On Saturday the 5th of August 2006 I drove over to M&J Raptors to pick up my first Goshawk, a moment that I’d spent the last six years or so preparing for. I had visions about this hellish creature I was about to pick up. Reading all the articles and books I could find on Goshawks had me prepared for the worst, but if I could get over this nature I would reap the benefits of an exceptional hunting partner.
Guinevere was caught up; equipment fitted, hooded, weighed (3lb 1oz) and sprayed down with water then placed in the shade on the lawn. I picked her up took off her hood and got her to the box inside my truck before she became too stressed, I then got home as quick as possible as it was becoming quite warm. I placed ‘Guin’ hooded on her perch in the Garden removed the hood and stood back, she looked around took in the new sights and sounds and looked uneasy but not the stressed out ‘Psycho’ I was expecting. In fact during that first day with my ‘little and often’ manning regime through-out the day, the only time this hawk became stressed was when hooding her, after a phone call back to Mick Kane for a little advice I decided the hood wasn’t worth making her distrust me when she seems so settled without it.
I was being told by friends it’s the calm before the storm, just you get ready… well it wasn’t the calm before the storm as the storm never arrived. Over that first weekend, she sat either on her perch or on my fist in the garden, she saw people coming and going, she saw three dogs, nothing really seemed to phase her I was amazed just how steady this untouched parent reared Goshawk was. On the Monday after another day of manning and trying to tempt her with chicks, rabbit legs and quail she eventually gave in to piece of beef that evening, I was so relieved that she had eaten, it was my first hurdle over with.
The day after we took our first manning walk out of the garden, and though she was uneasy, she wasn’t the bating manic I had expected. My next hurdle was to get her to jump to the fist as she was confident to feed with dogs and other people present. It was Friday before she became confident enough to jump to the fist, on Saturday I decided that now all the feeding I did would be out ‘in the field’ with Guinevere. She progressed nicely by the next weekend she was coming the full length of the creance but not quite instantly by the following weekend I had her coming 100 yards instantly and she was introduced to a wing lure and the rabbit carcass.
Her first flight free was a little daunting but it didn’t go too badly, she landed upon a telegraph pole and was a little reluctant to come back so when I got her back down I called it a day not wanting to push my luck. The next day she ignored about 5 flushed rabbits put out of cover, but hit the carcass again which we called an end to the session on. The next hunting session was a little more successful; she took her first rabbit bolted from a set by the ferrets, she had done well so I gave her a good feed from the kill.
It wasn’t long before she was entered on Rabbit, Hare, Partridge and Pheasant she was progressing very well hunting with my Dad and his two dogs as well as my own. Guinevere’s fitness and stamina on game flights were increasing as the game became stronger, though she seemed to switch off a little from ground quarry, which wasn’t a real concern as the game flights are where the Goshawk sets its self apart from other hawks flown from the fist. She became like a boomerang, if she missed quarry, whether she was ¾ of mile or 100 yards away, she was heading back to my fist, uncalled, un-garnished ready for the next flight. This amazed me after six years flying a Harris Hawk who wouldn’t look at me unless I offered her a chick I had a ‘Psycho’ Goshawk who thought I was the best thing in the world and wanted to get back on my fist to chase more quarry.
With the season in full swing we started attending field meetings and immediately I could see Guinevere wasn’t putting 100% into her flights on these days as she would when hunting alone, for the next month I concentrated on attending meets and getting out with as many people and their dogs as I possibly could, I was repayed duly on a field meet in Scunthorpe with my best flight of the season up to that point. A Hen Pheasant broke 25-30 yards to my right, Guinevere bated instantly and was slipped, she tailed the Pheasant across a large field heading towards a wood 600 yards away in the distance, she never missed a single wing beat crossing the field with her sights locked on the hen, as the hen dropped into the wood, Guinevere hit the hen and took her down to the floor, I made my way over and allowed her a good feed, whilst I toasted a spectacular flight with a sip or two of Sloe Gin from my hip flask.
This was certainly the turning point for ‘Guin’ on field meets, from that day she flew with vigour on Game no matter where we were or who or what was there and she has always done me proud. Another good day on Hodsoc saw Guin flying a Cock Pheasant across a field of Beet till it just had nothing left and couldn’t out fly her, she took him in what was estimated at 1000 yards from slip to bind.
As my land isn’t suitable for releasing any Game towards the last couple of months of the season my main stray of hawking was on field meets with my own ground providing the occasional slips during the week to keep her fitness levels up but the main hawking was at the weekend.
There have been many memorable days over the hunting season such as my first brace with Guin on strong wild Pheasant on the Revesby Estate (one of the cock pheasants weighing 4lb 8oz). Having to track her down over a mile away twice on Partridge flights but I think my last few days hawking Guinevere were probably my best, she took a French Partridge, Hen Pheasant, Rabbit and a Grey Partridge in two days of hawking, then on Thursday the 1st of February as we stepped into the field for the last time that season with in seconds a covey of Grey Partridge were bumped by the dogs at least 150 yards out Guin set off with a consistent and powerful wing beat, I watched then strained as the flight went out of sight and set off for the retrieve, as I had crossed a flooded dyke, a ploughed field and a field of set corn. Climbing a big hill I could hear crows mobbing Guin in the middle of a large field of set corn, getting closer I saw feathers scattered everywhere and my Goshawk sat proudly upon her third Grey Partridge of the season. She was allowed to eat the lot as I sat on the wet ground beside her over the moon with her effort and achievement on this flight but a little sad it would be our last until next season.
From 3rd September 2006 to 1st February 2007. Guinevere entered on 3rd of September 2006 at 2lbs 8oz Guinevere’s last flight and kill of the season on the 1st of February was at 2lb 14 ¼ oz. 63 Head consisting of;
Pheasant – 30
Rabbit – 12
Moorhen – 6
Grey Partridge – 3
French Partridge – 2
Wood Pigeon – 1
Magpie – 1
Hare – 1
Various – 7
I now look forward to next season hawking an experienced Goshawk in new clothes.