Falconry is a lifestyle and should not be entered lightly, however, once you enter this amazing sport, you will never look back.
This information is current as of 1/2016. Laws change so be sure to check with your state’s requirements.
Acquiring a falconry license in the US requires an aspiring falconer to:
• Pass a written test
• Acquire a state permit
• Acquire a hunting license
• Serve two years as an apprentice under a licensed falconer
Below are the steps to become a falconer
Falconry is not to be entered lightly. This is not just an exotic pet. If you want a pet, buy a parakeet. This is a sport that requires a life style change. You can’t ask your neighbor to feed her while you go on a two week vacation. You give up your entire winter’s worth of weekends to fly your bird. If your not willing to hunt with your bird and actually catch game, then this sport is not for you.
I’m going to give you the steps you need to go through to become a falconer. Further down, I’ll go through each step in more detail. There are a lot of hoops you have to jump through, but each step isn’t very difficult.
1. Contact your local Fish & Game office and ask for their falconry package. While you have them on the line, ask them when they give the test and how much it costs. Also, ask them if they have any contacts for local clubs in your area or a state wide falconry club.
2. Obtain your study guides
4. Take the test
5. Get a sponsor
6. Build your mews, make your equipment and have your sponsor sign off on them
7. Send in your completed paperwork
8. Wait for your license
9. Wait some more
10. Trap your bird
11. Train your bird
12. Go Hunting
You must also have a hunting license. This requires you take a gun and safety class in your area. Contact your local sporting goods store for a class near you.
I’m not going to get into the actual trapping and training of your bird. These are things that your sponsor will teach you. You are an Apprentice for two years and can only have one bird. You then become a General Falconer for 5 years and can have 2 birds. After that you become a Master Falconer and can have 3 birds.
Further down I have links on how to build your mews and make your equipment.
One final note before we move on.
It’s very important that you have a good raptor vet lined up. This vet must know about raptors. When you trap your bird, it’s very important to get them to the vet as soon as possible. It’s imperative that the bird is in good health before you start your training. It’s also important to have their number handy for any mishaps in the field.
Now let’s go over each step one at a time.
1. Contact your local Fish & Game office
Every state is different and you need to find out what is required for your state. This is the best place to get started. They will send you the information you need for your state and hopefully have a club contact for you. Try Googling falconry for your state.
2. Obtain your study guides.
This is tricky; you don’t even know what to study so how do you know what to buy? Again each state is different, but for the most part the general questions they will ask are about the same. So what do you need to study? The California Hawking Club has one of the best study guides around. Many other states have taken this guide and with a few changes, made it suitable for their state. Even though the questions are geared for California, the information in it is invaluable. If you study this book and can answer all the questions in it, you should have no problem passing the test.
It will seem a bit overwhelming at first. You will see terms that are unfamiliar to you. There is a health section that will have you scratching your head. But don’t despair. Take each section one at a time and just keep studying. The information you learn here really isn’t what makes a falconer. Just study the guide with passing the test in mind. Your sponsor will teach you how to become a falconer. But, keep the guide it’s great reference material.
Along with a State falconry permit, you will need a hunting license. This is a good time to start the classes. Call a local gun shop, or hunting store and ask where the nearest gun and safety class is to you. But, you say, I won’t be shooting a gun. Why do I need to take a gun and safety class? Well, because falconry is the smallest group of hunters in the US, the government doesn’t quite know where to put us, so they group us in with all the gun hunters. Therefore, you have to take a gun and safety class in order to get your hunting license.
4. Take the Falconry Test
Usually there are 100 questions and you must get at least 80% to pass. It’s important that you are ready for it because if you don’t pass, you can’t take it again for another 3 months and that can mean the difference between becoming a falconer this season or having to wait until next season. So don’t rush into it . Be ready. The test really isn’t very hard and they give you 2 hours to complete it. But if you know it well it should only take you 20-30 minutes to complete.
5. Get a sponsor
This can actually be the hardest part of becoming a falconer. There was a time that you had to get a sponsor first, and some states still may require that. But it makes more sense to take the test before you even start looking. Why? If you approach a potential sponsor, the first thing they are going to tell you is “Take the test and then we can talk”. By approaching a potential sponsor and letting them know you already took the test and passed and have a hunting license, they will see that you are serious. So how do you find a sponsor? That’s the hard part; you need to contact the club in your state, or a falconer in your area. Not all falconers are willing to be a sponsor and not all sponsors are good falconers. You need to find one that you get along with and are willing to spend the next 2 years learning from. The sponsor’s job is to teach you how to make your equipment, help you build your mews, help you trap your bird, teach you how to train her and how to get her taking game. Your job as an apprentice is to follow your sponsors instructions.
Here are some questions you might want to ask the potential sponsor:
1. What do you require of me during the next two years?
2. Do you allow me to keep my bird as long as I want? Or do you want me to release my bird at the end of the first season and trap another next season?
3. Do you have any thoughts about me using my bird for education as well as hunting? (Some sponsors will not allow you to do any education with your bird. So if that’s something you want to do, you need to know up front if your sponsor has a problem with it.)
4. What are you looking for at the end of the two years that will allow me to become a General Falconer?
5. What books do you recommend that I read?
6. Build your Equipment and gather your gear.
The Mews – This is where the most money goes. Building your mews can be anywhere from $500 up depending on how elaborate you get. Your sponsor should help you with at least the design of the mews. They can be a simple single chamber, a single chamber with an equipment room attached, a single chamber with an equipment room and a weathering yard attached.
It all depends on you, the amount of space you have and your budget. What ever design you decide on the minimum size for a red-tail single chamber is 8′ x 8′ x 8′. You really don’t need anything larger than that. Never use chain link as a mews.
The Weathering Area – This is where you can perch your bird so it can get plenty of sunshine yet be safe from the neighborhood dogs, other birds of prey, the local cats, rats, raccoons, etc. Not to mention the nosy neighbors. Again your sponsor can advise you on this, but a simple dog run is good. The bird is never allowed to be free in the weathering area, so chain link is fine here. Be sure to cover it with shade cloth. Your bird needs sun, but you don’t want her to be sitting in the hot summer sun. The weathering area doesn’t have to be attached or near the mews, but make things easier and make it a safety chamber. This means you have to go through the weathering area to get into the mews.
Equipment – Next you need to make, or buy, some equipment. A lot of falconers like to make as much equipment as they can. I enjoy working with leather and braiding leashes. Leashes, jesses, and anklets are easy to make.
Jesses and Anklets-These are made from a sturdy leather. I find kip to be a really good weight for red-tails and Harris Hawks. Consult with your sponsor about what they prefer. Be sure to make several for back-ups.
Leashes-There are several different materials that can be used for a leash. I like climbing rope for red-tails. Get something around 5-6mm rope. It will tie well and it’s not to cumbersome or heavy. The other material I like to use is braided Dacron. Melton Tackle is the best place to purchase this. The 100 yards Black 130lb is enough to braid many leashes.
Hood-You will need a good fitting hood after you trap your bird . Or, you can make your own hood. Hooding your bird is one of the hardest things to teach an apprentice, but it’s very important to learn how to hood your bird.
Hoods can be expensive and hard to find the right fit. I’ll show you how to make your own.
Glove-You will need a really good falconry glove. Don’t buy a welders glove. They are just too thin for a pissed off red-tail. If you have no choice but to buy a welders glove, wear a second glove underneath. It might be a bit tight and not very comfortable, but you will appreciate the added layer of leather. My suggestion is to save a little longer and get a good falconry glove. Find out when the local club is having their annual meet and go. There are vendors that sell gloves and you might find one that is on sale. Plus you have the advantage of trying them on.
Perch-Perches are necessary for the mews and the weathering area. The best and most economical way to go is have your local welder make several. You can get them made for around $30 so get at least two made. Wrapping the top is a matter of preference. Ask your sponsor about this.
Scales-You’ll also need scales to weigh your bird and the food. There are two types that are mostly used, digital scales and triple beam scales. Have a look at E-Bay for some good bargains. Be sure the scales weigh at least 5 pounds.
Clothing – Along with building and making your equipment, you will need good waterproof hunting boots, a vest of some kind to carry all your gear into the field. Cabelas, Bass Pro, and REI is a good place to start.
So you finally have all your equipment built, made and bought and you’re ready for your bird right? Wrong. You need to have your mews and equipment signed off by your sponsor or Fish & Game. And you need to find your hunting fields. This could take some time so start looking as soon as you can. You might live in a high density city, or urban area. It may mean you have to drive for an hour or two to get out to more open land. It’s important to find your fields before you get your bird. Your sponsor might tell you about one or two, but don’t expect other falconers to show you any. Many fields are a well kept secret and won’t be shared. So, get out there every chance you can. Get out of the car and walk the field. Did you flush any game? Is there fresh scat to indicate that there is game in the field? If it looks like it might have potential, mark it on a map and drive on to the next area. Try to have at least 3 fields available. Many sponsors require you bring to the table at least 2 fields. Then when you start hunting, rotate the fields so you don’t over kill them. Always keep your eyes out for new fields.
You can spend a fortune on all the equipment you might need. I’ll show you how to make your own. From anklets and leashes, to lures and perches.
7. Send in your paperwork
It’s important that everything is signed by you, your sponsor and the person that inspected your equipment.
Be sure to keep a copy for yourself.
8. Wait, wait, wait
Take this time to gather your hunting gear. Boots, vest, glove, hat, jacket, wool socks, binoculars, bug repellent (for you, not your bird), band aids, Neosporin, hunting knife and any other gear suitable for your winters.
9. Wait some more
Find the nearest raptor veterinarian
Before you trap your bird, it’s important to have the name and phone number of a veterinarian. It must be a veterinarian that knows raptors and not just your local cat and dog vet. The nearest raptor vet may be 2 or 3 hours away, but, if that’s the closest one, then so be it.
When you have your beautiful new hunting companion in your possession, it’s very, very important to take her immediately to the vet. Call them to make the appointment and tell them you are a falconer and have just trapped a red-tail. Transport her in your giant hood or small dog crate with a hood on. They will give her a good check up for any parasites, or injuries and start her on any medications. It’s also important that you start the West Nile injections. Your bird needs to be in good health when starting out on this new adventure. Keep the vets number handy at all times.
When you get your license, make several copies of it. Put the original and your hunting license in a waterproof pouch in your vest. Put a copy of both in your wallet, in your car, or hunting bag with all your extra equipment. Whenever you are traveling with your bird ALWAYS carry your original falconry license with you. (Some states allow you to carry just a copy instead of the original)
10.Trap your bird
I can’t begin to tell you how exciting this part is. Your sponsor has shown you how to make the trap. You’re up at dawn and out the door with all the equipment that you’ve checked and double checked. Now it’s time to go look for your new hunting companion. Hopefully your sponsor will be with you on this great day.
11.Train your bird
Oh boy, you now have a tiger by the tail and need to keep your wits about you. There is nothing that will bring your head out of the clouds quicker than getting footed by a pissed off red-tail. Keep your Neosporine handy. Here is where you need to really listen to what your sponsor tells you. Stay focused and you and your bird will come out of this just fine.
12. Go Hunting
Your hard work and perseverance has paid off. Your bird is in tip top condition, at the perfect hunting weight, responds to you and your lure and your both raring to go. Your sponsor should be with you when you go out the first time. He/she will have evaluated your bird’s responses and will let you know when it’s time. By having your sponsor with you the first time out, he/she can also evaluate your birds response in an unfamiliar field and let you know if you need to work with her a bit more or if you’ve done a great job training her.”
These two books will get you started.
California Hawking Club Apprentice Study Guide. A must for all apprentices. The C.H.C. carefully produced this indispensable manual for beginning falconers, which includes review questions (self-exams) and comprehensively covers Raptors (General, Hunting & Falconry Techniques), Keeping Hawks (Care & Maintenance, Equipment, Health), Training & Hunting (Training; Hunting, Game & Quarry; Terms & Phrases). Also included are Regulations, Laws & Administration, Glossary & References. The most important pretest falconry book.
Even though this has been written for California, it is a good study guide for any state.
California Hawking Club Apprentice Manual.Every basic, plain and simple, is covered in this manual. The booklet takes off where the Apprentice Study Guide finishes. Every aspect of the nuts and bolts of falconry is covered, including photographs of all the equipment needed, with full descriptions of each item and its use in falconry. This is a must-have for each and every beginner. Includes an essential reading list and suppliers in the U.S.A
Wildlife Law, Regulation and Falconry
This book is a must for any falconer, new or experienced. The falconry regulations are changing and you must know what they are. You need to know what your rights are as well. Falconry is the most regulated sport in the country. It’s vital you know the laws. Right now, this is the only place where you can get it.
Web sites worth checking out
Art of Falconry – Falconry art and graphics. Cartoons for the Harris Hawk, Red-tail hawk and the mighty Goshawk. T-shirts, mugs, mouse pads, greeting cards, key chains and even ties, all completely customizable.
California Hawking Club – The falconry club for the state of California. There is a lot of information for you to get started. Click on Membership at the top. Even if your not from California, the information is invaluable.
North American Falconers Association – (NAFA) is a group of dedicated individuals who share common views on the welfare of raptors (birds of prey) in nature and in their careful employment in the sport of falconry.
Northwoods Falconry – One of the best places for all your falconry needs. From books to get you started to equipment for you and your bird. There are even gift items for that special some one.
Cabela’s – You’ll need some special clothing if you plan on being warm and comfortable out in those isolated fields. Cabela’s is the perfect place to find just what you need. From boots to chaps.
Western Sporting – Another great site for books, videos and equipment.
Mikes Falconry – This is the original falconry equipment supplier. Everything you need to get started. From educational books and videos to equipment for making your own hoods.
American Falconry Magazine – A magazine that is devoted entirely to the sport of falconry and is produced by practicing falconers. Each full color issue contains some of the best photography in the industry. American Falconry is published quarterly and is jam-packed with fascinating articles covering the latest techniques in training, captive breeding and dog handling. Additional articles contain humor, adventure, personal viewpoints, and information for both the expert and beginner. Well-known authors and a fine departmental writing staff have set a new standard for falconry publications.
The Peregrine Fund – Archives of Falconry – Goal: Collect and conserve evidence of the history of falconry worldwide and document the role of falconers in raptor conservation.
Offering falconry furniture, featuring Avatar hawking vests, hoods, leashes, gloves and leather materials. Includes product details and order information.
History of Falconry
A comprehensive study into the history of falconry. Great reading.
The Modern Apprentice
A great site to learn all about training methods, equipment, different styles of hoods, and the health of your bird.
The journey can be just as exciting as the destination. Jump in and get started. The worst thing that can happen is you try it, find out that it’s just not for you. So you’ve spent some money, had some fun and can say that you did it.