A Wyoming hunter redefines “falconry” by practicing the centuries-old sport with a huge golden eagle.
Maggie bowed her head, covered by a leather hood. Her talons pulsed open and closed with hundreds of pounds of pressure on the perch in the back of Scott Simpson’s truck.
In her blindness, the golden eagle reached out to grab at the human voices. She was daring someone, anyone, to put a hand out, Scott said.
He spoke to her softly. “We’re working on her manners.”
She pushed his thumbnail with her talon as she climbed on his fist. Even through three layers of buffalo hide, the nail would turn purple. Scott removed Maggie’s hood and she shook her golden head.
She doesn’t like strangers. Sunglasses and camera lenses look like eyes of predators.
She raised the feathers on the back of her head and rolled the top of her wings forward like a boxer preparing for a fight.
This was mid-October, the first release of their hunting season. Scott stood in a field and cast Maggie off of his arm.
Golden eagles are arguably the sky’s most effective hunters. Their long tails give them maneuverability. Their razor sharp beaks and talons are deadly to prey. Their thick, downy undercoat allows them to withstand piercing winds and temperatures 40 degrees below zero. They prefer jackrabbits, but stories tell of eagles killing coyotes, antelope and Mongolian wolves.
Scott watched Maggie fly away, on the hunt. She didn’t have to come back. Scott couldn’t make her.
Soon, he would find out if all of the training and obsessing had built the trust he knew he needed, if he had convinced a purely wild animal that she was better off with him than without him.