August 2007 saw the turning point in falconry career, when I finally took the plunge and purchased my first Gos Hawk from Mick at M & J Raptors.
I picked the 9 week old; parent reared male Finnish Goshawk up in early August. Mick caught the bird up, helped me fit equipment and settled the bird on a bow perch for short while to settle while we sorted the paperwork.
Having discussed the various training techniques and traits of the Gos’s that Mick breeds, I must admit that his stories of how quick his birds settle down, man up and train were to say in my opinion slightly ambitious, and I recall thinking that this was just a good sales pitch. The reality of the situation was however completely different. To my amazement the bird was a dream to man and train. I shall not bore you with the details of how, what and why I did things, but by the end of the first day the bird was made to the hood, stepping to the fist and accepting my right hand to stroke his head and feet. Not once did I see any signs of the ‘Wild Goshawk’ that I had read about. This bird was in fact training quicker and was tamer than any Harris Hawk I had ever trained.
From this point on the bird progressed quickly. Feeding on the fist quickly turned to jumps and, short flights before long. After 4 week I had the bird flying about 30 yards on the line. At this point he went off the boil slightly; however this was quickly sorted with a slight quick weight adjustment to get him re-focussed. After about 5 days of increased distance recalls it was time for the first flight. This was probably the most nerve racking bit yet!! The first flight was from a fence post. I couldn’t get more than 10 yards away before he was coming towards me. We did about 3 recalls in total and I went home very pleased.
The next day saw me going through the same routine as normal. A quick drive down the road to a piece of land I use for training. Out the car and walking for about 30 minutes, until the bird settles and calms down, watching for the feathers go up on the back of neck while he puffs himself up, and so on. At this point I removed his equipment ready for a short flight. As I strolled along side a small bramble patch a blackbird shot off into one of the small coppices on the land. The Gos bated hard at the bird and I accidentally let go him. After missing the bird to cover he pulled off and sat in near by tree. To start with I was consumed with terror, thinking I would never get him back, fortunately as soon as I put my hand into my pocket he was on his way back and secured! Once I had calmed down, I realised that this had not been a bad experience at all, and that it had shown his hunting instinct. I decided to continue walking for a bit further before starting his recall training. I thought I had noticed something sleeking off ahead of us as we walked, but had dismissed it. As I neared the end of small copse the young pointer stopped and came on point. As we approached (more though curiosity) a mature cock pheasant erupted about 20 yards ahead. To my complete amazement the Gos was off the fist, flew hard though the dense wood, and most effortlessly plucked the bird out the air. I was completely dumbstruck by what had happened. I secured the two birds and allowed him a good time to feed up. The whole time I was grinning like a Chersire cat, and was buzzing with adrenalin. I couldn’t believe what I had seen. I new these birds were fast and that hunting instinct would be great, but I didn’t expect this on the second day of free flight!
From this point on things couldn’t go any better. The key was getting the right balance of easy and testing flight on a mixture of game and rabbit. In his first year he was introduced to pheasant, partridge, rabbit, magpies, mallard, rooks, pigeon and quite a number of various! Even Hare were not safe from half hearted, training attacks, although he never brought one to the bag, he regularly flew, overtook and played with them. Speed wise he was much quicker than a hare, and he obviously new it, by the way he played along side them in full sprint, just not committing himself to bind. The game count was in my opinion good for his first season, not huge but at 38 I was happy, with very little in the way of bad experiences to offset the numbers. There were many memorable flights that season, with the bird taking on incredibly long slips at rising mallard and pheasant, which he would follow up high into the air, only to pull off once he realised he had no chance, turn around and come uncalled to the empty fist as if to say “come on, lets do that again!” This boomerang style flight was completely new to me, and was a welcome relief from what I had read about goshawks.
The second season picked up where the first had ended, and he was flying free within 3 weeks and hunting. Again luck seemed to play a good part with this chap and on his first outing out free flying he took another cock pheasant in almost the identical location as he had in the first year! I was playing with his weight and edging him as far as possible by November, and the quality of his wing beat was becoming evident. By late January his weight was as high as I could push it, the power button was now at full throttle and it really was a joy to watch. The second season ended with a final tally of 58 head.
This season gone, his third one, has just been a blast, the intensity of the bird coupled, with a greater understanding of internal motivation as appose to pure hunger has allowed me to get the best from the bird. Once taken in hand, he was flying on the creance with 12 days. 3 days later he was ready for his first free flight. Again luck was on the bird’s side and before I could start the first training session the pointer locked up along side a ditch, as I approached a pair of mallard rose. The outcome was inevitable, and from 30yards back Phoenix smashed the drake from the air as if he had done it every day for the last 6 months! I was elated, and I knew it would be a good season with a start like that. I had arranged a partridge release pen on my ground this season, and although he only accounted for 1 partridge last season, he took no introduction. Having light evenings and plenty of time, it was easy to move the released birds about the ground and create good set-ups using the pointer, I started the slips close by, then over a period of about 2 weeks I had the slips set at minimum 30-40m. As the birds’ confidence grew he was no longer tail chasing them until the put-in, but was making every effort to pluck them from the sky! This two week intense training routine of killing from the point every other day worked perfect and his attitude towards game was fantastic. Partridges were from this point onwards his favourite quarry species. Pheasants were also on the hit list and the training I did with him to promote mid air binds really improved my pheasant hawking, resulting in many more mid-airs than in the previous seasons. Other benefits included an increased confidence on Mallard and the introduction of Teal to the menu, both of which have to be taken within the first 50m.
There are too many highlights to name from this past season, the following is just one example.
This was on one of our clubs local field meets in the Bath area. This saturday was not very well attended, (which was good for me), and allowed me to have several slips that day. I was to have first slip of the day and within 5 minutes a covey of red legs had been spotted in a field of winter corn. As I approached a single bird took off like lightning, the Gos took no prisoners and took the partridge mid-air, a good start I thought to myself! Later in the morning he took another red-leg. On the way back to the cars for lunch a partridge was flushed, the Gos was off, and both birds were gone, somewhere in the direction of the car park. When I reached to cars, other club members said that the pair of birds and come flying through the car park, with the Gos tight behind the game bird, which almost hit the windscreen of a parked van. This was about 500m from where the slip had started. I was pointed in the general direction of where they had gone. I tracked them down about another 400m away, where he was chasing the bird on foot through a thick hedgerow. That afternoon Phoenix went on to take two hen pheasants, both taken mid air, with the second resulting in a bind over the middle of large field of standing maize. Now that was fun tracking!
In all, I must admit that flying this Gos, has at times been testing. It hasn’t always been easy, however, I believe an adaptive and dynamic manor needs to be adopted in my opinion to get the best from them. There’s no right or wrong way, or guaranteed method to these birds. However once you get things on your side and the birds is tuned in there really is nothing falconry wise that can come close.
Weight wise, this bird has fluctuated, and I tend not to be too concerned by weights, and prefer to use appetite and close monitoring of his power and determination. The bird was slightly smaller than his brother which my friend flew, and came out the chamber at 2lb 2oz. At the end of the first season he finished about 1lb 10oz. At the end of the third season he finished at 1lb 13.1/4 oz. his game bag for this year was 78, which I am more than happy with as I work a typical 9-5 day job.
With Phoenix now three years old, I know I am still yet to get the best from him. He has become slightly more independent and sometimes he won’t take on a slip if he knows he doesn’t stand a chance, but in return has increased his field craft and is really leaning his quarry. I look forward to many more years ahead with this bird.