Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Aldo Leopold on Hawks and Shotgun Shells

From "A Man’s Leisure Time" in A Sand County Almanac:

The most glamorous hobby I know of today is the revival of falconry. It has a few addicts in America and perhaps a dozen in England – a minority indeed. For two and a half cents one can buy and shoot a cartridge that will kill the heron whose capture by hawking required months or years of laborious training of both the hawk and the hawker. The cartridge, as a lethal agent, is a perfect product of industrial chemistry. One can write a formula for its lethal reaction.

The hawk, as a lethal agent, is the perfect flower of that still utterly mysterious alchemy – evolution. No living man can, or possibly ever will, understand the instinct of predation that we share with our raptorial servant. No man-made machine can, or ever will, synthesize that perfect coordination of eye, muscle, and pinion as he stoops to his kill. The heron, if bagged, is inedible and hence useless (although the old falconers seem to have eaten him, just as a Boy Scout smokes and eats a flea-bitten summer cottontail that has fallen victim to his sling, club, or bow). Moreover the hawk, at the slightest error in technique of handling, may either ‘go tame’ like Homo sapiens or fly away into the blue. All in all, falconry is the perfect hobby.



Kitty Carroll said...

I love the quail poster. I collect old hunting art like this one. And look for such art that emphasizes women hunting. Look up Kate Ireland, who was one of bobwhite habitat's biggest supporters (and an avid hunter until her 80's). I wish I had the chance to meet her. Falconry or any other form of hunting where you partner with a fellow predator to me is the perfect hunting style.

Kitty Carroll said...

Kate Ireland's obit:


The Dog House said...

A beautiful piece, very well written.

I'm not a big hunter, but I'm always up for a challenge training unusual animals... he certainly makes it sound worth every second.

Unfortunately, part of the problem is that even those people who would have the space, time and ability to participate in this sport are unlikely to be able to find a mentor - which I would consider a necessity to learn such a skill.

Not to say I'm suggesting falconry is a suitable pursuit for all but a select few, but at the same time it would be a real shame for this skill and art to become one of those things you can only read about in books.

PBurns said...

The Golden Age of Falconty and Hawking is probably right now.

There is a two year apprenticeship rquirement in the US to get a license (and serious penalities if you don't), but that has only kept the fools out; it has not discouraged the truly committed from getting in from what I can see.

The rise in falconry and hawks in the US and around the world is due, in no small part, to the discovery and use of Harris Hawks. These birds are much easier to fly than other large raptors, and they are big enough to take rabbits, quail, grouse, etc. Add in two other great American birds -- the Red-tail hawk and the Kestrel -- and you have game changing developments.

Another factor is that we have discovered how to breed these birds, so almost no bird flown (with the exception of Red-tails and Kestels) is wild caught. A lot of the birds flown today are intentional hybrids created in part to prove they are not wild-caught, and in part because falconers are born biologists, tinkerers, and experimenters.

The internet has also created a global hawking community and greatly improved the knowledge pool. Yes, it's still a small world and a rare pastime, but it's a hell of a lot better than when TH White was unintentionally torturing his bird because he knew nothing and there was no one in the world to teach him!