Today was the big day! My first free flight with Atlas was simply amazing. Dennis, my sponsor, came over to my house and we hooked up his telemetry onto my bird’s jess, which is the strap of leather that goes around his ankle, just in case something were to go wrong. My father, Dennis, and I hopped the fence at the back of my property and walked out into the woods, bringing a big bag of tidbits and all my other field equipment with me, mainly consisting of my lure, whistle, knife, and hunting vest. Once we got out into a semi-open area, it was time to let the bird go. As you’ll see in the video, he was a little reluctant at first, but eventually we got him up in a tree. As nervous as I had been all the previous times I had thought about what this experience would be like – imagining putting Atlas up in the tree like that, having to rest the fate of my falconry career on the shoulders of this handsome little Red-tailed Hawk, and giving him the ability to take it all away in the blink of an eye – I found myself being relatively calm and far from worried as I watched him glide up into a tree.
We walked about 80 or so feet away from the tree he was perched in and turned around. Dennis and my dad stood behind me, I took a tidbit out of my vest pocket and put it on my hand, turned to face the general direction in which we had left Atlas, and I yelled out “come on, bud!” It wasn’t more than a second or two before I heard the beautiful and oh-so-relieving sound of his bells clanging and ringing and I saw Atlas darting between branches like the world’s best fighter pilot before landing gently on my fist and devouring the tidbit. Success!
I put Atlas back up in the trees and for the next half hour or so we tooled around the woods behind my house. I practiced calling Atlas to my fist and turning away just before he landed, forcing him to go up in the trees closer to me. I also called him using the lure a few times, just to make sure he could recognize it and was still responsive to it. By the end of the afternoon, Atlas was even following us a few yards behind, which Dennis told me was really great. I really can’t believe that I did it. Being at this point, it feels like it took hardly any work to get here, but when I really think about it, this has been a long time coming and I had to work really hard to achieve it. I’m looking forward to our first hunting trip together.