Thursday, November 5, 2009


In falconry lingo, "entering" refers to the introduction of a hawk to new quarry: A newly-trained redtail is said to be entered on rabbits after catching its first cottontail, a peregrine might be entered on ducks before taking on more difficult game like prairie grouse, and so forth. Falconers don't usually speak or even think of terms of "re-entering" an intermewed hawk; entering is a one-time event, rather like losing one's virginity.

But I have to admit that I was reconsidering the concept this season. Stekoa and I ventured back into the field a bit later than usual, owing to scheduling conflicts and the vagaries of this October's weather. And it was starting to feel as though my avian partner had forgotten all about rabbits: until yesterday, he was averaging five "miscellaneous" kills (mice, voles, snakes) per outing, and could easily have doubled that if I had had the patience. Flights at bunnies were few and far between, not to mention seemingly half-hearted. Why follow me and the dogs, why put in hard flights at rapidly fleeing cottontails, when so many delectable treats are to be had by simply dropping out of a cedar tree?

Yesterday, though, everything came together. The dogs and I flushed a couple of rabbits almost immediately, and Stekoa pulled fur on one before it escaped into standing corn. (The strange weather has also played havoc with the harvest.) Suddenly he was all business, following closely and, better yet, taking good high perches out in front of us. The dogs had a good day, too, Anya yipping up several scent trails—most of which also led into standing corn—and Maxine running full-tilt in several directions at once despite the uncomfortable warmth of the afternoon. After several good but unsuccessful flights in heavy cover, I got our party turned around back in the direction from which we had come: it was hot, I was tired even if Maxie wasn't, and I wanted to end the hunt on a high note rather than letting it descend into another moustravaganza. But, as so often happens, we found another rabbit and Stekoa caught it within sight of the car. Triumph, sure, but also relief.

Last night I mentioned to my daughter that (by our standards, at least) I hadn't seen her much lately: between work, hawking, and other responsibilities—including a couple of hawk-trapping assignments for Raptor Recovery—I haven't been able to take her to school in the mornings or pick her up in the afternoons. "That's okay, Dad," she said. "I'm glad you've been helping the hawks and getting out hunting. It's good for you."

Ellie and my wife, obviously, are both very supportive. They also know me very well. Susan says I'm at my most difficult just before hawking season, my short temper being symptomatic of inactivity, confinement, and repressed hunting urges. And Ellie's comment made me realize that I had not just been anxious to re-enter Stekoa on game. I needed to re-enter my life, to fully engage in the pursuits that bring me alive again after the long stultifying months of summer.

More soon...


Blaze said...

Hey Mark. Your comment about Stekoa getting a snake. Was that recently 'cos I'm wondering if I should take some snake gators for NAFA? Last year in Amarillo they were still out and about and I never quite relaxed when running around - coming from a nation of no snakes. I want to place an order for a few things with Cabelas and get them sent to someone coming down to Oklahoma. Should I order through YOU via credit card?? I'd also like some advice before purchasing the gators. You have my email address. Talk soon maybe. Rachel

Mark Churchill said...


After my monthlong hiatus, it's good to know that someone's still reading!

Re: your reptile questions...

Gators are more dangerous than snakes in my opinion. Alligators, that is. Gaiters, on the other hand, might be a good idea for warm-weather hawking where venomous snakes might be encountered. And Cabela's would be glad to sell you a pair.

I give venomous snakes approximately zero consideration when I'm out hawking; we simply don't have that many around. Copperheads (Agkistrodon contortrix) and eastern timber rattlers (Crotalus horridus) occur in wooded areas of southeast Nebraska, but are unlikely to be found around Lincoln. The massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus) is a small rattler found only in tallgrass prairies, particularly in the wetter parts—a rare enough habitat these days that the massasauga is listed as a threatened species in Nebraska. The only venomous snake widely distributed in Nebraska is the prairie rattler (Crotalus viridis), which favors shortgrass prairies.

Oklahoma has all four of these, plus a few others, so a certain amount of caution might be in order. Just keep the risk in perspective: you're more likely to be injured by stepping into a hole and breaking an ankle, or getting caught in a barbed-wire fence, or some other hawking-related accident.

Send me an e-mail by all means, but if I don't talk to you before then, have a great time at the NAFA meet!

Mark Churchill said...

I forgot to mention: the snakes Stekoa has caught lately have been garter snakes (Thamnophis spp.) and brown snakes (Storeria dekayi). Once the weather turns cool and stays cool, we can forget about that distraction for a while...