living fossil

Eskiel's Hawk

Follow the flurry to ducks and hawks

Text and illustrations by Robin W. Radcliffe

Eskiel, The Wise Old Waterfowler

As boys growing up in Wisconsin, my twin brother and I hunted waterfowl in a place called Crex Meadows alongside one of the most experienced and wise old gentleman still to be found. Eskiel Erickson and his family homesteaded this rugged land and learned its intricate ways. The meadows, as it is known to locals, is a waterfowl paradise, the extensive wetlands of a sandy pine barrens and remains of a large glacial lake. Eskiel imparted his son, Donald and both young apprentices, with a thorough knowledge of how the ducks used the land. We learned that the “city hunter” liked to traipse around the bluebird days of September and October, and in truth, these were grand days afield. But it was the biting November storm blowing in that put a spring in Eskiel’s step and drove the normally wild and wily ducks into the decoys.

“Follow the flurry.” Eskiel used to say, and we knew what he meant.

The flight of late season ducks is a lesson in determination. Years later, these experiences now befit my practice of falconry and, in particular, the trapping of a passage hawk.

Like the waterfowler, the patient falconer is oft rewarded. Hawk trapping is a monotonous affair with long periods of solitude broken by short periods of intense action. The weather can be used to one’s advantage and give the falconer the upper hand in conditions most would not even consider setting a trap. Although long known to the waterfowler, few falconers appreciate the role inclement weather can play in turning a mediocre trapping experience into a memorable one. The late season mallard hunter knows that autumn’s end brings migrant northern birds that lack the fear of resident flocks. Many an old timer has watched fearless ducks hurl through driving snow to land amid a rig of decoys at any cost, and I discovered the same rare combination of factors that bring red-tails into traps with reckless abandon.