The Hunt

The last couple of weeks have been eventful for sure.  For those of you who didn’t catch my Instagram/Facebook post, She-Ra’s DNA results came back, and we found out that she is actually a male.  We were all very surprised.  I spent two days trying to say things like “hey dude” and “good boy” when I was talking to her– two days trying to say “he” when referring to her.  All efforts were futile, so She-Ra is just a boy that we refer to as “she”.  I’m very forward thinking.  What else can I say? Besides, if it takes a DNA test to even determine whether a bird is male or female, what does it matter what a person calls it?

Dr. Fallon and Vince Slabe were also able to get She-Ra’s second transmitter mounted this past week.  While not required by law with a wild Red-Tail used for falconry, I wanted to run two transmitters on She-Ra for tracking– the idea being that if one transmitter fails, there will be a second to fall back on.  Dr. Fallon had already installed a micro transmitter on She-Ra’s tail, but the second transmitter used a backpack mount which is a little trickier to mount properly.  Luckily Vince had experience with installing backpacks on numerous other wild birds for research, including Eagles.  It was my first time meeting Vince, and in such meetings I’m always reminded of all of the new folks I get to meet through my falconry venture.  Vince is working on his Ph.D and is studying the effects of lead in birds.  It’s been fun to meet so many talented and interesting people.  I am incredibly grateful to Dr. Fallon and Vince both for taking the time to get the backpack mounted properly.  It was no easy task.

She-Ra also got her first and second mole kills last week, and had several slips on squirrels.  I got her down to a weight where she continued to pursue the squirrels even after a miss, so I was feeling  more confident that we were going to bag one in the near future.  Then just last night, She-Ra got her first squirrel!

I had had the day from hell– I’m sure you all know those days well.  Nothing went right, stuff broke, my phone wouldn’t stop ringing, and I didn’t have enough hours to get my work done.  All I really wanted to do that day was get outside and hunt.  I decided to wait for my husband Bronson to get home, and he ended up getting home late, so we got a late start.  It was just another thing to add to my grumpy mood.  The sun was still up, but I figured all the squirrels had already started to settle for the evening, so a squirrel kill was literally the farthest thing from my mind, especially since she’s been struggling with squirrels to the point that I had started to wonder what I could be doing wrong.

Until yesterday, She-Ra had had about 7-8 slips, made contact with every single one, grabbed back towards the tail, lost the squirrel and interest, and did not continue to pursue.  My sponsor Gregg suggested lowering weight, and as I slowly did this, I began to see her drive increase.  I knew when we went out Monday afternoon that we were getting there because she had a really good slip, and we chased a squirrel together for nearly fifteen minutes before it finally retreated to a hole in a tree– darn holes.  Still that hunt gave me hope for Tuesday.

For short hunts we always take a walk in the woods on our property. It’s steep hills, thick brush, creeks, and right now, dreadful leaves hindering line of sight.  She-Ra has started to form a hunting pattern and has several favorite trees she likes to hunt from.  If she doesn’t see anything from the first two trees she hits, she flies around the hill and lands on her other favorite tree.  I try to lead, but she always passes me up to get around the hill, and I find myself running to keep sight of her.

Last night when she took off around the hill to hunt her favorite spot, she passed me up and flew out of sight.  I ran around the hill, and caught sight of her, so I slowed to a jog, but too soon.  No sooner had I caught sight of her when she dove straight down and out of sight yet again.  I ran as fast as I could, but did not see the initial contact with the squirrel.  While she dove down, our land is so steep that I couldn’t say whether she took it on the ground or in a tree.  I finally found her on the ground holding down a small gray squirrel that was nearly dead.

I made in in front of her, something we’ve practiced with the lure, but she took down the hill carrying the squirrel.  At this point I said some unladylike things along the lines of “you’ve got to be f-ing kidding me,” I think.  I couldn’t help it.  I had never anticipated her carrying a squirrel not only because of its weight, but also because we had practiced with the lure, and she’s been so great with making in and trade-off.  In a matter of seconds I went from excited about the first squirrel to “where the hell did my bird go?”

I started tracking her with the Marshall receiver, and the farther I went, the more I was in disbelief.  I was running as fast as I could through the brush and down the hill towards the creek.  The sun was setting, and I still hadn’t found my bird.  When I reached the ravine the signal was strong.  It was too steep to get down so I slung my receiver to my side and slid down on my butt, crashing at the bottom.  I looked to my right, and there she was, in the muddy creek bed (3/4 of a mile from where she made the kill), pigging out on a squirrel.  I approached her again from the front, but this time she made no attempt to carry.  She exhibited the same trusting behavior she’d shown during lure training.  Don’t get me wrong.  She was mantling, but she allowed me to make in and place my glove on the squirrel as she continued to eat.  I let her crop up, we traded out for the lure very successfully, and made our way back home in the dark.

I’m hoping that the carrying was an isolated incident, given that she didn’t do it once I found her again and she wasn’t cropped up yet at that point.  I keep replaying the whole thing in my mind.  Perhaps I made in faster than I had in training?  I do know I was trying to get to her fast to help her dispatch if necessary, so maybe this was the case– just coming in too fast.  My sponsor also suggested it could have been the fact that it was nearly dark when she made the kill and that she could have been jumpy because of the fear of night predators.  This is definitely a possibility.

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The squirrel was small, my bird carried unexpectedly, and I ruined a pair of pants sliding down the hill to get to her, so while it wasn’t the picture perfect first squirrel kill, I’m still incredibly proud of She-Ra, and how far she’s come as a falconry bird.  I have a squirrel hawk and I’m a squirrel hawker now.  That first squirrel is a pretty major rite of passage for both the hawk and the falconer, and it still makes me smile just thinking of it.  Yesterday was a bad day turned awesome, and I feel very blessed.

  • I enjoyed your article. Saturday, Bronson told me you were spending the day hunting squirrels with your falcon. I did not know what all that entailed but I can’t say that now! Thanks!

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