Calling Off to Fist and Lure
Once a hawk has been thoroughly manned and, indoors, has been coaxed to hop and then fly over to the glove and also drop downward to a garnished lure set on the floor in a prompt and predictable manner, it is time to bring the training out-of-doors. You will find with this change of place what you believed to be certain about your hawk will return to its proper place of ongoing uncertainty. Before, indoors, your hawk gazed at you in rapt anticipation of the glove or lure. Now outside, it gazes about itself in wonderment. For a parent-reared bird, this may be its first exposure to the out of doors. It is hugely distracted by the openness and busyness about it. Before, you may have thought the weight you achieved results with would be this bird’s bona fide flying weight, but just by simply stepping out of doors you may find her attention is no longer upon you. Now the world around her is far more interesting and to counter this you will have to reassess the hawk’s weight for this next phase of training.
McElroy’s previous chapter on weight control provided insight into a healthy and predictable manner of bringing a small falcon’s weight down without compromising its health. The male especially is prone to sudden energy crashes if his weight is lowered too much or too soon. Having said that, it will be necessary to cautiously and prudently adjust his weight downward so that the move from training indoors to out of doors does not result in a major setback.
Assuming you have “tweaked” the weight to a new and more appropriate level of responsiveness, traditional creance training can resume out of doors. Soon the little hawk will be winging across the yard to your glove before you can reach the end of the creance line. You may be tempted into believing this bird is now completely trained and trustworthy, but you would be mistaken. Just as before, while still indoors, the little falcon has adjusted to its new circumstances and is now focused on gaining a meal from you by performing the expected routine. But, just as before, any significant change to the current routine will also result in a setback and possible loss of the bird if flown free before it was truly ready.
The key will be to anticipate circumstances that might create major distractions and work through those while still on the creance. Here are some examples of typical distracters which can cause huge headaches in the field and game hawking with an only partially trained hawk: 1) calling the hawk downward from a towering perch such as a tree; 2) calling the hawk to the fist or lure after dark; and 3) calling the hawk to the fist or lure near traffic or large animals such as horses or cattle. If one uses the time the hawk will spend on the creance to set up scenarios simulating these potential problems, one can intentionally work through them ahead of time.
With certain males, there comes a point where their refusal to fly to the fist on the creance must be weighed against further lowering their body weight. The fine line between healthy and dangerously low (and potentially dead) can be a matter of grams and can occur in a heartbeat mid-training-session. One moment your little hawk seems fine, then after just a flight or two his wings are hanging slightly lower and he doesn’t want to move about much. Moments later he is sitting across the glove balanced on his tarsi. This is an all out emergency. You must stop any training efforts immediately and race him to a warm environment (truck cab with heater blasting) and then begin to offer him small scraps of the juiciest breast meat well moistened either Gator Aid or Pedioyte, either or both of which you shoul keep in your vehicle at all times for just such an emergency along with a medicine dropper with which to squirt the life sustaining fluids past the little hawk’s tongue and into its crop. The key is to keep him warm and immobile so he expends none of the meager energy reserves he has left, and you must very slowly introduce tiny quantities of what he does need into his system, fluids and energy. You must tend to him and do not allow anything to disturb him for at least 12 hours. Be ready to race to a vet if need be, but if you were prepared and acted swiftly and appropriately at the earliest signs, you will soon observe his condition to be stabilizing or improving. If you efforts are succeeding, within an hour he will be standing steadily on his feet. Past that, he will show more signs of movement and normalcy.
Having described the above potential disaster resulting from cutting a bird’s weight too severely, the solution to the problem of a stubborn bird refusing to come to fist or lure even when “at weight” is to offer a much larger and more tempting target. Instead of attaching a tidbit to the lure or offering a tidbit on the fist, secure in your fist a plucked quail cut in half, lengthwise, with both the head and neck removed. It is important to remove the head and neck so when the hawk is on the fist he does not rip these lightly secured parts off the carcass and bate away with them. He must land squarely on the fist and take a few bites of what must seem like an enormous meal to him. Aplomados are notorious for being finicky and slow eaters, even when very hungry, so there is no reason to worry about his gobbling down too much too quick. As he eats and whenever he looks up away from the meal, artfully slip the carcass into your fist until it disappears. You have not fooled the bird. He knows the meat is in there, but aplomados do not react to this situation as would a redtail or a goshawk. They are a social raptor and recognize you are the dominant “bird” in this situation because you have the food and have invited him to join you. When you remove it, he will accept that. It is very different when it is his kill you are approaching, but here that is not the case. With the carcass now hidden, set him back on the perch and continue the lesson, again showing the whole carcass to capture his interest. As you work, you will see an increased response rate, so you can react to this by slowly reducing the amount you show him and still get the same results.
are those who would argue one should never do this because they feel this
reinforces the bird’s choosiness. But with a hawk that is not coming to fist or
lure in the first place, it is futile to continue waving an empty or near empty
glove or lure at him and getting mad when he is not interested. And it is dangerous to continue to withhold
food on the notion your tidbit will look more tempting if only he were hungrier
yet. With a stubborn learner, better to keep his weight in a healthy range and
raise the ante for him by offering bigger portions than risk killing him
through your own form of stubbornness. Once he is responding well to the large
target, it I an easy enough matter to scale it back over time until what you
hold and what he flies to you for is finally back down to tidbit sized.
Once the hawk is immediately flying the full extant of the creance to your fist out of doors, save some of his appetite by withholding a portion of the daily ration and take some time each night after darkness to call the hawk to fist or lure in the headlights of your vehicle or by the illumination of a flashlight held in your free hand and pointed at the glove. It will feel, initially, like starting over, because the hawk may behave as though he has never seen the fist before. You will have to work with weight control (or reward size) some more to trigger the first few flights and then continue to work with the hawk on the creance after dark in order to make this new circumstance familiar and routine.
Calling Down From on High
An effective way to simulate calling down from a towering height is to creance-fly at a gravel pit where the gravel mounds are high but are safe for you to scramble up to the top and provide a reasonably smooth surface upon which the creance can be laid outward full length without entanglement.
Upon arriving at the pit for the first time, attach a very long and heavily weighted creance line to the hawk and set him out in front of you on a low perch or on the ground. Call him from ground level to the fist as you have done up until now. No doubt he will respond rapidly. Having thus “primed” things this way, now carry the hawk and creance line up the gravel slope a ways so everything clearly above your head level but not completely at the top of the mound. With the hawk perched above you at this elevated point, call to him as before. You may find the elevation, slight as it is, causes the hawk to pause before launching into flight. The downward descent may also cause him to seem awkward in flight and landings may be less graceful at first. Practice this until these slightly downward flights become rapid smooth and proficient. You may find yet again it is necessary to tweak the hawk’s weight down slightly to get the same type of response from an elevated position that you thought was ironclad at ground level.
Predictably, once the hawk become proficient at flying to fist and lure from one elevation, the level must become more elevated yet again. Ultimately you should be able to get nearly instant response from your falcon even when it is perched at the top of the highest and steepest mound in the gravel pit.
Now the criteria can be upped once again by revisiting the whole regime described above, but now in the twilight or even dark of night. Being careful there are no dangerous owls lurking about the vicinity, relive all of the above steps from flying to the fist and lure at ground level to dropping steeply downward to your fist or the lure (illuminated by flashlight) from the top of the highest mound, but all in deep twilight or even pitch darkness.
The time one spends doing this has twofold benefits. The first is simply extending the creance phase without reaching a point of staleness. The more time this hawk spends learning to return to you before being set free, the tighter the bond will be once that day arrives. Additionally, the more varied and atypical the circumstances are, the more likely the hawk will be to ignore disruptions later when flying free. In addition to training the hawk to come when it is called, you are also desensitizing it to distractions in the field.
Desensitize in Distracting Situations
Some creance sessions near a busy parking area, a playground, or a cattle feed lot will help prepare you both for the times when retrievals occur in what could otherwise turn out to be disastrous circumstances. Ample pre-training this way on the creance can turn the potentially disastrous into the predictably mundane. Remember that to be certain of retrieval in emergencies, work each of these training scenarios until the hawk is as rapid and fluent in its response in the new situation as it was at its best in your back yard. To accept anything less is to knowingly go into the field with an unreliable hawk on the fist.
McElroy recommends start-to-finish creance training span a full 21 days. That number is a useful baseline and not a fixed figure. Certainly you should be leery about flying free much before that if you are training a ramager not moving along swiftly through training. But, even with those that do move along swiftly, be careful. The most seemingly dog-tame bird on the creance and about the house can suddenly become a spooky and elusive wraith during its very first free flight if the sudden appearance of a boldly harassing robin or crow startles it. Suddenly it flies up into the high canopy of a tree for refuge and all your luring is to no avail. Next an unexpected wind begins to blow and on its next fight to a neighboring tree it is blown down wind with a small band of crows in hot pursuit. Then you find your transmitter signal had magically disappeared and it takes you an hour or more to relocate it. Darkness settles in and your hawk is now hopelessly distracted and won’t even look at you no less drop downward to you in the dark. You race home for a hurried meal and organization of your emergency gear that you didn’t bring because you were so sure your hawk was “well trained” on the creance. You call your boss and explain you may be in to work late or not at all tomorrow. Then you curl up as comfortably as you can in the cab of your truck. You swear to yourself if you are lucky enough to get this bird back alive at dawn, you will reread this chapter and follow its advice.