The Hippo


Jul 5, 2020








Inside the Sport of Kings: Hunting with Raptors 

A falconry discussion led by Jim and Nancy Cowan
When: Thursday, April 9
Where: N.H. Fish and Game, 11 Hazen Drive, Concord, NH 03301
Cost: Free
Contact: Mark Beauchesne, 271-6355, or Jane Vachon, 271-3211

Predatory instinct
How to become a falconer

By Ryan Lessard

A hunter who really wants to tap into the predator’s instinct while hunting may want to put himself in the headspace of a hawk or falcon and send the bird off to kill his quarry.

Few skills are as ancient as falconry, which Nancy Cowan defines as “hunting with a trained bird of prey.” Cowan is a master falconer and runs the New Hampshire School of Falconry in Deering with her husband and fellow falconer Jim. 
Cowan cautions that learning falconry is a huge commitment. 
“It's meant to be not easy to be a falconer because once you are a falconer, you have care of a North American species bird that everybody in the United States has an equal concern about,” Cowan said.
Despite what the name may imply, the falconry school is not the institution through which one becomes a falconer. It simply offers people a chance to deal with the birds of prey and to learn about them, Cowan said.
First things first
The first step to becoming a falconer, Cowan said, is to take the state's hunter education course and become a licensed hunter, which means you need to be at least 16. Then, you must find a current falconer to sponsor you and mentor you through your apprenticeship. 
Jason Menard of Pembroke began his falconry apprenticeship under the guidance of Cowan in November. 
“I used to be an avid hunter, and after I got out of the [Marine Corps], hunting with a rifle didn't have its luster anymore,” Menard said.
As an apprentice falconer, you are allowed to own one bird, typically either a small kestrel or a juvenile red-tailed hawk. Menard has a red-tailed hawk. Before getting the bird, he had to build a mew, which Menard describes as almost like a federally regulated walk-in chicken coop. 
“Mine has a pitch roof, a sloped concrete floor and a two-door system,” Menard said.
The art of falconry comes with its own vocabulary and equipment. Leather gloves for birds to perch upon and lures to summon them are among the most important items. You'll also need a creance, which is a sort of light leash that connects to a leather anklet on the bird's talon called a jess. And you’ll need a scale to gauge the bird's avidity, or its appetite. 
How it works
Cowan says Menard will need to work often on training his bird with repetition and consistency. Getting your hawk or falcon trained to return when lured is accomplished by taking advantage of its predatory instinct. The bird will gradually feel safe around its owner and through a reward system it will learn to expect an easy meal when it returns to a lure. 
“It's a very strong instinct in all predators. It doesn't matter whether it's a lion or whether it's a tiger or a wolf or a hawk or a falcon. They're going to be drawn to take the easy opportunity,” Cowan said. 
After the apprenticeship
After two years as apprentice, you take a test to become a general falconer, which means you can handle more birds and a wider variety, and can also sponsor an apprentice. After five years as a general falconer, you qualify to become a master falconer, which can possess one endangered raptor.
Lt. Heidi Murphy with New Hampshire Fish and Game said the state currently has 19 licensed falconers. Of those, five are apprentices, six are general falconers and eight are master falconers. 
As seen in the April 2, 2015 issue of the Hippo.

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