Falconers swooping down on Chino Valley

Statewide group to meet and stage its first event in Chino Valley

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Falconer and hawk share a deep trust bond (Paul Schnell/ Courtesy)

For the first time, the Arizona Falconers Association Desert Hawking Classic will be held in Chino Valley, hosted by residents Anne and Paul Schnell.

The two have been practicing falconry for about 40 combined years, and Chino Valley is a great place to go hawking, Anne said.

Hawking is a term for hunting with a trained hawk, and falconry is a term for hunting with a trained falcon or other birds of prey, according to Oxford English Dictionary.

“There’s a lot of state land around here that is accessible for hunters,” Anne said. “It’s just a place that has a lot of rabbits and jackrabbits and quail, which are the primary species that people are hunting with their birds.”

The event centers on falconers, as well as those who hunt with hawks, coming from around the southwest, particularly Arizona, Paul said. They get together, share information, experiences and equipment, and older falconers mentor younger falconers and young people interested in learning about the sport before making the commitment to become a falconer, he said.

The event will be from Thursday, Jan. 25 to Sunday, Jan. 28, and between 90 and 100 people are expected, Anne said. One aspect to the event is the apprentice workshop, intended for apprentices, as well as for people planning to begin an apprenticeship, she said. It’s an opportunity for people who have been participating in the sort for a while to teach those interested in becoming a falconer, including the regarding the rules are when getting into the sport.

“The meet, itself, is special because it isn’t something that happens everywhere,” Anne said, noting it is not open to the public. “It is something that it scheduled for existing falconers and existing members and people that have already contacted the group, letting them know that they want to become a falconer.”

Some falconers who are parents are going to be bringing some of their kids, ages 12 and younger, Paul said. It’s the ideal venue for those kids to see what it’s about and speak with knowledgeable people who are around, he said.

“They can look at birds; some of us will let people handle the birds and so forth, just to get a feel for that,” Paul said. “In some cases, it’s life altering. We have a young man, John Orona, a freshly minted biologist, and he’ll talk about how falconry has impacted his life and how it caused him to pursue a career in wildlife management and wildlife biology.”

Falconry has been a sport for thousands of years and hasn’t changed much, Paul said. It’s a special sport in Arizona, which is one of the few states where apprentices can hunt with a variety of birds that they wouldn’t be able to use in other states, Anne said. Arizona’s weather and games laws also allow hunting year round, she said.

One bird that is popular for falconry in Arizona is the Harris’s hawk, which is native to the state, Anne said.

“Harris’s hawks are a unique species of hawk that are native in the southwest that hunt in family groups,” she said. “They’re cooperative hunters. That makes them especially good as falconry birds because the people that have them that train them actually become part of their hunting group. It’s a unique experience to go out with two or three Harris’s hawks that are all cooperatively hunting together. It’s a phenomenal thing to see.”

Though the most difficult part of hosting the event has been the organization, including finding guest speakers for three different nights, Anne said they’d like to thank the Days Inn in Chino Valley. That’s where it’s going to be centered and not every hotel will allow people to have birds in their room, she said.

“They’ve been gracious and offered a specific number of rooms where people can actually take their birds in the room,” Anne said. “They’ve been very helpful and very nice, as have the landowners nearby that are allowing us to put up our weathering yard, which is where the birds will be perched during the day when they’re not hunting.”

Should the event go well in Chino Valley, it’s possible the couple might plan to host it there again, but not right away, Anne said. They don’t want to have a negative impact on the game in the area, she said.