Falconry, a sport more associated with medieval kings and modern-day sheiks than D.C.'s weekend warriors, is the most surprising activity offered at The Greenbrier resort, West Virginia's 235-year-old, whitewashed monument to gentility. For a fee, visitors can learn from falconers about their hawks and the history of the sport, then have a raptor fly to their gloved fist as they stroll about the estate, which is as groomed as the carnivorous birds are wild.
Duane Zobrist has run the Greenbriar's Falconry Academy, one of only a handful open to beginners around the country, for many years and is - in the manner of many falconers – deeply devoted to his birds. If he's done his job well, you will leave one of his falconry programs with an understanding of the intense bond that develops between the falconer and his flock. These birds depend on the falconer for food and to provide them with fresh quarries, which usually means beating bushes and pounding on trees in an attempt to flush the hawks' prey, mostly rabbits and squirrels, into the open.
Zobrist relies on Harris hawks - gorgeous, gregarious, dark, and chestnut colored natives of the American southwest - as his primary falconry birds. Birds of prey are usually solitary hunters, but Harris hawks are the Labradors of the hawk world and will happily hunt in groups. They follow the falconer through the forest. If a rabbit makes the mistake of running, it becomes lapin tartar in an instant.
Falconry, which is federally regulated, has a tendency to radicalize those who try it: Some understandably find the hunting aspect disturbing, while others are consumed by the beauty of the animals. "I've seen falconers lose more wives and girlfriends than birds over the years," Zobrist says, alluding to the fervor of some of his students.
If Falconry isn't enough and you’re looking to participate in a distinctly old-school triathlon, The Greenbrier also offers courses in horseback riding and archery.
More Information: The Greenbrier is located in White Sulphur Springs, WV. Intro falconry programs are offered three times daily for $110. Intermediate programs are once a day except Sundays and the private hunting experience is by appointment.