More than 40 years ago, a young Wisconsin boy was reading the book “A Sporting Chance” by Dan Mannix, thus igniting a passion for falconry and shaping a life long journey.
A few years later found myself working in the Aleutian Islands as a bio-tech with the USFWS watching wild peales peregrines hunt seabirds and shorebirds lending an ambitious spring to my falconry step. My first Wisconsin redtail, Mistress, was exciting, as we caught cottontails, gray and fox squirrels. In our third year together, work took me to Oregon and the scarcity of cottontails in the eastern Oregon desert necessitated the need to hunt jack-rabbits… and with a bit of effort to catch the first one, we soon took winter jackrabbits, both black tails and whitetails by the scores.
Before getting my first redtail, my perusal of the falconry literature-inspired my belief that I WANTED A GOSHAWK.
I was in the middle of working on a goshawk research project for Oregon State University banding and color marking nesting pairs and their families and had a bunch of nests to choose from but was unable to get a permit to take a gos for falconry. This still left me itching for a gos.
However, later that year in Nebraska at the NAFA meet, I was out with Danny Ertsgaard to see my first gyr/hybrid flight on a flock of prairie chickens. Gyro put in 3 blistering, hard smacking, ground thudding stoops and still the chicken escaped. That was when I first got BIT HARD by the falconry bug. That demonstration redefined my falconry goals and goshawks were long forgotten. Gyrs and gyr hybrids would become my ambition. Soon thereafter, reading the book “A Rage for Falcons” by Stephen Bodio dumped a whole bunch of gas on my falconry fire.
With hard-earned money, I bought my first gyr hybrid from Dan Thee and set out for Montana. Shag and I struggled a bit our first year to get a pitch over 300’ and 20 ducks and a few pheasants in the Bitterroot.
But the second year, we ignored the ducks and pheasants and forsook the mountains and went to the prairies for grouse. Both pitch and intensity increased, and for about 7 years, when I was a single young man, we hawked grouse and chickens hard, taking 60-80 head of prairie grouse per year, with a truckload of dogs and gyrs and gyr/hybrids, and a peales peregrine. We moved like the ebbing tide from Montana to Oklahoma and back. November, December, and January sage hens in Montana is my favorite… something about the habitat. However, late fall cock sharptails on the rocky mountain front brought out the best of the falcons. Montana’s economy forced me back to Alaska.
Alaska required sterilization of hybrids, so when I transferred my residency full time status to Alaska, sadly my favorite hybrid Shag stayed behind in Montana. In Alaska, I quickly took a female white gyr and set out to ptarmigan hawking. Female gyrs are not conducive to catching ptarmigan in grand style, which might be why mostly female gyrs are seen on the southern wintering grounds. An Arctic Hare (now called Alaskan Hare) twice the size of a large jackrabbit was a noteworthy accident with my first Alaskan female gyr.
I heard about the sharp-tailed grouse in the interior and moved. However, all open country grouse in Alaska behave a bit differently under a gyr than the Montana grouse do. Catching sharptails in numbers with a gyrkin was not so easy with their migratory movements. I worked on a grouse telemetry habitat study to round out my understanding of local grouse seasonal movements.
Ducks, geese, and an occasional crane mixed in with grouse and the dratted pitch killing feral pheasants keep me busy.
As my children get older, I am planning to transition back to my old migratory falconer ways and once again ply the southern prairies for prairie grouse with a truckload of setters, gyrs & gyr hybrids thru the autumn and mid-winter seasons.
– Kurt Schmidt