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A Trappers Tale

After over 40 hours driving down every backroad, scouring the countryside, and scanning every telephone pole and fence post, we finally found what we were looking for. A juvenile Red-tailed hawk. But not up on a post or in a tree as you might expect, this one was walking across the road.

As we got a little closer the hawk hopped up onto a fence post by the side of the road, so we drove past at a respectable 20 km/h and my son gently tossed the bal chatri (BC) trap in the grass at the side of the road. Unfortunately, the hawk got spooked and flew up to a dead tree about 50 feet from the fence line. We continued down the road a ways, turned around and parked hoping that it might be hungry enough to fly down from the tree. We sat and peered at the hawk through our binoculars for about half an hour, but, the sun was setting and it became clear that the bird had no intentions of leaving its perch that evening, so we picked up our trap, marked the location, and headed home — making plans to head back to that spot first thing in the morning.

The next day we were up before sunrise and on our way back to the spot that we had left “our” Red-tailed hawk. To our delight, it was still in the same tree, so we tossed out the trap, parked, pulled out our binoculars, and waited.

As we sat waiting for some sort of movement from the hawk, we noticed two pick-up trucks coming towards us from opposite directions. When they got closer they both pulled up to our van and boxed us into the side of the road.

I probably should have been more concerned as the two farm boys got out of their trucks and headed towards us, but, I was pretty sure I knew why they were there. My assumption was quickly verified when I rolled down the window to say “hello” and was instantly accused of scoping out their property. Who can blame them? How suspicious it must appear to see the same vehicle driving slowly up and down the road and then pulling out binoculars to stare towards your yard.

As I began to explain the reason for our suspicious behaviour, the farm boys' demeanour went from hostile to skeptical, then curious and finally intrigued, at which point they invited us to come onto their property to try and trap the bird.

I had never heard of anyone trapping a hawk with a BC on foot before but I figured we would give it a try and at the very least we might be able to flush it closer to the road. So we parked in front of the farmhouse and set out across the yard towards the tree where the bird was perched. Between us and the bird, there were a few fences, including one electric fence and a bunch of cows in a well-used pasture.

Surprisingly the electric fence was not as painful as you might expect, but we certainly did not have the proper footwear for tromping through a field of cow patties. As expected when we got within about twenty feet of the hawk, it abandoned its perch and flew towards a stand of trees across the road from the yard. We made our way back through the yard and over the fences, then got back into the van and waved at all the faces watching us from the farmhouse window.

When we got back to the road, we surveyed the stand of trees where the hawk had flown and as luck would have it, it was still there, perched high on a branch facing the road.

We drove past the stand of trees and again my son gently tossed the BC to the side of the road. We didn’t get more than 100 feet down the road before the bird bolted down from the tree and slammed into the trap. After safely getting the van turned around it was obvious that the hawk’s feet were snared in the nooses of the BC. We parked and approached the bird, trying to be as un-menacing as possible.

I have to point out that this was my first time trapping and the level of excitement at this stage was through the roof, so, as much as I would like to say that I was completely cool and calm, my son might tell you differently.

When we got to the trap, the female Red tailed hawk was lying on her back, wings spread wide and looking very angry. Following the instructions I had read, I placed a towel over the bird in an attempt to cast her. What I didn’t read (which should be obvious) is that even though a hawk's head is covered, as soon as you touch it, it knows exactly where your hand is. That lesson cost me five deep puncture wounds in my left hand as the bird latched on with all her might with both feet.

After my son helped me pry the hawks talons from my hand we proceeded to cast her in the now bloodied towel and get her hooded. Once casted and properly hooded the hawk was much easier to manage and we were able to secure her feet and get her anklets and jesses on. The hawk was seemingly very calm for the 45-minute ride to her new home, sitting silently on my sons' lap. The hawk didn’t even budge when I took her from my son and carried her to the mews. How calm and tame the hawk appeared at that moment, she gently gripped onto my glove when I placed my hand under her feet and, as she perched silently on my glove, I let the towel fall softly to the floor.

Then I removed the hood and pure unbridled fury exploded on my hand… But that’s another story.

-submitted by Troy Johnson


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