Gary Brewer, internationally known Master Falconer and Author from Tyler, Texas, will be hunting with falconers from Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, New Jersey and Michigan in Camden, Alabama February 26-28th, 2016.
Mr. Brewer’s book “Buteos and Bushytails” is a classic in modern day falconry literature and is highly focused on the art of squirrel hunting in dense woods with Red Tail and Harris hawks.
Gary grew up in the east Texas town of Tyler. As a child, he avidly read books on ultralight aircraft, hang gliding, scuba diving, and falconry and set his mind to reach these dreams. After his military service in 1974, Gary realized all his youthful dreams but it would be falconry that would ultimately become his lifelong passion.
In North American falconry circles in 1978, the Red Tail hawk was perceived as large, cumbersome bird with a lazy disposition whose only job was to hone the basic falconry training and cooperative hunting skills of a new apprentice. Apprentices endured their two year learning curves and dreamed of advancing to a General class falconer at which time the more exotic and traditional species of falconry raptors became available to them: the accipiters and the true falcons such as the Peregrine, among others.
True to his nature, Gary was on an immediate quest to be the best falconer he could be. He was instructed, as others were at the time, to hunt rabbits. Squirrels were not only strictly taboo, to intentionally go after squirrels with a trained bird of prey was considered irresponsible and unethical.
And then it happened. In Gary’s first year as a General Class permit holder, his Harris hawk took a large fox squirrel. At the time, apprentices were taught not to rush in on their raptors if they were bound to a squirrel. Rushing in could cause the bird to re-foot and receive a serious foot injury. Because of the intense stigma of squirrel hunting and the anxiety he felt as he watched the canopy chase and take from a distance, he was unable to fully enjoy the hunt but he soon realized it was one of the most spectacular things he had seen in the falconry arena up to that time.
Gary knew hunting squirrels would be highly controversial in the small population of falconers across the nation. But he also knew the secret to successful falconry is determining what catchable legal game you have the most of in a given area as well as choosing the right bird for the job. In Tyler, Texas, as in the southeastern United States, squirrel populations were definitely plentiful.
Gary continued to fly Harris hawks successfully on squirrels for several years. It would be his apprentice’s Red Tail hawk that would draw his complete attention. Gary had mistakenly assumed that Harris hawks were the best bird to fly over squirrels but it was his apprentice and his Red Tail who were bringing home the heavy game bag and stories of magnificent flights. In Gary’s words:
“I committed myself to do everything I could to raise the status of the Red Tail in the eyes of falconry. She deserves it. She is the bird God created for falconry. She is “the workhorse of modern falconry.” Properly flown in competent hands, she takes a back seat to no other birds. No longer could you go to a falconry meet, count the red tails in the weathering yard, and know how many apprentices were there. She is now the choice of General and Master Class falconers as well.”
Gary applied the same traditional training elements of discipline, management, and attention to detail that were reserved for more traditional falconry raptors to the humble and unpopular Red Tail hawk. In mid-1980, after a long absence from the mainstream falconry community, Gary’s success was being shared in closed circles. He was asked by the President of the Texas Hawking Association to be the key note speaker at their annual Meet. In Gary’s words:
“I set up to do a serious presentation on what I was calling “squirrel hawking”. The whole club was present and some of what I thought were my biggest critics were sitting on the front row. People started laughing. I don’t mean chuckled, I mean laughing so hard some of them had tears of laughter! At first I did not know what to make of it. But then I saw my wife at the back of the room and she was laughing as well. What I was saying and how I was saying it (I am a little animated and passionate) was so foreign to them, they found it humorous. I did not see the humor in it but I ran with it and most everyone in the room had a good time.”
At a NAFA meet several years later, Gary Brewer was approached by the NAFA President and asked to speak on squirrel hawking at the next annual North American Falconers Association Meet. Between the middle of January through September of that year, Gary wrote “Buteos and Bushytails”. His outline became the Table of Contents. The body of the work was written on the steering wheel of his car during the long drives as a rural insurance adjuster.
The presentation at NAFA was well received by the boys from east of the Mississippi. Despite the attention squirrel hawking was receiving nationally, NAFA still awarded falconers who took squirrels with a “Miscellaneous” pin equivalent to taking a lizard, a toad, or grasshopper. In the years that followed, articles on squirrel hawking began showing up in “Hawk Chalk” and “American Falconry”, some of them Gary’s. He began getting speaking invitations to various state falconry organizations, the majority of them being in the eastern United States.
Several years later, Gary received a phone call from NAFA President Daryl Perkins who asked him to be present at the Kearney, Nebraska field meet banquet. At that banquet, Daryl Perkins announced that from that Meet forward, NAFA would be awarding a game pin for squirrel take. In Gary’s words:
“I was standing at the back of the room by the door. The room erupted in cheers and whistling (rednecks are not shy or reserved). It evolved into a standing ovation that seemed to go on and on. A lot of people turned and smiled at me. I had to fight back the tears. We had come a long way, Baby! I am sure I was not the first guy to ever catch a squirrel with a hawk. And frankly, I am a little embarrassed (while at the same time flattered and grateful) over the attention I get as I travel around the country. That being said, there are a few things I would like to be remembered for. That would be to be the best falconer I can be, to strive to share with others anything valuable I learn along the way, to elevate squirrel hawking not only to legitimacy, but to an elite status in the falconry world, to elevate the status of the retail as a falconry bird, and to make sure she gets the respect she is due.”
Gary is currently nearing the finish line on his second book which will be titled “Getting the Most from Your Redtail”. In it, he shares a new training method that, along with other new techniques, promises to have a huge impact on falconry.
Falconry has been the largest submission to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. This was the culmination of over 6 years work by 11 nations, led by the authorities in the United Arab Emirates and including Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Korea, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Mongolia, Morocco and Spain. International World Falconry Day is instituted on November 16, 2010.