

She is fat as a pig and busy growing a new tail and eating large amounts of food, which is keeping JH working.

 JH:

The responsibility to feed Widow (the bottomless pit) and the new male eagle puts JH under a lot of pressure; but I think he is up to it. Something’s going on with the jack rabbits down in my flying area. I hunted 4 fields and only saw 5 jacks?  I am planning on going very early on Saturday to see if that produces more rabbits. I can not recall a time when I found so few numbers. A couple of reasons for this could be dogs/coyotes running around hunting the fields at night or another falconer or falconers hunting the fields. I have seen some stray dogs in the area; in fact, one was a female with pups and I know there are coyotes there as well. While walking the fields I did see a strange human track which is unsettling because if there is another falconer out with a bird I hope we do not cross paths might not be good.

 

After hunting the speed field and the FFH, I made a wide circle through the pole field. Up to this point I had only caught a fleeting glimpse of one jack slipping out the back side of the field. In the middle of the field however, JH launched, flew across heading for the road, did a wing-over, and caught a jack rabbit. I then hunted my way back to my truck and drove over to the goat field. Walking just about the entire field without seeing a single jack rabbit I was a bit concerned. As I turned towards my truck a jack popped up from a classic hiding spot and ran straight away. JH, not having seen a jack in the last 40 minutes, flew this one down with attitude. You can see from the picture he was not thinking about giving up his jack anytime soon. But he did give it up without much fuss.

 Since the release of our DVD Eagle Journal the Movie I have had some interesting feed back. Viewers have noted that they thought that handling and flying golden eagles was a lot more dangerous than what they saw on the DVD. I fear that I have inadvertently given people a false sense of security about handling eagles, particularly when stepping them up off a kill. The truth is that each time I step an eagle off something, I am but a heartbeat away from a trip to the emergency room. Now that may sound a bit dramatic but it’s the truth. I have, as you know, driven myself to the emergency room more than once. So I guess my point is that when I say that I stepped JH off his rabbit without much fuss, translate that as meaning I escaped without injury, because there’s a fine line each time you pick up an eagle.

 Hope all is well,

Joe

 

 

Day 56

Saturday, July 5th, 2008 Posted in Journal 2006 | No Comments »

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                  Eagle Journal

Day 56

Jackhammer: 8lbs 4oz

 

Temp: 50′ / Wind: 1 mph

Hello everyone,

I no sooner wrote on day 55 how shy eagles are and how JH in particular is shy about not flying into areas that look scary when

I went to the smallest hay field thinking that the farmer is going to cut the hay anytime and if I’m going to hunt it I’d better do so quickly. Upon arriving at the field I could see that the farmer started to cut his crop but, as I later found out, his tractor broke down and he could only make one pass around the field. Sucks for him, good for me. The hay is, of course, high, and jack rabbits like that, as they can hide anywhere. This makes hunting taller hay exciting because you never know when or where a flush will be coming from. I have actually stepped on a jack rabbit before.

I unhooded JH and went into the field. Two steps in and something flushed and it just didn’t look right. My cat-like reflexes held JH back as he launched on a house cat that was having some trouble finding its way out of the hay field. We don’t need any more cat flights. JH was not happy to have me hold him back but he soon forgot about the cat and we moved on. I had covered almost the whole field and was thinking that if the farmer mowing hay in the field hadn’t chased away the rabbits, his dog would have. Thinking about hunting here a little more closely, it probably wasn’t the best idea, so I headed back to the truck.

JH, however, was still hunting and he suddenly launched, flying low and fast, heading towards the corner of the field, the direction the cat had gone. But I had watched the cat run off so it couldn’t be that unless the stupid thing came back? JH went over the cyclone fence of the hay field, crossed a street, over another cyclone fence that surrounds the water treatment plant pond, speedily flew down the fence line that leads directly to the main sewage treatment plant, and disappeared! Great!!! I went running back to my truck, drove over in that direction, and could see JH on something on the side of the treatment pond’s bank in what amounted to a sea of cyclone fence and razor wire. The fenced area was locked so I had to go and find the head man so he could open the gate. Man that places stinks! JH was on the side of a steep bank looking like he was not happy and wanted to leave. But even a golden eagle has difficulty flying off with an adult jack rabbit. As I came running over JH was dragging the jack up the hill and I sure did not want him to drag it over the top and down the other side into the sewage pond. That would not be good. With the now entire work force of the sewage plant watching me, JH thankfully stepped up off the jack without any trouble and I left.

I went over to the speed field for no other reason than it is directly across the street from the sewage plant. Fortunately there is no smell there. The way this field works is I need to walk quite a ways in before there is any real cover but jacks can pop up from anywhere. Really, the best flights are when they pop up out in the open ground..that makes for very fast flights. As is often the case when I fly this field, a large truck came by, saw me, and pulled over to watch. A jack flushed, running from left to right, going in the direction of the road and the truck. JH exploded off my fist and was instantly cranking after this rabbit. The flight came right at the truck driver. Imagine a jack rabbit running in a field that does not have one blade of grass or pebble on it, totally clean, just hard packed sand, and a golden eagle coming in on the jack rabbit at tremendous speed, over-taking the rabbit in a spinning dust cloud, all fifty feet from where you’re sitting. Heck, that’s better than Animal Planet. The driver waved and drove off. Gee, he could have flipped me a $20 as a tip. JH caught his third jack of the day in another speed burner out in the open part, very much like the flight I just described.

Hope all is well,

Joe    

Photos:

Pic 1:   JH on his first jack.

Pic 2:   A look at the ground where the next two jacks were caught.

Pic 3:   This is a jack rabbit highway. There are so many jacks that you can see

           how the trail is worn into the ground.

Day 55

Saturday, July 5th, 2008 Posted in Journal 2006 | No Comments »

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Day 55

Jackhammer: 8lbs 6oz

 

Temp: 57’ / Wind: 0 mph

Hello everyone,

In a normal season I would be shutting down the eagles and switching over to my falcons now. But this is not a normal season.. With the move to Oregon hopefully coming up, the IEAA meet in Garden City, and NAFA, well, JH’s season may never end. It will, of course, end, just not in the immediate future.

We received another golden eagle a few weeks ago, a male, and he looks to be on the smaller side. The story on this eagle is truly remarkable. I don’t know all the fine details, but here’s what I do know. At a very young age, before he fledged, he suffered a broken leg in two places, and suffered a broken back! Somehow he found his way to Dr. Vicky Joseph, she put a pin in his leg, did something to his back to fix that, and he spent a great many weeks in recovery, laying on his chest. This eagle’s chances for recovery were not good, the chances for recovery with some kind of life with movement were even less. However, this little guy came through. Not only did he recover, he recovered enough to go into the big flight with other eagles! Looking at him today, other than a larger left tarsus, I cannot see anything that looks abnormal in his flight and footing abilities. So, what to do with this little guy who has come from the absolute doorstep of death, not to mention that he should by all accounts be paralyzed. Imprinting is already a major issue. He is, in fact, a fully imprinted eagle, but not in a nice way.  He was so aggressive in the big flight chamber, attacking people without mercy so badly, that he had to be removed and sent to us thanks a lot! The plan is to train him, get him hunting, and see where that takes us. But that is a big step; he may not be a bird that can be trusted out in the field loose. That question is yet to be answered.

Today’s flight:

in my opinion, golden eagle are inherently shy, at least all the ones I have trained over the years have been. For such a large aggressive predator the times when the shyness in them comes out surprises me. Sometimes there seems to be no reason for them to get shy, but they do and it can catch me off guard. With that said, today’s flight was somewhat surprising, if not remarkable. I went into the FFH first, not sure why exactly, some days I feel like taking it on and others not so much. I walked most of the field and did not flush one jack which rarely happens and I was just a little puzzled until I saw other footprints in the field which could only mean one thing,. Harris hawkers! So, from the FFH I went over to the goat field hoping the other falconers had left some jacks for me.

Over the years all the other fields have changed dramatically. This field, however, has remained somewhat the same. But the activity surrounding this field has taken on a major change on all sides. There are now huge trucking yards, a glass factory, and at the far end is a fertilizer plant. The entire field is fenced off in cyclone fencing which helps the jacks escape from a host of predators that include not only JH but coyotes as well. This field had also been hunted but there are so many jacks in there I figured the odds were good that I’d still get a flight or two. After walking ¾’s of the field and JH making three attempts at jacks running in the thicker weeds, I angled my way away from the thick stuff. This field is big, but the jacks hang out closer to the cyclone fences so they can get under them and escape. I normally walk down this field keeping the glass factory on one side so JH doesn’t have to fly at jack rabbits heading into the cluster that is the factory (see picture). Probably 45 yards out in front of me a jack flushed heading straight at the factory! Having missed three times already (and missing is something that JH does not like) I was surprised that he launched on this rabbit. JH was flying hard and fast attempting to close on this jack before it got any closer to the factory. JH got there just as the jack made the bank. Going around the pole, the jack started to violently zigzag left and right. JH matched the jack on a right zig and as the jack made a left zag, JH snagged it! The entire time he was on this rabbit JH never took his eyes off the glass factory, even while dragging the jack rabbit as fast as he could for some distance. Looking at the picture you can see there are a lot of scary things to see for an eagle flying after a jack rabbit.

Hope all is well,

Joe

Pic 1:    This is what JH was looking at as he flew down the jack rabbit.

Pic 2:    JH on the rabbit, still looking at the glass factory.

Pic 3:    A perfect jack rabbit starting block where they hide out in the fields.

Day 54

Friday, July 4th, 2008 Posted in Journal 2006 | No Comments »

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Eagle Journal

Day 54

Jackhammer: 8lbs 5oz

 

Temp :58’ wind: 0 mph

Hello everyone,

Fall is definitely here — the mornings are cool and the grass is wet with dew. I went to the 10 acre alfalfa hay field. I haven’t hunted that field for a while and seeing that I was out early this morning I figured I’d give it a try. The alfalfa is tall, almost knee high, and in this field there are large areas that the jacks have eaten down to almost bare ground. When flushed the jacks will come out of the thick hay and bolt into the open ground at full speed. It seems dumb because if they would just stop in the thick stuff JH could no longer see them and they would be fine, but jack rabbits are born to run and run they do! The interesting thing is JH knows that if the rabbit stops running in the thick hay he will loose it so, with this in mind, JH really explodes off the fist and flies very hard and fast to get on top of the running rabbit. What I do is walk 20 or 30 feet into the hay, kind of following the edge of the eaten down parts. The parts that the rabbits have cleared look like a huge single piece from a jig-saw puzzle. I’m also testing out the second pair of hunting pants I purchased and thankfully, yes, they are water proof. There was so much moisture on the hay that water was running off my legs. This is not all that good for eagles. Eagles soak up water like sponges and because of their large size the water seems to affect them a lot.

I walked a long ways out in the field and the whole time JH was standing tall and looking for any sign or movement. He knows these fields and is supremely confident. All I can figure is that JH saw an ear move or something because the second I saw the jack move JH was already gone. The rabbit burst out of the cover and was hauling across the open ground which is short like the front lawn of someone’s house. The jack rabbit did not have time to do anything but run and it did not get very far. I have said over and over to see an 8 pound bird with a 6 foot wing span fly that fast and overtake a jack rabbit is quite unbelievable. I hope that everyone who reads the eagle journal can someday see for themselves what I’m talking about .you will be amazed.

JH has been a little sticky coming off jacks that he has caught. More times than not he steps up nicely but he gets in his moods and then we enter into negotiations. Eagles are dangerous to pick up off a kill and JH is no exception. I must proceed with extreme caution. But I did get him up on the fist, tried to ring out his tail a little which was dripping water, and off we went. I was all the way down at the far end of the field when JH locked on point. I froze and could not for the life of me see the rabbit but, sure enough, one flushed and JH was on it. The rabbit took off across JH’s body from right to left which meant that JH had to rotate as he was launching. The second JH was airborne the jack made a sharp right turn followed by an equally sharp left turn. JH stayed with the jack rabbit turn for turn and actually had things well in hand. With his soaked tail and wings, however, he was just a little slow on the turns and the jack just barely escaped. But all that flapping did dry his feathers a little, as the next rabbit found out. While walking all the way back to the truck the third jack rabbit of the morning decided to flush. This jack took off in a bending run that was heading for the fence. JH, slightly drier, had little trouble flying down this jack rabbit.

Travel time down to fields 40 minutes, time spent in fields hunting 30 minutes, time spent driving home with a donut, replaying the flights in my head priceless!

Hope all is well,

Joe

Pic: 1     JH in wet alfalfa hay with jack.

Pic: 2     JH hooded, waiting for me to get the rabbit in my vest and pick him up.

Having JH sit on the ground has caused a little controversy. I show him doing that in our DVD and falconers here in the USA and over in Europe are aghast. They wonder why he does not fly away. This is simply his routine — he knows that I’m coming and that we are going to continue hunting. I have never had an eagle fly off.

Day 53

Friday, July 4th, 2008 Posted in Journal 2006 | No Comments »

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Eagle Journal

Day 53

Jackhammer: 8lbs 6oz

Temp: 55’ / Wind: 5 mph

 

Hello everyone,

I must say it does feel good to be home, mainly to not be driving. Man, that gets old. Today our guest in the field was Nick Dunlop. Nick is an outstanding raptor and nature photographer. You can see his shots in American Falconry magazine and International Falconer magazine regularly, plus Nick regularly has a booth with his work on display at most of the big falconry meets. Check out his website at www.nickdunlop.com.

The game plan for this morning was to work the fields in a way that might produce some photo opportunities. I say might because there is no way to predict which way the jacks will run. The best way I have found is to have the photographer out in front but off to one side, and I hunt up to them and across in front of their position. This way the chances are good that a jack will run in front of the camera giving a unique angle for a shot.

As anyone who has read the eagle journal knows JH can be a little funny about guests in the field. He will, however, eventually warm up to them and start hunting. It took JH the entire big alfalfa hay field to warm up. Nick has a 500 mm lens and that may have contributed to JH being a little stand-offish, but it also could have been my new pants. In preparation for the upcoming trip to Garden City I purchased Cordi and me some new brush/upland game hunting pants. Well, one pair I got is really cool. They are some kind of orangey, brown color unlike any pants I have ever owned. When I picked JH up in his mews this morning he did give them a hard look but then acted his normal self. I think from the tree that JH was sitting in my new pants must have looked a little stranger than he first thought.

JH rarely lands in trees but he did today. After getting him down we went to the FFH and started working with Nick out in front and me hunting up to him. We went almost the entire length of the field before we saw the first jack. Popping up some 30 yards in front of me a jack was running straight away. JH just calmly rolled off my fist and took off in pursuit. Building speed, JH overtook the jack easily and slammed into it with force. The impact caused the jack rabbit to flip up in the air with JH also adjusting his grip in mid air. Once controlled all that was left was the dust to settle. Nick said what everyone else says wow, he made that look easyWe hunted our way back to the truck with JH making a couple of nice long flights — not good for photographing, but fun to watch.

Next we went to the goat field and jacks were running everywhere. We quickly got out in the field. There is an area in this field where the cover is short and for some reason lots of jack rabbits hang out there. We must have flushed 15 jacks and every one went the wrong direction, away from the camera! The temperature was warming up so we decided to work our way back to the truck. We easily flushed 50 jacks just in this field alone. They were running in every direction with JH watching, looking for the right one. JH left the fist and flew out over the field building speed, made a move on a rabbit and let his momentum carry him high up in the air. Turning, JH locked onto another jack rabbit running on his left, simply folded up, and caught the running jack.

Hope all is well,

Joe         

Pic 1:   JH on the 1st jack rabbit

Pic 2:   pretty cool pants, I’d say

Day 52

Thursday, July 3rd, 2008 Posted in Journal 2006 | No Comments »

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Eagle Journal

Day 52

Jackhammer: 8lbs 6oz

Temp: 49’ / Wind: 2 mph

 

Oregon edition:

 

Hello everyone,

Cordi and I pulled out of our driveway on Monday morning heading for Vale, Oregon. JH rode nicely on his perch and made the 10 hour drive without any problems. The plan was to fly as much as we could and to take care of issues regarding the new ranch. This trip was to do two things: get JH flying in different terrain and give us the opportunity to do some snooping around looking for good places to fly.  This, to me, is the most unsettling part about moving. For the last 20 plus years of my falconry life the places I could hunt were set. I know the fields, I know where and how to find game, and I know the surrounding area in case something goes wrong. If a falcon or eagle was to take off, I can get to almost any place looking for a lost bird. Leaving my house I can drive 25 miles and have duck slips, go 20 more minutes and have rabbit slips. Moving to Oregon has thrown that all upside down. Now I don’t know anything, such as where I can fly, where to find game, and what hidden things are out there, both good and bad, waiting for my birds and me. Does my style of falconry work in this new area? Will my seasoned game hawks adjust? For a guy that does not like change this is a little unsettling, as I said. Now, on the bright side, I am looking forward to the new challenges and I will adapt and figure all this stuff out. it’s just a little scary.

Every falconer knows that when people say oh yeah, there are lots of rabbits, pheasants, ducks or whatever in this place the falconer must go see for him or herself. Only a falconer knows what a good area to fly is or not. I’ve had people say have I got the spot for you, sage grouse everywhere. I go there and, yup, sage grouse are all over the place, but so are fences, wires, power lines, eagles, and so on. Non-falconers just do not know, so this trip was to start the weeding out process and to get a feel for the land and the game. It’s always good to get someone local to show you around and give you a sense of how things work, which we did, and they were most helpful. Jack rabbits in the immediate area around our ranch are scarce, and the truth is, as of yet, I have never seen a jack rabbit on our ranch. I have, however, seen them out farther in the BLM land that surrounds the area. There is so much alfalfa grown in Vale it is unbelievable. In fact, our ranch is mostly alfalfa hay fields. But corn, sugar beets, and onions are also grown in huge quantities in the Vale area. All of this makes for supreme cover and food for pheasants and valley quail which are everywhere! Falconry is a funny sport. The laws of falconry dictate that if the falconer is driving around with a ready-to-hunt rabbit bird, in this case JH, said falconer will only see pheasants, ducks and quail, no jack rabbits. Now, if the falconer was to be driving around with his two gyr/peregrines, said falconer will only see jack rabbits. See how this works! So I figure I’ll load all of my falcons and JH in the truck, that way I’ll be ready for anything.

The first flight in Oregon:

Led by our guide, Paul, we headed off to one of the areas that I was told held many jacks, near the dump and shooting range (not thrilled about that!). We drove up into BLM land a good ways and stopped on a high meadow with sage on the right, open grass on the left, that ran up to a very large mountain complete with cliffs. We fanned out and started hunting. Both Cordi and I saw some rabbit signs, not many, but jacks were surely there at one time. JH, on the other hand, was transfixed on the cliff, hardly taking his eyes off it. Either he had never seen a cliff before or there was a hot looking female eagle up on it. Either way, he was not hunting. Over the years I have felt that eagles can tell if there are jacks in a particular field or not. Just like the American kestrel can see mouse droppings on mouse trails, eagles can, I believe, see the signs left behind by jack rabbits. I have had more than one eagle lead me to a different field, or show me in no uncertain terms they do not want to hunt in the field I want to hunt in..not wanting to sit on the fist, acting distracted, not focused, bating repeatedly and, once loose, flying off into the field they want to hunt. I have insisted on hunting my field anyway, found nothing, and continued into the eagle’s choice of fields only to find jacks there. JH does that — if he, for whatever reason, doesn’t like a field, once loose, he’ll fly off to another field and wait for me. I have, over time, gotten the message and pay attention to him now. JH was not hunting in this meadow so we moved on.

After spending the rest of the morning unsuccessfully trying to get in touch with a rancher that had said I could fly on his ranch, Cordi and I decided to go out into the BLM land and fly JH out there just to finish the day.  Well, apparently, there were no jacks out there either because JH took off, flew at least a mile down the side of a large hill, and got into a soar with two wild eagles. What started out to be a nice short hunt in what looked to be a good area turned into a nice long forced march down a draw trying to catch up to a wayward eagle.

Day 2:

I had heard about an area several miles north of our ranch and wanted to go check it out. This area, I was told, had jacks, chucker, pheasants, quail and sage grouse. That’s a tall order. Cordi and I found this very small town (I’d tell ya the name but than I’d have to kill ya) which consisted of one building that could at any second fall over and a US post office that was smaller than my truck, that’s it! Cordi said the place gave her the creeps, like something evil was happening there. You know, one of those towns you read about where everyone is keeping a secret and is afraid to talk about it or go outside at night. There was a kind of weirdness there, I agree. The paved road abruptly ended at the post office, and we had two choices, left or right on gravel roads. Fortunately both gravel roads were on our trucks GPS and we chose the road on the left. This road took us through a small canyon with a nice creek running through it. On the right side was a fairly large hill/mountain which would be difficult to walk up. Not for chucker, however, they were everywhere, running across the road in front of us, standing on the side of the hill calling, or chasing one another. In fact, the best flight we saw on the trip was a passage red tail coming off a pole and taking a swipe at a chucker as it was running along the road in front of us. The end of this road came after a few miles when we came across an older couple that said they were out looking for deer hunters poaching on their ranch.

We went back to the original fork in the road and took the road on the right this time. We drove until this road forked and, again, chose the road on the left (don’t know why, maybe because I’m left handed). After a few miles I saw a truck gaining on us from the rear, pulled over allowing it to pass, and continued on following it.  One thing you learn quite fast is don’t follow too close. The dust this time of year is blinding. You follow back far enough that the dust cloud has time to move off the road in front of you. We came around a corner and saw one of the passengers in the truck ahead of us get out and open a gate in the road. The truck drove through, the passenger closed and locked the gate, and they drove off! OK, this road had ended as well and I guess we are not invited in for drinks!

We back-tracked our way down to where the road had split and took the road off to the right. Winding our way through the sage covered hills the landscape quickly took on a completely different look. Most noticeably, the sage brush was shorter, knee high or less, where as before the sage brush was up to my waist or sometimes up over my shoulder, way too high to fly. Looking off to the right I could see a nice area with some sage but mostly grass and, down in the draw, sage brush as well, so a nice mixture. We decided to give it a go and fly JH. Walking out into the field we could see jack signs everywhere and JH was very interested..again, reading some kind of clue. Cordi was down in the draw and I was up walking on the edge of the open grass. JH launched on something, flew all the way across the draw and landed on the far bank. He no sooner landed and a jack rabbit exploded, and I do mean exploded, from right in front of me and blasted down into the draw. JH saw it and launched off the bank, coming back across the draw. The jack rabbit instantly stopped under a sage bush. No longer able to locate the jack rabbit, JH pulled off and turned back to the bank. The jack took off and was gone! Other than the road kill jack rabbit I had seen, that was the closest we got to a jack rabbit the whole trip. The one that had flushed was a sage colored grey, almost blue color, very different from the valley jacks out in California I’m used to seeing.

So, all in all, the trip was productive. Not, of course, in the game catching sense but we learned some things and saw a lot of beautiful country. We traveled some roads without ends and made some new friends.

From the high desert of Eastern Oregon

Hope all is well,

Joe

Pic 1:   getting ready to fly JH in the high desert

Pic 2:   looking back after JH went for a little romp, Cordi is out there somewhere!

Pic 3:   I took this shot on the drive home…love this time of year

Day 51

Thursday, July 3rd, 2008 Posted in Journal 2006 | No Comments »

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Eagle Journal

Day 51

Jackhammer: 8lbs 8oz

Temp: 58’ / Wind: 0 mph

Hello everyone,

I went to the field from hell (FFH) first off this morning. I was early and figured there should be something in the field, and I was right. JH is so dialed in right now it’s a little scary. For example, as I was entering the fields he was standing on the tips of his toes looking for jacks. As I walked along he was flinching at dragon flies, lizards; on one occasion he almost launched off the fist at a small little brown bird no bigger than a canary.   The way I enter the FFH is to go along the railroad tracks for a short distance and then go up the bank into the field. I no sooner had gotten on the railroad tracks and a jack flushed out of the tumbleweeds that grow along the tracks. JH was gone in a flash and closing on the jack who promptly dove back into the tumbleweeds. JH did this big pitch up, 50 or more feet in the air, and just hung there. I ran at the tumbleweeds trying to flush the jack rabbit, but the jack would not flush. I could see it which meant it could see JH and it decided on taking its chances with me rather than JH.

I headed out into the heart of the FFH with JH standing as tall as he could, looking at any place that could produce a jack.. I love that! Suddenly, without any warning, a jack was up and running and JH exploded off the fist, driving hard, over-taking the rabbit, and slammed into it at full speed! I stepped JH back up on the fist and off we went again. I made a wide circle not really wanting to go too deep into the field, realizing that I still had to walk out and that trip had already been made more difficult with the weight of one jack rabbit. I was walking in the general direction of the truck when I heard a jack flushing off my left side but to my back. At the same moment I heard the rabbit flush, JH left the fist, taking my hat with him. I picked up my hat, looked to see the flight, and it was already over! Sure seems like JH is catching them easier. I don’t know if the jacks have gotten slower or JH has gotten faster but something has changed.

Sunday will be a first for me and JH. We will be in Oregon hunting for the first time. Cordi and I plan on staying 3-4 days taking care of other business and hunting JH. Different terrain, smarter jack rabbits and different climate — I can not wait. This will be a totally new experience for me, looking for new fields, finding out where I can fly without getting thrown in jail, stuff like that.

Hope all is well,

Joe

Pic 1:  end of day

Pic 2:   JH on jack #1

Day 50

Thursday, July 3rd, 2008 Posted in Journal 2006 | No Comments »

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Eagle Journal

Day 50

Jackhammer: 8lbs 5oz

Temp: 70’ / Wind: 2 mph

 

Hello everyone,

Both our daughters came home for the weekend, J.J. down from Calgary, Canada and Chrissy up from Ventura, CA. Cordi and I were very excited and had many things planned, for example: going and getting hair fixed up; nails painted, both toes and fingers; in general, the total body work over. I did not attend any of these very necessary life sustaining activities, as it was pointed out to me. I did however perk up when they both asked when are we going flying, Dad?

It is one of life’s great pleasures to share with your children something that you feel passionate about. For me, I am blessed because all three of my girls, Cordi, J.J., and Chrissy all enjoy going flying, be it the perlins, falcons, or eagles. They have seen hundreds of flights and understand what it takes to get a bird in the hunting field.

We didn’t have much time and, in fact, we got kind of a late start. So I figured we’d go to the goat field. Turning right off the paved road gave me a clue as to what we would see jacks and more jacks running everywhere! JH and I have not had two extra people in the field with us for quite some time. He was just a little put off but hey, he’d get over it. For whatever reason JH catches jack rabbits in this field very easily, truthfully, without much effort. We spread out and walked in a line with both girls off of my right side. That way JH could see everyone. I think it makes birds uneasy to have people off to the left where they have to look over their shoulder.   I could see jacks leaving the field way out in front of us, and so could JH. He launched and flew 300 yards out, went in hard on a jack, and missed!? We continued walking and a jack got up closer. JH flew it down easily. Not much to say about this flight; JH didn’t put out much effort. The rabbit couldn’t get away and he knew it. The second slip was faster and happened within steps of the first. I don’t think I’ll go back to this field much more. It really isn’t much sport hunting here. For me it was more about the company than anything else.

Hope all is well,

Joe

Pic 1:  Proud dad and oldest daughter.

Pic 2:  J.J. doing her thing at Spruce Meadows horse show, Canada.

Day 49

Thursday, July 3rd, 2008 Posted in Journal 2006 | No Comments »

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Eagle Journal

Day 49

Jackhammer: 8lbs 6oz

Temp: 69’ / Wind: 0 mph

Hello everyone,

I thought I’d start off by going to the postage stamp field today. There was a lot of activity on all sides of the field — people walking dogs, trucks making huge clanging noises and, to top it all off, JH was very sure that there was something in the far corner of this field that he did not like. Try as I might I could only get about halfway through the field and JH flew all the way back to the trees. Before I could get back to the trees JH launched out and flew across three sets of cyclone fences, did a wing-over, and fortunately missed what I presume was a jack rabbit. He came back to the trees and I walked out into the goat field to give him a better shot at coming down to me.

I noticed that the goat herder had moved his entire herd of goats completely out of this big field into the tumbleweed field. The goats had, for the most part, cleaned off the vegetation, at least anything green. As I stood there looking out at the field I was, to say the least, astounded that jack rabbits were running everywhere. JH was still up in a tree and I knew that all I had to do was start going out into the field and he’d come bombing out after me. First though, I needed to see if the goat herder still had his electric fencing spewing all over the place and, to my delight, the fence was only up in one short span at the beginning of the field. It only took a few steps and JH launched on a jack. As he flew off, jacks were popping up the entire way. In fact, JH closed on the one he was after and, on impact, another jack rabbit popped up in the same exact spot.

Having a guest in the field, in this case Vince, has its advantages JH will step off a kill faster the closer the guest gets. Of course, the closer the guest gets, it increases the danger that they may be attacked. I waved Vince in

After retrieving the rabbit I unhooded JH and turned and headed in another direction, going down into an old, dry pond area. There were jacks everywhere, running out the far end in groups of twos and threes. I got down at the bottom of the pond and a jack flushed and went up the bank with JH hot on its tail. Up and over the top and out on the flats they went. JH overtook the jack and had number two. I waved Vince in closer and JH stepped up on the fist. I think I took three steps and another rabbit flushed. JH was off and closing. The jack tried to make a sweeping turn and JH flew down number three. My vest, at this point, was feeling quite heavy and I figured we would hunt our way back to the truck. JH closed on a rabbit heading straight for the electric fence but thankfully pulled off. With that, I fed him up.

Hope all is well,

Joe