Red meat and a hungry hawk…nature, wild, bloody tooth and nail.
The red-tailed hawk’s black talons gripped the thick leather glove on the falconer’s forearm. Its luminous eyes blazed with intensity on the slab of red meat in his handler’s hand. The hawk’s hunger transcended its natural fear of humans, and in these brief moments the man and bird bonded.
Ah, yes, love. We love what we love. Who can figure it out? We can’t even explain it to ourselves. Our natures are hot-wired with primal impulses, proclivities and inbred intuitions. Weird wiring indeed.
A vagrant spirit blows through us, ‘calling’ us for this or for that. There are calls of the sea, the mountains, the forests, deserts, the frontiers. We feel it, but living it explains it. And along Georgia’s coastal plain are diversities of lands to love.
It’s hard to separate the land from its people, the people who occupy it, who love its diversity, who understand its rhythms, who can discern its mysteries and unlock its unseen secrets.
There is the magical leisure of the sea, the mystical tranquility of the marshes, the solitude of fishing, the teeming estuaries and the historical sites of ages past. Many love these lands.
But there are other lands, wild lands, lands of palmetto hammocks, black-water rivers, green-water cypress swamps, thickets of vines and briars and forests canopied with ancient live oaks dripping with Spanish moss. Fewer yet love these lands.
It’s a crisp Spring morning. I stand gazing into a tableau of ancient oaks. The dappled sunlight dances on the forest floor making it appear alive. Nothing else moves. It is from this milieu that Wes Schlosser emerges, his red-tailed hawk riding majestically on his gloved forearm and Rambo, his Patterdale terrier at his heels.
I’ve come at his invitation, to fuel my curiosity about hunting with dogs and hawks in Georgia’s back woods. Wes is an apprentice falconer but a master trainer of hunting dogs and other breeds. He has the ‘whisperer’ mystique, the talent to bond with both dogs and hawks. He trains them to hunt together. A delicate balance.
“How are the woods today, Wes?”
“Alive like always. Nature is heavy-breathing today.” He is referring to humidity.
“The hawk seems calm.”
“Yeah, sleepy, like we get when we’re over-served. Want to hold him?”
I cautiously slip on the glove. The hawk’s talons tighten on my forearm. It glares through me with ominous eyes that suggest I’m its next meal. Interlopers are tasty.
“What encouraged you to train hawks to hunt?”
“It’s a calling, I guess. I like challenges. I’ve trained dogs since I was a teenager. I wondered if I could bond with a hawk. Somehow it works. It’s patience and food. Food builds the bond. Patience calms the fear. They see me as something benevolent, not a threat.”
“How do you get them to hunt with dogs?”
“Hawks are natural born hunters. It’s inbred. It’s all about survival. Hawks prey on small critters, mostly squirrels, rabbits and mice. I let the squirrel dogs loose; they tree squirrels and then I set the hawk free. Hawks can detect the slightest movement at great distances. They have telescopic eyesight. The rest is up to the hawk. It gets excited. It soon learns the process.”
“Can hawks distinguish human voices?”
“Yes. Interestingly, their eyes control their thoughts. If they get stressed, I put the hood on. They calm down, go to sleep.”
“You spend a lot of time in the woods, right? What are its secrets?”
He laughs. “Plenty, but you have to experience the woods to figure them out. Listen, when you set foot into the ocean or the woods, you don’t necessarily enter at the top of the food chain. Walking in the woods your senses become alert, alive, and you begin to relate to life differently. Like the Indians say, you have to look at things twice to see them.”
“What are the joys of training hawks and dogs?”
“Teamwork. Like any sport, teamwork. Plus, trained hawks can survive better when released back into the wild. They’re trained killers. It’s all about survival.”
Wes puts the hawk back in its cote and we lean against the pickup and talk more about dogs, hawks and life.
He checks his watch. “Gotta get going.”
“Yes, another challenge. A Great Dane that’s deaf.”
Every day is worth living when it’s spent among the people who live in the land that we love.
May 15, 2020