Last week was interesting. Since I was a child I’ve waited each year for deer season to get outside and hunt with my grandmother, my dad, or Bronson at the family camp in Webster County, West Virginia. While I never shot a deer in all the years I went, and I’ve even resorted to just hanging out at the camp for the last several years, I still love the feeling of that first week of firearms season because it means sitting outside in the chilly air and being with family.
This year, the opening week of firearms season was in contrast quite excruciating for me. You see there are countless folks around here who shoot hawks even though it’s illegal. Sadly, in West Virginia especially, the villainization of hawks seems to be ingrained into the local Appalachian culture. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met in my falconry journey who quickly offer up to me their extreme distaste for these birds quite frequently followed by the declaration that they shoot any hawk that they see.
It is true that hawks have been known to depredate livestock, but Red-Tails in particular are not naturally inclined to do so in most situations, preferring smaller ground prey like moles, voles, chipmunks, squirrels, and even snakes instead. That is not to say that a Red-Tail won’t take a chicken, but this is definitely not a staple of its diet. In fact just yesterday She-Ra flew around the hill to my neighbors’ property as she’s been known to do because of the abundance of squirrels’ nests in that area. When I saw her dive down towards the property I ran as fast as I could fearing she’d have a go at a free-range chicken, my friend Angela running beside me, but we slowed down hearing no sounds of distress. When we got to my neighbor’s property, I couldn’t find She-Ra so I grabbed my tracking receiver and started searching. My neighbor was outside feeding her chickens, but She-Ra thank goodness was nowhere to be seen. I soon found her perched in a tree directly above me. She had flown over to check out the chickens, but decided that they weren’t worth the effort. I called her down with a tidbit of mouse meat, fastened her to my glove, and trekked back towards our property away from the diversion of the chickens.
With so many firearms in the woods this past week though, She-Ra and I decided several weeks ago that we would take the week off. For the first time in my life I dreaded the first week of firearms season because it would mean that I would be a sitting duck with a sitting hawk. Don’t get me wrong. I love the times that She-Ra and I spend bonding over television for taming purposes, but She-Ra is a falconry bird so she is first and foremost a hunter. That’s why I have her– to hunt. She is not my pet bird, although this week she felt like it. We visited with friends and family and watched television by night. Bronson helped me take her food out to the mews during the time I was weighing her in the house so that she wouldn’t associate our hands or us in general with the food. By Friday I was more than ready to get back into the woods, and I’m sure She-Ra was, too.
I’m so glad that we were able to hunt yesterday and that one of my very best friends who was in from California was able to tag along. We didn’t get a single slip (the forest was eerily quiet, the Blue Jays were even silent, only a couple of crows cawed), and She-Ra found two deer carcasses and became so distracted with them that we had to call it a day, but just being back outside was great.
We even were able to get out again today for another hunt. Once again we didn’t get any slips, and She-Ra found one of the same deer carcasses, but again, it was still a good day in the woods. I’m thinking we’re going to have to move the deer remains because she knows her hunting ground very well. Between that and picking up a slingshot in the next day or so to help flush squirrels, I think we might stand a chance of bagging something next week.