BY TODD PRATER | Selma Sun Staff
Falconry has been called the sport of kings, but it was not always a sport. Using birds to hunt was a way to put food on the table. Using birds to hunt dates back 5,000 years and has again become a hobby and passion for many.
Over the weekend of Feb. 28 through March 1 the Alabama Hawkers Association met at Roland Cooper State Park and hunted in the woods of the Grampian Hills in Wilcox County. Local landowners all over Wilcox County are accommodating to hawkers and are happy to take groups of hawkers to hunt their land. The AHA meets in a different area of the state each year. This was the third year they met at Roland Cooper since 2016. James “Big Daddy” Lawler of Gettin Outdoors with BDL and his brother Tommy own some of the land the AHA was hunting.
The current President of the AHA, Michael Moore, is a native of Wilcox County. Moore said growing up, hunting was a favorite hobby. “As much as I enjoy squirrel hunting with a gun, you always try to progress and make it more challenging,” Moore said. “Once I found out you can hunt squirrel with a red tail (hawk) that was a wrap!”
Licensed Falconer John Brunson said when Moore let him hold one of his hawks for the first time, that was all it took. “If you got any hunting soul about you and one of these birds comes to you and lights on you and you see they’re not going to attack you or hurt you, you’re hooked,” he said.
Most raptors, including hawk species, are federally protected, so you must be licensed to have one in your possession and use it for hunting. To get the license, you must have a sponsor that already has a Master Falconry Permit, and you must complete a two–year apprenticeship that includes a test administered by Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. There are also regulations governing how and where the birds are kept. An inspection of the enclosure by WFF is part of the process.
Different species of raptors can be used for hunting. Locally the native red tailed hawk is the most common. A licensed Falconer will capture a bird from the wild and train it. The bird has a natural instinct to hunt. Moore explained that the training is to teach the bird to associate food with the Falconer. Moore said the birds learn that the Falconer will lead them to prey and will provide food as a reward.
Falconers will hunt the birds for two to six years, then they release them back into the wild. Once Brunson completed his two–year apprenticeship and got his license, he captured and trained his first bird.
Several species of bird were on hand at the AHA meeting. The red tailed hawk is found in most of North America and is common here in Alabama. Cooper’s hawks are also found in most of North America and native to most of Alabama. There were also Harris’s hawks. Kathleen Anderson from Pensacola explained the Harris’s hawk is a dessert hawk native to Texas. They hunt in a family group headed by the grandmother. The grandmother oversees the hunt, and she is the first to feed on the kill. Anderson said because they are native to the dessert West, most used here are captive bred and not captured wild birds. The bird that Lawler called “the hit of the show” was Bonnie, a great horned owl owned by Joseph Brown of Ashville.
Most of us have learned that when we are in the hunting woods, we should be quiet and move slowly or not at all. When hunting squirrel with a hawk, it is exactly the opposite. The group on the hunt will bang the tree with large sticks, shake vines hanging from trees, even shoot sling shots into the tree, all to get the squirrels to move out of the nest. As they find game, they bark commands at the birds to help guide them.
Brunson said that hunting with birds is great for kids because they don’t have to be quiet in the woods. “We’ve got to get these young’uns’ and young teenagers to hunt or we won’t have a sport,” Brunson said.
If you are interested in more about Falconry or any outdoor topic, here are some links;
Here is a link to the Falconry page at www.outdooralabama.com https://www.outdooralabama.com/sites/default/files/Licenses/LY18%20Packets/Falconry%20Permit%20(R-NR)%20LY18%20Packet.pdf
Here is a link to Big Daddy Lawler’s Getting Outdoors site where you will find his podcasts; http://www.gettinoutdoorsradio.com/
This is a link to the Gettin Outdoors with BDL Facebook page; https://www.facebook.com/gettinoutdoors/?epa=SEARCH_BOX