Thursday, January 7, 2010
Do you use chaps on your birds? I have heard arguments on both sides of the issue. My sponsor was dead set against chaps, other squirrel hawkers would never think of hunting squirrels without chaps.
Whenever I get emails from people asking about hawks, equipment, or gear, I usually start off by saying the same thing. Talk to the falconers in your area. They are the ones that know the conditions that you will be flying your bird in. In some areas you may be hunting red squirrels, fox squirrels, cat squirrels - maybe you have giant bird eating squirrels, - What I'm saying is - I don't know your quarry as well as you do.
I can only speak from my own experience. I have been hunting squirrels for over ten years. It is my main quarry and I have used mostly red tails and harris hawks. When it comes to red tails and squirrels, I prefer the male red tails due to their (generally) superior turning and agility in tight places. Most other squirrel hawkers I know want a big hen to crash the briers and vine tangles. I understand that as well. but I don't necessarily agree. The harris hawks, flown in a cast, are terror on squirrels. I don't know that I will go back.
But do I use chaps? I've tried it both ways. My birds have gotten bites no matter what is on their feet.
I was sent this link on a design of chap that I think I may like better than the original Brewer and stronger, and here are some others that come from The Modern Apprentice website. I read somewhere that the Coulsens had heard of falconers in the south taping their harris hawks toes. I don't know if that technique ever worked or not, though I would love to hear an update.
I agree that if you are going to use them they need to be light. The hawk needs mobility and foot speed when hunting squirrels, but even more than chaps (and maybe most importantly) I think a bird needs experience.
I've stopped using chaps. My only major injury was when a red tail was wearing chaps. That bird almost lost his toe.
I've also seen a bird who's tarsus was rubbed raw by the hard points of the metal studs rubbing through the inner liner of the chaps.
I think the major flaw in many chaps is the skirt. I like to protect my birds tarsus, but the skirt scares me. I worry that the squirrel can get up under that skirt and the hawk can't see him or get at him. The squirrel then has free reign to reek havoc on the birds toes from underneath. And when you think about it, that is the direction from which the squirrel will be attacking. The squirrel is not coming at the feet from above, but from below, where there is no protection.
It has been years now since I stopped using chaps. The birds get bites, but they are generally small, superficial.
What they have is experience gained over time. Hundreds of chases, hundreds of binds, and tons of squirrels in the freezer. My birds know to bind to the head. They will grab the rump or the rear, but they always end up on the head.
Do I worry - Oh, yeah, I do. But I also worry about transformers (not the robots), owls, hunters, and everything else in the woods. Maybe, I have been lucky. Will tragedy strike at some time? I hope not. But I think my birds are better off with lighter feet, better visibility of prey, and faster foot speed.
I'm hunting squirrels on Saturday - I can't wait.