Michigan's smallest hunting fraternity? It's falconry
STATEWIDE — Michigan’s hunting fraternity is broad, but as specific hunting techniques or quarries are identified, the group narrows dramatically. Michigan boasts 700,000 firearms deer hunters, but change the technique to archery and the number drops by half.
Similarly, there are more than 200,000 small game hunters, but as you further subdivide the game— into upland bird, say, or waterfowl— the number of participants shrinks.
So what is Michigan’s smallest hunting fraternity? Falconers.
Falconry is a centuries-old hunting technique that uses trained birds of prey to take game. The origins of the sport can be traced to 700 B.C., though historians are divided on whether it developed in Mesopotamia or the Far East. Falconry is thought to have been introduced to Europe around 400 A.D. and today is practiced around the world. In Michigan, fewer than 100 men and women are licensed to use raptors to take game.
Michael Yachcik, a 52-year-old social worker from Burton, is the current president of the Michigan Hawking Club, the state's falconry association. Yachcik started hunting with raptors 15 years ago.
"These birds do this stuff every day in the wild," said Yachcik, explaining his passion for the sport. "We capture these birds and we train them, not to do what they do, but to allow us to accompany them when they do what they do"
Yachcik is a Master Falconer, a distinction that allows him to own up to three birds. He’s all in favor of the restrictions on falconers because, that way, "you don’t get a lot of people in it who can’t do well by their birds," he said.
"Hawks and falcons never socialize with a human," Yachcik said. "They only accompany the falconer because they’re hungry and they know the falconer will feed them. They never do it because they like you; they’re not like cats that jump up in your lap. Hawks never like us. They do it because they know we provide food. A hawk, if he could hold you down and eat you, would.”
Yachcik still has his first bird, a red-tailed hawk, one of two redtails he owns. He hopes to get a kestrel this spring, he said. But having three birds will be a challenge as he likes to hunt his birds five days a week.
And it’s not just a matter of deciding you’re going. Conditions must be right and winds and rain prevent hunting.
And the bird has to be ready to hunt, too. Falconers can determine whether a bird is ready to hunt by how much it weighs.
"If they’re full, they’re not so interested in hunting," Alkire said. "We basically have an Olympic athlete. I want my bird to be as lean and muscular as he can be. But you don’t want him emaciated.
Alkire hopes to add a kestrel to his hunting crew. In the past, he had a Cooper’s hawk for a while that he obtained from another falconer.
Although transferring birds is part of the process, most falconers will tell you they like to trap their own.
"Part of the fun is, you trap these birds out of the wild and they’re terrified," Yachcik said. "Six weeks later, they’re coming back to you when you whistle."
Transferring birds used to be the only way Michigan falconers could obtain raptors, until the law was changed to allow them to trap wild birds several years ago. Karen Cleveland, the DNRE’s bird biologist, said raptors are numerous enough that taking a few from the wild—the number is strictly controlled by the DNRE—won’t hurt the populations. Fact is, falconers will tell you they help the populations.
The Michigan Hawking Club, which currently has 95 members, is the main source of information and mentoring for Michigan falconers. The club holds annual field meets where they get together and hunt. Although falconers are highly dedicated to their sport, no one believes falconry will be the next big thing.
"Twenty years ago we had fewer than 40 falconers," Cleveland said. "Now we’ve got 105 people with falconry permits. So the falconry population in Michigan increases by about two or three a year. Nationwide there are about 4,000 falconers, so it’s a very small group."
Details: www.michiganhawkingclub. com