The eight steps you must follow to become a falconer:
1. Take and pass falconry exam.
Passing grade is 80%. You can take the test at any of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife [F&W] Regional Field offices: San Diego, Long Beach, etc. Schedule ahead and follow the directions in the F&W pamphlet setting up the appointment. Please be aware that some regional offices say that prospective falconers acquire a sponsor before the falconry exam can be scheduled. The F&W headquarters office in Sacramento assures us a sponsor is not required.
The test is 100 multiple-choice and true-false questions about raptor natural history, biology, care and handling, diseases, history of falconry and laws. Study materials are available [see The Apprentice's Bookshelf]. Don't be anxious. If they've done their homework, most people pass the first time. If you fail, you can take the test the next day, but you might want to take a few days to review the material before trying again. In one year, of the 400 that contacted the Apprentice Chairs, 64 took the test, 52 passed, 36 went on to become apprentices. Your results from passing the test come along with the Falconry License Application. Before you can send the Application back to F&W, you need a sponsor to co-sign the application and you need your facilities and equipment inspected.
2. Hunting license requirement.
Falconry is defined as the release of a bird of prey after wild quarry. Hunting, flying free, is the best exercise for the hawk and is the best source of their natural diet. You must have a hunting license before you start hunting. To get a hunting license, you must have taken a hunter safety course, also known as the gun hunter safety course. F&W, gun clubs and many firearms stores, will provide you the name and telephone number of an instructor in your area. Your sponsor will be looking for you to have a hunting license. Do this before you get your sponsor. Note: Hunting is the difference between being a falconer and a "pet-keeper." The very worst thing you can say about someone in this sport is that they are a "pet-keeper."
3. Develop a Sponsor.
An applicant to be an apprentice must be sponsored by a third-year general or master falconer. Once you're a CHC member and have passed the falconry exam, the California Hawking Club Apprentice Chairs will assist you in contacting potential sponsors (the State does not help you in this regard). This is just one of several excellent reasons to join the California Hawking Club. Unless you are fortunate enough to know a master or general falconer willing to sponsor you, you will end up talking to one of the California Hawking Club's Apprentice Chairmen for the name of candidate sponsors. Those candidate sponsors come from the ranks of the California Hawking Club. They are not obligated to be a sponsor. You must establish that relationship, and being a California Hawking Club member is an important step of that process. Sponsors are looking for apprentices that have done their homework, passed their test, have their hunting license, follow directions, love hawks and are willing to hunt with them.
4. Get your facilities and equipment.
You must, by law, have the following equipment: Aylmeri jesses - (including grommets, bracelets and jesses), leash, swivel, outdoor perch, scale [capable of reading ½ ounce (14 grams) or better] and a bath pan. In addition, you must have a hawk house large enough so that the hawk will have freedom of movement. Generally an 8' x 8' x 8' cube is sufficient for a free-lofted red tail hawk. If your home doesn't permit a hawk house [home owner association, size, landlord, etc.], the hawk may reside at a different address. Not generally a good idea, but much better than not having a hawk. You can also convert a room in your house, or build a freestanding portable mews in your home. Your sponsor can help [supervise] you as you get this together. If you include a weathering area, it must meet state and federal requirements also. You may convert a portion of your home to house the hawk. Obviously there's some technical jargon in this paragraph - please ask if it's not clear.
When (your sponsor thinks) you are ready for your facilities inspection, fill out the license application, your sponsor countersigns it, and send it in. Shortly after sending in your application the local F&W will call to schedule your inspections. Give them mailing time to and from Sacramento plus a couple of days, if they haven't called you yet, call them. If you can answer "yes" to all the items on the "The Apprentice's Checklist" you will most likely pass the inspection. If the Game Warden advises you to fix or correct an item, promise to do so and ask how to get them back out to re-inspect. Most recent experience indicates that if you've obviously provided a decent environment for the hawk and have the right equipment, you will pass the first time. Should the warden fail you, there is a reinspection fee. The Game Warden will sign off the form and hand it back to you. Except for finalizing the formal paperwork, you are a falconer.
5. Submit Paperwork. Submit required material to F&W.
Send the F&W form approving facilities and equipment plus fees to F&W in Sacramento.. Your license will be issued and mailed to you.
6. Trap your bird.
After you receive your license, you may trap a hawk any time during the year. You may take an immature redtailed hawk (also called a "passage" redtail) or a kestrel of any age. There are excellent reasons to take a hawk in the fall and early winter. First, they have learned to survive on their own. Secondly, they are not so set in their ways. Occasionally, a redtail or kestrel becomes available from another falconer and it may be transferred to you.
7. Submit More paperwork.
Whether you trap or get a hawk transferred, you will need to fill the Federal Form 3-186A on line. (There are non-on-line methods as well). You must also fill out and submit a Resident Falconer Raptor Capture, Recapture and Release Report. You have 10 days to get this done.
8. And you are a falconer!
Some words of advice:
- There is no such thing as a stupid question - no matter how many times you ask it.
- Follow your sponsor's advice, direction, and council. You should listen to other falconers, but they aren't the ones signing your paperwork, and that includes the Apprentice Contacts.