Friday, July 27, 2007

The Carrizo Springs Harris Hawk Pack

This last year I traveled southwest of Carrizo Springs, Texas for a traditional bow hunt. My quarry was the Javelina otherwise known as the “Collared Peccary”. The Javelina is small but fierce desert pig that weighs 35 to 50 pounds. After a tour of the ranch we were hunting, I picked a windmill over a livestock-watering trough to hunt for the afternoon. With water being the key to life in the South Texas desert, I though I might get a shot by positioning myself over the water hole. The ranch foreman dropped me off with plans to pick me up after dark. As I climbed the windmill tower I could see the dust from the truck disappearing in the distance.

From my perch I could see over miles and miles of the South Texas countryside. It was mostly flat, rocky ground with tons of cacti and brush interspersed with mesquite and yucca. There was a large, brushy-cactus flat that was maybe 200 yards wide by a mile long that had most of the trees dozed off years before. On the far side of the flat mesquite trees had grown a tall thick barrier that I could not see through. There were game trails worn through the flat from the tree line to the water hole showing heavy use as game came daily to water.

From my vantage point on the windmill I watched a covey of bobwhite quail come to water, drink their fill and wander back into the brush. Several whitetail deer came into water but no pigs.

As I sat in the South Texas sun and tried not to fall asleep, I noticed a single, dark-chocolate and rust-red colored hawk come out of the mesquites on the far side of the flat taking a perch in a lone mesquite tree. This hawk had long yellow legs with a white rump patch and a white band on the tail feather. It reminded me of a small Golden Eagle. Soon another joined it and then three more flew out of the thick brush. They grouped at the mesquite tree as if to have a social meeting or to form a plan and then launched into flight up the long flat. About a third of the way up the brushy flat a large jackrabbit burst from under a shady mesquite. The chase was on! It was like watching a pack of coyotes on a hunt, yet this pack was in the air. From my high vantage point on the windmill, I watched the attack unfold below me and in full view. The hawks were on that jackrabbit like fighter planes on a target in a war movie. I was surprised the rabbit lasted as long as he did. The hawks concentrated on the chase with no vocalizations yet each seemed to know their part in the pursuit. Just as one of the hawks would almost grasp the jackrabbit, it would flip one-way or the other continuing to flee with another hawk flying into position to resume the chase.

The jackrabbit plunged into some brush and I thought he had made it to safety, but one of the smaller hawks plowed right into the brush hot on his trail. As the jackrabbit burst out the other side the largest hawk did a wingover, grabbed him and they tumbled about for a moment. Immediately one of the other hawks assisted the first with the jackrabbit. The screams were loud and shrieking but did not last long. The hawks kept footing the jackrabbit until there was no movement. The largest hawk then flapped its wings half flying and half jumping while dragging the rabbit to an area clear of brush. I then observed something that I had never seen; five hawks shared the kill. I decided right then and there that someday I would fly this hawk whatever kind it was. I later found out they were Harris Hawks native to this part of South Texas and Mexico.

Although I did not take a Javelina that evening I will never forget the hunt I witnessed. The influence that experience had on me has changed my life. It was the final straw for me as I had been interested in Falconry all my life, but had not made the commitment to become involved. I now have a great sponsor and am a member of the Texas Hawking Association. At 50 years old I am on my way to becoming a Falconer. Some day I will fly a wild-caught Harris Hawk.

Post Script: I wrote this story several years ago and have now flown a red tailed hawk for two seasons and recently released him back to the breeding population in the wilds of Texas. I now have my General Falconry Permit and will be heading to South Texas in a few weeks to trap a wild passage Harris Hawk and fulfill my dream of flying a Harris Hawk. I am now sponsoring an apprentice and hope to pass on and instill in him that which has been passed to me.


Anonymous said...

what an amazing story! i have witnessed something similar with bald eagles and red tailed hawks. your account was so vivid, i felt like i was there! thank you for sharing this!

Wild Ed said...

Glad you liked the story. I have now hunted with a couple of differet Harris Hawks and find them to be a most intelligent predator. Ed