The Lure Trick
The picking up of an aplomado from a kill small enough to carry has become a focus of significant concern. This is especially true if the quarry is at the upper end of the falcon’s abilities to carry for any significant distance. Harry McElroy points out if an aplomado kills a very small bird, carries it away and consumes it entirely, chances are good after the meal is over it will seek out the falconer and still have appetite left to continue the hunt or be recalled to fist or lure. Conversely, if the kill is a very large one, gravity will hold both falcon and quarry to the ground and the pick up is no more complicated than picking a peregrine up off a mallard duck. Problems arise when the quarry captured is what McElroy refers to as “a medium-sized bird.” A starling is an example of a medium-sized bird. It is small enough for either sex of aplomado to carry away fairly easily but large enough to take time to consume and once consumed large enough to provide an amount of sustenance such that the hawk’s appetites will be slacked so it will neither seek out its falconer nor return to fist or lure if tracked down by telemetry.
Several strategies exist which are effective to varying degrees for making into and then picking up a skittish aplomado on a medium-sized quarry kill. Of these, this manual offers a description of what Raul Ramirez dubs the “lure trick.” Having first read about it in Nick Fox’s Understanding the Bird of Prey, then later observing its employment with big falcon by Ryan Vanzart and Steve Sherrod of Oklahoma, it has become Ramirez’s “go to” strategy with aplomados and has proven to be very effective in most pick-up situations when carried out correctly. One must understand that where this method may seem perfunctory with larger falcons, it becomes more delicate when applied to the aplomado. So it is good policy to be awareness of other pick-up approaches should the falcon show excessive nervousness on the falconer’s approach. Desert Hawking IV: Quail also looks deeper into these other methods and contains a variety of descriptions about them written by McElroy and several guest authors, many from Mexico or South America, who have the most experience using them.
The lure trick, originally described in Nick Fox’s Understanding the Bird of Prey in the context of other trained raptors, is a simple exchange of a garnished lure for a kill. The tricky part is approaching close enough to the aplomado to present the lure properly without bumping the bird and triggering a series of more and more dramatic bumps with each successive attempt to move in close enough to do the exchange. Before describing the approach, it is worth taking a minute to see the situation from the falcon’s point of view.
Having just chased and captured its quarry, the falcon is sitting on the ground and pumped full of adrenaline. Millions of years of evolution have wired this creature to instinctively sense this is a vulnerable moment during which it can be attacked by another creature wanting to steal the meal, kill the falcon…or both. Anything moving toward this small falcon at this time will instinctively be viewed as at the very least a major annoyance and at worst a lethal threat, unless proven otherwise. So…you must prove otherwise.
Consider the movements of an approaching enemy and do not act like that. An approaching enemy might fly in and try to grab the kill. So don’t toss the lure unexpectedly from a distance at the falcon lest it spook from the lure’s sudden appearance flying toward it. An approaching ground enemy might rush boldly forward, so do not march directly up to where the hawk sits on the ground, rather, approach closely. Less obviously, a ground predator might also stalk forward in a stealthy manner. Equally important to not rushing in is to not mimic the direct staring, slinking movements of a stalking cat. So, yes, move slowly, but do not mimic a direct forward stalk. Lastly, a sibling or even a mate that has no food of its own may very well want to take the falcon’s hard earned meal. So if you approach empty handed, even if you are otherwise on splendid terms with your charge, you represent a competitive threat.
So with all of these don’ts listed above, what about the do’s? Again, do approach slowly but steadily, stopping often at a respectful distance allowing the hawk to see you and your hands clearly. Twenty feet out is about right distance to begin displaying. Do have a whole bird carcass in your hands and do pluck feathers from it and allow them to float around. Do show the hawk this bird as you walk in a steady manner at an angle past the sitting hawk. Your angle will take you closer to it without seeming to be a direct threatening approach. Without seeming to do so, you are closing the gap. Do watch the reaction of the hawk and time your movements based on its behavior. A hawk busily plucking or eating is not worried about you. A hawk sitting calmly gazing steadily at your approach and that is slightly fluffed about the head and face as well as the rest of its body is checking you out, but not much alarmed. A hawk that is sleeked tightly, especially about the head, and looks intently at you and every movement you make and then looks rapidly about it as if looking for a place to flee to is as spooked as it appears. To continue to approach a hawk in this state is asking to trigger a flight response. So, from moment to moment you must examine your hawk’s current frame of mind. If the bird looks relaxed and is engaged in the meal, that is a green light. You may proceed while displaying and plucking at the bird carcass you are holding. If the bird sits quietly looking about, but is not seeming tense or nervous, that is a yellow light. You must proceed with caution. If the bird is sleeked and nervous, that is a red light. Stop where you are, and maybe even back off a bit. Look for a green or yellow light to appear before reengaging your forward motion. Don’t move too fast or too slow, find a balance. Don’t make steady eye contact or approach directly as a predator might. Saunter casually past, pretending not see the hawk sitting on the ground. Its instincts tell it to hold still and let the danger move by. Every 5 seconds or so, glance at the hawk to as though to establish its position.
Having slowly and smoothly zig-zagged your way closer to the bird, all the while displaying you have a kill of your own and have no real interest in his or hers, it is time to introduce the lure itself. Slip the bird carcass you are holding into a pocket and slip out a lure of a design such that no matter how it lands the garnish will be clearly visible. A weighted horse-shoe shaped lure with a commercial cinch line in the center is ideal for this (see photo). The lure-line must be much longer than normal. At least 8’ long to ensure you can maintain a grip on it while still sending it far enough away from your body to prevent the hawk from spooking.
Before attempting to place the lure near the hawk, drop the lure to the ground at your feet. Observe the hawk’s reaction. If he or she doesn’t seem nervous, you may expect a smooth trade to occur. Without any sudden or jerky movement, allow the hawk to see the lure dangling from your hands and then gently loft if low to the ground outward from you to land about 2’ in front of the hawk or slightly past it on its right side (your left). Wherever it lands, you will adjust your own position so when you pull the lure line back into you, the lure will drag along the ground and its path will carry it right over the hawk’s feet. Obviously you must move the lure along smoothly and slowly to prevent a startling reaction from the hawk.
When the lure is at the hawk’s foot, let it come to rest right over its feet so that kill itself is blanketed by the lure. If your earlier training has been done correctly and consistently, the hawk will recognize this situation and will after a moment or two of hesitation finally step up onto the lure in order to get a good grip of the tyring secured to the cinch line in the middle. As you are doing all of this, think like a fisherman. Jig the lure past the hawk in gentle surges to spark a footing instinct. After you are certain both of the hawk’s feet have left the kill and it is balanced now on the lure and intent on the new meal, simply move your hand and arm in a gentle, smooth and sweeping motion away from the kill and thusly tow the lure away from the kill site with hawk astride. It will look as though you are taking your aplomado for a short sled ride.
When you have towed the lure and its rider at least five or six feet or more to the side, smoothly step between the hawk and its former kill and when he or she reaches down again to tear at the lure’s garnishment, step toward the kill and stoop downward in a smooth motion to take it up from the ground and drop it into your pocket.
All that remains is to wait for your hawk to fully consume the garnishment and begin to look about itself for more rations. Do not delay in offering your fist with a tidbit to which the hawk will fly from the ground and you will have it back upon your fist with the kill now in your pocket. Once the lure is retrieved and pocketed, you are ready to hood the hawk and move onto the next slip or call it a day.