The clocks have set back and it gets too dark to hunt just after 5:00. If I can get changed and sneak out of work right on time, that gives me about an hour and a half to hunt. There is a great spot just across the street that I can get to quickly, thus maximizing my time in the field.
So on Monday I found myself changing into my hunting clothes in the bathroom at work, only to realize that I had forgotten my boots. Crap, I couldn't very well hunt in my work shoes, so I had to get home quickly.
Thankfully, I only live 15 minutes from work. But the construction slowed me down - they're installing new power lines along the highway, closing it down to only one lane.
My mind was thrumming - as I beat out a tune on my steering wheel - my impatience surging.
Home, change, check gear, back out.
I was in the field by 3:45. Okay, that's about an hour and some change, plenty of time for a good squirrel chase.
The hawks had fasted the day before and both their weights were right on. I tossed them into the trees and marched into the cane.
This area was flooded last year and much of it couldn't be hunted. It's all dried out now and makes this area ideal bottom lands to hunt in. It is still too thick to see much, but some color is starting to sneak into the leaves and I'm hoping they'll be falling soon.
It didn't take long before the hawks pinged on a squirrel. They' body language told the tale as first Gonzo dashed over to a distant tree, followed by Tess. Gonzo started to climb, circling the trunk and looking. That's when I saw the squirrel leap, from oak to pine, the squirrel scrambled up the trunk. Tess darted to intercept, but the squirrel was already across to the next tree, disappearing into the thick leaves of a live oak. I couldn't see anything, just shadows through the leaves. I listened for the bells as I pulled vines and made a commotion on the ground.
At one point, I heard a flurry of activity, then nothing. Tess had killed it in the tree tops. Gonzo stood close by.
So I waited as Tess finished the job.
I hate it when this happens. The hunt is ending outside of my control. The hawks can sit in the tree and eat if they so choose. So I worry. But the good thing about having too birds up there is that they put pressure on one another, and it wasn't long before Tess launched, the squirrel dangling from her talons, and glided to a more secluded, "private" dining area a hundred yards away.
I found her and transferred her off. Little did I know that Tess's new spot was crawling with squirrels.
As soon as I had bagged the first catch, another chase was on. I missed much of it as it took place low, between cover and on the ground. The hawks followed, diving like missiles. Finally, the squirrel tried to spiral up the straight trunk of a loblolly pine. He made it about two thirds up when Gonzo scraped him off the side, dropping him. Tess caught him in mid air - adjusting her grip to his head and glided to the ground. I made in quickly, got a hold of the squirrel and Tess stepped off, waiting for her reward. Trade off don't go any easier. Gonzo honored, off to the side.
And there was still time.
So I took the roundabout route back towards the jeep. Two minutes and gonzo was off, after another squirrel. I stumbled, earthbound, after them. This chase took longer, up and down hills, from tree to tree. I shook the vines from the ground, keeping the squirrel moving. Gonzo circled up the tree, While Tess stalked from below. There was no lull in this chase, the squirrel felt the pressure from the two birds and never stopped moving.
The squirrel sought refuge in an old, poorly made nest. Tess regularly tears apart nests and she just plowed into this one. Their was a brief struggle, and she ended up killing this one in the tree again. It didn't take as long, and I wasn't worried, except that daylight was starting to fade.
She coasted down with it nearby, and I traded her a third time.
With three catches and two of those where she killed in the trees, you would expect that Tess's toes would be pretty well chewed up. But these hawks have been doing this for a while and know the game. A quick inspection of the hawks feet shows only one, superficial bite. A quick rinse and it will heal up so that you won't even know it was there.
Not enough daylight for another chase, so I made a B-line back to the care and put the birds away. What can you do in an hour?
Apparently, a lot.