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Like a bullet

This sharp-taloned, hook-beaked bird is a red-tailed hawk, and Bill Seals, a 210-pound ex-basketball player of Knoxville, Tenn., uses it to hunt rabbits. Bill is no medievalist, but he is fast developing a passion for the medieval sport of hawking. "An apprentice falconer," he says, "always starts with a short-winged hawk like this."

Seals caught his hawk in an all but invisible net baited with a juicy pigeon. At first it hissed at its new master and sulked at its hood, but Seals fed it beefsteak and carried it around on his gloved hand until it got used to his touch. After weeks of training, he tied a line to the hawk's leg and began to teach it to hunt. "A hawk hits its prey on the head with its talons," Seals says. "It's a quick kill, almost like a bullet."

Later this year, Seals hopes to catch and train a long-winged falcon—one of the big-caliber armaments of falconry. He has no doubts about how to do it. Nothing has changed in falconry for the last 4,000 years.