If you’re reading this, you have probably spent at least a good part of your life with a deep admiration for birds of prey. Consider yourself lucky, most people will go through life and never really notice them sitting on a power pole or soaring high above open plains looking for prey. In fact, the only real experience they will have with these birds is in a zoo or if they’re lucky, a childhood experience when a falconer or fish and wildlife officer visits their school for a conservation demonstration.
Falconry can be reduced into two primary passions. Birds of prey and hunting. So if you have a passion for these two things, you’re well on your way to becoming a falconer.
So what is the process?
- First and foremost, ask yourself, “Am I a hunter?” if your answer is no, there’s no need to continue. Falconry is a hunting sport and it is required by law that you hunt with a falconry bird.
- Join the AFA and Alaska Falconers Facebook page. Ask questions.
- Download and read the Alaska Falconry Manual (No. 10 is the most current).
- Contact your region’s falconry representative at ADF&G (listed in the manual).
- Hunt with a falconer.
- Study Bird health and biology.
- Common illnesses and how to treat them.
- General Husbandry
- Take your Exam
- Find a sponsor. Read the Find a Sponsor article on this site.
- Gather the required equipment – Anklets, Jesses, Swivels, Leashed, Perches, etc
- Build Mews (housing)
- Trapping Ops (August to mid-October) red-tail hawks migrate
The process may seem a little overwhelming at first but if planned out and you commit yourself, it will move along faster them you think.
Download and read the Alaska Falconry Manual
The first thing you need to do is get a copy of the Alaska Falconry Manual from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. (You can get it here) Carefully read through the manual as it contains a lot of information on the laws, required equipment, and the permitting process. There are also recommendations for reading materials and study guides. Two of which are the California Hawking Club’s “Apprenticeship Manual” and “study guide” (you can purchase them here). Although not the only sources these are the go-to study guides most recommended by sponsors in preparing for your exam.
Contact your region’s falconry representative at ADF&G
Your regional rep can answer any question about the manual as well as give you information on the scheduling of your exam. In addition, they can help get you in contact with permitted falconers in your area if needed.
Hunt with a falconer
You should connect with a falconer in your area and ask to accompany them on a hunt. This step is critical because it is where you will find out if falconry is truly for you and if your cut-out for the sport. Several things are gonna happen during this hunt that will challenge you physically and emotionally.
Hunting with a bird of prey can be physically demanding, you don’t just put the bird up in a tree and wait, you will walk through, at times, some of the thickest willows and alders, and knee-deep snow to flush prey. If you have a good hunting dog this can help but you’re still following the bird and assisting when they drop down on prey.
The emotional effects for some can’t be overcome. Birds of prey hunt for food and food means survival. Falconry birds are no different, they have a strong survival instinct and they show no mercy towards their prey. This can appear quite violent to someone who has never experienced it, which is most. So be prepared and understand this is a natural process for these birds.
Another thing to consider is what you’ll want to hunt and how far you’ll have to travel to get to hunting areas with plenty of game. As an apprentice, you will most likely be required by your sponsor to trap and “man” a Harlen’s Red-Tailed hawk. A Harlen’s primarily hunt hares so ask around for the best places close to you to hunt them.
Note: “Manning” is the process of convincing the bird you won’t hurt them, and to return to you. This is done through weight control which we will cover in another article. Though this process is sometimes referred to as training, these birds are much like a good hunting dog and don’t need you to train them to hunt, they are, by nature, very efficient at what they do.
Your next step is to take the exam.
While it may not seem like it when preparing or taking the exam, it’s probably the easiest part of the process. If you’ve studied and prepared you’ll do fine.
You must pass the exam with an 80% or higher score or you’ll have to wait 30 days to take it again. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, but here in Alaska, these birds migrate. So try and plan to take your exam as early in the year as possible or you could find yourself waiting six months to a year to trap a bird.
Finding a Sponsor.
This is covered in more detail in our “Find a Sponsor” article. But in a nutshell, you will need to find a falconer that is a master falconer or has been a general falconer for more than two years that is willing to sponsor you. This is a difficult process but can be mitigated by involving yourself with this and other groups and functions such as meets. Get to know the local falconers and understand this is a big commitment for some to agree to be responsible for you and your bird for at least the next two years.
The next phases, equipment, mews, and trapping should be done after you have a sponsor. Their advice can save you a lot of money fixing mistakes and each sponsor may require you to do things a little differently.
Hope this helps explain the process a little better, please join AFA today and get access to more article and our member directory.
Good luck, Falconry is the most exciting journey you’ll ever take.