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Larsen_Drone_Technique_01


The Perfect Pigeon


By Scott Larsen of Malad, Idaho


I am personally dedicated to flying Passage Falcons in my pursuit of the Art of Falconry.  That’s just me.  I love the challenge of Passage Falcons and I have flown Prairies, Gyrs and of late, Peregrines, both Anatums and a Texas trapped Tundra.  So, I normally think of myself as a traditionalist in the way I pursue Falconry.  Having said that, I have always been open to new ideas on how to shape these birds into high flying machines capable of delivering for me what I consider to be high quality Falconry.

 

I’ve “trained” many falcons, mostly Prairies, but also Passage Gyrfalcons as well, by using Pigeons, Kites, and Balloons.  I have over the years always returned to Pigeons and decent quality, rising air to shape my young passage birds, because it not only works pretty well, but it gives me a sense of accomplishment.

 

To take a Passage Prairie, for example, from the trap all the way to hawking game the way I like to do it, I start by of course getting my Prairie just tame enough so I can pick her up off a fresh kill.  Once I have that accomplished, my next step is to turn her loose one day, no creance, and as she’s flying up and away, climbing and distancing herself from me, I yell “ho” and serve her an “easy” Pigeon.  And so it begins.  Eventually, she is climbing, catching a piece of air on some days and on others just climbing with her own powers of flight, in an attempt to arrive at that magical spot in the sky that will make me serve her a Pigeon.  Good old fashioned Operant Conditioning.  There hasn’t really ever been a great substitute for it that doesn’t have certain and sometimes overwhelming drawbacks for a Falconer who likes to keep things simple.

 

The balloon and the kite, for examples, do indeed convert themselves into a Falcon’s most prized reward and for which she will climb her heart out to rise up to and catch.  But in my experience, it only accomplishes so much.  Mostly it builds a pretty darn well conditioned Falcon and it orients her to climb somewhat too, but only to a certain degree and for a sole purpose.  Ultimately, game hawking is what really gets in between their ears and turns them into climbing machines, because they are doing it for a purpose other than for the sake of climbing mindlessly into the sky to an object holding their food!

 

I could go on about all the reasons why I don’t like the balloon and even more reasons why I don’t like the kite, but suffice it to say they are both a huge hassle and can both be very discouraging when there is either not enough wind or too much wind on a given day!  I always hated that!  I have ballooned with a certain amount of positive results and I won’t deny that at all and I don’t think guys are silly for “ballooning” their Falcons or for using other contraptions to “train” them.  That would be like thinking it is silly to use modern telemetry, just because the old timers used bells.

 

What I have found, and not necessarily intentionally, I call “The Perfect Pigeon” and it isn’t a pigeon at all.  It’s a DJI Phantom 2 Quadcopter.  (It could be any brand, but that’s what mine is.)  I don’t simply put the drone in the air and have my falcon go up to it, take the bait off a line and float down to the ground every day.  I have personally developed a technique that transforms the Drone into a training Pigeon, but not just a Pigeon.  A Pigeon that does EVERYTHING right, virtually EVERY TIME!

 

I discovered this idea by necessity and by chance.  A couple of years ago, I had a Passage Prairie Falcon that I trapped very late the winter before.  She was a Natural!  She flew into the heavens and even very early on, she’d be in the sky for 30 to 40 minutes and I would not have a visual on her.  Only a signal.  She flew very high for game hawking.  She slew Sharptail, Partridge and even Sage Grouse.  Her first Sage Grouse, she killed from a spectacular pitch of 1500’ or higher.  Anyway, one day, she hit a mallard duck head-on and she broke her leg doing so.  I spent a good chunk of change at a very good Avian Vet’s place to get that leg fixed!  I wanted to give this Prairie a chance to come back and return to be the great game hawk she had been maturing into rather quickly before the accident.  Well, after her leg was repaired, I started flying her again, but it was after about 3 months of stagnation.  She had lost her wild condition and when I’d cast her off, the first thing she’d do is go off looking for a fence post to weather on.  Such a frustration to me because before, she had never, ever landed on anything, not one single time!  So, I thought, well, maybe I should buy one of those stupid drones and see if I could get her to go to it and get her back in shape that way.

 

She hated the drone with a passion.  Not the drone itself, but the whole scenario.  So, as is necessary with Passage Prairies, I decided to lean on her a little harder and give her a greater sense of urgency.  Eventually, I got her going to the drone immediately when she was unhooded.  Then, things got interesting.

 

Each day I would set the drone a little higher, maybe 200’ high and then 300’ the next day and then 400’,  etc. but, I would make her chase it up to staggering heights once she became really committed to chasing it upwards.  On the Phantom 2 one can remove the factory set ceiling and allow it to climb as high as it will go laterally, so use your imagination, but also use care and fly it sensibly, depending on the location you fly your falcons in.  To shorten this story, the Prairie Falcon would basically fly away from the drone, as far as sometimes a mile, maybe farther, as she chased it up, because if she came into it on level flight, I would raise the drone and make her miss the bait.  So, as it seemed to me, she would fly very far away and feign disinterest in the drone and would climb much, much higher than the drone.  Once she felt she was high enough that it could not out climb her anymore, she would begin her attack run and it became the thing I looked forward to the most each day!  She would come in so fast that when I would finally locate her coming in, as the radio signal would be getting stronger, there was no way I could out climb her and she’d easily over take the bait, usually in a sharply angled looking stoop, or so it seemed from where I stood on the ground.

 

Well, so all of that got me excited about flying her on game again because she hadn’t landed on anything for three or four weeks when I’d cast her off.  So, we went hawking.  Guess what…. The first flight when we went hawking, she took off and found a post to go land on!!  I wanted to cry.  I decided that I would let her go, now that she was in great shape again.  Then, the next day I thought, “Scott, why don’t you cast her off today and as she is leaving to find a perch to take, launch the drone and kick her into her routine that way?”  So that’s what I did.  She was flying away and as soon as she was far enough away that I knew I could out-climb her with the drone, I launched it and she immediately turned around and kicked it into high gear.  Up she went in her usual routine of chasing it up out of sight, basically.  The next day I did the same thing, except I waited a little longer before I launched the drone.  The difference???  Well on that day #2, she was flying away from me, looking over her shoulder wondering if the drone was going to take off!  Just as if I were going to serve her a sealed pigeon as I would normally do in my former operant conditioning method of shaping a Falcon.  Each day I waited longer and longer and pretty soon, I couldn’t out climb her with the drone and she’d take the bait in a powerful stoop as the drone was going up as fast as it could.  So, guess what… The next day, when she was about 400’ high, I launched the drone alright, but this time the drone took off from about 300 yards away and she couldn’t overtake it, so then began her really high ascent into the heavens to get her reward!  Each day she was climbing higher and higher, not knowing when nor from where the drone was going to appear.  I had her going up 800’, “Waiting on the Drone before it was even launched”!   It was then that I knew I was onto something.  I had seen this cure her from wanting to go land and transform her back into a flying machine that wanted to play the game with me.

 

The transition to game hawking with her was easy as pie.  Again, think about it…  she was climbing in anticipation of being served the drone from the ground.  So, hawking was a natural and easy step and one I fully expected she’d change over to immediately, without hesitation.  I was right.  The first time hawking was out in the same area behind my house and we went after Huns.  When I had some Huns marked down, I unhooded her, cast her off and she took to the sky immediately and why wouldn’t she?  When she was about 600’ high, I flushed the group of Partridge for her and she immediately stooped and I think she put one in the bag on that first transitional flight back to wild quarry!  There was no “transition” so to speak.  It just happened naturally because she was conditioned to climb in an effort to dominate the quarry below her, whether it was a silly drone or on that day a group of Hungarian Partridge.

 

If you’ve ever ballooned or flown a kite you know that transitioning a Falcon away from it is difficult in the early stages.  You’ll sometimes yell until you can’t yell anymore and the Falcon simply won’t look down at the pigeon you just served her!  She’s floating around up by that balloon, wondering where in the heck the food is!!  With my technique, there is no transition chore to be accomplished.  She will stoop on the quarry flushed the first day you show her live quarry.  (Unless of course you’re training an eyas that has never killed anything in flight or on the ground… and even then, she might pull the trigger anyway.)

 

(By the way, that marvelous Prairie Falcon I took through this entire program was going great, but when I’d take her up to fly Sage Grouse in short sage country, she’d go sit on a fencepost.  She did NOT want to take a beating on big grouse again I guess, so one day, I decided to cut her loose and did exactly that.  I knew the training method was valid, but I knew that she was never going to take to Sage Grouse again like she had before, so the place for her was back in the wild.  That very afternoon, late in February, I trapped the biggest female Passage Prairie I have ever trapped, to take her place and I have shaped that Falcon this very same way and from the get-go.  It has worked flawlessly.  We are hawking wild quarry now and this 990 gram trapped weight female Passage Prairie flies very high and she takes on all quarry relative to long wing Falconry.)

 

So, I also tried the technique on a wild taken Eyas Anatum Peregrine.  It worked flawlessly.  She was, for lack of a better description, the absolute most stupid Falcon I have ever been around when she was learning to fly and kill.  I won’t go into all of that, but she was just slow to learn everything!  When she finally caught the vision with the drone, she flew it as good as that first Prairie Falcon and maybe even better.  I would fly her to it twice in a session almost daily.  She muscled up very quickly and she would come into the drone in full stoop sometimes to take the bait.  Then, after she’d eat the first meal after coming down with it from the drone, I’d have the drone ready to launch again, or I’d be getting it ready to launch again, and she’d be back on the wing waiting for it to take off again for her!  She started the waiting on thing automatically for me and I had her climbing up to 1,000’ high, waiting on the drone!  I developed that Peregrine for a friend of mine, so I transferred her to him and he came up to watch her fly pigeons the day he took her home and needless to say, he was impressed with how she performed.

 

So in the preceding story, you can see the progression or the “training method”.  It is quite simple.  You do not need a big, super fast, expensive drone either!  A DJI Phantom 2 is adequate and they are cheap now-a-days too!  You WANT your Falcon to catch the drone in the stoop!  That’s the idea!  So a drone made of Kryptonite is not necessary!  When she’s going too high for you to out-climb her, just move the launch point to a hidden location a couple hundred or four hundred yards away, or whatever.  That teaches them what they need to learn.  Do you see why the drone is the perfect pigeon?  It flies perfectly every time!  It not only does that, but it flies straight UP and makes the Falcon chase it straight up!  It teaches her to fly high in order to dominate a large airspace.  That’s what we are looking for.  You can use the drone to teach them to remount too!

 

I’ve got some rules and hints for you to follow and here they are below:

 

RULES FOR USING A DRONE AS “THE PEFECT PIGEON”.

  1. Never fly your falcon to the drone without bait.  You only want to show her the drone if you plan for her to take the bait.  Otherwise, with this method, there is no sense in using a drone.  Always have bait on there for her to feed herself.  Whether just climbing to get made to the drone in the early stages or flying to take a position above it.  In either case, she needs bait on the drone.  You do not want her to strike the drone out of frustration like Prairies and Gyrs will do to a balloon when they get way up there and there is no bait!  I’ve seen it multiple times over the years.  I know you can raise the drone to discourage her from hitting it and then serve her below, but that is totally unnecessary with this technique and actually counterproductive.  If you show her the drone, you are committed to giving her the bait on it every single time!  No exceptions.  Otherwise, like the balloon/kite, once they think they might get served below, they fly to the contraption with much less energy and may even quit on it.
  2. Always have a full charged battery.  You can get about 22 minutes out of a Phantom 2 if there isn’t much wind and if you are only using a dead starling as bait.  22 minutes is usually enough unless your Falcon is fat and taking its sweet time.  If that’s the case, consider managing her stomach better.  (That’s a whole ‘nother topic.)  When you get to the part where she is waiting on for the drone, the drone won’t be in the air very long at all when she is taking the bait in full stoop.  I’ve never had any significant issue with the drone losing battery power, not even in flights to its maximum height when the falcon has to climb even higher to overtake it!  (I have four batteries for my Phantom 2 though, so I can train multiple birds in a morning.)
  3. When the Falcon takes the bait, turn off your transmitter to the drone and let it go land itself where it took off from and you go out and take care of your Falcon.  The drone will find its way home and take care of the landing stuff all by itself.  I’ve never had mine crash on auto-pilot landings.  Ever.  They are really quite amazing.
  4. Use care and caution in big wind.  The drone will fly in a pretty big wind, but battery life is greatly reduced, so don’t push the height limit in stronger winds.  Battery life can be half of normal life.  Just something to be aware of.
  5. Use about an 18” to 24” diameter parachute with about a 20’ to 25’ leader off the bottom of the drone to keep the parachute release tube from being able to be flipped up over the drone and into the props.  By the way, the parachute is a great way to stop a Falcon from carrying such a lightweight bait or lure.  They are amazing.  Love’em.
  6. Make sure your parachute set-up allows the chute to slide out of the release tube with almost zero effort.  I accomplish this by having the hanging bait pulling on a variable tension release clip that releases the moment a falcon tugs on the bait and then the chute falls out in sequence.

 

THE ROUTINE FROM START TO FINISH:l

 

  • Only fly a Falcon to the drone that has learned to kill and feed itself.  Get that accomplished first.
  • Get your Falcon “made” to the drone to where she will chase it up with gusto every single time.
  • Make her chase the drone up.  Make her miss it and have to keep mounting up to catch up to it.  (Don’t over-do it though.  Let her be successful each day before she gives up.  You have to watch this very carefully.)
  • Once she is very fit and taking the bait either in an angled stoop or just on level flight, but enthusiastically every flight, switch her to flying with no drone in the air.
  • Cast her off, with the drone totally ready to launch over behind your truck or somewhere close by.  As she is leaving and wondering what’s up, launch the drone and make her chase it up.
  • Each day wait longer until the day when she has the height to overtake the drone in a stoop.  Count that flight as your first real big success.  You WANT her to catch it!
  • The next flight, place your drone a couple hundred yards away from where you think she’s going to be mounting up and launch it over there and make her chase it up.
  • Keep increasing the time you let her fly and mount up and keep increasing the distance away from you that the drone is launched.  I’ve launched my drone from 500 yards away, no kidding.
  • Once she is going the height you want her to mount to, either go hawking, or throw her a bagged “somethingorother” and then, Go Hawking with her!
  • Don’t let her get Drone Bound!  Get her off it as soon as you can.  Only use it from time to time to tune her up if she starts forgetting what she learned from it before.  (That can and will happen on certain individuals.) A tune up flight or two is all it takes to reorient them to “the program”.  Fly her to the drone with the drone in the air one day and then the next day fly her and let her wait on for the drone.  That’s the tune up routine.  But, if you don’t get them off the drone, or you fly them to the drone a lot and only hawk a little, you are potentially going to have a Falcon that refuses wild game, especially hard wild game, and that will prefer to wait for her Falconer to give her that easy drone thingy.  I have not had this happen yet, but I’m telling you, it is the natural outcome if you get her “Drone Bound” by over doing it.  I’ve seen plenty of ballooned Falcons refuse racing homers directly below them and I’m convinced it’s because they are waiting for that easy option.
  • Some additional hints…  When you are teaching them to mount up above the drone to catch it, sometimes you need to lower the drone as she is flying away from it to get above it, just to help her out a little bit.  When she turns back around and sees that she has “climbed above it” now, she’ll start pouring it on to catch it in a shallow angled stoop and that will go a long ways toward convincing her to climb hard to get higher than the drone so she can dominate it and take it by surprise!    Also, you can use live bait at first, but once they are made to the device, a dead starling or a dead cockerel or partial quail or whatever, is all it takes.  The Drone makes it all “come alive” if you know what I mean.  I would not likely try to get a Passage Prairie to fly to the drone twice in an outing, but I would advise you to get two flights per outing with a young, chamber raised individual, or with a Passage Gyrfalcon.  They are so tame and easy to make in on even after they have food in their crop that losing them because they are full is not really much of a worry.  Two times a day can make the process go much faster and you can be on your way to introduce the waiting on part, if you like.  That’s how I started the wild taken Peregrine eyas on the waiting on portion of the training.   It was automatic for her and she was, like I said, the dumbest young Peregrine I’ve ever been around!!  (She wound up being quite a stellar flier though, so calling her stupid or dumb is pretty short sighted, but she has been my least favorite Falcon to be around in 30 years!)

 

Okay, so that’s a long enough article.  I hope it helps you.  There is nothing better than having a falcon mount up to your desired pitch and taking wild quarry with her in fine style.  I think this method can help toward that end.  It’s not NECESSARY of course, in order to make a Falcon into a high flier, but it is certainly ONE Way of accomplishing it and without so many pigeons that have to be either raised or gathered up every night out of barns, buildings, etc!  The Drone really IS the Perfect Pigeon!

 

See a great video my son, Davis, shot with our Phantom 3 Standard w/an HD camera of the young Peregrine taking the bait off the Phantom 2 at a nice altitude and coming in quite steeply and fast.  That is what we are trying to accomplish in the first half of the training!  Also, pause it and look at the parachute set-up and notice how neither the drone, nor the chute release hardly even move when she takes the bait.  Since Davis made this video, I have lengthened the line between the drone and the chute release tube to about 25’ long.  Here’s the link:  (Turn up your volume and watch it in HD too!)


Proper Drone Shaping 2


Here’s the slip/tension clip I use to hold the bait to the line just above the chute release tube:


Larsen_Drone_Release



If you have any questions about this method of using the drone, please feel free to email me at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it I’d be happy to further explain anything the article doesn’t make completely clear.  I hope this method will help many long-wingers develop good flying game hawks.  Ultimately, that’s what we all strive for!


Fly'em High Boys!

 
 

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