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Religious Falconry

Bear with me for a moment as often times talk of religion becomes awkward within the first few sentences. I do not intend to expound on the spiritual inclinations of mankind, rather I only mention religion here to highlight the similarities that this beautiful sport of ours has with the metaphysical beliefs scattered across the globe.

I consider myself a religious man, in the Bible sense of the word, and every Sunday you’ll find me at church worshipping. However, you’ll rarely hear me talk about my beliefs unless asked to do so. I find that most people will believe whatever they want and preaching to them does little but annoy. That’s fine by me. While I do believe strongly in the church I belong to one particular belief of my church states, “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.” While our beliefs about the afterlife, or lack thereof, may cross the spectrum, individuals reading this article most likely all share the religion of falconry and it is this “religious falconry” to which I would like to speak. It is my intention with this article to encourage all falconers to adopt the above mentioned tenet of my faith as it applies to falconers. Claim the privilege of practicing falconry according to the dictates of your own conscience, and allow all falconers the same privilege, let them practice how, where, or what they may.

There are many definitions of religion. One says religion is, “a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects.” Another says similarly, “[a] body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices.” Certainly falconry falls under these definitions! The fundamentals of falconry are nearly identical across the globe and the practices inherit in falconry unite cultures that in other circumstances may even be considered enemies. Indeed, in this respect, falconry is an amazing practice.

Yet another definition suggests that religion is, “something one believes in and follows devotedly…”, no problem there, but the definition continues, “…a point or matter of ethics or conscience.” And when ethics and conscious come into play things get enormously sticky. What constitutes “good ethics” and “bad conscious” differ as greatly as a gyrfalcon differs from a sharp-shinned hawk depending on who you ask. Therein lies the problem that falconers often face. What constitutes good falconry versus bad falconry? Put a group of devoted longwingers in a room with devoted shortwingers and ask them to debate the merits of their chosen practice and you might as well throw up an octagonal cage and charge outrageous pay-per-view fees for the slugfest that is likely to follow! (On a side note, if anyone takes that idea and runs with it, please donate all proceeds to the club…) And in the end who will be right? No one, of course, as the beauty of the sport is in the eye of the beholder. One may find the orchestra of falcon, dog, and pointed quarry absolutely musical whereas another may find the flash of an accipiter off the fist in a flight lasting no more than thirty yards poetry in motion. Fair enough, I can accept the fact that different flight styles are appreciated by different people.

Unfortunately, I have seen these spirited debates escalate to involve more trivial matters. Suddenly whether or not one hawks on open ground or in an industrial park is a matter of ethical concern! Youtube has certainly been an accomplice in escalating this silly debate. Being as passionate as we all are about this sport there are those among us concerned that showing hawking in an industrial park will not be putting our best foot forward when the general public is likely to stumble upon the video. Fear of what “the anti’s” (ever lurking in the shadows) might say or do should they see such a video are certainly valid concerns and yet I hardly think that our passion for the sport should be wasted on defaming other falconers if they chose to practice that type of falconry.

We live in a modern world where space and time are luxuries afforded to few. Yet falconry has adapted to these conditions remarkably well. It would wonderful if we could all devote all our time and energy into orchestrating a beautiful longwing flights or spend hours afield pursuing the most difficult flights for our shortwings but the fact of the matter is most of us aren’t so lucky. Yet giving up falconry is no more an option than giving up ones religion for those who are truly dedicated. So we make due. A few quick flights at industrial park bunnies becomes our hurried prayer to the falconry gods each day. Not ideal, but at least we’re praying! And if we’re lucky enough to capture those quick flights on film it’s understandable that we would want to share the excitement.

I have chosen here to highlight just one, and perhaps the most minor, of the arguments that I hear among falconers and I imagine that many of you who are reading this can think of dozens of more “hot-button” topics which are likely to cause a heated debate in falconry circles. I do not mean to advocate complacency. Debate, even “spirited” debate, is healthy and this is not to say that there is no such thing as bad falconry. There is. What I hope to encourage is a different approach, a more respectable dialogue, in discussing these matters.

There is not a falconer out there who does not love the sport. There are too many hoops to jump through in becoming a falconer for someone to undertake this sport without that love. Unfortunately, that passion often clouds our unity and interferes with potential friendships. In the coming months and years we have the chance to change the way our sport is regulated and I fear that our petty bickering amongst ourselves will hamper our ability to move forward in positive ways. I would ask that all falconers approach these exciting times with open minds and strive for regulations that indeed let all falconers practice their beloved sport in the manner that they see fit. You cannot regulate good falconry and you cannot force another to practice only what you feel to be “good”. If we accept that fact and strive only to practice our own best falconry then we can all appreciate this wonderful sport for whatever we may feel it to be.

Happy hawking to all…whatever form you practice.

Isaac Nichols