[A bird in the hand is better than...anything. My photo.]
One reason we scheduled the trip so early in the season is that NFA has several apprentices this year; the hope was that, if they took hawks this weekend, they might have them hunting in time for the NFA field meet a month from now. Well, the pressure is on now: Three apprentices were looking for birds this weekend, and by Sunday evening, all three had new redtails.
We trapped the first, a nice little tiercel, shortly before sunset on Saturday, and though it had been a long and unproductive day to that point, suddenly none of us felt tired. A moment of silence was observed for the pigeon that brought the tiercel to us. Then, as dusk fell and we loitered on the little-traveled rural road, visiting amongst ourselves and trading stories of the day's misadventures, a pair of killdeer, a flock of Canada geese, a bald eagle, and a coyote—all unseen but unmistakable—added to the sound of human conversation, and we were reminded how good it is to be outdoors on a glorious autumn evening.
[Dusk in the Platte River Valley. My photo.]
After dusk had turned to full-on darkness, the trapping parties went their separate ways. Anita, Doyle Daiss, and Chris Remmenga all had places to be, and so departed for their respective homes. Apprentices Caleb Schwartzkopf and Tyler Meitl headed for North Platte, set to trap again on Sunday with sponsor Art Graves. The rest of us (Donna, Pat Stull, my apprentice Amanda Kaufman, her sisters Cassie and Kelly, and me) drove to a nearby WMA, with Amanda's new tiercel hooded and trussed up in a nylon stocking. Upon arrival, Amanda and I put anklets and jesses on the hawk while Donna, Pat, and the girls set up camp.
There's something about camping—the movement necessitated by chores, the murmur of conversation, the ability to choose bright light or darkness or anything in between just by moving closer to or away from the fire—that is uniquely conducive to manning hawks. And if there's a more enjoyable setting in which to man a freshly-trapped hawk than by a campfire, surrounded by friends, I can't imagine what it would be. We snacked on apples and crackers and cheese and venison, we watched the sky, we talked late into the night, and we handled the tiercel, getting him accustomed to the sounds (and, briefly, sights) of camp life, easing him into his new world. Finally, in the small hours of the morning, we put the newly-named Azazel in his box, unrolled our sleeping bags beneath an impossibly clear sky shotgunned with stars, drifted off to the soft trilling of a screech-owl, and slept the sound sleep of the contented and exhausted.
[A girl and her hawk: Amanda with Azazel. My photo.]
The next morning we awoke to a kingfisher rattling through our camp and two ospreys gliding overhead. Azazel got some more manning time, Pat and Donna went on a coffee run, and we unhurriedly broke camp. Doyle rejoined us for a couple hours of desultory "trapping", if it can be called that when we caught nothing, and then we all headed home. Elsewhere, Art's group was still at it: Caleb trapped a female redtail on a pigeon harness Sunday morning, and Tyler scored a tiercel on a bal-chatri Sunday evening—again, in the last moments of daylight.
So, a success if not a rousing success: Three hawks sought, three hawks caught, and a good time had by all. Donna and Doyle will be out trapping again in a couple of weeks when their schedules are more conducive to training. If I join them, I'll post that up as well. Meanwhile, we're already discussing making this trip "the first annual". We might shoot for later in the season, we might add some different trapping styles to our repertoire, but for certain we'll be doing this again.
[Taking my turn with the manning. Photo by Pat.]
The camping group. L-R: Donna, Amanda with Azazel, Mark, Cassie, Pat, Kelly. Photo by Pat.]
[Azazel. Photo by Pat Stull.]