The Hawk Hunt

You know how odd answers come up in conversation, "what ya doin'?", and you give your reply to which you get that certain look that says "HUH?".

That's what I've been getting lately.  Folks ask if I've had any interesting hunts to which I reply "yep" and then I highlight my memorable hunts this year.

A couple weeks ago, I guided a hawk hunt.  Everyone I say that too looks startled then quietly whispers, "You know that's illegal".  "Yep, I know it is unless you have your falconry permit!"  That usually begets a small pause with a surprised/uneasy/unknowing "Oh! ok!"....I do love to set people up for a good laugh...I have a similar story about a bird hunt that started off with shooting a deer but I'll tell that story later.

We were actually hunting quail with a hawk!

A gentleman by the name of Paul Moore contacted me some time ago in search of a Brittany.  He has a Harris Hawk and was searching for a Brittany to aid him in his hunts.  After an enjoyable discussion, I offered Paul a free guided hunt with his Hawk at my ranch.  Paul agreed and the date was set.

We met on an overcast afternoon at the Dairy Queen in Cross Plains, exchanged greetings and proceeded to the ranch.

I think Paul was a bit taken back (and delighted) when I stopped within about 20 yards of a large covey of quail.  We exited the trucks and proceeded to hunt.

Since the first covey was seen by the feeder, Paul decided not to use the dog on the initial flush.  So his hawk was set free and the chase was on!  The quail flushed hard from the feeder area with the hawk in pursuit.  Because quail are seldom caught on the first flush by a hawk, the normal procedure for a hawk is to fly to the area where the birds landed.  As Paul put it, "the hawk will stare at the place where he thinks one of the quail landed and burn a hole in it with his eye" waiting for the slightest of movement. 

Enter the Brittany.  I released Nubbin (my 2 year old Brittany) to find the quail and point so we could attempt a second flush.  Because quail are slightly weaker on a subsequent flush, the hawk has an increased chance to catch its quarry.  Nubbin flushed the quail accidentally (he was upwind of the bird) and the hawk was off to the races.  The quail flew screaming to a nearby brush pile in which the hawk dove in with reckless abandon.  The hawk was on the quail so fast, it would take instant replay to see exactly what had happened!  Here's a pic of the bird with the quail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was interesting for me to see the hawks' deadly accuracy.  We've all seen the remains of a hawk kill, but have you seen them actually catch and eat the bird?

The hawks' razor sharp talons and strong grip is deadly to the quail not to mention the sudden shock of impact.  The hawk plucks the feathers from the bird then devours the entire carcass which explains why you only find feathers.  Somewhere in that process (hopefully soon!), the falconer gives the bird of prey a 'trade-off' food morsel.  The Harris Hawk takes the trade-off thus relinquishing the quail to the master.

Paul's hawk was quite successful that day (4 quail!) and it ended wonderfully on the last bird. 

Nubbin located the last covey of the day with high style and pointed staunchly.  The dog work was fabulous!  Nubbin was on point but the covey had moved and was upwind of him.  Nubbin held tightly until Paul gave the order to flush the quail for the Harris Hawk.  Quickly the hawk chose a hard flying quail and stayed with it.  Nubbin was allowed to pursue the flushing quail (as he is suppose to on a hawk hunt) so that he can quickly reestablish point on a winded quail. 

Nubbin found a single on the edge of an open field that contained tall native grasses.  The hawk was poised in a nearby tree 'burning a hole' in the cover that held the single.  The command was given by me for Nubbin to flush the bird.  Nubbin flushed the bird hard and the quail flew out over the open field at which point the hawk quickly left it's perch and gave an exhilarating chase of the quail over open terrain.  The hawk nailed the bobwhite mid-air just inches above the top of the swaying, wind blown grasses.  We were thrilled by the experience!  Clint (my stepson) and I were overjoyed by the spectacle of it all! 

Here's a pic of hawk once more on a tree with his prey.  Nubbin's pic is inset.  You'll note this is the same pic of Nubbin from an earlier story.  I used the same pic because this pic was actually taken on the hawk hunt!

 

A couple things I didn't talk about was Nubbin's first experience with the Hawk.  Nubbin has hunted Pheasant, Chukar and Quail.  He was quite enthralled with the Hawk at first and wanted to sight point it.  I was worried that Nubbin would kill the Hawk if the situation presented itself so I placed some insurance around Nubbin's neck (e-collar).  Paul felt confident that the hawk would defend itself quite well but I knew better.

Thank God for knowing better.  In one particular instant, at the first of the hunt, the hawk caught a quail on the ground and had its' back to Nubbin.  Nubbin went to pounce on the hawk and nearly had it except that I hit the panic button on my collar and yelled NO!  Nubbin jumped back looked at me as if "What the heck Daddy, I done found us a BIG ONE!"  Paul looked very worried in just that instant which is why I further explained to Paul that Nubbin has been spurred by wounded pheasant on previous hunts and that Nubbin WOULD defend himself to the death of the bird because that's all he knows - it's what's bred into him, find and retrieve. 

By the end of the hunt Nubbin had figured out what his job was with regard to the hawk and all was well!  I chose Nubbin for the hunt over older dogs because I wanted Nubbin to have the first experience.  I was worried that getting on to Nubbin for trying to get the hawk would affect him...NOT SO!  Nubbin has had several more 'real hunts' since then and has not showed one ill effect as a result of the hunt.

Thanks Paul for a memorable afternoon!  OBTW, hawks are not the demise of Quail....a good read about wild quail is Fred S. Guthery's book 'On Bobwhites' (available through our book store).

Hope you enjoyed the pics and story. Y'all take care!

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