Falconry IS about killing game, it's THE most important thing and it has to be important to you. It's all that the bird cares about. Successful falconers kill lots of game. -Eric Edwards
Finding game spots is one of the most common things I have seen myself and others struggle with. To really understand where to look for a specific prey species you have to understand the game animal you wish to hunt. What are their habits? What do they need? What makes them feel safe? When are they most active? Do they migrate?
Some of these questions are addressed in multiple falconry books, along with advice on flushing quarry for your bird. I won't get super in depth here, but I wanted to gather some general advice on what to look for. This advice will be specific to Florida and the game species we have here.
How to find hunting spots
There are two big ways to locate hunting spots that work decently well. The first is driving around and looking, the second is google earth.
For the driving around, it can be as simple as complex as you make it. Oftentimes the effort you put in to scoping the field, is what you’ll get out of it as well. You want to drive around, spot something that looks decent, and then get out of your car and walk around. Check out the place on foot. See first hand if there is game there. Are there signs of game? Are you flushing game? If not, even if it looks like the perfect field, it may not be.
There are so many factors that play into whether or not a field may have the game you’re looking for. The time of day, the season, the weather, or something on a smaller level that an ecologist could point out, but you may not notice. Generally speaking, if you have food, water, shelter, you should be able to find game. But the numbers may be low enough for other reasons as to make the field not worth your time. Or perhaps it’s loaded with game.
Spend some time watching with binoculars. Consider documenting what you see and when. You might discover patterns in your target game that determine when or where in the field you want to hunt.
The same goes for google earth. Use it to scout around near you, or further away. Mark a few spots that look decent and then get out there and kick around. Depending on who you ask the answer will vary, but typically you’ll need at least 10 fields to hunt your bird at. Falconry birds need a lot of slips to build confidence in catching game and to be successful. You want to provide them with as many opportunities as you can. Risking your entire season and your bird’s development on one field that could dry up or be developed or sold is not a good idea.
At some point you will come across private land where you wish to hunt, and will need to ask permission. There are several ways you can do this. The simplest, and most effective way is to approach the landowner! Go knock on the door, apologize for interrupting their day, and explain that you’re a falconer and you’re looking for places to fly your bird. If there isn’t an obvious house with an owner, perhaps check the fields for any workers you can find, and ask if they can point you in the right direction.
This is most often successful. I also recommend taking your bird along in case the landowner is curious and would like to see the bird. Definitely invite them out when hunting on their property, and keep them in mind for your holiday card list. I have often found friends in land owners, and will stop by on my way to the field to see how their day is going and chat about what the birds are up to. Always, always, leave their property clean. You are representing the sport of falconry. It should go without saying that you don’t want to be leaving trash on their property.
If it’s impossible to determine the owner of a parcel of land, another method involves looking up said property on the local property appraiser website. This will usually provide contact information from the landowners, and you can attempt to visit, or write a letter.
As a reminder, if you haven’t been to a field in ages, it’s probably a good idea to stop by and remind the land owners who you are, before you go back to running around their property.
Lastly when getting permission to hunt on private land, you may wish to fill out a copy of this Hunter/Landowner Agreement form (borrowed from pfht.org) as a way of obtaining written permission. hunter_landowner_agreement