Falconry — the practice of hunting with birds of prey — is an ancient tradition that has been around for thousands of years. Using drones in falconry, however, is a recent development.
We met up with falconer Bob Smith in Elk City, Okla. at the North American Falconers Association Meet to learn about how he uses his X‑Star Premium in falcon training.
The falconer attaches a lure to the drone and flies the drone up. Then, he releases the bird. The bird flies up, pulls the lure loose, and glides back down. This process trains the falcon to fly at higher altitudes to hunt.
Because they become more effective hunters by flying at higher altitudes, falcons that are trained like this often live longer than they would in the wild.
Falconry is one of the oldest forms of hunting. According to Smith, Genghis Khan had a fleet of dedicated falconers in his army to put food on the table. Now, he said, falconry is more about feeding the bird than it is about feeding humans.
“We’re not really hunting as much as we’re letting the bird do what it was born to do,” Smith said. “It’s got to catch prey every day to eat, so when we do catch a duck, the bird gets most of that duck, if not all of it.”
In the recent past, falconers used kites and helium balloons for training. Drones provide more control, and Smith said that he also uses the camera on the drone to scout new locations. Some falconers use drones to rescue birds as well.
Smith has been working with birds since the 1970s.
“I’ve always had a fascination with flight,” Smith said. “Falcons get me the closest to the sky I’ve ever been, and the drones — that gets me that extra opportunity to fly.”