Matthew Gage Review: The British Falconers Club Journal
There is a sturdy saying among falconers: “when the tailgate drops, the bulls**t stops”. The Specialist Falcon: A Personal Approach to Lowland Gamehawking is written by someone who has been confidently opening his truck, and flying his falcons and working his dogs to the highest of standards for many years. Simon Tyers is one of the UK’s most experienced falconers who has been practising and perfecting his falconry for 50 years, for a good chunk of which he worked as a professional for the late, BFC-loving John Fairclough. From early forays with shortwings, to adventurous grouse-camps on the remote Isle of Lewis, this book focuses on how to perfect low ground gamehawking.
Already receiving some excellent reviews, Simon’s book is formed around his own evolution to perfecting one of the more exacting forms of our art. Lowland game-hawking demands a combination of key ingredients that are very hard to get right, and they get harder each year. We now have good access to well-bred hawks and dogs and new technology, but are often hindered by shortage of suitable ground, lack of sustainable game populations, too much cover, abundant check, and other distractions – and that’s before we start thinking about the challenges of making great hawks and maintaining their style in the hawking field. Many longwingers are trying hard to achieve and maintain the exciting waiting-on flight at game, but it’s hard, especially on the low ground. Simon’s book is essential reading for help in that endeavour, with an ultimate eye on “High class performance, field-craft and respect.”
The book is beautifully crafted. It is nicely formatted and structured, and jam-packed with fine detail and captivating images across 320 pages. At first, I thought I’d received the limited edition, such was the quality, but that looks to be an even more lavish production. The writing is engaging, clear and accessible, and there are subtle gems of information in many paragraphs, so read it carefully to grasp that all-important intel. Especially, marvel at Simon’s meticulous attention to detail both in the mews and field, and to his writing and pictures, which we know make for happy and healthy hawks, and fine falconry.
The book starts with some delightful ‘perfect day’ lowland game-hawking flights by Simon’s recent team to set the scene for what the book aims to convey, rounded up with tea and sausage rolls. Very high flights at seasoned game on the low ground are challenging to achieve consistently, but the flight descriptions reveal what can be accomplished if the correct training, discipline, hawks and ingredients are carefully nurtured and refined over years, with that all-important focus on performance, fieldcraft and respect (with a post-flight sherry). Then follows a nicely structured set of hugely relevant chapters. I found myself nodding in agreement throughout all of them. Method develop from where many of us started as hunters, to focusing more on style than the bag. Description of ground and game covers the all-important basic ingredients, but the text goes much further by showing how to get pro-active through game management and release, with some great thoughts on how to generate your own sustainable take of game each year by falconry. This is something many of us are going to have to take a lot more seriously.
I really enjoyed the Choice of Falcon chapter, because this is something that gets debated so hotly. I liked Simon’s open-minded attitude to flying the right hawk for the particular quarry, and not being hindered by subjective ideologies. Importantly, this chapter is based on detailed experience with different species or sub-species, and being realistic about what they are capable of. Sure, you can catch the odd cock pheasant with a female peregrine, but try doing it day-in day-out through the whole season, and then see how committed she remains? Gyrs are notably hard work, and a bit of an unknown quantity in the hawking field in the UK, but there is ample coverage in the book on this species, which might well become more available as market-pressures change? The training and entering stages are also enlightening, coming from someone with such long-term experience and awareness of falconry tradition. Getting eyasses going on a drone shows how technology can be an initial help, but knowing that it must be applied sparingly before going hawking is essential. Importantly, Simon’s evidence shows that such applications are not short-cuts or playful distractions from true falconry, but modern ways to extract and observe game-hawking potential in new eyasses. Before the use of kites and drones, Simon’s experience with ‘traditional’ methods showed that more than half of each year’s eyass cohort would not make the grade, despite ample exposure to game. Now, the inclusion of some careful early flights to the drone as one stage in a game-hawk’s development has reduced the number of those failures. This is an advance, and reflects an attitude running through the whole book towards ‘‘Exploiting everything to my advantage in the hope of continual improvement in my own skill as well as my falcons’ performance and reliability.”
There is an excellent chapter on dogs, and how to train and manage good pointers to enhance the field experience and the presentation of good flushes. For me, pointers are a crucial part of the game-hawking day, even if their behaviour can accelerate hair loss at times. Fieldcraft is another essential ingredient, and more valuable first-hand experience (and the application of some modern help from thermal imaging and GPS) is put down on paper to help us engineer fine and testing flights on different lowland game birds. As the book draws to its conclusion, there is a detailed and helpful chapter by the great Richard Jones on Health and Disease. This is written by someone who also practises and understands fine falconry, with special attention to prevention, and important thoughts on simple issues like using diet and hawk management at home to maintain good health.
The book concludes with chapters on final thoughts and on the future of falconry, sending important messages for us not to take current affairs for granted into the future, with people becoming more dissociated with wild things and field sports. Join a club, and represent the fine standards of respectful falconry to the wider public. Those are two very sensible pieces of advice. Falconry has changed a lot over the past couple of decades, with far more talk than action now. Social media allows exaggeration or misinformation, and web-sites seem more obsessed with Crufts-style beauty or size contests than proper falconry.
If you want to start or improve your lowland gamehawking, you should buy this book. It contains heaps of wisdom that flows straight from the horse’s mouth, and has already got me looking forward to next season with new ideas.