Steve Olner is in his second year as a falconer, flying a red-tailed hawk his wife named Zoie. (They have a deal. She gets to name them. He gets to fly them.) Steve hunts in Colbert, Oklahoma and survived his first season thanks to his sponsor, Steve Armstrong. He is in awe of the falconers who came before us and had to go it alone with no telephones or Internet and had to somehow just figure it out on their own. Steve supports his falconry obsession as a photographer and a programmer. He spends the moult guzzling Dr. Pepper and reminiscing about the time he spent with Ted Nugent and 50 Cent while tending bees or loitering at the race track.
1) So my trend is partial disclosure in the first question. We met on Twitter. I don’t know if we should admit that, but it did force you to read my memoir. Now that you’ve been sucked into the abyss of falconry, what do you think will be in your own memoir?
Actually I was sucked into reading your book by Stephen Bodio. And I think I added you to Facebook before Twitter. I had been reading your blog but not on a regular basis. If I were to write a book, I would hope I remember the frustrating times as well as the good times in falconry. It was cool to read your book and find someone being honest about their hunting experience. Before falconry I didn’t hunt. Not a lot of people hunt in the UK. Also the person I was married to wasn’t inductive to hunting or fishing. I did fish but had never shot a gun or bow. I had never dispatched or harvested game. Too many people talk about their falconry when they get it right, many never tell about getting it wrong and their screw ups. So I would want it to be honest and a true reflection of learning to hunt with a hawk by someone who didn’t know anything about hunting.
2) Birds, bees and fast cars. I’m trying to see a connection here. Which came first and how do they
all link together?
Falconry kind of came first and last. My parents used to take my sister and I to the public library in Bath, England. I am dyslexic so reading to me is something very special. One day I picked up a book, As the Falcon, Her Bells by Phillip Glasier. It was the most amazing book I had ever read. I was eleven at the time and I would have so loved to have taken up falconry then but that didn’t happen for another 30 years.
I have always been fascinated by birds of prey. Three years ago I was working for a local magazine and had seen some redtails on posts by the roadside. I thought falconry would be a cool thing to find out about and I ended up writing a photo story with my now sponsor about falconry. Whilst I was finding out about it I thought, why not just do this, so started working out how to become an apprentice.
Cars came second. I got a contract to photograph Porsche Racing in the UK. I fell in love with it. There is nothing like the noise and excitement from a race and it’s almost on the same level of the excitement you get when on a slip and catching game. I also like talking with the drivers. They come from all walks of life and it’s interesting to watch them in their jubilations as well as the lows.
Bee’s came about unexpectedly. When I first arrived in the USA I wasn’t allowed to work until my immigration status was finalized. After a while, cleaning the house and being a house-husband was driving me up the wall. So I started helping a friend clear some brush and cut some trees. We felled a black jack tree and in it were some bees. I had read about the issues that bees had (CCD) and decided there and then to try and save the ones we had chopped down. By that afternoon I had built a box to put the bees in and had moved them to the house. Bee keeping kind of went from there. It’s frustrating but fascinating all at the same time.
What links them all together is kind of abstract but it’s what I get out of them the feeling of achievement and excitement, learning about what works and what doesn’t. It’s that warm fuzzy feeling you get when something goes very right. It’s the YES factor.
3) Has your photography changed at all since you became a falconer? How do you see it shaping your art in the future?
In the last two years not really. I still shoot Digital as well as Film. Stuff I want to keep I shoot with film. I haven’t mastered flying a hawk and taking pictures at the same time yet. I find I’m too busy worrying about the hawk and beating brush. My wife has taken some of me training and creance flying. She’s taken some great work of which I’m very proud of. The things I take photos of has changed its more portrait and weddings and less photojournalistic and motorsport. As for the future I find life changes all the time, something new or some opportunity always comes along, the trick is to be fluid with it. There are a lot of things I would like to get into like wildlife photography or some great landscapes photography.
4) I drove through Oklahoma once a little too fast to stop. I saw a lot of pheasant hunting going on though and maybe I should have stopped. What is the best part of hawking Oklahoma?
That depends on where you live. I live in the south so there is a lot of squirrel hunting and a lot of small birds. In the north there is more quail and pheasants and a lot more rabbits. People like Jonathan Coleman and Ryan VanZant seem to be tearing it up, which is pretty cool. I hunt a lot of public land where the going is tough but all the sweeter when you do catch something. I think I may be one of the few falconers south of Oklahoma city, most are in the OKC or North Oklahoma. I don’t know anything about east of the state, something to work on in the future.
5) In honor of Twitter. Describe a great day in the field in 140 characters.
To me it’s about the experience. Getting your bird on to a slip and increasing the odds of catching something.
Steve, it was really fun getting to know you better! We all seem to have so much in common and yet so many unique experiences. Someone should write a book…