Training Your First Longwing


Training Your First Longwing

Article by

Steve Jones

Dayton, WY

Photography by

Steve Duecker

Waverly, NE

So you think you want to try your hand at a large falcon. You have flown a few other birds, and you're ready to try one of those pointy wing types. If the thought of watching a falcon you trained come out of the clouds and slam dunk a duck or gamebird makes you squirm with excitement, you're on the right track. There is a common notion that you should have years of experience with other birds before even attempting a longwing. Hogwash! They're not really any harder to train than a redtail, and in many ways easier than your average accipiter. They are, however, different. I hope this article will give you a basic understanding of how to proceed and make life easier for you and your new bird. One word of caution. It is common knowledge that flying longwings causes hair loss in adult males. I'm a classic example.

Before you start you will need to ask yourself a few questions:

1. Do you have adequate time in your daily schedule? It's by far best to fly longwings every day, weather permitting. If you can't fly it at least four times a week through the entire season, wait a season or two to start, when you have more free time.

2. Can you afford it? While you don't need to be a millionare, there will be some expenses. You will need telemetry. To attempt to fly a falcon in this day and age without it is crazy. You will need new hoods. Remember order them way in advance. And there is the bird itself. The vast majority of you will be buying your first longwing. You will also need a dependable vehicle, preferably four wheel drive, and plenty of gas money. In most parts of the country, you will have to cover a fair piece of ground every day to get good slips.

3. Can a large falcon be flown successfully where you live? If there are others flying them in your area and they take game regularly, the question is moot. If there are no others flying longwings in your area, you need to make a decision. The biggest question is do you have suitable quarry, in hawkable numbers and in hawkable areas. With no experience flying longwings this can be a tough question, but not impossible. The first thing that probably comes to mind is ducks, and they should; they're excellent quarry, especially for your first longwing. A little scouting should tell you if you have enough of them around. When scouting take a look at the setups. The best ponds to start on are small (quarter acre or less). There also needs to be a way you can get right up next to the pond without the ducks seeing you so you can time the flush precisely. Some open area around the pond is also necessary. A duck knocked down into brush will frequently escape. Also, if there are trees or power lines close by, a young falcon will be very tempted to land. Ponds lacking these qualities can be hunted, but wait until your bird has some experience before trying.

While it's not too difficult for the novice to tell if duck slips are doable, upland game can be tricky. The main thing you need is to be able to find quarry far enough from substantial cover. Pheasants and quail are probably the most difficult to find in suitable setups. They're rarely far from heavy cover. If you plan to hawk either of these, try very hard to get an experienced longwinger to take a look at the setups you will be flying. Also, if you're going to hunt upland game, you will need a dog. Get the dog at least a year before you get the bird. To attempt to train your first longwing and a dog in the same season is insane. The vast majority of you will start with ducks, and that's great. That's the best place to start.

 

Getting Started

Well, if you're still with me and think you have the time, money, and game for it, there is one more very important thing to do. Get a pigeon loft set up. It is far best to do this at least a year in advance. Don't use common pigeons; obtain some decent homers, and get them breeding and homing to your loft. Take good care of your pigeons. Clean their coop regularly. Keep them healthy and medicate them when necessary. Feed them quality food, but don't overfeed. There shouldn't be food left over in the feeder after they're done. There are many good books on homing pigeons out there that can help. You may also want to line up a source for bagged game. This isn't very important if you plan to hunt upland game only, but many falcons are tough to get going on ducks without a baggie or two. Call ducks and wood ducks are good choices for domestically produced baggies. You may not need any, but if your bird doesn't take a natural liking to ducks, a couple of baggies go a long way.

Tiercel peregrine on a scaup duck.

Choice Of Bird

The next decision is what type of falcon to get. Obviously, it depends on the quarry you have available. If you have ducks (a good portion of them smaller ducks), huns, or quail your first choice should be a tiercel parent-raised peregrine. Second choice a tiercel parent-raised prairie. If you have ducks (most of which are big), pheasants, or grouse go with the female parent-raised peregrine, or as second choice the female parent-raised prairie. In the quarry listed above, I have intentionally omitted dove and snipe for a reason. They're very challenging quarry, and if they're all you've got, you and your bird will probably become very frustrated from your lack of success. Go for them after you have some experience with easier quarry. Grouse can also be very challenging. Early season sage grouse are not too tough and would be a nice way to start if you've got them. Sharptail and prairie chickens on the other hand are tough any time. Fortunately most everywhere you find them, there are also ducks that can be started on.

If you're lucky enough to have quarry available for either a tiercel or female, go with the tiercel. They're easier to get to go up, and they cost less too. In any case, for your first longwing stay away from imprints, passage birds, and anything with gyr in it. Imprints can be great birds, but they will play a lot of mind games with you. They will fly off because they want to get away from "mom." They will hover over your head waiting for "mom" to give them something. They're usually flown at a higher weight to prevent bad manners, making it difficult to get them serious. Currently, the only passage falcon available for most is the prairie. Some train easily enough, but many will really speed up the hair loss process. Passage prairies are better left to those with a bit of longwing experience. There aren't many that will disagree that a gyr is not a good choice for your first longwing, but what about gyr hybrids? Well in the US, currently all hybrids must be imprinted. This is a big strike against them for the novice. They also have some of the traits that make pure gyrs a bad choice. A weaker immune system is one, but an even bigger one is their tenacity. They love to chase stuff out of sight and catch it miles away (again the hair loss thing). Tiercel gyr x peregrines are usually easy to get to go up, but they don't need to go up to catch game. You have to keep up the illusion that the only way to catch anything is to go up. Not something a novice should have to worry about. By far my best recommendation is if you have appropriate quarry, start with a parent-raised tiercel peregrine.

 

Getting The Bird

Wait until your bird is at least 50 days old before picking it up from the breeder. If you're getting a prairie from an eyrie, get it as old as possible. What ever you do, don't take it before 25 days old. Remember avoid an imprint for your first longwing. Manning a falcon that has been left with its parents until it's at least 50 days old will be very similar to manning a passage redtail. Have several hoods in the size range of the bird you are getting before picking up your bird. You will need a hood that fits well when you pick it up from the breeder. Keep your new bird hooded when it's not on the fist for the first few days. It will become quite used to wearing the hood during this time. You will be taking the hood off and putting it on enough during the manning process that additional hood training is usually not necessary. Make sure and have your dog present during training. Even if you plan to only hunt waterfowl, you will still want your bird to get used to a dog. There will be a time when you will want to try upland game, at a meet perhaps, and your bird will need to tolerate a dog. Once your bird tames down some, you can try putting it on a screen or pole perch unhooded for brief periods. Don't leave it unsupervised during this time, it may need help regaining the perch. Give it a chance to regain the perch on it's own before intervening. Most figure it out fairly quick. Don't put it on a block or other perch that gives it a leash length until it will step to your fist without bating first. It will step to your fist sooner off a screen or pole perch than a block. Keeping it in the house is a great idea, and since the mutes go straight down the mess is minimal. This will speed up the manning process considerably, especially if you have a couple of noisy kids like I do. All in all manning is pretty straight forward and simple.

 

Lure Training

Calling it to the fist is not very important. You can even skip it, and go straight to the lure. Use a lure that is light weight and has a pair of dried wings tied to each side. The wings can be dispensed with later if you like, but in the beginning they will make the lure more attractive to your bird. They will also get the bird used to stepping off of something with feathers. This will make it easier to pick it up off kills later. You don't need to tie a big chunk of meat to the lure, a tidbit the size of the end of your finger will do. Start by putting your hooded bird on the floor inside the house. Put the lure, garnished with the tidbit, on the floor about a foot away from it, then pop the hood off. If it bates away, it's not ready for this yet. If it looks interested but doesn't move, wiggle the lure a bit and make sure it sees the tidbit. If you're lucky it will walk over and eat the tidbit. As soon as it swallows, carefully put your garnished fist in front of it. It will usually start eating and can easily be persuaded to step up to your glove to finish eating. A lot of repetitions are not necessary. In fact, calling it to the lure only once per session is not a bad way to go. The next step is having it chase the lure across the floor on foot. Soon it will be flying across the room and binding to the lure fiercely. At this point, or very likely before, you can stop putting the tidbit on the lure. If you offer the garnished fist as soon as it's on the lure, it will continue to come with relish. Before you know it, your bird will be coming 100 feet on the creance outside. When calling it to the lure outside don't put it on a fence post, your truck, or anything you don't want it sitting on later. The best thing I've found is to call it from another persons fist, or lacking that, the ground. At this point, it's also a good idea to call it a few times to a lure illuminated by a flashlight after dark. Your local horned owls will not appreciate you doing this because it will very likely deprive them of a meal sometime down the road. Note: it's a good idea to put a transmitter on your bird whenever flying it on the creance. Even the best equipment can fail in some freak accident, and a bird flying off with fifty foot of creance attached is doomed.

 

Feeding On The Fist

I would like to make a few comments here about feeding birds on the fist. Put the food you are going to feed the bird in your fist before the bird is on the fist, and don't add or take away from it while they're feeding. I see so many people doing this. The bird is eating and they decide to feed it less, so they rip part of it off and remove it. Or it's picking at a bone and most of the meat is gone so they slide it out the bottom of the glove. Never take anything away from the fist. No matter how stealthful you are the bird will catch you doing it and think you are stealing from it, and you are. Have the food preweighed and ready before you go out. If they are picking at a bone, let them pick. When all the meat is gone, let go of the bone and see if they will drop it. If they put it back under their foot and continue picking, let them. Let the bird decide when it is done. If this takes too long, next time crunch up the bones or remove them, again before you leave the house. Adding food to the fist while they eat is just as bad. They will think you always have more and will try to think of a way to get you to give it to them. If you feel you really need to feed them more or less than you had planned, based on their performance in the field, adjust the amount before they are on the fist. Either before you call them down, or while they are on the lure before you pick them up. You will need to do it with your back turned so they can't see it. By far the best choice is to be prepared and have the right amount ready before you leave home.

 

Off The Creance

Many birds will be ready for their first free flight even before they can be left unhooded all day. Judge whether it's ready by its performance on the creance, not by how tame it is at home on the block. If it comes instantly, not after five seconds, but instantly 100 feet it's ready. Keep the first free flight simple. Call it to the lure, just like when it was on the creance. Some birds will overfly the lure the first time off the creance because of the lessened drag. If it does, don't worry; if its weight is right, it will turn and come back. Also, now that your bird is flying free, do it a favor and remove the jesses. It's very easy to replace them while it's feeding on the fist. It will get harassed by other raptors less and have better footing if you do. You won't need them while it's flying so why leave them in.

 

Introducing Pigeons

Now that your bird is flying free, it's time to introduce it to pigeons. Go out to a big open field. Preferably the same field you did the creance work in. The closest thing for your bird to land on, other than the ground, should be at least a quarter mile away, this includes your truck. Smaller fields can work but it's tough; the temptation to land will be greater. Put your bird on an assistant's fist or the ground like you have been doing when calling it to the lure, but instead toss out a young or handicapped pigeon. Your bird will very clumsily kill it on the ground. This is what you want. Make in right away and help them with it if necessary. When your bird settles down and starts to pluck the pigeon, it's time to offer the garnished fist. Do it the same way you have been picking it up off the lure. It may keep hold of the pigeon with one foot when it steps up, but will usually drop it shortly. If it doesn't, very gently unhook its talons from the pigeon with your free hand. Your bird should be eating the food on your fist the whole time and not take offense.

The next day flash a pigeon (hold it up and let it flap its wings) to get your bird coming and then hide it. As soon as your bird goes past you, toss it. Use a pigeon that will fly, but not too well. If your bird lands at your feet when you hide the pigeon instead of flying past you, walk away. If your bird doesn't follow you, may have to flash the pigeon again. It will eventually fly past you, and you can toss the pigeon. If your bird catches it, that's fine. If not, that's fine too. If it doesn't catch it, call it in to the lure, pick it up, feed it its daily ration, and call it a day. If it does catch it, pick it up and feed it its daily ration just like you did the day before.

The next day you may want to try letting your bird take off from your fist. Simply unhood it and hold it up. Don't forget to remove the jesses. It may just sit there. If it does, give it several minutes. If it still doesn't fly, toss out a pigeon that will fly well. It should chase it off and come back for more. If for some reason it doesn't, which is rare, toss another pigeon into the grass in front of you. The second your bird goes for it flush it, and the chase will be on. When your bird comes back, if it acts tired toss out an easy pigeon or the lure. If it's jazzed up and wants to fly some more, toss another strong one. Don't be afraid to push your bird a bit, but don't over do it or it will land. If it does land, don't pull out a pigeon or the lure. Pull out a book, sit down, and wait. It will fly eventually, then you go into action. You want it to think that nothing ever happens when it's sitting. If you're really pressed for time and must get going, there are several things you can do. You can walk over, pick your bird up, and give little or no food until later at home. You can try walking away and see if it will follow. You can even flash a pigeon, but don't toss it until your bird is on the wing. Waiting it out is still the best choice.

 

Tame Hack?

At this point, you may be asking "When do we start the tame hack?" Well you don't. Tame hacking works very well for some people, but it doesn't make much sense to me. The way I see it with tame hacking, you take your bird out every day for several weeks and let it do pretty much whatever it likes. You then change the rules and expect it not to land or dink around but to mount. Why let your bird do things now that you don't want it doing later? It will develop its flying and footing abilities quick enough chasing game.

 

Waiting-On

Very soon your bird will leave the fist on it's own without having to toss a pigeon to get it going. Avoid rolling your bird off the glove. Many birds will land if forced to fly. They simply are not ready. Most birds, if at proper weight will mute, rouse, and leave the fist in less than a minute. If you are going to be duck hawking, getting your bird on the wing quickly is not important. Most birds that are slow to leave the fist, get quicker the more they get in the grove. Each day try to keep your bird in the air longer. Also start waiting longer before tossing a pigeon, but be careful. The only place you want it to land is on the lure or a kill. Landing is a habit that is much easier to prevent than cure. This is where being able to "read" your bird is essential. One hint if its beak is hanging open, it's tired and will be looking for a place to land. It doesn't need to kill a lot of pigeons, as long as it continues to chase them hard. Too many easy pigeons will slow things up. Your bird should start circling you, waiting for you to toss a pigeon. Congratulations your bird is waiting-on.

Now you need pitch. If you're lucky, it will start going up on its own. The best time to toss a pigeon is when your bird is climbing and going away from you. The worst time is when it has set its wings and is looking down at you. I don't care if it's a thousand feet up, it's still the worst time. Don't try to make it ring up right over your head. If your bird goes out a quarter mile, turns and comes back, climbing the whole time that's great. Some birds will ring up to great heights right over your head, but most need to go out and get some air to really get up there. Don't stifle it by trying to keep it close; you need to loosen the reins and let it fly. Don't always toss pigeons when your bird is directly overhead. Mix things up a bit. If your bird is higher than it has ever been but is twice as wide as it is high toss a pigeon. The height is important. Position will come later. It's a well-known fact that a falcon that is upwind of a flush has an advantage. During training, when possible, reward your bird when it is upwind of you, but don't get too hung up on it, especially early on. Pitch is more important than position. When you worry too much about position, you will frequently cause your bird to focus too much on you. Consider good position a bonus, but not as important as pitch. At this point, you will have an idea of how much your bird is centering on you. If it's eating up the sky cruising around and not hovering over your head at fifty feet, you're on the right track.

On the other hand, if it never gets more than a hundred yards from you and watches your every move, you need to direct its attention away from you. Using a kite or balloon is one good way, but not the only. The first thing to try is just wait longer. The bird will eventually either go out, up, or land. If it lands do as I described under "Introducing Pigeons." If it goes out or up, toss a pigeon. At this point, remote pigeon launchers are a good idea.

You can try thermaling your bird. You simply take it out midday when thermal activity is high, and let it fly around until it starts up on a thermal. I'm not real fond of this method. It seems when a bird gets used to going up on thermals, it will always be flying around looking for one and reluctant to go up without one.

A neat trick that is frequently effective is to take a buddy with you. Both of you carry pigeons and stand a hundred yards apart. When your bird is hovering over your head, have your buddy toss a strong pigeon. Your bird will chase it off and probably come back and hover over your head again. Keep having your assistant toss pigeons until your bird goes over and hovers over his head. Then you toss one. Many birds figure that the only way to cover both of you is to go higher. Each day you get farther and farther apart, and the bird will have to go higher and higher.

Another thing you can try is sealed pigeons. After you unhood your bird and before it leaves the fist, toss a sealed pigeon. Your bird should catch it within twenty yards. Pick it up, feed it its daily ration, and go home. The next day toss the pigeon before unhooding your bird. Immediately unhood it and let it catch the pigeon. Continue doing this every day, but let the pigeon get higher each time. Take several pigeons with you because some will just flutter to the ground. Since your bird is still hooded, you can just pick it up and try another. I've had sealed pigeons go as high as eight hundred feet. Sealing with needle and thread just like you would a hawk seems to provide the best results. The stronger the pigeon is the higher it's likely to go. You can also leave the seal a little loose so it can just see a little bit out the front. This frequently makes them go up better. Sometimes shouting as soon as you toss the pigeon will make it fly better. If things go right, after just a few days your bird will be going up to three hundred feet or more to grab a sealed pigeon. You can push this as far as you want if you can get the pigeons to continue going higher. When you have maxed out, this can be after as few as three or four sessions, toss an unsealed strong pigeon instead of a sealed one. When it's up a ways unhood your bird just as you have been doing with sealed ones. Your bird will rocket into the sky expecting to catch it. As soon as your bird gives up, even if it's quite wide, toss an easy pigeon or some other baggie that is sure to be caught. Peregrines and prairies will usually give up fairly quickly. Make sure the pigeon you use to take it up is very strong, it needs to get away. If your bird keeps pressing the strong pigeon and doesn't seem to want to give up, holler and toss the easy pigeon. Hopefully it will break off. If not, don't worry too much. Give it more time. Even if they go out of sight in the distance, if your pigeon is strong enough it will get away. Your bird should then come back, especially if you have been using the same field every day. You can continue using a strong pigeon to take your bird up until it gets in the habit of going up on its own. I've even used a pigeon to get a bird to go up over a duck pond. When using sealed pigeons be discreet, some people may not understand, and you don't want them to think poorly of falconers.

 

Stooping The Lure

If you're lucky and your bird goes up quite naturally and looks to the sky not your bag, you can really move things along with a little help from your lure. After a good pigeon session when you are going to call your bird in to the lure anyway, make it stoop it. Stooping a young bird to the lure greatly improves its footing and stamina. The improved footing will translate into more game being taken, and the increased stamina will translate into higher pitch. I know you've heard that stooping a bird to the lure will lower its pitch, it can with some birds. If your bird was one of those that kept hovering over your head and you had to work to direct its attention away from you, the last thing you want to do is stoop it to the lure. Also, if you go out and just stoop it to the lure without first having it go up and fly pigeons or game, you can confuse it. If your bird was not terribly centered on you and you are calling it in anyway, stooping will do it a wonder of good. I have done this with most of my birds and not just when they are babies. After any unsuccessful flight, especially if it was brief, I will stoop their socks off. I used to drop the lure on the ground if they touched it, as is suggested in many books, but don't any more. Game doesn't go down with just a touch. I wait until they connect hard. I frequently have no choice then, because it's usually taken right out of my hands. I also used to toss it up in the air when I was ready for them to have it. I don't do that any more either. When I did, they just made slow passes until I tossed it up. They knew if I was swinging level they weren't going to catch it. Now when I'm ready for them to have it I slow down my swing just enough that they can get it. Now they think they have a real chance to catch it on every pass. Very few falconers stoop their birds to the lure anymore, and they're really missing the boat. The amount it improves footing and condition is truly phenomenal.

 

Introducing Wild Game

When your bird is reliably going up to three hundred feet or more, and if the season is open, you can try it on game. The transition from tossing pigeons to hawking wild game is usually fairly simple with upland game. Get a good point in an area as far from cover as you can get. Be real picky about your first few slips. At this point, it would be better to do another pigeon session than flying a mediocre slip. I have never seen a hungry falcon refuse upland game the first time it sees it. They can get frustrated, however, if success doesn't come early. If you fly wild game for a week or two without that first kill and you think your bird is getting frustrated, it's time to give a baggie. Here it is very important to make your bird think it's the real thing. Use a launcher, get a point, and do it in a field that you have been hawking in.

If you're going after ducks, entering can sometimes be a problem. Put your bird up over a nice small pond with a small group of easy ducks. Divers or gadwall are good, shoveler even better, but if all you have are mallards give it a shot anyway. Many birds will chase hard without ever having been bagged. If yours does, keep flying it on very easy slips until it kills. If it shows interest, but chases very little or half halfheartedly, some weight reduction will frequently do the trick. Weight reduction will sometimes even work on a bird that completely refuses them. If none of this works, obviously a bagged duck is in order. Again do your best to make it seem like the real thing. Some birds on the other extreme won't mount over ducks, but will attempt to take them right off the water. Most figure out pretty quick that the ducks will just keep diving and can't be caught that way, but sometimes you get a stubborn one. I had a prairie falcon that was being very slow to figure it out. I gave her a bagged duck near a small, unoccupied pond. She had mounted because there were no ducks on the pond to suck her down. Unfortunately, she knocked the bagged duck down into the shallow end of the pond where she then caught it. This reinforced her belief that ducks could in fact be taken in the water. I finally got her going by finding a pond with a good reed bed and a few teal on it. I put her up a few hundred yards from the pond so she wouldn't see the ducks right away. She mounted fine. I moved over to the pond. As expected the teal where hiding in the reeds and couldn't be seen. I flushed, and she killed one. She then went on to be a respectable duck hawk.

 

Wind And Flushing

At first, if at all possible, avoid flying in strong winds. Your bird will not yet be strong enough to handle it, and you will both be frustrated. Once it has been flying well for a couple of months, try it in a moderate wind. When it will fly well and go up in a moderate wind, try stronger wind. The key is to build up gradualy. Many times it will be in its second season before it will mount well in a strong wind. When flushing game, it's usually best to flush the quarry downwind, but there are numerous exceptions. With ducks, if there is other water close by, it's usually better to flush away from the other water, even if that's into the wind. Also, there are situations where flushing a certain direction will make the ducks more likely to clear land. It depends on the setup. With upland game, if possible, flush away from close cover. If there is no cover close by, you can try to work around the point for a downwind flush. If your bird is patient, wait until it's up before working around for the downwind flush. This way your bird will have a shot at any birds accidently bumped on your way around. The best way to learn how to approach flushing different setups is trial and error. The main thing is pay attention and use your head. If you are out with an experienced longwinger, take their advice. Learn from their mistakes; you won't live long enough to make them all yourself.

 

Cropping Up On Kills

There is no need to let your bird feed from its kills. If you let your bird crop up on its kills, it's best to always do so. If you let it crop up on the first few and then start picking it up, you are changing the rules in the middle of the game. Always do it the same way from the very first kill. If you crop them up, you will have to skip flying it for a day or two (or three if it's a fat duck). If you pick it up and feed it a full days ration on the fist, it will be satisfied and look forward to your arrival when it kills. If done from day one, it will never show any resentment of being taken off its kill. If it has started to eat before you arrive, it's sometimes easier to wait until it's done with the head and has started to pluck the breast before picking it up. This depends on the bird; many will be quite happy to step up as soon as you arrive even if there is bloody meat exposed on the kill. One word of warning, some birds that are used to being picked up right away may leave the kill and fly to your fist. This is not a problem as long as the quarry is dead. I once had a bird leave a duck that was still very much alive and fly to my fist. My bird got its meal, but I didn't get mine because the duck flew away. If the quarry is still alive when you get there, keep your fist behind your back as you approach. Once the quarry is subdued and your bird has settled down, then offer the fist. Even if you intend to do single kill hunts indefinitely, it's still best to pick your bird up off its kills, and feed it what you brought with you. This way you can fly your bird every day and keep a better handle on weight control.

 

Weight Control

There is a myth that a fat falcon will fly higher. This is just that, a myth. Weight control is very important with longwings. Just because your bird comes instantly to the lure doesn't mean it's necessarily at hunting weight. Falcons fly the highest and kill the most game when they're hungry. This sounds simple, but there are a lot of longwingers out there that don't see even a glimmer of their birds potential because they fly it fat. You obviously don't want it so low that it's weak. If you do accidently get it too low, raise its weight up slowly. As soon as its weight is up enough that it's flying strong again, you are probably close to the right weight. When your bird is eating, it should do so quickly. If it plucks a bit, looks around, eats a bite, and looks around again, it's probably too fat. If it eats with vigor, ignoring its surroundings for the most part, and eats every piece no mater how tiny, there is a good chance it's right on. Another indicator is when it's on a kill. If you frequently get motion blur when you try to take a picture of your bird on a kill because your bird keeps eating, its weight is probably good. If it holds still nicely for you to snap the shot, there is a good chance it's overweight. Yet another indicator of a fat bird is one that buzzes the lure a few times before landing on it. At the first sight of the lure, your bird should come instantly and bind to it even from a thousand feet up. Always weigh your bird's food and keep track of it in your log book. Don't just grab a half quail because that's how much you always feed it. A half quail can weigh from two to four ounces depending on the size of the quail and how evenly you split it. A two ounce half and a four ounce half don't look very different, but will make a big difference in your bird's weight. By weighing the food first, you take all the guess work out of it. You can also use the "fed weight system" if you prefer. The main thing is keep track of how much you're feeding, so you can keep a handle on weight control.

 

Multiple Flights

It is best to only fly your bird once a day, at least at first. Many birds will not go as high or fly as hard on their second flight. Some, once they are really in the routine and in good shape, will fly more that once just fine. Wait until your bird has been flying consistently well for at least a month before trying to fly it more than once in the same day. When you do, if it flies just as well on the second flight as the first feel free to try multiple flights regularly, but only if you're certain it's not hurting your birds performance. With a bird that will fly well twice a day multiple kills are possible; it's not usually multiple kills that can be touchy, but multiple flights. However, getting greedy will cause problems.

 

Hiding The Lure

While flying your bird, if you show it the lure, let it have it. You can stoop it first, but never hide it once you have shown it. Many falconers will use the lure to get a bird to come over when it's being reluctant. This is a bad practice. Do it just a couple of times and lure response goes in the toilet. Your bird should be able to trust you, never break that trust. If your bird is wide, wave your glove, flash a pigeon, do cartwheels, anything to get it to come over except show it the lure. If it simply will not come over and you have to produce the lure, let it have it and call it a day. Go home, figure out why it would not come over and correct the problem. It could be many things: overweight, it spotted some other game, you put it up over some bad slips the last few days, or a host of other things.

Immature female peregrine on a grouse.

More Pitch

Most game, especially ducks off small ponds, can be taken from a three hundred foot pitch. It is, however, more exciting and you will catch more game if your bird will go higher. You may say "my setups won't work if she's higher. They'll get into some other water or cover before she finishes her stoop." This may be the case, but it can't hurt to try. If higher doesn't work, your bird will adjust its pitch to suit the situation. In reality, there are very few situations where a pitch higher than three hundred feet is too high. Most birds, especially tiercels, will go higher if you give them a chance. They need to be in good physical condition to do so however. This is where stooping a bird to the lure can very well increase its pitch. A bird that's in awesome condition will rocket into the sky and be a thousand feet up before you're even ready to flush.

A few years back I was flying a tiercel peregrine at ducks on small ponds. I would put him up, and when he got to three hundred feet, I would flush. One day I was crouched behind a dam ready to flush and he drifted wide. I started waving my glove to try to get him to come over, and he wouldn't. As I sat there wondering what to do, he kept mounting. When he got to six hundred feet, he came over on his own. I flushed and he killed a duck. After the flight, I realized my bird had just taught me something. If I would just give him a chance, he would go higher. I then became more patient about flushing. After a few days, he realized I was going to let him go up, so he started mounting close again. His pitch kept going higher, and by his second year, he was usually just a speck in the sky.

It can be very difficult, especially with your first longwing, to not rush in and flush as soon as your bird has some height. Your adrenalin is soaring and you don't want to take the chance of something going wrong. I know the feeling, I still get it. Try to contain yourself and wait a bit. You may be surprised how high your bird goes. Also, just like when you are tossing pigeons, don't wait for it to set its wings. Always try to flush when your bird is actively climbing. Another important thing is don't flush when it's low. If your bird is usually going to six hundred feet and one day it only goes up to three hundred, don't say "oh well" and flush anyway. Flushing is a reward, even if it doesn't result in a kill, so don't reward undesirable behavior. This is another tough one to actually do. You may have searched for two hours to find a slip, and you'll be damned if you're going home without even flushing. I've been there too; it's tough to have that kind of discipline. You'll tell yourself "I'll flush, and they'll blow her doors off. That will teach her to go higher next time." Wrong. Your bird will still view the flush as a reward. A flush with a kill is a bigger reward, but one without is still a reward.

On the other hand, if this kind of discipline doesn't suit you, there is no shame in a bird that quickly mounts to three hundred feet and slays ducks left and right. If you're having fun, you're successful.


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