From the pages of
The Sublette County Journal
Volume 4, Number 18 - 12/30/99
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

"Kean," a juvenile Gyrfalcon, enjoys the balmy weather in Pinedale after a morning of hunting on Monday.
Falconer Returns to Pinedale for 14th Year

by Jennifer Binning

While driving by the Best Western this week, I very nearly drove off the road at the sight of four enormous, beautiful falcons, tethered to stands and sunning themselves on a relatively balmy December afternoon. Unable to resist, I stopped and introduced myself to their handler, Steve Chindgren.

Mr. Chindgren is the owner of Skyking Birds in Centerville, Utah, and has been coming to Sublette County for the past 14 years to hunt sage grouse with his falcons. When he first began coming to the area, before the explosion of activity in the Jonah Field, Mr. Chindgren says he saw enormous flocks of sage grouse out on the desert, estimating he saw a group of 3,000 birds once. Since the gas development, the numbers of grouse seem to have dropped, but he feels this is a temporary displacement and the numbers will increase again once reclamation has begun. He adds that he has seen more grouse this year than he has in a long time.

Mr. Chindgren fell in love with falconry when he was just a boy, and he began working with the birds at the age of 8. Growing up in the then undeveloped hills near Salt Lake, Mr. Chindgren loved watching the big birds of prey soar on the thermals near his home. He never imagined he would be able to make a living working with the birds he loves, but he has.

Capitalizing on his vast knowledge of birds, Mr. Chindgren used his skills to land a job doing the bird show at the Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake. During the summer, he and his staff show many different species to the visitors at the zoo. He then spends the slow season breeding, training and selling his own falcons to other falconers.

In addition to the birds he hunts with, Mr. Chindgren has 15 falcons he uses in his breeding program. He estimates that depending on the bird, it takes 1-3 years to fully train a falcon to hunt. The oldest bird in his flock, Jomo, is 12 years old and considered to be an old man by falconer standards, as the sport does have inherent dangers for the bird, which may be attacked by other birds of prey in flight, or by coyotes when it is subduing prey on the ground.

Steve Chindgren with Kean.
Most of the birds Mr. Chindgren has with him are crosses between the peregrine and gyrfalcons, with the exception of Kean who is a pure bred gyrfalcon. The gyrfalcon is found mostly in the arctic and sub-arctic climes, however Mr. Chindgren saw a wild one soaring above the gas field near Pinedale.

The Game and Fish has very stringent requirements for the licensing of falconers, and the falconry regulations run several pages on the Game and Fish web site, which include the care, handling, and housing of the birds once a person has been licensed. Falconry has its own hunting season in Wyoming, and the Sage Grouse and Pheasant season runs from September 1 through February 28, with several areas being off limits to hunting with falcons. The folks at the Game and Fish ask that anyone with questions about the falconry hunting season please stop by and pick up a copy of the game bird regulations at any Game and Fish office in the state.

Photo credits:  Jennifer Binning, Jennifer Binning

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Copyright © 1999 The Sublette County Journal
All rights reserved. Reproduction by any means must have permission of the Publisher.
The Sublette County Journal, PO Box 3010, Pinedale, WY 82941   Phone 307-367-3713
Publisher/Editor: Rob Shaul