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Becoming a Falconer in Georgia

If you are considering becoming a falconer, it is very important that you examine your reasons to be sure you have a genuine desire and your venture will not be just a passing fancy. You may have read an article in a magazine or newspaper or even witnessed a flight demonstration. Articles are frequently inaccurate, they may sensationalize the sport and little emphasis may be given to the fact that success is measured by the beauty and excitement of the chase, not whether or how much game is caught. JT, founder of Falconry Alliance, sums it all up with this statement: "[Falconry is] something personal, private, sacred. The unspoken relationship the hawk and I share is clear and honest, a hunting partnership, and my front row seat to the greatest airshow on earth. I get caught up in the vicarious thrill, but still realize that the bird's the star, I'm the earthbound mortal spectator."
Flight demonstrations make falconry look easy, but fail to convey any idea of the long hours and the hard work the trained raptor represents.
Before you decide to become a falconer you should have a serious, dedicated interest in the sport and a love for, and interest in, all wildlife and the outdoors. You should read everything you can get your hands on about falconry. You should talk to practicing falconers, if possible, and ask to go on a hunt with them. You should join the Georgia Falconry Association and attend the various seminars, functions and meets held during the year.
Be aware that caring for, training and hunting a bird requires a substantial amount of time and patience. You must be financially able to obtain the basic housing and equipment. If you have the necessary skills, your initial cost can be reduced by building the facilities for the bird and making some of the required equipment yourself.
Lastly, you must have access to suitable land where you can fly your bird.

If, after reading the above you still wish to become a falconer, here is the process:

1.Go to this DNR web site address for information. This site contains a link to the Falconry State permit Application with Study Guide. This will explain exactly how to begin the process.

2. Study for the test. The Georgia Falconry Association’s “Apprentice Manual”, "The Apprentice Study Guide" by the California Hawking Club, "North American Falconry and Hunting Hawks" by Beebe and Webster and "The Red-tailed Hawk: A Complete Guide To Training and Hunting North America's Most Versatile Game Hawk-Fourth Edition; McGranaghan, Liam are all excellent study materials. The GFA manual ordering instructions are on the Publications page of this web site. The others may be ordered from Northwoods, Ltd, Mike’s Falconry Supplies, or Western Sporting.

3. Take the test. Technically you have to send in the application before scheduling the test, but practically (and this was confirmed by the Special Permits Unit on May 9, 2006) you can call Special Permits and schedule a date to take the test before you submit the application. The reason they allow this is some must take the test several times before passing. If you fail, you must wait 30 days before taking it again. Since your checks must accompany the application, your checks could potentially be outstanding for a considerate amount of time. In addition, the name of your sponsor must be on the application and it could be very hard to get someone to agree to sponsor you prior to your passing the test.

4. Secure a sponsor. An apprentice must, by federal law, be sponsored by a General or Master falconer. Once you're a GFA member and have passed the falconry exam, any of the Georgia Falconry Association’s Apprentice Representatives will assist you in contacting potential sponsors. This is just one of several excellent reasons to join the Georgia Falconry Association. Unless you are fortunate enough to know a master or general falconer willing to sponsor you, you will end up contacting one of the GFA’s Apprentice Representatives for the names of candidate sponsors. Those candidate sponsors come from the ranks of the GFA. They are not obligated to sponsor you. Sponsors are looking for apprentices that have done their homework, passed their test, are willing to follow directions, love raptors and are willing to hunt with them. Being a Georgia Falconry Association member is an important step in the process of proving to them that you are serious. Your prospective sponsor will expect you to have a hunting license before he/she will agree to sponsor you and you must have a hunting license before you start hunting with your bird. Note: Hunting is the difference between being a falconer and a "pet-keeper." One of the worst things that can be said about someone in this sport is that they are a "pet-keeper."

5. Obtain/construct your facilities and equipment. You must, by law have a mews (house), large enough so that your bird will have freedom of movement. Generally an 8' x 8' x 8' cube is sufficient for a free-lofted red tail hawk. If you include a weathering area, it must also meet state and federal requirements. See examples of mews and weathering areas here. In addition, you must have the following equipment: Aylmeri jesses, leash, swivel, outdoor perch, scale capable of reading 1/2 ounce (15 grams) or better, and a bath pan. Other items not required by law, but necessary, are a gauntlet (glove), hawk box (Giant Hood) and a hunting vest.

6. Have your sponsor inspect your facilities and equipment. If he/she determines you are ready, send your application to the GADNR, Special Permits Unit along with a check payable to GADNR for $30.00.

7. Have your inspection. Give the GADNR Special Permits office a few days to receive your application, and if they have not contacted you, call and ask them to schedule your inspection. If you've obviously provided decent facilities for a hawk and have the right equipment, you will pass the first time. If, however, the ranger/game biologist advises you to fix or correct an item, make the corrections as soon as possible and let the DNR know you are ready for a re-inspection. Once your facilities and equipment pass, the ranger/game biologist will sign the form and return it to the Special Permits office in Social Circle. Special Permits will then forward your application and check to the US Fish and Wildlife office in Atlanta. They will assign you a permit number and return to Special Permits, who will then issue your license. A word of warning: the folks at the Special Permits Unit have a heavy workload. It may take a while for your license to be issued, so be patient. This is a good reason to take the test, build your mews and obtain the required equipment early in the year. This way you don't get caught waiting for your license to be issued after trapping season has come in.

8. Congratulations! Once you have your license to learn to be a falconer, you can trap your bird. Your sponsor will assist you. You may trap a hawk only during the trapping season, which runs from September 1st through December 31st. You are allowed to take an immature redtail or an immature red-shouldered hawk or a kestrel of any age. When you trap your bird, you must, within 5 days, complete form 3-186-A (Migratory Bird Acquisition/Disposition Report) which was sent to you along with your license.

Questions and Answers

The answers to the following questions have been reviewed by Scott Frazier of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Q. Can I trap along roadways?

A. Yes. See article on roadside trapping here.There are many ways to trap a raptor but one of the easiest is to drive along the highway, spot a hawk and throw out a BC trap. The law states that it is illegal to trap wildlife upon the right of way of any public roads in Georgia. This law was not written with falconers in mind. A falconer several years ago was stopped and issued a citation for doing so. This incident prompted the DNR to issue a Law Enforcement Opinion. This opinion allows us the right to trap raptors along the public rights of way.

It is a good idea to make a copy of this opinion and carry it with you when you are trapping.
You might also print and take with you the Hunter Harassment Statutes.

Q. Can I go onto private property to retrieve my bird?

A. The DNR recommends if we can quickly retrieve it do so, but if not contact the landowner before entering the property.

Q. What if my bird takes game that is illegal or out of season?

A. You may allow your falconry bird to feed on the game but you may not take the game into your possession.

Q. Can I allow someone that is not a falconer to hold or fly my bird?

A. No.

Q. If I am asked by a school, church, or some group to talk about my bird and falconry, is this permissible?

A. Yes, but only if you educate the public about the sport of falconry. You can not just teach about the birds or their natural history. Your license is a falconry license therefore in all situations you must primarily educate about the sport of falconry.

Q. Can I give flight demonstrations?

A. Yes, but only in conjunction with educating the public about falconry. A word of caution: make sure there are no small animals, plastic baggies, or objects that resemble prey in the group.

Q. Can I be compensated monetarily for my educational talks or demonstrations?

A. Yes, but only for actual expenses. You are not allowed to make a profit. A falconry permit is not an educational permit.

Q. Can I be compensated monetarily for taking groups on hunting trips?

A. Yes, and you are allowed to make a profit. This seems to contradict the question above but the difference in this case is that you are practicing the sport of falconry which you are licensed to do.

The federal laws control the falconry licensing program and mandate which species of birds are endangered and which may be taken from the wild for the purpose of falconry. The federal law also sets the standards and requirements for keeping a raptor.


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