February 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
This article was published originally by the Iowa DNR and you can view their website here. The article’s author, Lowell Washburn is a DNR staff writer and a member of the IFA.
Iowa Falconers Stage Winter Field Meet – Run Rabbit Run
by Lowell Washburn
Posted: February 10, 2009
SPIRIT LAKE – The scene was enough to send shivers down the fur of even the most predator-savvy cottontail. Hawks, humans, and hounds — all working together in a combined effort to collect the main ingredient of a rabbit stew. The eminent danger was enough to send sensible bunnies scurrying for their burrows, which is exactly what the majority of them did.
Although the unlikely coalition of hunters may have appeared a bit bizarre to most folks, there was an easy explanation for it all. The members of this rather unique hunting party were all participants in the annual Winter Hawking Meet of the Iowa Falconer’s Association. Staged in northern Iowa’s Dickenson County, the three day event was conducted against a mixed backdrop of farm groves, fence lines, and public wildlife areas.
“For many falconers, the winter meet marks the high point of the entire hunting season,” says IFA President, Tom Deckert. “The hunt gives falconers an opportunity to spend time in the field while observing the hunting tactics and flight styles of various species of raptors. Even within the same species, individual birds seem to adapt their own hunting strategy and every flight is unique.”
A long time master falconer and professional Davenport firefighter, Deckert is currently flying a young-of-the-year Siberian goshawk — the first of its kind ever used for falconry in Iowa. After wowing the crowd with its fearless nature and powerful flight style, the young bird conducted a couple of near misses before successfully bagging “two head of game” amongst the dense tangles of a public hunting area.
“Although the number of contemporary falconers is very small when compared with other groups of hunters [less than 50 falconers are licensed in Iowa], we had a strong turnout for this year’s winter meet,” noted field meet coordinator, Ross Dirks of Spirit Lake. “Participants flew just about everything there is from goshawks to gyrfalcons — peregrines to red-tails. We also had a number of interested nonfalconers attend the outing. Overall, I think everyone was very pleased with the event.”
“The weather was great and rabbits were plentiful,” Dirks added. “Everyone had an opportunity to see some really spectacular flights. In most cases, predators [hawks] and prey [rabbits] are very evenly matched, and once the hawk is turned loose you never really know what’s going to happen. Although a number of cottontails were successfully brought to bag, most rabbits managed to escape which is exactly the way it works in nature.”
“It can be hard to explain to people who haven’t seen it, but hunting wild game with trained hawks or falcons is simply an incredible experience,” says Deckert. “Falconry is one of the world’s most ancient hunting techniques and the sport has changed very little during the past four thousand years. Basically, the hawks just do what they do every single day in the wild, which is to hunt for their food. The big difference is that trained raptors let you tag along and become part of that hunt. Falconry requires extreme dedication, but over time you begin to develop a real bond with your bird. It’s a high octane pastime and the hawk can fly away any time it chooses. That can make things a bit scary at times, but it’s worth it. When you’re out with your bird, every hunt becomes an adventure.”