Donors
Blair Anderson, Sue Cecchini, Mark Williams
TRIBUTES edited from NAFA JOURNAL 2008
Kent once took a television news reporter out to see
grouse hawking. During the outdoors report interview,
he told the reporter, “I’d like to see a bird up two to
three thousand feet in the sky come down in a real nice
stoop where she is folded up like a bullet, going 200
miles an hour perhaps, and knock down a grouse, in full
flight 100 feet over the landscape. That’s what I’m look-
ing for!” The reporter’s voice came back on and said,
“That’s what happens when everything goes right, but
watch what happens today!”
Like all of us, the flights do not always go as we hope, but
we keep striving for the great ones. Kent was no differ-
ent. He was always after the flight of a lifetime.
Kent had a great passion for hawking sage grouse.
Charles Browning called him Captain Grouse, which
made Kent blush and giggle. I think he liked it.
Kent’s goal was to see, as often as pos sible, a gyrfalcon
come cutting across the sky at 1,000 feet or more, then
drop into a flock of sage grouse flying high over a valley.
Many flights ended the way he tried to orchestrate them,
and he got to see what he called the poetic dance—
where the art in falconry shows itself and everything
comes together.
He also loved to watch young setter pups trip through
the sage and develop into big-running grouse dogs. He
loved the way a young dog was so excited about life. He
worked with other pointing breeds, but he always had a
special place in his heart for well-bred field-stock English
setters.
Kent was a young puppy at heart, too. Many of us have
fond memories of him. He had many friends and a family
who loved him dearly. A few of them are going to share
the life and times of Kent Christopher with you here, as
seen through their eyes and felt with their hearts.
— Hubert Quade
Kent and I were friends for more than 30 years. We first
met around 1975 when he used to show up occasionally
at our Peregrine Fund facility in Fort Collins, Colorado.
I remember giving him one of the first four hybrid gyr-
peregrines we produced—a bird I named Crazy Legs be-
cause one leg was blue and the other yellow. Kent hunted
decks successfully with the bird, despite the fact that one
of its wings was about an inch shorter than the other and
half of its tail feathers were shorter than the other half.
Later, beginning in the 1980s, we often hawked sage
grouse together with Hubert Quade, Vie Hardaswick,
Steve Baptiste, Keith Carpenter, and occasionally other
falconers in the Upper Snake River region, in places like
Birch Creek, Crooked Creek, Medicine Lodge, and the
Liddy Flats— but Crooked Creek and environs was our
favorite.
It was great to be in the field with Kent, because’he was
always easy-going and relaxed, had well-behaved dogs
(mostly English setters), and high flying falcons. He never
got angry or upset with his animals or his human com-
panions. He had a reverential approach to hunting and to
life in general. He never flew his falcon more than once
a day. If the hunt was suc cessful, he liked to sit down on
the ground beside his falcon with his dog on a leash and
watch her eat a full meal. After she finished eating, he
would take a single tail feather from the remains of the
grouse and stick it in the ground as a totem to mark the
location of a good hunt and to honor a worthy quarry.
We thought we were in falconers’ paradise back in the
1980s, when we were hawking in this country and could
see winter flocks of up to several thousand grouse fly-
ing from one valley to another. Of course, old-timers like
Chuck Wilson and Franklin Sullivan told us that in earlier
years they had seen flocks of tens of thousands, and in
spring Franklin and his brother used to walk from their
ranch house about four miles up the Warm Springs Creek
Spike Lightning on a female Sage Grouse
valley to Grouse Canyon, which at that time had display-
ing grouse continually in sight on their leks. That would
be something to see! But in the 1980s, there were still
plenty of grouse to enable falconers to get all their hawks
flown in an afternoon.
Then we began to see changes, especially after 1990.
Where we had seen thousands of grouse a few years ear-
lier, we only saw hundreds; where there had been hun-
dreds, we saw tens. The large winter flocks disappeared;
where grouse had been common in October, they did not
show up until late November in diminished numbers. At
first, we thought we were just ex periencing a cyclic de-
cline, but then we discovered otherwise.
So we began going to meetings to find out what was
happening and what could be done to restore grouse
populations. Around 1995, Kent and I produced our own
statement of findings and recommendations for the re-
covery of sage grouse with a strong emphasis on actions
needed to preserve and restore grouse habitats. We sub-
mitted it to several state and federal agencies. Instead of
actions on the ground, we got caught up in an endless
round of meetings and planning sessions. Over the past
14 years, the wheel got reinvented again and again, and
the number of sage grouse recovery and management
plans proliferated faster than the sage grouse did; but ef-
fective actions on the ground remained minimal.
Still, Kent always kept his eyes open to the possibilities
of things that could be done to improve conditions for
grouse. He was a founding direc tor of the North Ameri-
can Grouse Partnership (NAGP) and served for several
years as an outstanding editor of that organization’s
annual publica tion, which quickly directed national at-
tention to the goals of the Partner ship. He was an active
and guiding member of the Upper Snake River Grouse
Working Group in Idaho, he started the Dubois Grouse
Days festival, he became a member of one of the BLM’s
Resource Advisory Councils to look out for the welfare
of grouse, he helped to develop the concept of a Nature
Conservancy preserve for sage grouse and other wildlife
in the Crooked Creek valley and influenced decisions to
make it happen, and he obtained a grant for the NAGP to
distribute native plant seeds to farm ers and ranchers to
restore damaged habitats.
Most recently, Kent was especially happy to see a mutual-
ly acceptable resolution worked out by both land-ovners
and conservationists of the problems that would have
been cre ated for grouse by construction of an above-
ground powerline in an area where numbers of grouse
still winter. Burial of the line underground was the solu-
tion, achieved by cooperative funding from both private
and public sources. Hubert Quade and Kent first brought
this problem to public atten tion; the resulting action was
both expeditious and effective. It stands as a model for
future negotiations where commercial interests and con-
servation are potentially in conflict.
In April, 2008, when I drove along Idaho Route 22 to at-
tend a memorial service for Kent in Dubois, I passed by
all the familiar grouse country I mentioned, and I was
reminded of another of his longstanding concerns—one
that many of us share—the de-watering of the lower
Birch Creek drainage created by a privately owned diver-
sion dam for hydroelectric power and recently for irriga-
tion, a double whack at grouse habitat. What a lasting
tribute to the memory of Kent’s influence on our think-
ing and our behavior as responsible citizens it would
be for the community of the Upper Snake River Plain to
find a way to restore the natural flow of water in Birch
Creek and again provide habitat for grouse to move
their broods along the creek and up to their summering
grounds in the mountains. It is something to strive to ac-
complish in memory of Kent and all he stood for.
— Tom Cade
or rent. We were both struggling with the demands of
being research biologists, starting our families, and pur-
suing our passion for falconry. His second son was born
soon after he had bought a home and moved out of our
place.
My wife, Barbara, worked at the hospital where his son
was born, and she reminded me of Kent’s round, freck-
led face as he looked through the viewing window of the
hospital’s nursery, watching his son in a bassi net. That
face, that tooth-filled smile, those squinting eyes sur-
rounded by an uncountable number of freckles, is the
haunting and inescapable memory that plagues me. I
cannot relate all the times we spent together as chosen
brothers. We spent hundreds of days in the field flying
our hawks. We worked together as concerned falconers
and grouse biologist helping to start the North American
Grouse Partner ship. We floated the Henry’s Fork of the
Snake River, teaching his boys to flyfish. We spent un-
countable idle hours together just enjoying the comfort
of each other’s com pany. Over and over that pumpkin-
faced smile and gentle nature of a man, too soon lost,
plays in my mind’s eye.
I loved that man. My fond memories continue. I was
lucky to know him.
—Ed Pitcher
For the past seven hawking sea sons, my wife Anna and
I had the great opportunity to spend time in the field
with Kent Christopher. Our hawking experiences with
Kent led to a great friendship, and we are thankful to
have known him. I was with Kent numerous times when
he was tame hacking and hawking with his latest gyr-
kin, Donny, who was named after Don Hunter, was a Vic
Hardas wick imprint with a flying weight of 41 ounces.
Tame hack was a focused endeavor for Kent, which he
used to get his hawks fit, confident on the wing, and to
make certain that they were ready to kill in the early fall.
I saw Donny take his second sage grouse, and it is a flight
I think about often. It was in early September, not long
after the end of the bird’s tame hack. We were hawking
early one afternoon in Kent’s cherished Idaho desert. The
setter provided a solid point, and Kent cast off Donny. He
mounted quickly, with a rapid, strong wingbeat. Before
Vic Hardaswick and Kent doing what Kent loved
Jewel, pointing Sage Grouse
Kent’s Buddy on point in Sage Grouse country
The unreal phone call from Hubert Quade notifying me
of Kent’s fatal skiing accident sent me into a reeling rec-
ollection of our times together as friends. Like an endless
video playing over and over in my mind, I was tortured
by the memories of a unique mind and our love for each
other as friends. We were both grouse biologists when
we met in 1979. I had relocated my family from Wyoming
to Idaho in 1980. He moved his young family from
Colorado to Idaho and, because of circumstances, they
moved in with us while looking for a place to purchase
we knew it, Donny was up at least 800 feet, had reached
his pitch, and was in the cone. Four hens flushed, and
Donny went into a near vertical stoop, right in front of
us. By the time the grouse were 200 yards out, Donny
leveled briefly then bound to an adult hen. He landed in
the sage with his quarry about 300 yards away. This was
a wonderful flight from a young hawk and a very experi-
enced imprint gyr man.
I liked Kent’s falconry lifestyle. At the entrance to his
family room was a framed print of Joseph Wolf ’s famous
white gyr painting. On one of the walls was a beautiful,
old, framed photograph of a friend’s passage tundra per-
egrine. The falcon was on a winter
pheasant in the snow. Kent liked to use traditional equip-
ment. He had a leather Mollen-style hawking bag and a
cuffed glove with a tassel. He didn’t use braided jesses
or leashes, but finely crafted leather furniture, tough
enough for big gyrs. There were always beautifully made
new jesses, greased up and ready to go, hanging on the
wall above his scale. Also on Kent’s wall was a lovely com-
memorative plaque marking his time spent hawking red
grouse in Scotland. The plaque was wood with a brass
plate and had a pair of grouse feet attached.
Kent had many other interests in ad dition to falconry.
When the powder snow became deep at Grand Targhee
Resort in Idaho, Kent would hang up his hawking glove
and start skiing with his wife, Georgia. I think he skied
as hard as he hawked. Kent was also very excited about
the new Harley Davidson motorcycle he purchased in
late winter. He hadn’t ridden a motorcycle in years, and
we were concerned about a guy in his fifties riding a big
Harley on icy winter roads.
On the day before Easter, I received telephone calls from
Hub Quade and Ed Pitcher telling me of Kent’s accident
on the ski slopes. What really gets to me now is that
my appreciation for Kent continues to grow. I talked to
Georgia Christopher recently. On the day of the summer
solstice, she hiked to the area of Kent’s accident. Even
though she had skied there before, she was stunned by
how steep the terrain was. But of course it was steep. It
was Kent, going for it all the way.
— Blair Anderson