Most Mississippi sportsmen who go small game hunting for birds and rabbit use a modern shotgun and the appropriate sized shot and it has been this way for nearly three centuries. More than 357,000 Mississippi hunters aged 16 years of age and older take to the woods each year, a force larger that the peacetime army of Germany, Great Britain and France combined. However, of those hunters, only about 25 use a bird of prey instead of a firearm or primitive weapon to harvest game.
What is Falconry?
Falconry is taking wild game in its natural habitat with the use of a trained falcon. In past times, the term austringer or hawker was used for a hunter who did the same thing with a hawk or eagle, however today the term falconer and falconry is used for practitioner and the sport as whole. The hobby originated in the ancient world as far back as 2000 BC and predates the use of firearms for hunting by more than a millennium.
Do you have what it takes?
Falconry is time consuming and expensive. One must begin as an apprentice to the sport to and work up to being a general or master level falconer. Alan Mumbower, the regional biologist and guru of the MDWFP’s Falcon Program puts it like this on the states website to see if falconry is for you:
“Will you, can you, commit part of your waking hours to a creature who at the very best of times will merely tolerate your presence, is as affectionate as a stone, and at the worst of times will cause you heartache and puncture wounds? Can you commit to an average of a half-hour a day, every day, and two to four hours on a hunting day, regardless of school, family, or job — for as long as you have your bird?”
Being a falconer is more time consuming that many other hunting disciplines and it is a lifestyle change that affects you 365-days a year. Let’s face it, no matter how dedicated a hunter you are, you still don’t have to feed and take care of your rifles, shotgun or bow everyday no matter what. With a bird of prey on the payroll, you will.
How much does it cost?
The good news is, the most priceless item and the one that you could not perform the sport without is free. You cannot legally buy a bird of prey for hunting, and must trap your own in the wild. However, before you head out to the woods to capture your new feathered friend you must first file as an applicant for an apprenticeship. In the application you must pass a certification review and inspection where you have to show your Mews (indoor facility for your raptor), your weathering area where the tethered raptor can fly, your jesses (anklet) for the bird, swivel, leash, gloves, bath containers, perches, scales and other equipment needed to care for and train your animal. This equipment is very specialized and like all good hunting gear costs money. Before you even go shopping for your equipment however you have to pay set up with the MDWFP to take your written falconry exam based on Federal and State regulations, and pay your permits and fees of no less than $100 (good for five years) plus the cost of your regular hunting license.
Current Mississippi State regulations only allow the apprentice falconer, who has to be a minimum of 14 years of age, to trap their new bird humanly during approved times after all of the above tests, fees and inspections have been taken care of. An apprentice can only possess a red – tailed hawk (the most commonly used for new falconers) either a red-shouldered hawk, or an American kestrel. The new falconer must train their first animal and use it for a complete hunting season before they move on to becoming a general falconer after two years. During this time you must work and be sponsored by a Master Falconer, by definition a sportsman with at least eight years of experience in the sport. General Falconers may possess two raptors and hunt without the tutelage of a master. Master falconers may possess three birds.
The two dozen Mississippi falconers that pursue this ancient sport would largely have it no other way. For their time, effort and money invested they are modern day beast masters who are literally one with nature. Many Mississippi falconers practice this most extreme of all bird hunting and use their raptors to take duck and dove as well as squirrel and rabbit effortlessly and with great majesty that must be seen to be appreciated.