How Falconry, Ancient Form of Hunting, Is Making a Return

by Matthew Wilson

Forget shotguns, rifles, or bows. These hunters in Pennsylvania have returned to the ancient art of falconry to capture their game. They’ve formed a bond with hawks and falcons, taking them hunting in the countryside for their next meal.

“Hunting is like riding a car and falconry is like riding a motorcycle,” Mike Dupuy, a master falconer, told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Of all the hunting sports, it’s the most Zenlike.”

There are just 204 people licensed in Pennsylvania for falconry. The sport is one of the most ancient forms of hunting, tracing thousands of years ago. There were hunters in Mongolia and Iran, now faded to time, who picked up the sport. It was both a way to secure food for many, but also a difficult thing to master.

Falconry is a bit like fishing, hunting, and owning a pet all rolled up into one. Just don’t mistake a falcon or hawk for a cuddly dog or even a cat.

“I like to think of it as a working relationship,” said Courtney Douds, another master falconer.

Falconry Can Be Difficult to Master

Falconry is much more like a partnership. It can also be dangerous. You don’t just find falcons or hawks in pet stores. They’re usually found out in the wild. Falconers capture, train, and also care for the animal. The birds can only be caught when they’re in their first year of life. The season for falconry runs from late fall to spring.

It also takes two years for falconers to train and become masters. They must acquire the proper permits and registry as well. Caring for a falcon can be time consuming and extensive. Handlers must be careful of the bird’s sharp talons. But falconers usually win their trust with food and prey.

Falconers only keep the bird for about one year in its life span. Usually, they’re helping the animal through a crucial moment in their lives before returning them to the wild.

“Of the birds born this year, 88% will die,” said Miller, eastern director for the Pennsylvania Falconry & Hawk Trust. “We’re giving them a year of safety, of free room and board and training.”