When Nancy Cowan goes hunting, she does not mind being a third wheel. In fact, she prefers it.
As an experienced falconer and co-owner of the New Hampshire School of Falconry, Cowan lets her bird and dog do most of the work when she goes into the field.
Cowan and her husband Jim have taught this style of hunting since they helped introduce a bill 25 years ago to legalize falconry in New Hampshire. For the first time, the Cowans will be bringing along some of their birds to demonstrate what they do at the Hillsborough County Agricultural Fair in New Boston.
At their school in Deering, the Cowans teach the art of falconry, which by definition is hunting using a trained bird of prey.
“When [students] have the bird fly to them and it opens it up to them, now they have an understanding of something they love,” Cowan said.
To train the bird, Cowan said, the falconer and animal must spend an immense amount of time together. But once the falcon or hawk is ready to go on a hunt, Cowan said, the human can stand back and let the bird and dog work together.
The dog sniffs out game and flushes it out. The falcon quickly learns to follow the dog so it can swoop in and collect the hunted animal.
“That’s the essence of what the sport of falconry is,” Cowan said. “It’s two very talented individuals hunting based on their instincts. It’s absolutely nirvana.”
Because these birds are wild animals, Cowan said, it’s nearly impossible to make them do anything they don’t want to do. To be successful, the falconer must demonstrate to the bird that it’s safe to perch on his gloved hand, and the bird needs to recognize an established signal for food.
Cowan said if the conditions are right at the fair in New Boston, she will conduct a flying demonstration with one of her birds of prey. During a flying demonstration, the bird will perch itself on a tree limb or ledge nearby and then fly back to Cowan’s glove. If she determines that the conditions at the fair would not be safe to do a demonstration, there will still be other ways visitors can interact with the birds.
“If you can’t see it happen, you can touch [the birds],” she said. “It’s a wonderful learning experience, and one way or another, we’ll please the audience.”
The display of falconry will not be the only new attraction at the 56th annual fair. Fair secretary Janell George said this year will also include the fair’s first big-truck pull. In past years, the pulling competitions were relegated to tractors and small trucks, but this year, big rigs will be competing to see to can pull a heavy load the farthest.
The fair has also expanded a series of agricultural talks and workshops led by local people with experience in various farming fields. Some of the topics for this year include beekeeping, raising pigs, farm work horses, dairy cows and other farm animals.
George said the fair is hoping to host a talk by a giant pumpkin grower to share some tips and tricks on how to grow a prize-winning gourd.
A children’s favorite returning for this year, George said, is a goat milking demonstration that kids can participate in.
“These are for fair goers who want to learn about what it’s like to live in the country or grow their own food,” she said.
Other attractions include live music from local bands, equestrian competitions, including a demonstration by the New Hampshire Mounted Cowboy Shooters, and exhibits featuring nearly every variety of livestock.
Cowan said she is excited to bring her love of falconry to the fair for the first time. She recently retired from 16 years as the town clerk and tax collector in Deering and said she plans to spend her newfound free time working with the birds and sharing her passion with as many students as she can.
“It’s a neat thing to be able to do, and I love sharing it with people,” she said.