Because it appears antiquated and was the butt of Saturday Night Live's "The Falconer" skit, the sport of falconry has long seemed to me an activity best suited for weirdoes, crazies and the certifiably insane.
After witnessing falconry live, up close and personal for the first time, I still think it's kinda crazy, but I'd now also add "totally cool" to the mix.
In meeting falconer Mike Gregston of Fort Benton, Montana, it quickly became evident that falconry is a serious commitment. In addition to acquiring knowledge of upland birds and training dogs – things wingshooters also need to be successful – there is the added element of training raptors. To obtain a falconry license in the U.S., one must pass a written test and serve a minimum of two years as an apprentice under a licensed falconer. After apprenticeship, a general license allows a falconer to possess two birds, and after five years at that level, they may apply for a master license to posses three birds. And none of it pays the bills, so it's definitely a labor of love.
It also became quickly evident that Peregrine falcons, Gregston's species of choice, are pretty badass birds. They've been used in falconry for over 3,000 years, but like eagles and other raptors, DDT and associated pesticides put them on the endangered species list. Now 10 years removed from de-listing, it was quite a site seeing a Peregrine gain altitude (over 1,000 feet, invisible to the naked eye) after the dog locked up on point, only to reappear dive bombing at speeds over 100 miles per hour after their upland prey flushed. To put that into perspective, a ringneck rocket tops out at close to 50 miles per hour, and the speedster canvasback hits its max at about 70 miles per hour!
"Totally cool" is right.