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Duck Hawking Don’ts

By Dr. Ken Riddle

 

 Today I almost became a victim of duck hawking.  When my peregrine stooped through a flock of mallards on the flush I was unable to see exactly what happened.  There were a couple of small willows on the side of the hill above the pond blocking the view.  To complicate matters, seven mallards and a gadwall had put back in and were swimming around nervously in front of me and would flush if I moved.  I knew my bird had whipped around and was on the ground somewhere 200 feet away.   I just squatted there waiting to see what had happened and searched the location of the supposed knockdown through my binoculars.  Nothing!  And then suddenly a drake mallard charged downhill towards the pond with my peregrine riding her back.  They quickly crossed a low wide mud flat bordering the drying up pond and ended in the water with the duck dragging my bird into the deep.  At 8 feet out and the mallard completely under, the peregrine was somehow able to turn toward shore, and, almost neck deep, she slowly began to rise and row towards the shore. 

I had hawked this pond many times before, and now I was running across spongy, caked mud, where before there had been a 40 ft inlet to the pond bordered between high cat tails.  Moving as close as possible to the water’s edge on the far side, I nervously conducted a visual search of the surrounding area for something to fish her out with if she made it to the bank with the duck.  Nothing could be found.  I had just taken my creance out of my hawking bag on Saturday so that I could clean and polish the bag in preparation for my trip to the Falconry Festival in Abu Dhabi.

I was at least 8 feet from the water as she struggled to reach the water’s edge, but I could get no closer without sinking into the crust-covered, but soft mud margin that now constituted the wet shore.  She stopped in about 4 inches of water, and try as she might she could make no more progress against the drake’s struggle in the opposite direction.  I waited until it became apparent she might loose the yardage she had gained and be taken out again. I then made a calculated decision to make a hopping advance to grab the duck.  I knew from past experience that my boots, and probably my jeans up to my knees would get muddy.  I took three giant hopping steps toward the duck and falcon but the second and third were not the hopping kind and on the third and last step my left leg went down to my crotch and my right leg went down up to the bottom of my jean pocket.  I twisted to the side, sinking in mud above my left hip pocket and just barely grabbed the mallard’s wingtip and settled into the ooze.  I remember there was no bottom to touch with my left foot, and struggling with my right leg, although not as deep, was as useless as the left.  I reached out with gauntleted left hand and grabbed caked mud on the top that quickly turned to paste below, and the bottom was only slightly thicker in my fingers.  I didn’t panic but I quickly realized I was stuck!  Instinctively I pulled the duck (and falcon) up against my hawking bag, which was still on the surface, and on top of my Ziess binoculars and began to push on all three to try to move my right leg and body forward.  I simultaneously clawed with my left gloved hand, which did provide some, but minimal traction.  Attempting to move my left leg was almost fruitless.  However, the hawking bag and duck acted like a snow shoe (mud shoe) although I cringed with every push thinking of the hours I had spent first cleaning it with saddle soap, and then treating it with leather preservative only a few days before.  At least 15 minutes went by as I wormed and squirmed my way inch by inch back to the bank.  I had to stop and rest several times.  While resting I took small consolation knowing the two hundred dollars in my wallet and the now mud-soaked telephone in my left pocket  (which I couldn’t even get out) was of absolutely no use to me.  I was a “pterodactyl in the La Brea tar pit”.  The local airport was only ½ mile away and I imagined some pilot seeing my hunter orange Oklahoma Falconers Association hat and muddy body lying in the mud.  But somehow I was making progress and I finally dragged my muddy carcass up out of the black muck, exhausted, gasping for breath, black and glistening hands and elbows, solid grease below the belt. I was suffering from muscle cramps in my abdominal and pectoral muscles and they still hurt 30 hours later.  With the mallard wing clutched up tight in my right hand and the peregrine clutching his neck, the thrill of the hunt was gone.  “Don’t laugh, It ain’t funny”.  When strong enough to stand, I dug out the “humming” telephone and somehow got the battery out. Then, the muddy end of the leash was threaded the through jess slits, and finally with the duck’s head secured in my mud-covered gauntlet I trudged my way 250 yards up the hill and back to my truck.  I took off my boots and all my clothes, threw them in the bed of the truck, and drove 7 miles back to the ranch in my socks (the bottoms were relatively clean, the tops covered in stinking black mud).  Home at last I hosed the mud off of the peregrine’s feet, belly, wing tips and tail.  Everything else got completely hosed except my receiver’s removable handle and canvas case.  The hawking bag was saturated with mud, and mud was found in all the pockets including a mass in the lure pouch.  The hawking bag John Hoolihan made for me 31 years ago has taken on a new significance: I would not have made it out of the mud without it!

THE TAKE HOME MESSAGE:  Ponds in my area are down 3 1/2 to 4 feet and we had 2 ½” of rain last week.  If you are duck hawking in similar conditions heed this warning!  Take a line along in your hawking bag that can be used to retrieve a falcon and duck.  A long line can be used to wind them up and retrieve them or at least to loop it around them with a thrown rock as a weight and drag etc.

Don’t run to the water’s edge across a previously flooded pond bottom, especially where the upper end of a marshy inlet may have silted to an unknown depth.  Cows meet their demise this way.  It almost happened to me.  It could happen to you!

 

Ken

P.S.

A couple of salient points: although not mentioned above, two facts were factored into the decision to “take the plunge” 1) the falcon was already tired and I knew she would not let loose and therefore might drown if pulled out into deep water again, and 2) although I had my live lure in my bag and could have offered it up as a transfer, I didn’t relish loosing the duck!  “The falcon and the duck were going home”.   I should have prioritized that to include I was going home!

 
 

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