Jackhammer: 8lbs 6oz
Temp: 49’ / Wind: 2 mph
Cordi and I pulled out of our driveway on Monday morning heading for Vale, Oregon. JH rode nicely on his perch and made the 10 hour drive without any problems. The plan was to fly as much as we could and to take care of issues regarding the new ranch. This trip was to do two things: get JH flying in different terrain and give us the opportunity to do some snooping around looking for good places to fly. This, to me, is the most unsettling part about moving. For the last 20 plus years of my falconry life the places I could hunt were set. I know the fields, I know where and how to find game, and I know the surrounding area in case something goes wrong. If a falcon or eagle was to take off, I can get to almost any place looking for a lost bird. Leaving my house I can drive 25 miles and have duck slips, go 20 more minutes and have rabbit slips. Moving to Oregon has thrown that all upside down. Now I don’t know anything, such as where I can fly, where to find game, and what hidden things are out there, both good and bad, waiting for my birds and me. Does my style of falconry work in this new area? Will my seasoned game hawks adjust? For a guy that does not like change this is a little unsettling, as I said. Now, on the bright side, I am looking forward to the new challenges and I will adapt and figure all this stuff out. it’s just a little scary.
Every falconer knows that when people say oh yeah, there are lots of rabbits, pheasants, ducks or whatever in this place the falconer must go see for him or herself. Only a falconer knows what a good area to fly is or not. I’ve had people say have I got the spot for you, sage grouse everywhere. I go there and, yup, sage grouse are all over the place, but so are fences, wires, power lines, eagles, and so on. Non-falconers just do not know, so this trip was to start the weeding out process and to get a feel for the land and the game. It’s always good to get someone local to show you around and give you a sense of how things work, which we did, and they were most helpful. Jack rabbits in the immediate area around our ranch are scarce, and the truth is, as of yet, I have never seen a jack rabbit on our ranch. I have, however, seen them out farther in the BLM land that surrounds the area. There is so much alfalfa grown in Vale it is unbelievable. In fact, our ranch is mostly alfalfa hay fields. But corn, sugar beets, and onions are also grown in huge quantities in the Vale area. All of this makes for supreme cover and food for pheasants and valley quail which are everywhere! Falconry is a funny sport. The laws of falconry dictate that if the falconer is driving around with a ready-to-hunt rabbit bird, in this case JH, said falconer will only see pheasants, ducks and quail, no jack rabbits. Now, if the falconer was to be driving around with his two gyr/peregrines, said falconer will only see jack rabbits. See how this works! So I figure I’ll load all of my falcons and JH in the truck, that way I’ll be ready for anything.
The first flight in Oregon:
Led by our guide, Paul, we headed off to one of the areas that I was told held many jacks, near the dump and shooting range (not thrilled about that!). We drove up into BLM land a good ways and stopped on a high meadow with sage on the right, open grass on the left, that ran up to a very large mountain complete with cliffs. We fanned out and started hunting. Both Cordi and I saw some rabbit signs, not many, but jacks were surely there at one time. JH, on the other hand, was transfixed on the cliff, hardly taking his eyes off it. Either he had never seen a cliff before or there was a hot looking female eagle up on it. Either way, he was not hunting. Over the years I have felt that eagles can tell if there are jacks in a particular field or not. Just like the American kestrel can see mouse droppings on mouse trails, eagles can, I believe, see the signs left behind by jack rabbits. I have had more than one eagle lead me to a different field, or show me in no uncertain terms they do not want to hunt in the field I want to hunt in..not wanting to sit on the fist, acting distracted, not focused, bating repeatedly and, once loose, flying off into the field they want to hunt. I have insisted on hunting my field anyway, found nothing, and continued into the eagle’s choice of fields only to find jacks there. JH does that — if he, for whatever reason, doesn’t like a field, once loose, he’ll fly off to another field and wait for me. I have, over time, gotten the message and pay attention to him now. JH was not hunting in this meadow so we moved on.
After spending the rest of the morning unsuccessfully trying to get in touch with a rancher that had said I could fly on his ranch, Cordi and I decided to go out into the BLM land and fly JH out there just to finish the day. Well, apparently, there were no jacks out there either because JH took off, flew at least a mile down the side of a large hill, and got into a soar with two wild eagles. What started out to be a nice short hunt in what looked to be a good area turned into a nice long forced march down a draw trying to catch up to a wayward eagle.
I had heard about an area several miles north of our ranch and wanted to go check it out. This area, I was told, had jacks, chucker, pheasants, quail and sage grouse. That’s a tall order. Cordi and I found this very small town (I’d tell ya the name but than I’d have to kill ya) which consisted of one building that could at any second fall over and a US post office that was smaller than my truck, that’s it! Cordi said the place gave her the creeps, like something evil was happening there. You know, one of those towns you read about where everyone is keeping a secret and is afraid to talk about it or go outside at night. There was a kind of weirdness there, I agree. The paved road abruptly ended at the post office, and we had two choices, left or right on gravel roads. Fortunately both gravel roads were on our trucks GPS and we chose the road on the left. This road took us through a small canyon with a nice creek running through it. On the right side was a fairly large hill/mountain which would be difficult to walk up. Not for chucker, however, they were everywhere, running across the road in front of us, standing on the side of the hill calling, or chasing one another. In fact, the best flight we saw on the trip was a passage red tail coming off a pole and taking a swipe at a chucker as it was running along the road in front of us. The end of this road came after a few miles when we came across an older couple that said they were out looking for deer hunters poaching on their ranch.
We went back to the original fork in the road and took the road on the right this time. We drove until this road forked and, again, chose the road on the left (don’t know why, maybe because I’m left handed). After a few miles I saw a truck gaining on us from the rear, pulled over allowing it to pass, and continued on following it. One thing you learn quite fast is don’t follow too close. The dust this time of year is blinding. You follow back far enough that the dust cloud has time to move off the road in front of you. We came around a corner and saw one of the passengers in the truck ahead of us get out and open a gate in the road. The truck drove through, the passenger closed and locked the gate, and they drove off! OK, this road had ended as well and I guess we are not invited in for drinks!
We back-tracked our way down to where the road had split and took the road off to the right. Winding our way through the sage covered hills the landscape quickly took on a completely different look. Most noticeably, the sage brush was shorter, knee high or less, where as before the sage brush was up to my waist or sometimes up over my shoulder, way too high to fly. Looking off to the right I could see a nice area with some sage but mostly grass and, down in the draw, sage brush as well, so a nice mixture. We decided to give it a go and fly JH. Walking out into the field we could see jack signs everywhere and JH was very interested..again, reading some kind of clue. Cordi was down in the draw and I was up walking on the edge of the open grass. JH launched on something, flew all the way across the draw and landed on the far bank. He no sooner landed and a jack rabbit exploded, and I do mean exploded, from right in front of me and blasted down into the draw. JH saw it and launched off the bank, coming back across the draw. The jack rabbit instantly stopped under a sage bush. No longer able to locate the jack rabbit, JH pulled off and turned back to the bank. The jack took off and was gone! Other than the road kill jack rabbit I had seen, that was the closest we got to a jack rabbit the whole trip. The one that had flushed was a sage colored grey, almost blue color, very different from the valley jacks out in California I’m used to seeing.
So, all in all, the trip was productive. Not, of course, in the game catching sense but we learned some things and saw a lot of beautiful country. We traveled some roads without ends and made some new friends.
From the high desert of Eastern Oregon
Hope all is well,
Pic 1: getting ready to fly JH in the high desert
Pic 2: looking back after JH went for a little romp, Cordi is out there somewhere!
Pic 3: I took this shot on the drive home…love this time of year