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The Modern Apprentice



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Beginning thinking about an apprenticeship link Apprenticeship fundamentals link Becoming an apprentice link Pre-trapping link
So you know you want to be a falconer...
You've gone through the prerequisites and are ready to think about the next step.

First, you need to contact your state Department of Fish and Wildlife for an information packet. This will get you started on the long road to actually becoming an apprentice.

Second, what kind of bird do you want to fly? In many states, there are only two choices - either a Red-Tail Hawk or an American Kestrel. As more states move to the new regulations other species will be available, and many are excited that the Harris' Hawk will soon be available to apprentices in the US.

The American Kestrel is our smallest falcon. This means that the facility needs are smaller, but the birds are very high maintenance. Many of these birds can be kept in the house, given appropriate housing, however you will need to weigh her three times a day and feed her at least twice a day to properly manage this bird. With a Kestrel you will be hunting small birds such as sparrows or starlings in quick flights. These birds can be flown in even urban settings and can be flown at quarry right in your back yard. They are small and delicate and managing them can be a challenge. The positive side of this is that their size may put you at ease as they are not able to punch through your glove with their talons. The danger they pose to the handler is much lessened. These birds are an excellent introduction to hunting with falcons.

Red-tailed hawks are one of the largest birds used in falconry. The facility needs for this raptor are larger requiring an 8' x 8' x 12' facility at a minimum. This is a very hardy bird needing to be fed and weighed once a day. But the larger size also means larger talons and more ability to inflict damage. Many experienced falconers have been injured with these birds and when handling them you must always be aware of what you are doing. With this bird you will be hunting rabbits and possibly squirrels or pheasants, but it will take the occasional mouse, vole, snake, or anything else that it thinks it can catch.
Consider not just which bird you are interested in, but also more importantly which type of quarry you have available to you.

Third, you will need to convince a general or master falconer to sponsor you. This is an enormous time commitment on their side and they have no obligations to take you on. As this sport has a long tradition of being handed down from master to apprentice, you will be involved in that aspect. No sponsor has to sponsor you, and many will want to evaluate what kind of a falconer their potential apprentice will become before they commit to an apprentice. Before even starting to find a sponsor, get involved in the community. Join a club, join mailing lists, attend picnics and meets. Many associations serve to help prospective apprentices meet and connect with potential sponsors, although they cannot guarantee a sponsorship and have no mandate to provide a sponsor just because an apprentice asks. You want to find a person whom you will enjoy spending two years' time and they will enjoy it, too. And you want to be an apprentice who will improve falconry, not one who detracts from it.
Some sponsors require prospective apprentices to tag along in the field with them for a year before taking them on as apprentices. It gets the pre-apprentice time in the field, the opportunity to have some falconry experiences, and the ability to handle the birds without making a commitment. Other sponsors have a more formal agreement with their apprentices even making up a contract listing out responsibilities of the relationship. Don't take it personally if you are not invited, or accepted, as an apprentice. These falconers have lives, families, work, hobbies, and their own hunting they want to do. Taking on an apprentice is a time consuming way to spend their time and may not be something they are interested in doing. Many have had poor apprentices in the past and are not interested in sharing their hunting time with a person they do not know. If you are having difficulty finding a sponsor, don't blame the falconers - it is not their requirement that you have a sponsor and it is not their responsibility to sponsor you. Attend picnics, meets, and the various falconry lists to try to make connections. These falconers are trying hard to balance their work, falconry, and their families and they should be respected for their decisions.

Last, read. Read about the sport, about birds, and about hunting. Whether you agree with the material or not, you are getting more exposure to the sport.

Apprentice Must-haves
There are certain pieces of equipment which you must legally have to become an apprentice. Many of these requirements are changing with the regulations changes. I have chosen to leave the more onerous old list in place as it should cover most situations, and be more demanding that the regulations in many areas.

Legally required
  • Bathpan
  • Aylmeri anklets and jesses
  • Scale - If you will be keeping a small bird such as a Kestrel, you will need a scale accurate to 1/10th of a gram
  • Record book
  • Perch
  • Swivel - The British falconer's swivel design are superior, but expensive; A Sampo size 6, 7, or 8 swivel can be used for a Red-Tail. Dog leash swivels and other types available do not stand up to the rigors of falconry.
  • Bells
  • Leash - Although leather is traditional, materials such as nylon and parachute cord are stronger and do not break down like leather.
  • Mews

Logistically required
  • Glove
  • Hood
  • Extra hoods
  • Lure
  • Extra swivels
  • Extra perch
  • Food - An assortment is best for a long term diet, but you can start with beef heart and frozen quail.
  • Bewits
  • Whistle
  • Field jesses
  • Hunting bag or vest
  • Giant hood (hawk box)
  • First aid kit and instructions
  • De-licer - 8-in-1's Ultra-Care works great - it is a 0.03% Pyrethrins, 0.3% Piperonyl butoxide spray; another remedy is a 2% Sevin powder, although that has higher risks of side-effects and is not as easy to apply.
  • Trap

Really nice to have
  • Squirt bottle - For misting the bird's talons or for misting the bird on hot days.
  • Astroturf - Makes a great surface under the perch. Driving ranges have used mats that are 4'x4' and are padded underneath. Purchasing a used one will run $50 - $75 but is worth it.
  • Half hide - To make new furniture; kangaroo hide is preferred for its weight and strength.
  • 216 Mhz transmitter

What will all of this run me?
It is completely possible that some elderly falconer will die and remember you in his will thereby leaving you all the required equipment. However, that is not likely and you will have a certain expenditure up front to even get started. As with anything, there really is no upper limit on how much you can spend, so I have outlined what is the minimum to expect and then what is a more reasonable amount to plan on. Many people get by on far less than this, but many of them are skilled falconers and are able to make much of their own equipment safely. Making your own equipment will make you a better falconer, but having some good solid examples to work from is a good idea, too.
It's better to over-estimate the costs than under-estimate costs.

Item Minimum Average
Hood $15 $70
Glove $15 $90
Bathpan $5 $15
Aylmeri anklets and jesses $5 $25
Scale $80 $160
Record book $1 $30
Perch $4 $150
Swivel $12 $30
Bells $10 $25
Leash $8 $200
Lure $2 $50
Whistle $1 $15
Mews $400 $1000
Food $20 (to start with) $100 (to start with)
Bewits and field jesses $1 $4
Giant hood $70 $240
TOTAL $649 $2204

Annual licensing fees (estimate the state/federal at $100 for two years), hunting license ($25), and state membership ($30) totals $105 a year.
Also, consider the gas money necessary to get to hunting fields. Some people spend $10,000 a year just in gas money.
Ongoing costs of feeding should be budgeted at $5 - $10 per week, although it can very well be less than this.

All images and text Copyright © 2004 - 2020 - Lydia Ash