Falconry is the art and practice of hunting wild quarry in its natural habitat by means of a trained raptor. It is the oldest form of hunting still in practice today, tracing its origins to over 4,000 years ago. Despite its pedigree, it was not legally recognized in West Virginia until 1998.
Just as it is the oldest, many believe it also to be the purest form of hunting since it does not utilize a man-made weapon to take quarry. In falconry, the bird of prey is the weapon.
Given that it is the only hunting discipline that employs a protected wild animal, falconry is the most regulated field sport in America. As such, anyone that wants to participate in this ancient sport must first endure the rigors of obtaining a falconry permit.
It should be noted without equivocation or apology that falconry is not pet-keeping; it is a blood sport. In falconry–as in nature–some animals must die so that other animals may live. Such is the economy of predation.
becoming a falconer
in west virginia
So, you want to be a falconer?
You need to be sure before you say yes. Falconry isn't for everyone. It's not a hobby but rather a way of life. Unlike a gun, bow, or fishing pole, that can be oiled and forgotten about in a closet or dusty corner at the end of the season, a bird of prey is a full-time obligation that demands expert care and attention every day of the year.
Becoming a falconer isn't an expedient or convenient process. It can take 8 months or longer to complete and involves significant hurdles: securing a sponsor, taking a written examination, and undergoing a facilities inspection, to name only some.
Before you embark upon the odyssey of falconry, you need to ask yourself if you possess the time, finances, and determination to be successful.
You must have the available time to train, exercise, and hunt with your bird. You get out of her what you put into her. There are no shortcuts. Does your spouse understand the commitment? Does your employer?
What is your financial condition? Falconry is not limited to the wealthy but does entail appreciable costs: books and study materials as you learn the sport and study for your examination, equipment, material to build your facilities, permit fees, veterinary expenses, fuel to get you to your trapping and hunting sites and to your meetings with your sponsor, as well as food for your charge.
Do have access to enough land supporting sufficient game for hunting? The bird is only half of the equation; a predator needs prey to actually be a predator.
Do you have the determination and strength of character to weather the frustrations and difficulties inherent in falconry?
You need to be introspective and consider all of these things before you attempt licensure.
If you still intend to proceed, you are about to begin a very interesting and rewarding adventure.
So, what are the practical steps to becoming a licensed falconer?
Step 1 – Contact the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources Falconry Permits Coordinator in Elkins, Cindy Wilmoth, at (304) 637-0245 ext. 2049 and request a falconry packet. Once received by mail, this packet will contain all of the information necessary for you to become a falconer as well as a falconry permit application.
Step 2 – Begin studying and researching raptor identification and biology, raptor husbandry, and falconry practice in preparation for the falconry test (see suggested reading list and sources on this site).
Step 3 – Secure a sponsor. To become a licensed falconer, you must undertake a minimum two-year apprenticeship under a licensed general or master class falconer. The West Virginia Falconry Club can assist you in making contact with a potential sponsor in your area.
Step 4 – Build a mews/weathering facility and acquire necessary equipment. Your sponsor will help you determine the best type of structure to build at your location. While there is additional equipment needed to practice the sport properly, some equipment is mandatory to pass the inspection. The mandatory equipment is listed as follows:
anklets & jesses
Step 5 – Complete and send in your falconry permit application, signed by your sponsor, accompanied by your $250 application fee.
Step 6 – Test. Call the DNR permit coordinator to set up an examination appointment at your local DNR office. The written examination consists of 105 multiple choice and true/false questions. You must score 80% or higher to pass this test. (Your sponsor will help you determine when you are ready to take the test.)
Step 7 – Facilities & Equipment Inspection. Once you have passed the examination, the DNR will arrange for an officer to visit your facility and conduct the inspection.
Once you have completed these steps, the DNR will process your permit and mail it to you. (While waiting for your permit, acquire a source of food for your bird and begin planning your trapping activities.)
WITH PERMIT IN HAND, YOU ARE LAWFULLY A FALCONER.
regulations and forms
West Virginia DNR, in partnership with WVFC, re-drafted the state falconry code in 2013 to comply with the revised federal falconry standards.
The current West Virginia falconry regulations can be downloaded here.
The West Virginia falconry permit application and renewal form can be downloaded here.
For initial applications, please contact the falconry coordinator, Cindy Wilmoth, to request the complete application packet.
The USFWS 3-186A Migratory Bird Acquisition and Disposition Report can be downloaded here.