Friday, January 16, 2009

Twenty-seven 8x10 color glossy pictures...

...with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was, to be used as evidence against us.

Well, not really, but these were taken by a cop.

Conservation officer Dina Barta from the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission did my facilities re-inspection (part of the falconry permitting process) when I moved a couple of years ago, and expressed an interest in coming afield with me. A few months ago we bumped into each other while we were both stocking up on dog supplies, and traded contact info. Yesterday, we finally got around to hawking together.

Dina and her friend Keith met me at a State Recreation Area that holds a good population of cottontails as well as fox squirrels, a species I enjoy hunting but for which Stekoa harbors less enthusiasm. Temperatures were in the single digits, but bundled up against the cold, we ventured into the woods along with Maxine and Anya. Almost immediately, Stekoa changed direction, going at right angles to our intended route—a good indication of game on the move. Sure enough, when we caught up to him, a rabbit flushed from the undergrowth and was immediately taken. Total elapsed time: about three minutes.

[Making in.]

I rarely try for more than one rabbit in a day, but all the conditions were right: a quick first kill, company along (they had planned on seeing more flying than this), and an absence of pressing responsibilities elsewhere. So I rewarded Stekoa lightly, put the rabbit in my vest, and we set out again.

Weather like this often drives cottontails underground, so I was not at all surprised that flushes thereafter were few and far between. Dina and Keith didn't seem to mind at all; they were clearly enamored of the hawk (Dina noted that "If redtails were rare, everyone would agree they're the most beautiful bird alive") and also impressed with the way Max and Anya worked cover. I have to admit I was impressed with the dogs, too, unfazed as they were by the cold. They also showed off their athleticism—at one point we ventured into unfamiliar territory, and I was surprised to arrive at the edge of a bluff overlooking the creek. Forty or fifty feet down, with a path (made by what, I wonder?) going straight down an incline of at least 60 degrees. But Stekoa was flying ahead of us and Maxine, intent on her mission of staying with the hawk, barrelled straight down, crossed the frozen creek like nothing extraordinary had happened, and continued hunting. The less-confident Anya followed her before, I think, she knew what she'd gotten herself into, and got stuck three-quarters of the way down. I tried to "ski" down sideways, leaning hard into the hill, but traversed the lower half of the hill on the seat of my brush jeans—where there isn't a layer of tough Cordura nylon. (Fortunately, Dina didn't capture this episode with her camera.) Anya then scrambled back up the steep slope and followed Dina and Keith around to an easier crossing.

[The dogs investigate the site of a "wild" rabbit kill. The predator could have been any of several: hawk, owl, fox, coyote, or bobcat. I had to stash the frozen gutpile on a nearby branch to keep Max and Anya from chowing down.]

We ended up hunting for about two hours before Stekoa got another shot at a rabbit. This was an unusual flight, not especially exciting from a visual standpoint but tactically interesting: He glided most of the way, easing up, over, and around the flank of a small stand of sumacs to take a cottontail hiding in the grass on the far edge. Until Stekoa pitched down and the rabbit started squealing, I hadn't thought it was a hunting flight at all, just a routine glide to a new perch, and I wonder if the bunny was likewise lulled into a false sense of security by the casual approach. In any case, the rabbit was put in the bag, and we were done for the afternoon.

[Stekoa eats while Anya looks on. The dogs got rewarded, too: rabbit legs with a bit of meat left on, what falconers call a "tyring".]

On our way out of the woods, we encountered a deer hunter just entering—it was the last day of the firearms season. Dina checked his permit, and even though Keith and I hung back we could hear the man spoke with a pronounced accent. Dina later told us that all the deer hunters she'd checked lately had been Russians—apparently they're the only ones hardy enough to sit still for hours in this late-season weather. We at least got to walk around, climbing in and out of the creekbed, keeping ourselves warm through exertion.

[I like this shot; you can almost tell by looking how the sun offers light but little warmth on a day like this.]

All in all, another good day. Stekoa certainly enjoyed himself—just don't get too close with that camera!


pstull said...


Enjoyed the story and photos. Since I got a new computer I can finally access your site much better - had trouble with photos loading before.

I'll email some of the photos I took when you, Shea and I went out last Sunday - there's a couple half good ones.

See ya, Pat

Matt Mullenix said...

Nice story Mark! Thanks for sharing.