Avian Ally

Every time we step outside, there is an opportunity to see something that we have never seen before. Sometimes you have to look to find it, but in my 25 years of outdoor obsession I have rarely been disappointed. On this particular day, I stood next to Meagan Duffee, a falconer from Nevada, Mo., and watched a red-tailed hawk loosen his powerful talons from her leather gauntlet-covered arm and fly to a nearby limb. I knew I was in for something special.

Falconry is the art of training raptors to capture wild game, and it can be traced back to 700 BC. Yet it remains one the most mysterious, and often misunderstood, forms of hunting. Technically, falconry and hawking are two separate activities based upon the type of bird flown, but both are more commonly referred to as falconry. I find myself all too often immersed in a society that seems to prefer to keep the outside out and the inside in, so when I was invited to get up close and personal with raptors and tag along on a hunt with Duffee and Tom Schultz, president of the Missouri Falconers Association, I “flew” at the chance.

The Hunt

We started the day working Duffee’s female red-tailed hawk, Autumn, along the tree line next to a local prairie in search of rabbits. Duffee and Schultz kicked brush piles as Autumn kept a close eye on them and followed along, flying limb to limb. “It’s a partnership,” said Duffee. “She trusts me and knows that if she hangs around me long enough, I can kick game up for her.” We didn’t turn up any game on this pass, but Duffee and Autumn both had that “we’ll get them next time” look in their eyes as the hawk returned to Duffee’s outstretched arm.

Then Schultz, an O’Fallon resident and falconer for 39 years, brought out his peregrine falcon, a species that only hunts other birds. If there were any quail hiding on the prairie, we were determined to find them. Unlike the limbhopping method of the hawk, the falcon circles overhead waiting for the game to flush and then stoops (folds its wings and dives at its prey).

“The falcons that I fly will circle at about 800-1,000 feet,” said Schultz. “If we are by a pond, the bird will circle and pin any ducks on the pond until I can get over there and flush them for