Falconry while rewarding has not come without numerous setbacks and struggles. She-Ra manned quickly, but we stalled out when we started hawking squirrels as she struggled to get her footing right. She wanted to grab dangerously at the back of the squirrel instead of at the head. This week that technique resulted in a squirrel bite, but she eventually moved to the head after I helped her dispatch the squirrel, so I’m hoping this issue is beginning to fix itself.
Falconry also comes with personal struggles– physical and emotional.
This week one of my friends took me to her father’s camp to hunt a property of about sixty acres. It was mostly wooded with thick brush, and the snow that was melting from the storm last week made the hills difficult to walk. She-Ra followed like a champ, and we walked the woods knocking on trees with nests trying to flush game. I was just getting ready to tap on a tree when She-Ra took off right over top of me. We lost sight of her, and I had to use my Marshall receiver to track her. We discovered her a few minutes later perched in a tree, head bobbing– a sign that she saw something.
Within seconds she took off and dove for the ground about a hundred feet ahead of us. I lost sight of her again, but knew her general direction. I ran as fast as I could to find her underneath the exposed mossy roots of a tree. At first I assumed she’d nabbed herself another mole, but upon further inspection, I saw that she had a squirrel pinned! She sat there holding it, waiting.
I made in deliberately and helped dispatch the squirrel humanely by compressing its chest with my hunting perch. Hopefully I won’t solicit too many negative comments by explaining my personal experience here, but I want to tell you what goes through my mind while dispatching and how I justify what I do in falconry because it’s a personal emotional struggle for me.
First let me make it clear that I feel very strongly about the notion that no animal’s life should ever be taken lightly. Even the bait mice I used during trapping still live with us because I believe that the job they did was so important. It’s no easy task then when I have to assist She-Ra in dispatching (ending the life of) the quarry (the prey/catch). Why do I do it then?
The way I see it is that I am witnessing something that happens every day in the wild. Predation is a natural occurrence. A hawk or other predator would take a squirrel in the wild. I am just a part of that amazing event now, and I have the opportunity to end in our case this week the squirrel’s life more quickly than She-Ra otherwise would on her own, so to me, it’s the responsible thing to do. If I want to be a falconer, I have to respect all life by giving the quarry a swift and humane end.
This week my mind raced the moment I realized the squirrel was still alive, but I quickly placed my perch on its chest and put all my weight on it before I realized I was doing it. I knew what I needed to do, and mechanically I did it. The thing is though that it still takes a moment for the breathing to stop. Once I was situated, I said a small prayer to myself during the last seconds of the squirrel’s life.
“God thank you for this hunt, this bird, and this catch,” then it got a bit less eloquent. “Thank you for the squirrel being too fat for She-Ra to carry,” a pause while I thought some more, “for only letting me fall down twice today, and,” another pause, “lift up this squirrel and give him peace.”
Yes. I said that. I asked God to give the squirrel peace, and I’m not sorry for it. I mean how else do you ask for comfort of a dying animal? Beautiful prayer is obviously not my forte, but I didn’t let that stop me, and you shouldn’t let a little self-consciousness stop you from praying either. God doesn’t care if you have a limited vocabulary. I did giggle a bit during my prayer to be honest though (and I’m laughing hysterically at myself as I’m writing this), but not because I was joking. I just never thought even a year ago that I’d be standing in the woods this week finishing off a squirrel for a Red-Tailed Hawk and trying to figure out how to ask for comfort for a creature so small when I’m not very good at prayer to begin with. I even shook my head in minor disbelief. But there you have it.
It’s not easy being a falconer when you’ve got a soft spot for animals, but I can’t imagine doing anything else right now. I truly feel that this is what I’m supposed to be doing. I still don’t understand why, but I do know that when I’m in the woods with She-Ra I don’t want to be anywhere else. Running between trees and flushing game with an amazing Red-Tailed Hawk following close behind at the ready is hard to beat, even if I do have to help dispatch quarry and say little squirrel prayers.