Hunting Season; So Far 2015

Sitting here writing this in early January those warm summer days of August seem so long ago. August was the start of my season or rather it was the time I picked my Finnish goshawk Stellar from her moult.

It's been another successful season. Stellar is now into her 4th season and her experience shows in the field. Her strength and blistering speed are what hunting with Finnish goshawks is all about.

It's difficult to imagine many hawks capable of taking such a wide variety of quarry. We (or should I say she?) has taken brown hare, blue hare in the highlands of Scotland. Flown pheasants and partridge down on the low ground and taken countless rabbits and what a ball we've had.

So many of the flights will remain locked in my memory. To be revisited during the long summer days of Stellar's moult.

Lying down in the grass next to her, the late summer sun warming my back as she tucked into her first rabbit of the season

Being on top of a Scottish mountain gazing out over the purple cairngorm mountain peaks as they stretched off into the distant haze while my goshawk quietly fed up upon the fifth blue hare of the day.

Watching Bella our young Wire Haired Vizsla come of age and start to find game independently of her mum.

Sharing the sheer joy and relief of a good friend's male goshawk catch it's first rabbit after so many unsuccessful outings.

Perhaps to the uninitiated, or those who only judge a successful day by the head of game taken may not fully comprehend the significance of these small cherished moments, but I'm sure the real austringers amongst you will fully empathise with me.

Hunting Season 2014

Blue Hare Hawking

We tentatively climbed the precipitous boulder strewn track in the Landrover. Hanging onto the door handles as we were jolted from side to side, cringing as the underside of the vehicle ground against the larger boulders. I didn’t care, as long as we made it up to top, some 3500ft above sea level. I had waited ten agonizingly long months for this opportunity. A chance for my young Finnish goshawk, Stellar, to take on a blue hare

She had certainly become a prolific rabbit hawk, having refined her technique over the past two seasons since picking her up from the breeding chamber. I was anything but confident, this was different. We were now entering a completely alien world. No gently rolling lush green pastures, no trees, no burrows to bolt rabbits from, this was a brutal, primeval and hostile environment that would test my hawk to the limit.

We eventually made it to the top of the mountain and got out to survey the landscape, or what we could see of it. The low cloud cut the visibility down to less than 50yrds yards. I could feel my excitement being replaced by disappointment. To make matters worse, it began to rain. It would be completely futile to attempt to hawk in these conditions. We had no option but to drop back down the hill a few hundred feet to below the cloud cover.

The conditions there were better, but not much. It was still raining. Aborting wasn’t really an option, so we donned the water proofs and set off with the goshawk.

It wasn’t long before we spotted a couple of hares running off uphill on the far side of the Glen. Stellar watched intently as they sped off. I could see the cogs turning in her head. I was willing her to leave my glove, but there she remained, she was unsure. Everything was different. The treeless heather moor with its deep menacing peat hags, the high snow covered peaks and the almost white hares were completely foreign to her.

I soldiered on uphill praying the dogs would come on point for a close slip. There were plenty of hares running uphill above us, but too far away and too high up for any prospect of a successful slip. I stopped to get my breath back and felt Stellar tighten her grip on my glove. Her head was bobbing, a sure sign she had spotted something. It was another hare, about 100 yards away, but on the same level as us. She took off and soon had the hare within striking distance. The hare jinked over a small rise and they both disappeared from view. It was impossible to see if she had caught it. When I eventually found her, there was no sign of the hare. I scanned the immediate area for any tell tale signs of fur, but there was none. I wasn’t too disappointed. At least she had committed to a flight.

By now the rain had stopped and the cloud had lifted a little so the keeper advised we jump back into the Landrover and try the top again, where he assured us we would see more hares.

It was still very misty up there, but at least it was hawkable. Another quick check of the telemetry and we were off. The ground on top was actually rather flat and made the going a lot easier, although there was some quite treacherously deep peat hags concealed in the mist ready to devour the unwary.

We had walked for about 15 minutes when a hare got up around 50 yards away. Without the slightest hesitation Stellar launched herself from my glove. The blue hares had without doubt been added to her quarry list.

The cross wind was very strong and she veered off slightly down wind then started to pump her way back towards the fleeing hare. I stood there, momentarily rooted to the spot, transfixed by the spectacle unfolding before me, realizing that this was it, the moment that I had been dreaming of for so long, my goshawk, that I had bred, trained and manned, was now powering her way after a blue hare on top of a Scottish mountain.

I started to run. I saw her connect with the hare. Time began to go into slow motion. I could see her battling to subdue the hare. The hare, twice her weight, was not going to give in without a fight. Her wings were flailing around. She was hanging on for all she was worth. I was sure she was going to lose it.

The sense of relief when I finally got there and caught hold of the hare’s back leg was immense. I now had hold of it, and it wasn’t going to escape. My head was buzzing with a mix of emotions, elation, pride in my hawk and a huge amount of admiration for the courage and bravery she had shown. She had caught her first blue hare.

I would normally have fed the hawk up after such a long hard flight and grueling battle. The day before I had done exactly that, after she had nailed a 9lb brown hare in the fields far below us, but something inside was telling me that she could go on and take another. After allowing her a reward of warm hare, I picked her up and continued on.

As we once again headed off, working the dogs in the mist, the keeper shouted ’there’s one’, but quickly added ’it’s probably too far off’. I looked up. It did look a long way off, and once more, it was up wind. It didn’t look good.

Stellar on the other hand had no such misgivings and launched into the headwind. We watched in awe as she battled into the wind, slowly gaining ground on the hare. Then just before they disappeared over the horizon, she dipped her wing and grabbed it. We heard the scream from the hare and I started to run. All I could see in the distance through the swirling mist was the silhouette of her wings flailing around against the dark horizon and the hare kicking out, fighting for its life and desperately trying to break loose from her grip.

I was running just as fast as I could, but my lungs were on fire and I had to stop, I was gasping for air. Bent over, hands on knees, I looked up, the fighting had stopped, but she still had hold of the hare. I couldn’t run any further, I was completely out of breath; all I could manage was a painfully slow walk. As I approached the hare, and in a last ditch attempt to break free, it began kicking and bucking again. It looked like it was going to escape. I was praying she would just hang on in there, just a little longer until I could assist her.

I staggered over the snow covered heather for the last 40 yards. The hare was beaten. Stellar had managed to get firm grip of its head. The fight was over, but she was exhausted, lying on top of the twitching hare, buffeted by the cold wind.

I glanced around. The hare’s blood surrounded me, standing out on the snow covered ground. This had been an epic and brutal battle, but now it was over, she had her hare, and now it was time to feed her up and call it a day. She deserved it.

So there we were, standing on top of that windswept and desolate Scottish mountain, watching my goshawk feed up on her blue hare. As we waited for her to take her fill, I could feel the cold wind biting at my bare hands and face. I turned away shuffling my feet in the snow, stuffing my numb and freezing hands into my jacket pockets. Would I have wanted to be anywhere else at that moment in time? No, I wouldn’t have swapped that place for anywhere in the world.

image of goshawk

Hawking Heaven

Our annual trip to the highlands was made even more memorable as we were joined this year by a highly respected Canadian falconer and his wife. Before heading north to Scotland we had a very productive morning’s hawking in North Yorkshire, with a bag full of rabbits being taken by my female Gos. Once in Scotland, we started the week’s hawking on some seriously quick pheasants. This was followed by brown hare and we ended our stay by hawking blue hares up in the mountains. We finished the weeks hawking with a real mixed bag of rabbits, pheasant, brown and blue hare being taken. Certainly a hawking trip that I and my Canadian guests will remember for some time, not just for the hawking, but the stunning terrain, camaraderie and simply being able to share the experience with enthusiastic and like minded people.

image of goshawk


Pups at Eight Months Old

From the feedback and photo’s we’ve received all of the pups seemed to have settled into their new homes without any problems and all look very handsome indeed. Bella the bitch we kept back has raced through her basic training and is now gaining experience in the field working behind her mother Ruby for both hawk and gun.

image of goshawk

The Season so Far

This year we have concentrated solely on flying my female Goshawk. This is her third season and her experience is starting to show with her catch to flight ratio steadily improving. Although rabbit numbers appear to be well down on previous years we have still managed to have quite a few very enjoyable and productive days out on our local ground.