Preliminary Note:

The latest from Dave Scarbrough

I am still flying the heck out of your Carbon Classic, Little Bear and Trooper... I now use a parachute release mechanism for the bait. The falcon pulls the whole thing off the kiteline and floats down to the ground in much less time than my former technique. The only hitch is, you have to find a very large open area to avoid hazards. The guy who came up with the idea told me the birds drop straight down. The first time I used it at 600 ft, the falcon went 600 YARDS downwind before touching down. Not exactly straight down!

Note: Dave Scarbrough's original web page isn't there anymore

How I Learned to Stop Ballooning and Love the Kite

David Scarbrough

703 Volker Street
Fairfax, Missouri 64446

telephone (660) 686-3514
David Scarbrough and Cosmo

This article is intended as an update on equipment as well as an introduction for those unfamiliar with the technique of using the kite to achieve desired pitch, (all three of you pay attention please). I refer the interested reader to two previous articles in NAFA's Hawk Chalk, August '95 and December '95 for more background on the kite.

Traditionally longwingers have depended on luck, patience and a variety of gimmicks to get a decent pitch out of their falcons. Though some falcons responded well, others left the anxious falconer scrambling to force the issue before a low pitch becomes habit. The real glitch in the program has been a lack of control over how high, when, and where the falcon goes up.

Following the lead of Bill Burnham and Bill Heinrich, the falconers who pioneered the balloon technique twenty years ago, many have experimented with tethered Helium balloons "baited" to draw a falcon up to a desirable pitch. Such a falcon soon learns to anticipate a bird flushed below before it reaches the bait, and voila, instant pitch. (See Carlton Green's article in the April, 1991 Hawk Chalk.)

In a perfect world all is well using the balloon, but for those of us who live where the wind blows occasionally, there is a problem: the balloon becomes dysfunctional in the wind; this fact, along with the hassle of dealing with such a cumbersome, expensive and delicate device, has scared off many would-be devotees to the "new philosophy". I tried a balloon myself a few years back but found it was too often grounded by the wind. One summer while parasailing, I got the idea to try a kite to solve the wind problem and the rest is history.

The System: After a ridiculous amount of experimentation and expense I've settled on the following:

The kite - - a stock Little Bear Delta available from Into-the-Wind (1-800-541-0314). This kite is extremely stable, easy to handle, and will fly at a high angle, (50-60 degrees average), in almost any reasonable wind. Having tried perhaps a dozen different kites, I know of no more user-friendly beast than this one. The cost is about $70. In extremely low winds, I use a Carbon Classic Delta also from Into-the-Wind. These high-tech Deltas need no tails.

Line - - I now use only a one line set-up of 100-lb test braided dacron (Into-the-Wind). It's more durable and far less expensive than Spectra, etc. I mark mine every 100 feet with black magic marker, one additional mark for each increment, so I know how much line I have out; this will help if you want to be able to brag, and prove it. On the other hand, you may find it humbling experience that you may not want to talk about. I use 1,500 feet of line on the spool, which gives 1,300 feet vertically at 60 degrees. (1,500 ft x sin 60 = 1,300 ft). In my opinion, the law of diminishing returns kicks in well before 1000 feet. Besides, the final pitch is limited more by what you do, than how much string you have.

Release mechanism - - Cannon quick-release, item #Z535-671 from Offshore Angler (1-800-633-9131). You could use anything here but this one is very slick and can be adjusted on the spot for different wind conditions with no tools.

Quick-link - - I use the smallest I can find to secure the bait/release to the kite-line. The whole mess can slide down the kite-line when the falcon pulls the bait/release off, although this rarely happens without a hitch. Even if the kite is straight up the wind will prevent the bait apparatus from sliding all the way down: this is why you need the roller.

Roller - - To bring the kite down quickly without reeling in all that line, I put a hand-held roller on top of the line and walk-run toward the kite. The roller is used to guide the line onto the winch, and is sold in most hardware stores as a pulley (Ace Hardware #51492). I now use a custom-made roller that a friend made for me but the stock pulley will work fine in anyone's hands. The use of the roller also helps the bait slide better causing the distal end of the kite-line to be more vertical (by pulling out any catenary in the line; see drawing).

Winch - - Here again I have overdone it. I now have a second generation custom-made monster that would reel in a small Cessna. It has a hand brake that will control line playout and lock the spool when needed. The spool is about a foot long with a two inch diameter shaft and six inch flanges. The whole contraption, though compact, weighs 50 pounds to keep it from flying away. The average falconer, being somewhat smarter than I, will no doubt come up with something simpler, but if you use the kite as much as I do, you will want to use something more reliable than a hose-reel. I still use my 14.4 volt DeWalt to power it though there is a new 18 volt model with 50% more torque. You will need all the torque you can get. A hand crank is a good idea for a backup, like when you forget your battery or the battery dies.

Bait - -I stick by my earlier assertion that you cannot beat the rear half of a quail or a similar bird for bait.

Technique: You don't need to waste time manning the bird to the kite. On day one send the kite up to 1,000 feet to minimize distraction, and attach the bait at eye level. Initially it might help to use a whole quail to start the ball rolling. The next day, put the bait higher, etc. When the falcon grabs the bait, especially at lower altitudes, the mechanism generally slides down just like it is supposed to. Again, this is not a sure thing, so you should be ready with the roller to quickly roll the line and kite down until the falcon can stand on the ground. In a week your falcon can be expected to go up to the bait at 1,000 feet, regardless, So far, the transition from 0-100 feet has been harder than the next 900 ft.

High-flying falcons pre-date the kite by at least a few millennia. A kite is not a necessity. But you must admit, this technique is proactive. Instead of hoping the bird will go up, now you KNOW it will go up. And you don't have to worry about the bird learning the wrong thing, e.g. the bird is unlikely ever to go sit with bait above her.

Skeptics still ask what happens when the kite isn't up there. Results vary, as you might expect, and some people have not been completely happy with the results. However, some have also not used their heads to the extent they are capable of and, therefore, want to blame the technique. I have seen it do wonders on numerous birds, and not only my own. And yes, even the peregrine, which by some has been declared too dimwitted to learn from the kite, can be reclaimed from a daisy-clipping pitch in careful hands. Remember, the kite is just a tool to superimpose on your current system, it is not a complete technique by itself. As long as you do your part, the kite will too. A kite-trained falcon is just as susceptible to the mistakes you might make, as is a "traditionally" trained falcon (whatever that means). As Danny Ertsgaard told me years ago, "Getting pitch is pretty easy, keeping it is the hard part."

The transition between kite and no-kite is sometimes tricky. Eventually you have to wean yourself from the kite, but if you want to get the most from your bird, don't be too hasty to do this. Occasionally try without the kite and for heavens sake don't bag anything for less than what you want the pitch to be. Eventually the bird will be going up with no interest in the bait, having seen how much better plan "B" is anyhow; this is where you get to wait the bird out without fear of it sitting.

Even after I have all the pitch I want, I continue to use the kite occasionally. Training never really ends anyway, right? For instance, if despite my best efforts to the contrary, one of my falcons manages to kill from a poor pitch, I feed sparingly, hood him up and wait a few minutes, Then I kite him up to a good pitch, bag a pheasant, and gorge him on that one. Dense as they may seem at times, I have not met the falcon that does not eventually "get it". The same principle applies on a day when the normally high flying falcon refuses to go up, usually because of wind. What better time to show the bird the error of its ways than immediately after it "misbehaves"? For this reason I have my relatively compact kite equipment with me every time I go hawking, something I cannot imagine doing with the unwieldy, standard five foot balloon. At the end of the molt, my last two kite-birds flew up to the baited kite at 400 feet the very first time out of the mews. Needless to say, I don't have to dink around trying to regain pitch and condition the way I used to with intermewed birds.

The balloon, when first developed, was an important improvement in training, and we all owe Burnham and Heinrich a debt of gratitude for the idea. But as the old eight-track audio tape was bettered by cassettes, and now CD's, so the kite is redefining the state of the art in this arena.

I enjoy hearing from others experimenting with this technique.

Bait/Release System Diagram
Overall Arrangement Diagram


The best European source I know of for Deltas of all types is:

Dan Leigh
54 Osborne Road
Pontypool, Gwent
Wales, UK.
Phone (01495) 750875 – Dave Scarbrough's original web page

Copyright © 1996-1997 All Rights Reserved David Scarbrough
Last updated: 9/14/97
Page by Bertta M.Snell,