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Falconry in Mississippi

Most Mississippi sportsmen who go small game hunting for birds and rabbit use a modern shotgun and the proper shot size and have been that way for nearly three centuries. More than 357,000 Mississippi hunters, age 16 and older, take to the woods each year, a force larger than the peacetime armies of Germany, Great Britain and France combined. However, of these hunters, only about 25 use a bird of prey instead of a firearm or a primitive weapon to harvest game.

What is Falconry?

The falcon takes wild prey in its natural environment using a trained falconer. In the past, the term stringer or falconer was used for a hunter who did the same thing with a falcon or eagle, however today the term falconer and falconer is used for the practitioner and the sport as a whole. The hobby began in the ancient world as early as 2000 BC. and predates the use of firearms for hunting by more than a millennium.

Do you have what it takes?

Falconry is time consuming and expensive. One must start as an apprentice in the sport and work up to becoming a general or master falconer. Alan Mumbower, MDWFP’s regional biologist and Falcon Program guru puts it this way on the states website to see if falconry is for you:

“Can you, can you, devote part of your waking hours to a creature who at best will simply tolerate your presence, be as affectionate as a rock, and at worst cause you heartache and gore? Can you average half an hour a day, every day, and two to four hours a day hunting, regardless of school, family or work — as long as you have your bird?”

Being a falconer is more time consuming than many other hunting disciplines and is a lifestyle change that affects you 365 days a year. Let’s face it, no matter how dedicated a hunter you are, you don’t need to feed and care for your rifle, shotgun, or bow every day no matter what. With a raptor on the payroll, you will.

How much?

The good news is that the most invaluable item and the one you couldn’t do the sport without is free. You cannot legally purchase a bird of prey for hunting and must trap your own in the wild. However, before you head out into the woods to capture your new feathered friend, you must first apply as an apprentice candidate. In the application you have to pass a certification review and inspection where you have to show your Mews (indoor facility for your raptor), your weather area where the tethered raptor can fly, your jeses (foot) for the bird, the swivel leash, gloves, bath bowls, perches, scales and other equipment required for the care and training of your animal. This gear is very specialized and like all good hunting gear costs money. However, before you even go shopping for your gear, you must pay according to MDWFP to take the written falconry exams based on federal and state regulations and pay your licenses and fees of at least $100 (good for five years) plus the cost of your regular hunting license.

Your apprenticeship.

Current Mississippi State regulations allow only the apprentice falconer, who must be at least 14 years old, to humanely trap his new bird during approved times after all of the above tests, fees and inspections have been taken care of. An apprentice can only have a red-tailed hawk (the most commonly used for young falcons) or a red-shouldered hawk or an American kestrel. The new falconer must train his first animal and use it for a full hunting season before moving on to become a general falconer after two years. During this time you must work for and be sponsored by a Master Falconer, by definition an athlete with at least eight years of experience in the sport. General Falconers can have two raptors and hunt without the tutelage of a master. Master falcons can have three birds.

The reward.

The two dozen Mississippi hawks who follow this ancient sport would largely not have it any other way. For the time, effort and money they invested they are modern breeders who are literally one with nature. Many Mississippi hawks practice this most extreme of bird hunting and use their raptors to catch duck and dove as well as squirrel and rabbit effortlessly and with great splendor that must be seen to be appreciated.

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