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May 2011 cover image Birding's Hidden Treasures
From the Pen of Carter P. Smith

This wasn’t your ordinary squirrel hunt. For one, there were three of us, and two of us weren’t “hunting,” at least not in the traditional sense of the word. Second, we didn’t have any guns. And, last but certainly not least, we didn’t have a sporting dog along as a companion in the field, but we did have a mighty impressive and hard-hunting red-tailed hawk. That red-tailed hawk was our “weapon,” if you will, scouring the hardwood trunks, limbs and canopies for any signs of our quarry tucked away amid the towering hickories, elms, pecans and oaks that made up the gallery forest.

My Texas Parks and Wildlife Department colleague Ross Melinchuk and I were there at the invitation of a noted Texas falconer, Manny Carrasco, who among other things is an exceptionally talented and nationally renowned visual artist. His credits are too lengthy to list here, but suffice to say, he is highly sought after for his creative artwork in the animated film industry.

Rest assured that is not all he is known for. Manny is also a very accomplished hunter, conservationist, wildlife artist and passionate falconer, who spends much of his time in the woods sans gun, but not without one of his carefully trained sporting falcons. Ross and I had the good fortune of meeting him through some work we were doing with Texas falconers on revising the state’s falconry hunting regulations. And so it was that Manny graciously invited the two neophytes to join him for an afternoon outing near Austin so that we could learn more about one of the most ancient of the outdoor sports.

What a treat!

From the moment Manny took out his whistles and bells and bewits and jesses and leathers, I was captivated by the accoutrements of his trade. And, as he slipped on his falconry glove, carefully extracted the red-tailed hawk from its cage and removed the bird’s hood, I could tell I was in the company of a genuine sportsman who knew his way around a sporting falcon. It was also obvious that both Manny and that redtail respected each other, man and beast, bound by a special bond forged from countless hours of handling, training, working and hunting small game with each other.

We spent a glorious afternoon in those bottomlands, crossing and recrossing the creek, jumping over fallen limbs, plowing our way through thickets of brush, all with the express purpose of keeping up with the red-tailed hawk, the real and only hunter that day, who was flying through the forest searching for his prey. And, just when I’d think we’d lost him, the hawk would appear sitting solo on a tree limb, patiently scanning the woods for movement and casually waiting on us to catch up so we wouldn’t miss a squirrel.

As you will read in the accompanying article by Manny, falconry is a fascinating sport enjoyed by a small but ardent group of outdoor enthusiasts. Whether they are chasing rabbits on the High Plains or waterfowl on a Central Texas stock tank or squirrels in a bottomland forest, they pursue their passion with a singleness of purpose and vigor and respect for their “hunter” and their prey that commands one’s respect.

At your Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, we are proud to work for the state’s anglers, hunters, birders, boaters, campers, falconers, hikers, kayakers, fish, wildlife and nature enthusiasts, and all others who enjoy the great outdoors.

Thanks for being one of them and for caring about Texas’ lands, waters, fish, wildlife and parks. They need you more than ever.

 

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