Master falconer Kate Marden: “The sport is changing; more women are involved and it’s less secretive.”
Finishing with Kate Marden, master falconer and owner of West Coast Falconry, an establishment that provides falconry classes and services.
Marden says, “If you have a bird of prey, and you’re not hunting with that bird, everybody in the community will look down on you. It makes sense; that’s what the bird is born to do. I have a Swainson’s hawk. It’s illegal to hunt them. He cannot be released into the wild, doesn’t know how to take care of himself, but we still serve him live prey because, as a raptor, as a predator, that’s what he needs to make him a whole creature.
“The sport is changing: more women are involved and it’s less secretive. I remember when I was getting into the sport, being called a killer by someone whose dog was chasing a rabbit until its heart burst.
“We encourage people to use radio telemetry. You can buy a transmitter for $140. The transmitter can be attached to the ankle or tail of the bird. The receiver is a lot more expensive than the transmitter. The least-expensive receiver is about $500, so we encourage people to just put a transmitter on the bird because you’re going to know at least four falconers, including your sponsor, who will have a receiver.”
On the drive out to a hunting ground: “You can either put a hood on him or use what we call a giant hood, which is a big dark box with a perch in it. Most of us use a giant hood. So, you put him in the giant hood, put the hood in the car, you have your transmitter, you have your lures to attract him in case you get in a bad situation, you’ll need little bits of food for them to eat to encourage them to behave. You might even have a big, what we call, ‘pick-up piece,’ like the leg of a jackrabbit or a wing. When you hunt with a hawk, that’s pretty low cost.
“When you hunt with a falcon, you have your transmitter, you have your receiver, you have a live pigeon to call back with, you have a dead pigeon, you have your lure, you have your binoculars. You feel like a sherpa with all the stuff you need with a falcon, because a falcon can fly in a straight line 60 to 100 miles an hour. Hawks don’t fly that fast, they don’t fly that far. My falcons will sky out at two, three thousand feet. Can’t even see them. Hawks tend to stay closer. Hawks hunt ground-prey, primarily. Falcons hunt avian prey. So, falcons need to get higher. If you’re on a budget, I’d say stick with a hawk.
“When I go hunting jackrabbit with my bird, the backstrap —the piece between the hips and the bottom of the rib — the backstrap and the thighs are for me. The heart, lung, and liver, that goes to our birds in the field. Everything else comes back and are either fed to us or to our birds.
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“Most falconers I know don’t go for bag limits. It’s usually one hawk, one kill. For instance, if Jana [Barkley] and I go out together, we’ll hunt our birds together because those birds are hunting partners. We try to take one rabbit. Depending on how we feel and our birds’ energy, we might take a second rabbit. It’s very rare, but sometimes we might go out and between two birds take four rabbits. You can only do that with a seasoned bird. With a young bird, every time she kills something, that should be it. The first ten kills, it should be one kill and that bird eats until she steps off of the game because she’s so full. You’re trying to cement the relationship between the food and the bird and you. So, if you strip her off a kill to go hunting again, the young bird, she’s just going to get angry and fly away.
“This is how most falconers work. As your bird is sitting there eating the game, you can get a scissors and cut more meat off the carcass. A lot of times I’ll use my scissors or my glove hand to pull open and show more blood, more heart, all the yummy bits. In the meantime, you can also take stuff out of your pocket and add to it, so the bird always sees you as being positive not negative. You’re not taking anything away from her; you’re adding to her bounty.
“That’s how they roll. They’re very selfish animals.”
Marden can be reached at westcoast-falconry.com or 530-749-0839. For West Coast Falconry–San Diego, call 619-722-0092 or stop by skyfalconry.com.