Friends of Don Hunter
NAFA Journal 2002
In Memory of a True Gentleman and
Falconer: Donald V. Hunter, Jr.
—by Vic Hardaswick, Kent Christopher,
and Tom Cade
It is with regret and deep personal sorrow that
we report the passing on June 14, 2002 of an old
friend of American falconry, Donald V. Hunter, Jr.
His departure marks the loss of a primary figure
among the generation of men who pi oneered the
sport of falconry in Amer ica.
Don was born on the family farm in rural Ulster,
Pennsylvania on April 15,1922. His school years
were spent in Chevy Chase, MD, a suburb of
Washington, D.C., where his father practiced
law. Don explored and learned all the nearby
woods, fishing holes, and hunting spots in that
area. During the summers, he enjoyed roam ing
the outdoors at their farm along the Susquehanna
River. Don had a love of nature and an interest in
wildlife photography. One evening his father took
him to a lec ture on falconry. This event changed
the course of his life.
Growing up in the D.C. area, Don was a contem-
porary of such men as Frank and John Craighead,
Al Nye, Morgan Berthrong, and other early fal-
coners. Don worked with the local Cooper’s and
“Duck Hawks,” locat ed their nest sites, photo-
graphed, band ed, and trained them. He pursued
these interests along with his passion for hunting
and fishing until he entered undergraduate school
at Cornell Uni versity at the age of 16.
Don left his studies prior to the outbreak of WWII
to join the Army Air Corps. He flew mainly the B-
29 bomb er as a flight commander in the Pacif ic
Theater. Don’s war experiences made great sto-
ries that he occasionally shared. Perhaps the fol-
lowing vignette serves to convey something about
the character of this unique man. Don’s flight of
B-29 bombers left the Island of Tinian and head-
ed west for Japan. Upon reaching their targets in
Japan, they were met by heavy ground fire and all
the aircraft were shot down except for Don’s. Don
and his crew did not es cape unscathed — their
aircraft had over 2000 holes in it. This B-29 was
from then on named “Flak Alley Sally.” Because of
increased drag pro duced by battle damage, they
did not have enough gas to make it all the way
back to Tinian and landed on Iwo Jima for fuel.
After a few repairs, they limped their aircraft back
to Tinian. When they circled around the island to
land, the ramp was empty except for a bunch of
guys jumping up and down. When they landed,
Don discov ered that his ground crew had waited
there for 12 hours past his scheduled arrival time,
hoping against all odds that he and his aircrew
would return. Those guys thought a lot of Don,
and he thought the world of them. He was an ex-
cellent pilot and twice awarded the Distinguished
Flying Cross.
After the war, Don married, fin ished his un-
dergraduate degree at American University in
Washington, D.C., and completed his J.D. in law
at the Uni versity of South Dakota after moving
his growing family to Vermillion, SD to begin a
lifelong career in agricul ture and public service.
A natural lead er, he served as President of the Live-
stock Feeders Association at both the state and na-
tional levels, President of the National Cattleman’s
Association, and Chairman of the South Dakota
Livestock Sanitary Board. In the late 1950s, with
his formal education completed and his career
underway, Don’s love of falconry was rekindled.
He hunted local rabbits with his Red-tailed Hawk/
Basset Hound combina tion. Boise falconer, Rich
Howard, vis ited Don in the 1960’s and described
such a hunt. “It was a hoot. With the Basset Hound
in full cry and the Red-tail flying from one tree to
another, we flushed cottontails and watched this
dynamite team work the brush. Two cottontails
were bagged that afternoon.”
“I can still remember Don’s enthusias tic smile of
satisfaction. It was a good hunt.” Rich also revealed
that, “The most memorable with Don was seeing
someone actually fly a Gyrfalcon from a horse. It
was impressive – a man living the history of a cen-
turies old sport.” Don’s pride and joy for some 17
years was his magnifi cent white Gyrfalcon named
Lena, which was trapped in 1964 during the Hunter-
Webster expedition to North ern Mackenzie on the
coast of the Beaufort Sea in Canada. Don’s falcon ry
developed into flights with Gos hawks from horse-
back, and his male Gos, Dingbat, together with his
point er, were a deadly combination over the years
taking many South Dakota pheasants ‘on the rise.’
Don’s falcon ry evolved into a modern ver sion of
grouse hawking using Gyrs and Gyr hybrids that
would wait-on at high pitches over his cherished
“all age” English Pointers. Don conducted clas sic
game hawking like this for the rest of his life.
In 1963, falconry gained formal acceptance and
recognition as a legit imate field sport in South
Dakota as a result of Don’s passion for the art.
Don was a founding and honorary member of the
North American Falconers As sociation (NAFA) and
hosted Meets, in 1963, 1964, 1966, and 1968 near
his ranch in Centerville. Those gatherings served
to focus lo cal, national, and international atten-
tion on the growing sport of falconry. NAFA has
become the fruition of the dreams of the char ter
members, some 45 of them includ ing Don, who
attended the organiza tional meeting held at Hal
Webster’s home, “Valkenswaard,” near Denver
during the Thanksgiving holiday of 1961. Don in-
fluenced the growth of NAFA throughout his life
and was al ways a strong supporter of that orga-
During the 1960s and early 1970s, as the breeding
populations of Peregrine Falcons in North America
were devastated by the insidious metabolic effects
of DDT, falconers set out to breed these falcons
in sufficient numbers for even tual repopulation
efforts. Don joined in this quest and once again
demonstrated his strong and persistent conserva-
tion ethic. He experimented with early attempts at
falcon propa gation and loaned several Peregrines
to the eastern Peregrine Fund program. He attend-
ed the famous Madison Per egrine Conference or-
ganized by Prof. Joe Hickey in 1965. At the end of
that conference, Don chaired a rump meet ing of
attending falconers and biolo gists to discuss the
possibility of breed ing Peregrines in captivity and
to con sider how the different parties and in terests
might cooperate to that end. The formation of The
Raptor Research Foundation, Inc. was a direct out-
growth of that meeting. Incorporated by Donald V.
Hunter, Jr., Byron E. Harrell, Paul F. Springer, and
George Jonkel in 1966 and first headquartered
at Vermillion, SD, the foundation be gan publish-
ing Raptor Research News (now The Journal of
Raptor Re search). It was a valuable clearing house
In 1966 Don and three others founded the
Raptor Research Foundation
Don Hunter and Lena Horn
Don Hunter with white Gyr (Lena) and favorite horse (Buddy)
of information for the develop ing raptor propa-
gation projects from 1967 to 1974, especially
through the quick distribution of the “Breeding
Project Information Exchange” and through a se-
ries of highly successful and well-attended annual
meetings. The Raptor Research Foundation sub-
sequently developed into an interna tional scien-
tific organization with di verse interests in raptor
biology. Many of its newer members do not know
Don Hunter with Corny McFadden at a NAFA Meet
that the organization started out as a small group
of people who were passionately devoted to learn-
ing how to breed Peregrines and other raptors in
cap tivity.
Don’s forte was working with peo ple of divergent
and often contradic tory opinions. His mature and
calm ing influence drew people together. He had
the stature of a war hero, lawyer, civic leader, and
statesman along with the common sense of one
who had worked patiently with the soil as a farmer.
On his many trips to Wash-
ington, D.C. as President of
the Nation al Cattlemen’s
Association, he often had
an opportunity to slip in
some dis cussion with high
government officials about
the conservation of raptors.
On one occasion Don was
scheduled to meet with
the Secretary of Agriculture
about various Cattlemen’s
issues, but the only thing
the Secretary wanted to
talk about was Peregrine
Falcons and DDT. Evidently,
the EPA Administra tor,
William Ruckelshaus, was
about to announce the can-
cellation of all reg istered
uses of DDT, and the Secre-
tary needed to be reassured
that it was the right thing to
The establishment of The
Raptor Center (TRC) at the University of Minnesota
was another priority of Don’s. He believed that
our birds de served the best care available. Don
always supported the work of The Raptor Center
and continues to do so even after his death.
Dr. Pat Redig, who knew Don well, recently an-
nounced the establishment of the Don Hunter
Endowment for Raptor Medicine and Surgery. He
states that, “The purpose is to gener ate a stipend
that supports a falcon er-veterinarian to fulfill the
require ments for 3 years of clinical training in rap-
tor medicine and surgery at TRC and to conduct
original research that leads to a master’’s degree
in a clinically important area that expands our
knowledge base in this field. Having an endowed
fund support ed by falconers in Don’s name is a
terrific legacy.”
The South Dakota Raptor Trust (SDRT) was co-
founded by Don in 1987 and is a direct extension
of his interest in breeding Peregrines for the re-
covery effort. SDRT provided Per egrine Falcons
to many of the eastern states participating in re-
covery activ ities and also produced more birds for
the mid-western recovery program than any oth-
er single entity, an achievement for which he felt
great pride. Don attended, as an honored guest,
the August 1999 cele bration for the Peregrine
Falcon’s removal from the Endangered Species
List, a landmark event that was host ed by The
Peregrine Fund at its World Center for Birds of
Prey in Boise, Ida ho. While there, Don took the
time to meet for several hours in Tom Cade’s base-
ment with a group of 13 other fal coners who all
had concerns about the degradation of our prai-
rie grassland and sagebrush steppe ecosystems.
Dramatic declines of various wildlife species and
especially grouse that in habit these vast land-
scapes indicated serious problems. The North
Ameri can Grouse Partnership was the direct re-
sult of that meeting, and Don became its first Vice-
president and a founding board member. Prairie
Grouse are now recognized as umbrella species
for these ecological systems, and NAGP continues
its work to achieve the shared vision of a world in
which hu mans demonstrate the wisdom to man-
age landscapes so that grouse and other wildlife
can flourish for ever.
Throughout his life, Don contin ued to encourage
wise use of our nat ural resources and preserva-
tion of our cherished natural heritage. As a life-
long farmer and rancher, he rec ognized clearly
that agriculture helped build a strong America but
that now an overly developed agri business threat-
ens the integrity of our natural ecological systems
and must be brought into a better balance for the
common good. Although the spark of life has now
left the eyes of Don Hunter, his life was and will
contin ue to be an inspiration and guiding light to
the many of us who value conservation, humanity,
dignity, in tegrity, and compassion. Upon his pass-
ing, his son, Mike, expressed it well when he said,
“He taught us how to live, and he taught us how
to die.” His son, Van, closed the eulogy at Don’s
memorial service with the proverb, “Mourn not
too long that he is gone, but rejoice forever that
he was.” “À la vol,” dear friend!