Steve Bodio has been a falconer for 48 years and started his falconry career flying a red-tailed hawk called Cinnamon in Boston, Massachusetts. He names John Loft: teacher, Classicist, scholar, translator, poet, master of the Merlin (E. B. Michell’s natural successor), and friend as a falconry inspiration. Steve is a writer and perhaps best known in the falconry circle for
A Rage for Falcons and Querencia, although his publications are numerous. It isn’t just us falconers who love him either. Well known by gun aficionados and pigeon enthusiasts, he has also been included in the Best Travel Essay of 2003, edited by Frances Mayes. When Steve isn’t traveling he spends the moult with his longdogs, enviable library and gun collection. And occassionally he takes a bit of time to sip vodka at the Golden Spur and tell me stories of his encounters with the Craigheads —while I lament that I was born in the wrong decade to marry one of those rapscallions.
1) So let’s begin with partial disclosure. A Rage for Falcons is completely responsible for my crazy desire to be a “literary falconer”. How has falconry influenced your writing and vice versa?
As Tom McGuane said of On The Road, it gave me the keys to the highway. Having such an exotic theme made it much easier to sell my first book, at least in those days (Rage came out in 1984). Falconry led me to the west, where I came to live, to Asia for eagles and to friends in England. Asian connections got me my hounds, which hunt with birds both in Asia and New Mexico. If I have a “meta-theme” to all my work, from pigeons to dogs to travel, it is the relation of humans to nature through their animal partners, and you could argue that I got this subject from my relationship with falconry.
2) It’s no secret that you have straightforward unflinching opinions. So, falconry today… Did we miss the “good old days” or are they in our future?
I think we’re living in a fortunate time because of the exchange of information that is possible. After the death of the grand tradition — after Col. Thornton and the Loo Club, around 1820 — English falconry and its American descendant became rather stodgy, despite the experiences of people like the Craigheads in India. The English and Americans flat- out lost gyr-saker pursuit flight skills, and stopped doing out-of-the hood flights, never mind chasing such quarry as hares or cranes with falcons. (A lot of lies circulated about the alleged cruelty of the hare flight for instance, spread by people who had never seen one– utter nonsense, to be as polite as I can!)
Americans began to shake things up in the 60s, starting with Harris hawks and telemetry, adding transmitters and hybrids to classical game hawking on the grouse fields of the west and so on. Nick Fox in England integrated what he learned from Arab falconry and began flying crows out of the hood on horseback. Now we have the internet and modern communications with old falconry traditions in Asia and the Middle East that were lost in the west. A perfect example is the archaic way my friends and I fly long-wings at hares with the aid of longdogs. All times and spaces are accessible — it’s a new golden age!
Which doesn’t mean not to keep a sanely paranoid eye looking over your shoulder…
3) What is the single most important lesson that you have gleaned from a lifetime of falconry?
Number one: fly your bird. That one’s obvious. Number two, though most Americans won’t do it: keep your bird in the house with you and your dogs the way the Asians do. Behavior is SO much better. See photos (you know and have seen that we also raise quiet non- aggressive imprints).
4) I know that you have had your fair share of rough times past and present. Yet, I deeply envy your relationships which seem balanced and rich. How has falconry shaped your connection with people?
Well, I can’t count the number of friends I’ve made through falconry, among them some of my best. There are a few single-subject obsessive types among falconers, but the majority of the good ones are interested in practically anything and everything. They are naturalists, readers, and enthusiasts, and among my favorite people.
5) Blog readers also know that you’re my gun tutor and my writing advisor. So I have to ask this. We’re crossing a post-apocalyptic wilderness. I’m letting you take one gun, one “hawk” and one dog. What are we taking?
For one gun: if it’s a rifle I’m going to do what we did before and end up with a good old cowboy .30-30 Winchester lever, perhaps with an after-market peep sight for accuracy. (Other favorites like 7 mm Mauser rejected as before as less available or “scavenge- able”). I was surprised after our last discussion how many people suggested .22s to me because of the portability of ammunition. Sure, Indians killed bears with them but the bears tended to be asleep — you certainly can’t stop a dangerous animal with them!
I might make one more suggestion if you don’t mind carrying two kinds of ammo: a German “drilling” or three barreled gun with two shotgun barrels side-by-side and a rifle under. I have seen one in 16 x 16 with .30-30 underneath. That would do almost anything, and if you thought it too wimpy they come in larger gauges and calibers. With all you will end up with more ammo weight than with the Cowboy Gun and you may not need the shotgun– see next paragraph ( if you could get some weird bespoke German one- off with say .30- 30 above and .22 below I might be intrigued though…)
I don’t suggest a shotgun as some have done because the bird and dog will get you small game– you need to deal with big stuff, edible and dangerous, “there”.
The hawk has got to be a goshawk, probably a male because he is lighter to carry. I considered a Harris but you didn’t give me a climate, and while goshawks fly in the southwest corner of China and in India, you couldn’t fly a Harris in Mongolia. Either of the above will catch anything, and the gos will do it faster. Although the Harris has a nicer personality, Asian falconers seem to be able to get gosses to ride on the city busses unhooded while people blow smoke in their faces. That’s good enough for me.
No doubt at all for the dog. My SECOND choice would be a crossbred sighthound x herding dog, a classic lurcher, which some people think more obedient than my first choice: a tazi, obviously. For your readers that’s an eastern — mine are Kazakh — saluki of the kind that has been hunted with hawks for 6000 years. My best will bay big game, kill and retrieve hares or chase them into the hawks’ grasp, and work like a bird dog to the gun. My very best female and her nearest rival do all of this without any formal teaching. They THINK. (The girls think more than the boys though smaller, and will still tackle anything…)
To recap: Model 1894 .30- 30, pre- ‘64 if you can get one, with a Williams receiver sight; male (Eurasian for calm if available) gos; female working- strain “salukimorph”.
I wish I had done this years ago, Steve. You’ve reiterated things I’ve come to believe through you and offered some insights I wasn’t expecting. I’ll be out with my Henry lever action .22 and a hawk this fall for sure! And I can’t imagine everyone doesn’t already read your blog, but if you don’t you should read Querenecia regularly. Also, read Steve’s books and watch for new ones! It’s not easy making a living writing—but it’s a little easier if all your friends support your work!