Hunting in the Human Way: Falconry
There is nothing in the natural world that can be compared to the ancient art of falconry, especially when it's done with a complete cast of characters. These characters are, of course, the falcon and the human and horses and dogs. This fantastic collection of characters can truly be said to be more than the sum of their parts. This infinitely complex group of beings is well worth studying, especially if you're into psychology or sociology or other related sciences.
It is a significant part of the human experience because it has been around for many human generations - certainly enough to have an effect on who we are. And while it has never been as popular as hunting by oneself or with dogs, it has always been held in relatively high status and has captured the thoughts and dreams of many men such that it is often referred to as the sport of kings.
Let’s start by looking at each one of these characters to understand their psychology and the physical attributes that they bring to this form of hunting. Here we must start with the human being, for it is a human being that holds this collection of other beings together and orchestrates their efforts in order to make the kill, whether it’s a rabbit or another bird. Ideally, one human being will be in charge and will know and understand the physical performance of each participant. Also he will have an in-depth psychological understanding of each individual and the array of complex psychological relationships that exist within the group such as knowing another rider and his relationship to his horse. In the end, it is one person’s ability that makes this collection of individuals into an effective composite predator and this is solely a human ability.
The next character that I would like to talk about is the horse. I imagine more has been written about horses than any other animal in the world and truly it could be said that humanity has shaped the horse and the horse shaped humanity. However, in falconry the horse takes on a unique role as part of a composite predator whereas his normal role in nature is that of a prey species, one that has to run from predators. However, in this case he is running with the predators, but one must understand he is doing so to give strength, speed, and endurance to a human being, and is not taking part in the actual kill. One must remember however, the horse is perfectly capable of killing another animal, and when it does so it usually does so in anger. A horse does not stalk and kill and then eat pray as would a predator.
A dog on the other hand is a predator that is unique in that he is perhaps the most domesticated animal in the world. Yet he is often a free ranging predator that brings all sorts attributes to this composit predator. His superior sense of smell and intelligence that is only second to human beings and his ability to run all day long with unmatched energy. While one could write an entire book on the dog’s role in falconry, it will be sufficient to say when a falconer does not have a dog it changes the game immensely.
Then there is the falcon, the tip of the spear, the killer. Of all the components of this composite predator this is the one that people know the least. Most people have only seen fragments of their behavior and then only at a long-distance.
Even with this limited experience one can see that they have a beauty and purity of purpose that is a wonder to behold. For instance, to walk one hundred yards would be an arduous journey for a falcon but to fly one hundred miles they can do on a whim. This beautiful and aerodynamic body has a mind that is as beautiful and pure of purpose as its body. This harmony that they possess of body and mind can be seen in many of their attributes. We can see this in their legendary eyesight, for what could these eyes see if they were not connected to perfectly matched mind.
Their nervous system allows them to sense the airflow across even the smallest of their feathers, allowing their mind to do such things as calculating their position in three dimensions and then changing their shape so that they are able to land on swaying branch in a gusty wind with perfection and ease. The mind of the falcon has more intelligence than is generally given credit for. It is pure in its purpose; the mind of a falcon has everything it needs and nothing that it does not. Other animals tend a have one or two extra tricks they can use in a given situation, because their minds possess more of an imagination.
For instance a cat with a full belly will still play with a mouse and torture it and eventually kill it and then just walk away. A falcon will not do this. If it’s hungry it will kill and eat, if it is not it does nothing. It will not kill or torturer a mouse for the fun of it, like a cat, nor will a falcon cuddle up to you and purr.
For untold generations human beings have immersed themselves in this composite being.
They do this for the thrill of the hunt and the joy of orchestrating the minds and bodies of these fantastic creatures whether this pursuit was economical or not.
However one must understand that at the Hunter gatherer level, falconry was done to acquire food, and done in this manner it is efficient and useful. And I for one hope that this composit being, this predator will find a way to continue in this modern world.