Spiders and Leaves and Snakes – OH MY!
Early Hunts and What Lurks in the Woods
By: Ali Csinos
It’s that time of year again. Camo-clad hunters of all types are chomping at the bit to take that first step into the woods, armed with their weapons of choice, looking for a successful hunt. I am one of a small group of hunters in my state (and the nation) that trek out into the wilderness without a shotgun or a rifle or a bow to take game. I am a falconer. My weapon of choice to wield is a wild trapped and trained red tail hawk. Our main targets are squirrel and rabbit. Regardless, I am just as eager to be in the woods, as soon as possible, once the season opens. While we (my bird, Thistle and I) may be ready to take down our next kill, the weather… well, the weather this time of year isn’t always on board.
Squirrel season for falconry in Georgia opens mid-August. Falconers usually wait until the tree canopy is down to loft their birds. I trapped my current bird in August of this year and have been patiently waiting for both she and the weather to be ready. A few weeks ago, she was ready. So, I decided to see just how bad an early October falconry hunt in Georgia could be.
It was bad. Really bad. Spiders. Spiders in my eyes. Webs in my mouth. Oh -the spiders. And the heat. And the humidity. And walking for miles through the woods, up hills in 80 degree heat. Not to mention, a key component of squirrel hunting is being able to SEE things in the trees. With a full canopy still on, I could neither see game nor my bird for most of the hunt. We walked for hours and saw nothing.
Because I am a glutton for pain, a few days later we tried again. And, 10 minutes into the hunt, my bird went down on a kill! At this point, I was elated! ͞First squirrel of the season!͟, I thought. I ran full speed toward where she landed to help her dispatch the squirrel.
Only, it isn’t a squirrel. It’s a copperhead.
One of the key points in a falconry hunt is helping the bird quickly and humanely dispatch quarry. A kicking rabbit can injure a bird and break feathers. A squirrel can cause a nasty bite that may leave lasting damage to feet. As I stood there in the woods and accessed my bird, tangled up with a very unhappy venomous snake, I cannot repeat here the words that I uttered at that moment. What do I do?
In falconry, when a bird takes game, they are trained to make a trade. You help them dispatch the quarry, and then offer them a reward for the kill. This allows you to divert their attention from the fresh kill and stow the game in the bag – out of sight, out of mind. Thinking this through, I was not elated at the idea of stuffing in a copperhead in my pocket.
Wild birds are adapted to take venomous snake bites much better than mammals. I allowed my bird to deliver several good footings to the snake’s head (and a few bites), then traded her off. I placed the ͞I’m pretty sure it’s dead͟ snake into a Ziploc bag, then into my game bag and called the bird to my glove. After a quick check, I thought my bird to be bite-free, and we made our way back to the house for the snake feast (her feast, not mine).
Once we returned, I noticed swelling in her right foot. She indeed had been bitten while fighting the snake and her foot was already double the size it should be. Her snake kill landed us in the ER vet’s office that afternoon and warranted a week’s worth of pain meds, antibiotics and ͞bed rest͟ for her. In the days that followed, as I was helping my bird recuperate and watching for any ill effects, I couldn’t help but think how lucky I was to not have been the one to find the copperhead first. Her taking a venomous snake that day was the last thing on my mind of things that could happen. But with the weather as warm as it was and the woods wet, venomous snakes should have been the FIRST thing on my mind. While the bite cost us a few weeks of hunt time, she’s made a full recovery. I probably would not have felt so great so quickly.
While we all are in a hurry to scratch our hunting itch as quickly as possible, it’s good to stop and take a moment to remember that the woods can offer up some surprises that you might not be ready to tackle. This hunt was agreat reminder that, this time of year, we should all keep vigilant as we tromp through the leaves and brush to our next hunt! Image Captions: Image 1 – Ali Csinos with passage female red tailed hawk, Thistle Image 2 – Swelling from a copperhead’s bite does to a hawk’s foot. Image 3 – Thistle, female passage red tailed hawk and falconry bird, on a copperhead snake.