The Lay of the Land
Hunting in Southeast Louisiana is unique. Within an hour's drive, I can reach mature hardwood bottoms, sizeable shortgrass fields, cypress swamps, pine uplands, saltmarsh, farmland and a few good empty lots in the local industrial parks.
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Game species are equally diverse: We have swamp rabbits (largest members of the cottontail family at 3-5 pounds), cottontails, gray and fox squirrels, a host of unprotected birds (eg., starlings, cowbirds, house sparrows, grackles), mourning doves, snipe, woodcock, several species of rail [see Sam Houston's Six Minute Sora] and gallinule, bobwhite quail (though few and far between), coots and a wide range of waterfowl species. It would be unfair not to mention the wiley, maddening, ubiquitous cotton rat (Sigmodon hispidus): a perfect starter quarry for a young Harris and always a welcome addition to the larder.
Game numbers can be staggering. In mid-winter, any wet patch of open ground in this part of the state could hold a hundred snipe. Add knee-high grass and rails and rabbits can be almost as thick. In good habitat, game of one species or another will flush every few minutes, making for fast-paced and often exhausting action. With a team of Harris hawks, it is not uncommon to catch several head of game of several species simultaneously.
On the down-side, the cover is sometimes simply impossible to penetrate. Open land is relatively scarce, and it grows too thick too quickly. The heat is nearly unbearable for half the season -- ditto the bugs. On few hunts will your feet (legs, waist, torso) stay dry and reasonably clean. Venomous snakes pose a real and common danger to the hawks, as do "nutria," fifteen pound aquatic rodents that can bite a bird's leg in two...
The Hawks: We are fortunate in Southeast Louisiana to have access to most of the region's resident and migratory raptors. Coastal trapping in early October can produce kestrels, merlins, peregrines (soon? never?), sharpshins and Cooper's hawks. Inland trapping throughout the winter is easy for red-tails, red-shoulders, kestrels, Cooper's and potentially for sharpies and merlins. Raptors breeding within a few miles of my home include: Cooper's hawks, kestrels, three buteo species, two kite species, four owl species, bald eagles and ospreys.
The most popular raptors used in local falconry (not necessarily in order) are: domestically produced Harris hawks (flown at rabbits, squirrels and a wide range of birds), passage Red-tailed hawks (rabbits and squirrels), eyas Cooper's hawks (birds up to crows, and cottontails), and American kestrels, merlins and sharp-shinned hawks (all flown primarily at sparrows, starlings and blackbirds). Peregrines and other large falcons are rarely flown in this area. Native raptors with some potential but not much in use include red-shouldered and broad-winged hawks.
The Hawking: Rabbit hawking takes place both in woodland and more open areas. Hawks are encouraged to follow from tree to tree when hawking in hardwood bottomland, or are flown from a carry-pole ("T-perch") in saltmarsh or fallow fields. Bonus quarry for woodland rabbit hawking include squirrels and wood ducks; rails are frequently taken when hawking bunnies off carry-poles in more open areas. In most spots the harvested game makes for a mixed bag.
Louisiana falconers enjoy a long season that begins in mid-September (rails) and ends February 28th with the last day for rabbits and squirrels. During the rest of the year, crows and blackbirds are legal quarry (when posing a threat to property), and non-native birds are always available.