Michael Pearce

Nation’s best falconers coming to central Kansas, looking for hunting spots

Local falconer Nate Mathews, and his golden eagle, Isaiah, will be joined by falconers from several countries at the Nov. 8-13 field event for the North American Falconers Association convention in Hutchinson.
Local falconer Nate Mathews, and his golden eagle, Isaiah, will be joined by falconers from several countries at the Nov. 8-13 field event for the North American Falconers Association convention in Hutchinson. The Wichita Eagle

Sheldon Nicole is hoping to find some legendary Kansas hospitality when he and about 250 of his buddies come to Hutchinson in a few weeks.

Nicole, director of the Nov. 8-13 North American Falconers Association’s annual field meet at Hutchinson is struggling to insure plenty of good flying areas for falconers from across the U.S. and several foreign countries.

“Anybody who can take a falconer to some land to hunt will become that falconer’s best friend,” said Nicole. “It would be the best way to get to see these birds fly, I can absolutely guarantee you that.”

The club has made repeated trips to Kansas in the past, normally basing out of Garden City or Dodge City, but problems losing birds to electrocutions from power lines out there sent them looking for another host city.

Out west, according to Nicole, falconers loved the wide-open spaces and the jackrabbits that thrived in places like wheat stubble and grazed pasture lands.

“We have a lot of falconers come from back east that don’t have access to jackrabbits so they’ve always been thrilled to get out here,” he said. “But we like that Kansas provides us with such a variety of game to pursue with our birds.”

Unlike those with shotguns, hunters flying falcons, hawks or owls can hunt upland game in Kansas Sept.1 - March 31. Nicole said many will probably want to fly their birds on ducks. Prairie chickens are the real trophy for those flying hawks or falcons fast enough to catch the swift prairie birds.

Falconers will go out solo or in small groups, hunting a variety of public and, hopefully, private lands. Cottontails will be one of the most popular animals pursued.

Nicole rattled off about a dozen different species of birds he expects to come to Kansas for the event, ranging from tiny kestrels to golden eagles, the largest bird of prey in North America.

Every person flying those birds has put in far more preparation than those who hunt the same game with guns.

First comes a two year apprenticeship to a qualified, experienced falconer. Most times that includes getting the government permits needed to capture a wild bird for training.

“Most states require that you start with a wild-trapped bird as an apprentice,” Nicole said. “One reason is that because you normally don’t have to teach it to hunt. It’s been doing that to survive. But it’s also so you can release that bird back in to the wild, and it will survive, if you find that falconry is too demanding of a sport. It’s not like a shotgun where you just go get it out of the gun safe and then put it back until next time. These birds demand attention daily.

Nicole said federal guidelines are strict as per bird care, and must be followed. Also unlike hunting with a bow or gun, falconry is not a sport where you plan on a dining on a big meal of fresh game when you get home.

“If we had to depend on our birds to survive everyday we’d starve,” he said. “We don’t have much of an impact on the wildlife population. If we get a bird or a rabbit it’s a pretty big deal.” The experience, however, can be greater than what’s experienced by those who take game with a gun.

“I refer to this as extreme bird watching,” he said. “We get to watch these birds do what they’ve been doing in the wild, and be part of it. It’s really up close and personal with some of the neatest animals in nature.”

Nicole promised anyone furnishing hunting grounds could get to experience such a hunt. The public is invited to some see the birds at an open space near where the event is headquartered at the Atrium Hotel and Conference Center in Hutchinson.

“It’s a fenced area where the birds will be placed during the day, on tethers, so they can get some sun and enjoy the weather,” he said. “Most people put their birds out for a half-hour or so before they head out on a hunt. That would be an excellent time to see the birds and meet some falconers.”

Anybody who would like to host a few falconers can contact Nicole at 214-288-0670.