Billions of Bullets and Thousands of MRAPs, Oh My

In this video, I discuss the rumors of DHS purchasing enough ammo to kill everyone in the solar system 14,000 times. See these links for more info:

In Defense of the NRA released a video attacking the NRA last month. While I don’t like certain aspects of NRA marketing, I decided to make a video pushing back against some of their more egregious lies. Here it is, with citations following the video.

Citations: video “Revealed: The Truth About The NRA”

Eddie Eagle/Journal of Emergency Nursing

NRA Foundation Donates 5.5M to local organizations in 2010

MidwayUSA Brand Products

MidwayUSA Round Up Contributions Pass 1 Million Dollars in 2012

NRA Board Members

– Tiahrt Amendment Supported by ATF – (NRA) OR (CRS)

AP article on “40% of guns sold without a background check”

Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban Statement of Purpose

MoveonPAC Accepts Corporate Money

Falconry is Awesome

Falconry is a sport with a rich history going back many centuries. It was the domain of nobles in medieval times and may or may not have been practiced as far back as 2000 BC – academics disagree on that point. What there should be no disagreement on is that falconry is insanely cool.

This is a Harris hawk.

A few months back, a friend of mine said to me, “I have a friend who trains birds, you should go take pictures.” I was immediately intrigued, because I love nature and also love to take pictures of things. As it turns out, falconry is not only totally badass, but it is also a great challenge for a photographer.

Falconry, which may also be referred to as “hawking,” is basically the capturing and training of a raptor (owl, falcon, hawk, pterodactyl) to hunt small animals or other birds, then return to your hand. The last part is why it’s so awesome – having a bird of prey, a veritable icon of freedom and independence, willingly return to you is a major achievement.

His name is Augi.

As you might expect for an animal that drops out of the sky to kill things, raptors are fast. On numerous occasions, Augi would be off his perch and halfway to a hapless furry creature before I could react. The photographs in this article come from about half a dozen trips to a field in the desert with Augi, his owner/falconer, Erik, and occasionally Erik’s girlfriend Kara.

Augi likes Erik.

Erik is an apprentice falconer, which means that he can only have one raptor at a time. Falconry is heavily regulated at the state and federal level. I find this annoying, because I think everyone should be able to go out in the woods with a hawk and hunt rabbits. However, if everyone did it, it wouldn’t be as awesome. So maybe the annoying regulations do have an upside.

Erik has invested a significant amount of money and time in hawking. He goes out to the field with Augi at least three days a week, and has falconry gear such as the radiotransmitter you see attached to Augi’s leg. I guess you could call it a hobby, but it really seems like more of a lifestyle to me.

A typical day of hawking starts with getting Augi out of his enclosure and into what is basically a big cardboard box for the drive out to the field. The box is enclosed so that Augi isn’t startled by the fact that he is in a car.

Augi’s first car ride was not a happy time for him.

Once we get to the field, Erik will take a dead quail or bunny out of a bag and either cut it apart with shears or rip it apart with his bare hands, because that’s the sort of thing you do when you’re a falconer. He might feed a little to Augi, but he keeps the rest to use as bait to bring Augi back, should he find some other tasty critter and not want to return in a timely manner.


Once Erik’s ready and has his gear in place – which includes a very long paint roller for Augi to sit on as they walk around in the desert – he opens the box and lets Augi fly out. The paint roller, by the way, is a tall object for Augi to be drawn to as opposed to a power pole, which could result in his being electrocuted.

It’s better if Augi is not electrocuted.

Augi will randomly decide that he wants to fly to a tree, or bush, or will chase after something, and then Erik has to carry a paint roller around in the desert. But that’s a small price to pay in exchange for keeping Augi alive and flying.

“Take me to the cottontails.”

Simply getting to watch Augi fly is a treat. He is capable of transitioning from rest to maximum warp in a breathtakingly fast manner. Most people have seen a bird fly before, but I had never really paid much attention to it. The way he contorts his body to roll down on top of prey, or tucks a wing in as he flies between tree branches, is astounding to me as a pilot. I was jealous of him every time he took to the air.

Let’s see your Cirrus do this.
That angled tail means Augi is about to roll fast enough to make Maverick puke.

I also loved the way Augi jumped off the ground or a tree branch before jetting away with a few flaps of his big wings. His legs are a lot more powerful than I thought, but he also has a lot of finesse when he needs it.

Blast off.
Kicking from branch to branch is probably harder than it looks.

Erik can tell what Augi is pursuing by the way he flies, and after a while, I started to be able to figure it out, too. The rabbits tend to run in a zig-zag pattern, which Augi mimics frighteningly well, while squirrels are a bit straighter in their fleeing of the giant bird of prey.

“Giant” is, of course, relative, but Augi has a surprisingly large wingspan considering how small he looks on the ground.

When Augi is nearly on top of his prey, he – for lack of a better term – hovers above it, then dives down with his claws extended forward. This generally does not bode well for whatever he is diving towards. He’ll also brake with his wings, so that he doesn’t impact the ground at a high rate of speed.

I would totally open carry a hawk – because who wants this coming at their face?
If that stupid cactus wasn’t in the way, you could see a squirrel running for its life.

Once he has caught something, which happens often, he is fiercely protective of his kill. This is to be expected, but the ferocity of his glare has to be seen to be believed.

The squirrel was probably wishing he’d slept in.

Only Erik can get remotely close to Augi right after a kill, and even then Augi is highly suspicious of him. Erik is trying to get Augi to go after rabbits, not squirrels. Erik says, “The main reason I have been trying to ‘enter’ Augi on rabbits is because they’re better quarry for sport. Rabbits are a greater challenge; they’re faster, smarter in terms of finding cover and determining when to leave cover, and it is my responsibility as a law-abiding falconer to encourage Augi to chase the appropriate (legal) quarry.”

As an aside, Erik cares deeply about Augi as well as the ethics of falconry and hunting. That’s a big subject, and if anyone has questions, I’m sure he’ll be happy to answer them.

“Go. Away.”

The one time I tried to crowd Augi with a kill, he gave me a disapproving look and flew away. Luckily, I got a nice photo of him absconding with his breakfast.

World’s largest flying squirrel.

Erik will soon release Augi back into the wild from whence he came, and he’ll hopefully be welcomed back to his pack. Harris Hawks are different from other raptors in that they normally hunt in packs.

Whether or not the pack allows him back in, I certainly do hope that Augi has a long and fruitful (meatful?) life. He’s a magnificent creature.

Also, falconry is awesome.