Taking a Pitch ~ A Book Review

Taking a Pitch ~ A Book Review

by Eric Tabb and Steve Heying

Reviewing: The Hunting Falcon by Bruce Haak

Steve Heying:

As one who reads a large number of books and remembers at least some major attribute from each one, it is really great enjoyment to read a work that, right at first from title on and clearly delineated in a dedication, preface, and introduction, narrows the scope of the subject into topics that can be thoroughly expunged in a size of book that one can find time to sit down and read without being overwhelmed.

By using the title of The Hunting Falcon, Mr. Bruce Haak says that 1) this book will detail hunting or for those well versed in falconry for whom this book is truly written, game hawking, i.e. the pursuit of small game, ducks, and upland game ­ not any other quarry. Not since Frederick the Great has a book so carefully considered how to proceed in each given situation; 2) this book will only document the use of falcons, the large falcons, and very specifically, as the example species of his own and greatest experience, the Prairie falcon. To quote Mr. Haak in the introduction, "This book is intended as a guide for producing a first class game hawk." Mr. Haak goes on to further narrow the subject at hand, saying the book emphasizes practical training techniques of both a philosophical nature and a procedural basis to talk about the nature of birds, dogs, quarry, and cover, and their interrelation. This he does in good stead.

There is also time spent on telemetry and captive breeding as "recent developments which are ushering a new era for the sport."

Imprints are discussed at large too as to their education and training as related to game hawking.

All in all, this reviewer found The Hunting Falcon a breath of fresh air, with new insight, great depth, and clear and concise rationalization throughout. As the old adage goes "you can't teach an old dog new tricks." I believe the author has done just that. Mr. Haak is not afraid to lay highly controversial topics on the table, dissect them, spread them out for all to see, and stand firm on his conclusions based on the factual merits he has experienced.

Some of these are:

imping glue ­ using Zap cyanoacrylate and Zapkicker, a fixer spray for feather repair ­ most highly controversial ­ I've read opinions that say expressly not to use super glue for this!

Lures ­ use a retriever dog's dummy ­ well I should say ­ how demeaning ­ look out Frank Beebe, inventor of the overstuffed and fluffed flapping look alike lure!

Bagged game ­ look the other way here, Europe but still a positive discussion of pros and cons and when to and when not to and how to even.

Homing pigeons ­ a good 2 page treatise that is as concise and clear as it gets, yet covers all the bases!

Other controversial subjects are well handed and exposed, such as screaming, lure conditioning, and hacking both "traditional" and "tame," and the real center focus of the book being the training and hunting of the Prairie falcon, which is a niche in the falconry bookshelf that has needed filling for years.

And the quality of the paper, print, art work, pictures, binding, cover, and dust jacket (except why not a Prairie falcon with quarry for a cover photo?) are all of exceptional quality, although not value. The $35 price seems a bit steep for the size, but times are a changing.

I do feel that Mr. Haak has an innate understanding of the "fit" falconry has in today's world and what should be important in the modern practice of this ancient sport. But several controversies may be too strongly stated in today's world of controlling dictates that are always issued by those that will never understand a falconer's side of an issue because they don't want to.

Subjects like 1) a legal raptor take from all sources of the wild without regard to political boundaries, 2) true private ownership of birds of prey as applied to other wildlife, 3) falconers bringing pressure to bear on state and federal natural resource agencies, and 4) holding ground (wildlife habitat) for falconry, especially the concept of the falconry center as a use center and show off place with detailed explanation given as to the setup, that should enhance suitability. This is ignorant bliss in light of the fact that the powers that be in the mid 70's tried the same experiment at Haxton, Colorado and it was a costly fiasco!

Mr. Haak says he "has a charmed vision of the future." My charm has been hardened by reality. In the fall of 1972, I had a real fear that falconry would become illegal. It was not a fun time. That real fear returned with "Operation Falcon" on June 29, 1984. Again over optimism in both cases was partly to blame for realism versus pie in the sky dreaming. I just hope and pray Mr. Haak will not have us reaching for the stars and the heavens when all we need is a steady falcon overhead!

From cover to cover, this reviewer found this book a much needed effort, from an author of tremendous experience he protoged under a fantastically fabulous set of learned people, studied scientifically the raptors he uses and organized the result in a format that is easy to recall, although I miss having an index to specifically look stuff up in.

At the beginning, the book outlines its goal of being a guide without duplication of other works, of imparting a philosophy when combined with practical techniques yields successin an attitude intended to enhance creative thinking. Matching falcon to falconer as well as falcon to country and quarry, and it meets all these goals admirably. It is truly a "dynamic book" illuminating "a dynamic process" as the author promises.


Eric Tabb:

Printed in 1992 by Hancock House Publishers Ltd. 239 pages, 69 color photographs, 23 black and white drawings by Darryl Barnes and Rick Kline.

I feel privileged to be in a position to review a fine new falconry book by my friend, Bruce Haak, who not only writes well, but has actually done everything he writes about and then some. Because I have been able to see Bruce in action over the past decade, this book is important to me as a recollection of memorable times hunting and trapping. The book is one I can pull off the shelf when feeling the need for some inspiration and guidance.

For the beginner, this book is a philosophical and technological view of falconry the way it should be. For the seasoned falconer, it sets a standard for a level of self reliant falconry to focus on when we begin to feel a little off track.

A popular format for modern falconry literature has been and continues to be collections of contributions from various authors to fill out and compliment the thoughts and techniques of a principle author. This has made for some excellent books, full of insight and excitement. Woodford's A MANUAL OF FALCONRY, 1960, is one good early example. However, it is somehow less complicated and more focused when there is only one writer's thoughts to ponder. There is no such thing as a book, on any subject, that does not reflect the influences of others. The honest writer will give credit to those who have provided important insight. The author of this book does so often; he is an insatiable student. The falconry book, written by one person, can either turn the reader off or totally captivate and enthrall.

The author's chapter arrangement is informal and just a little unorganized. Sticking the Prairie falcon chapter (3) right after Fundamentals is a noble attempt to assign this species a pride of place in the book. Now I happen to know that Mr. Haak really does love Prairies. However, between the cover photo of the pretty Peregrine and the extreme effort afforded to Peregrine breeding, one surmises that Prairies are, well, basically brown and common.

I love the way Bruce begins several chapters with a short story that leads into the subject at hand. The change of print type defines the transition from anecdote to discourse.

Chapter 4, Acquiring a Falcon, is a really great section on how to climb to cliff nest sites safely and successfully. Following this is a matter of fact description of trapping passage falcons from an intuitive and skillful trapper. Why waste a bunch of paper talking about all the different methods. By god, just get a dho-gazza, a starling, and go catch a falcon. I wish I had read this chapter 26 years ago before trying to trap Tundra Peregrines on a narrow barrier island road, cut through dense coastal Florida scrub. Without big broad Assateague-like flats to chuck our harnessed pigeons out onto, our sets were on ten foot wide mown grass shoulders. Talk about frustration. You would think I could have put two and two together when I watched a tiercel blast through an orb spider web to catch a catbird. He whacked my pigeon once and kept right on going. With the harmless silken strand streaming from his blonde little head, he consumed his catch on a snag just a few yards from my stupid jocked pigeon. A little "D" net would have had him! Anyway, I digress. Bruce, I wish you had been with me! Maybe someday soon the fall passage will once again be observed the way it used to be by falconers as you envision in your fine epilogue.

The chapter on telemetry is worth studying. Using the "magic radio" is second nature to the author, as natural an appendage in the field as an arm or leg. You know what I mean? There are some falconers that are just comfortable and confident with their equipment. I always feel kind of like a three ring circus with it, but to Mr. Haak telemetry is no more complicated than a pair of binoculars. This skill is due, no doubt, to his scientific training and lots and lots of field practice. You do not keep incredible sky eating falcons like "Jasmine," the several times intermewed Red-nape Shaheen, without being really good with telemetry. And that means long cold nights out in the boonies following a faint beep, hoping to be one step ahead of Bubo virginianus. Tenacity and determination are the mark of the great falconers, and this author does not give up.

Not being a falcon breeder myself. I can not really say much about the chapter on breeding except that success speaks for itself. As Bruce admits, he has some of the best in this field as good personal friends. He also freely acknowledges the expertise of the Peregrine Fund, whose scientist/falconers have given Bruce and many others immeasurable assistance in person and in print. Bruce Haak has paid his dues for a long time in inhaled quail dust and misplaced hammer strokes for the sweet reward of a few perfect Peregrines. The fact that we have urban Peregrines in Boise is a direct testament to Bruce and his dedication and ability.

The printing technique of grouping all of the color photographs together in the center of the book is not my favorite style. I am sure it is a whole lot more economical than scattering them throughout the book where they fit with the text. Never the less, the quality of the reproductions is very good. This is as it should be for pictures by Rick Kline, one of the best raptor photographers around. His work is, as usual, technically and biologically incredible. No one stages raptor/quarry portraits more naturally. His shot of a Prairie falcon with a grey partridge got my vote for cover picture "should have been."

This book gets my vote as the most readable, common sense American falconry book of the nineties, so far. It sets a standard that even its author may find challenging to live up to in the next century.

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