Eagle Road Trip Mini-Me
Jackhammer and Mini-Me
After what seemed an eternity we left for what promised to be a fun GOE (Gathering of Eagles) and NAFA (North American Falconry Association) meets with the boys in good condition having been chasing the gator for weeks. Days before we left I finished a new eagle traveling perch that I felt both eagles could ride safely and comfortably on. But it was, as yet, unproven over the long haul and that fact alone had me slightly nervous. The last thing I needed was to be hundreds of miles from home and realize that the perch was not working; so I packed a back-up plan, bringing two of my older style perches that do work nicely but require more space. Both eagles are perched at the end of the truck bed, a partition keeping them away from each other, but leaving little room for anything else. At home I had started to perch the two boys longer and longer on the new perch and all seemed well. I even took them on short trips to see if any problems might come up, but all went well. And I am pleased to say that after 3,000 plus miles both eagles rode well and no feathers were bent which is the true test of a perch.
We started our hawking journey by flying at a ranch in Strafford, Oklahoma and flew in a field below the main ranch house which Cordi could not stop taking pictures of, it was beautiful, overlooking an area which is dotted with soak weed, or yucca, which is a mean looking plant. As we went into the field I was just a little apprehensive, not wanting JH or MM to get stabbed by the sharp points these plants are armed with. My apprehensiveness vanished immediately though as two steps into the field 3 jacks flushed. I unhooded JH and moved out into the field with jacks flushing everywhere. JH rolled one and then just barely missed another. I got him back on the glove, worked my way near a yucca bush and out popped a jack which JH promptly flew down in front of the farmers and a bunch of other folks. So, only 3-4 minutes in the field and JH had one! I then took out Mini-Me who flew strong and hard with 12 or more downhill slips that were something to see; MM powering down the grassy hillside, 500 or more yards out, only to just miss the jack
We left Strafford and headed up to Kansas and Garden City for the GOE meet. Wind is the big thing in Garden City and on a couple of days it did not disappoint us with sustained winds at 18mph and gusts to 30mph all day. The jacks were definitely down in numbers from pervious years but slips were still had by all and our boys had plenty of jacks to fly at. The sight of a large black tail running out across the open hay field is worth the drive alone, but to see both of my eagles in hot pursuit made it all worth it.
JH was showing signs that he would be his old self and started catching jacks all over the place. Mini-Me was a different story. He was having some difficulty adjusting to life on the road. Prolonged hood time was bugging him despite the fact that I had prepared both eagles for this by having them sleep in the hood weeks before we left. And as the time drew closer to leaving I had had them spend more and more time wearing their hoods during the day as well so they would be settled in with that routine. The hood time was one factor and the other was not having any real hunting experience. MM, in the early days, was showing impatience while in the field, not sitting on the fist, with lots of bates. But he never once failed to take a slip and as the days went on he started to realize what we were trying to do, which was hunt. He began to sit nicely on the fist and was intently searching for jacks, and as his condition built up he began to show surprising quickness and speed .He did, however, invent new ways to not catch the jacks not from lack of effort but just due to great moves from the jacks and his inexperience. MM had jacks dart left, right, jump up over him, one jack ran straight at MM and right through him. He hit fences and wires just as he was about to snag one. These flights were very typical of what was happening to MM.
At the NAFA meet in Amarillo, Texas we heard about a field down in Lubbock about two hours drive south from Amarillo that people were saying was loaded with jacks. Some falconers that had flown there said that the ground was alive with jack rabbits. There was some controversy swirling around this field, mainly due to the fact that tons of falconers wanted to go there, however, we were lucky enough to get permission and so we headed to Lubbock, Texas. The field was 100 acres, slowly being surrounded by new housing, and the jacks were holding up in this field. Yes, there were hundreds of them and, yes, at times the ground was alive with black tail jack rabbits. But for hunting with eagles the biggest section was not good, lots of mosque bushes and in some areas a lot of dense tumbleweeds and cactus.
I flew MM first for no reason other than he was ready and he simply could not handle seeing all those jacks. With so many running in front of him he did not know which one to fly after and was becoming more and more frustrated, so I put him up to let him settle down. While hunting him I had noticed other fields on the outskirts of the main field that were more open and should have jacks in them. I took JH out to a field that was almost dirt, hardly any cover at all, which reminded me of the fields down in California. Well, my hunch was right because a jack popped up in front of us and JH was off and powered it down in front of all to see. I continued to hunt the rest of the field and after JH caught another jack it was time for MM to return. I had saved a large section of the open part for MM and headed right for it. Jacks were flushing along the way which MM flew well, but I was heading for a patch of tumbleweeds that I was sure held some jacks. When we all got there it looked great except for a single smooth wire running along some tee posts, maybe a hot wire long since out of use. Eagles, I have found, don’t care much about fences. They have little respect for them so I try and take the fence out of the flight equation by working the cover in a way that reduces the chances of an encounter with the fence. Well, so go the best laid plans a jack flushed in the general direction I hoped, away from the wire, but MM was on it so fast that the jack freaked out and turned back under the wire with MM right on it’s tail, and just at the precise moment that MM reached out to snag the jack he hit the wire! It just seemed, once again, that the odds were going against him but the one thing that can be counted on is that MM has a big heart and will not give up.
The last day of our trip was, in my mind, a noteworthy day. It started off with MM first up. Walking in milo stubble we worked the long rows with guests from, I think, four different countries in the field. I was trying to line up the rows in a way that would resemble our fields back home with Cordi pulling the lure behind the gator. So I arranged the line of people accordingly and we marched down the field. Sure enough, a jack flushed and ran straight down the row just like the lure back home. MM was off in a flash and just cranking after this jack, closing fast, and at the last second the jack threw itself to the left and MM missed wonderful flight though! After that MM was not quite on his game so I put him back in the truck to think about things for a while and pulled out JH.
We went to a section that had not been hunted yet, and as we walked in JH launched on a jack and flew it hard, narrowly missing it. I could tell by the way he returned that he was annoyed, I could feel the build up, JH was about to catch fire! We moved in a line with me, on occasion, walking across in front of the line working the places that looked promising. We had just re-formed the line when a jack flushed off on my left, running across the row of milo, heading for the open ground that had little, if no, cover. JH exploded off the fist and I knew that this jack was in serious trouble. The jack ran out across the milo, out into the open ground. With JH closing fast the jack realized that it had made a huge mistake, tried to turn back, and BAM, JH arrived with attitude! I stepped JH off and continued to hunt. I walked in front of the line going for some good looking cover when a jack flushed right in front of the line. JH came off the fist and had the jack in what, to me, was just a heartbeat.. Unbelievable how he can do that! Someone in the line just shook their head and said man, he makes that look too easy! I stepped him off the jack and continued to hunt. (Yes, I can be a game whore!) We started the line moving and another jack was up and running but JH just missed it. Back to the fist and moving again, we were making a turn and someone yelled ho!! JH was off the fist and closing on the jack which was running in a full burn, ears pinned, running straight away from us. The jack flushed at 20 feet and JH slammed it at 40 feet. Speed on speed, that’s what I love! Everyone got to see JH catch fire and see what a golden eagle is capable of
I went back to the truck and picked up MM who was just slightly annoyed at having been put up. I hoped he would be a little more focused and he was! I started out into the field and showed MM a chunk of rabbit meat, he went nuts. I call this priming the pump. I don’t think one should do it very often but it does get an eagle thinking about eating and does give you an insight as to how aggressive they’ll be in the field. I liked what I saw and moved off faster, looking for a slip. A jack flushed off to my right, about 20 yards out, and MM came off the fist with attitude. He flew strong and fast, coming in on the jack from behind and just nearly grabbing it! He flew back to the fist without hesitation and we continued to hunt. I turned to the left heading for an area that had not been hunted and I kept everyone in tight as I wanted the slip to be close. MM was flinching at any and all things that moved. I loved that he was totally into what he and I were doing. As the group of us worked our way down the field a jack popped up and ran fast, heading for the street and some fence lines. MM exploded off the fist and powered after the jack, closing fast. We have his flight on DVD and I just looked at it again as we’re in the process of compiling a new eagle hawking DVD, Eagle Road Trip. (Sorry for the shameless plug.) But anyway, MM closed on the jack and the instant before he got there the jack jumped up in the air and MM hooked the jack in the head as he went past very cool! So in total MM caught two jacks at his first falconry meet, the first ones in more than a year, and these black tails are no easy rabbits to catch, they are big and fast. So this was a great way to end the trip for MM and I could not be prouder of him. He is a cool eagle with a huge heart.
So for now all our eagles are shut down for the winter. The two females I’ll get into shape in the spring and release them, and the two boys I’ll start hawking in the late spring through the summer.
Take care.. Joe and Cordi