Falconry is a funny thing. Today I am filing the paperwork to release the best bird I have ever had. I have not trained many red tails, only 3 of them. The first one was a typical beginners bird, well maned and mannered (her first year anyway), very responsive to the glove and lure, but never seemed to put it together on game. We killed a share of squirrels, but not what we should have. This was my fault, the combination of flying to high and to much recall while hunting shifted her focus to me rather than game. She was released in the fall of her second year. She had grabbed my face one week before my wedding. We left the scabs in the wedding photos. My second bird was released after a couple of weeks without hunting due to time constraints. Along comes my third bird, and what a beauty. She trained well and killed the first wild squirrel she saw. Through no skill of my own I stumbled onto her correct flight weight and got to see what a fit and motivated red tail is capable of. I poured my heart and soul into that bird and she repaid it tenfold. It was incredible. After a brief introductory period where she was learning what my role in the field was she would reliably kill ever time I brought her out. I hunted her for 2 very successful seasons. We had our ups and downs but over all she was a bird I would proudly fly with any falconer you cared to name. She taught me what a bird in the proper condition should look like. There is a fire in them that words cannot express, it must be seen to be understood.
So I let her go.
Not only did I let her go I don't plan on getting another red tail, this season anyway. I am looking to get a merlin. A bird as different as possible from a red tail. Different husbandry, different flight style, different quarry, different hunting fields. The easy answer is I have plenty of starlings in large turf fields, what I hope will be a passable if not perfect place to fly a merlin. I could say I have always wanted to fly small birds, both small hawks and small feathered quarry and that would be true.
Sometimes I wonder though.
As soon as I realized I could count on her catching I wanted to go out less and less. It wasn't as exciting. I am not saying I didn't need to work, some times it was a LOT of work to get the squirrel. And I still enjoyed it very much, but it was almost a foregone conclusion though that we would eventually succeed. Why bother to try when there is no doubt of your success? What does that success mean if it was reasonably predictable? I am beginning to fear that it is a “proof of concept” that I am seeking. I want to prove to myself that I can do something, and it is the proof I am seeking, not the thing itself. I hope this is not the case as I love falconry as I have never loved another hobby. I want to master it and enjoy the success of it. I want to hunt challenging quarry with a bird in the peak of physical condition. Through my hawks I want to learn everything I can about my environment and the animals in it. And that requires much more than proof that I can do it.