It would be a mistake to assume that falconry’s rise in popularity is associated with a relaxation of the barriers to entry to the sport. Falconry is perhaps the most regulated sport in the United States, and while one need not be of noble birth to access the sport as in days on yore, those desirous of becoming falconers must still overcome a variety of obstacles in their path.
To begin with, every aspiring American falconer must secure a hunting license. This license will allow you to grab a gun or a bow and have at the small animal kingdom, though while it is necessary, it is not sufficient to set a bird of prey after wild quarry. Your state’s DNR office will have information on how to get a hunting license.
Next, you must pass a lengthy and challenging written examination in which your knowledge of falconry rules, regulations, ethics, practices, avian anatomy and avian health will be tested. This test is also typically administered by your local wildlife agency.
As soon as you have the license and test under your belt, you are ready to find a sponsor, who will be in charge of supervising your two year long apprenticeship. (I warned you that it wasn’t easy!) Trapping season begins in the fall, so you would be wise together all of this out of the way by sometime in August.
Next, you’ll have to build your housing for your bird. This isn’t something you will find at the pet store, and the regulations describing what is acceptable are fairly specific, though they do allow room for interpretation. I found it useful to discuss my ideas with my sponsor and other falconers in the local falconry club (which I joined straight away), while simultaneously pouring over the books and blogs on the topic. One particularly helpful site is The Modern Apprentice.
After you build the housing you’ll need to contact the local DNR to inspect it and if you’re lucky, you’ll have an agent who understands the peculiarities of our sport: it’s specialized facilities and associated equipment. Be careful that you don’t push your request too far into deer season as most of the field agents are out in the woods for most of the fall.
After that, you’re good to get started. You’ll have to trap a bird, which will be the topic of another post and start the manning process. Manning, incidentally is the process by which you get the bird used to you and used to flying back to you on command.
Once the manning process is complete you are ready to take that fateful step of releasing your bird in the woods in pursuit of its prey! And if all goes well, you’ll be we’ll on the road to becoming a master falconer, which by the way, takes seven years!
By Gregg Hake