Stephen Baptiste, David Jamieson, Brian McDonald, John Swift, Michael Yates
William J. “Bill” Shinners 1933 – 2007
Bill Shinners was NAFA’s founding Vice President
and host to its first field meet in Reno. Will, as he
preferred to be called in his later years, was born
to fly hawks. He did so with skill and passion until
he became physically unable a few years before his
passing. He left behind a loving wife (Carrie) and
family, along with countless friends. Will always had
a good story and a reputation for embellishment
that led to the coining of a term among his many
friends. Any statement that stretched credulity, no
matter how slightly, became a “Shinnerism.” It was
not unusual, however, for such a statement to be
absolutely true. In May of 2003 he was interviewed
for the Archives of Falconry’s Oral Histories
program. His own words below, taken from the
transcript, tell important parts of his story:
I was about ten years old in the fifth grade,
the teacher was reading us Ivanhoe. That was
my first exposure to falconry. My eyes rolled
back in my head. At the end of the book she
asked why knights wore armor. My answer
was “to keep the falcons from hurting their
arm.” I got an F, but I still think I was right.
Anyway, when I got a little older, I got to be a
fireman. [11 years later Will went to work in
the casino industry, retiring at 63] And that’s
the job for a falconer because you work every
other day and I had all day to look for hawks
and all day when I was working to think about
hawks. So at about that time, about 1950, I
guess, I would be 17 years old. I had Hawks
in the Hand. I read that. And that’s the only
book the library had, but somebody told
me about the university library. I went up
there and I found the Frederick’s book and
they had a display from McGill University. I
wrote McGill and they put me in touch with
Tom Ennenga and the trail started. Anyway, I
sent Tom...20 silver dollars for my dues, my
initiation fee. And he said as soon as they
got somebody to come over and qualify me,
I could be a member of the Falconry Club of
America. Well, a month went by and Tom...
wrote me a letter and said: “Is there any
chance you could catch a prairie falcon?” I
called him up on the phone and I said “I
think so.” I went out that afternoon and I
caught a prairie falcon. The first one I ever,
ever, ever caught. And I sent it to Ennenga
and he fired right back and said anybody
who could catch a hawk that fast has got to
be a falconer. So I passed.
By then I had run into a young man named
James Nicholson, who was in the same
shape I was. He was absolutely hawk‑nuts
and didn’t know anything about it. We took
a goshawk from a nest by Donner [Lake]
that we caught some game with. We caught
some ducks and tried to catch rabbits, but
the bird was a little 32‑ouncer. It wasn’t big
enough to catch jackrabbits, but it would try.
I think I caught my first head of game [with
a longwing] with Jezebel, that was a [1958]
passage peregrine from Brian McDonald.
And it was a duck. I remember the high, the
excitement. What we did, we got home with
the duck and we had the duck for dinner, of
course. And we sat the hawk on the perch in
the kitchen and we ate the duck...
About 1957 or ‘56 I wrote [Brian McDonald] a
letter and said blah‑blah‑blah, blah‑blah‑blah.
And I had this much experience and I need ‑‑ I
need a peregrine, and there is absolutely no
way I can possibly get one where I live. And
he wrote back and said: “You’re absolutely
right. And it’s special” ‑‑ he took it upon
his sweet self to see that I got a peregrine.
Well, that was also a fortunate, fortunate
acquaintance because he took me on to the
beach three times. And you [Mike Yates]
took me once. So I have four experiences
on the beach.
I went to school with [David Jamieson],
although I didn’t know him a lot. And David
was a true falconer. It was in his blood. And he
heard through the grapevine somewhere ‑‑
I guess he was trying to learn how to get
started in falconry and somebody passed
along the information that I did it. And he
said: “Oh, boy, I know him.” So he sought
me out and I kind of shined him on because
there were so many people that wanted to
play. I needed somebody to clean the hawk
house and steal pigeons. I gave him a book,
The Lure and The Cure, the reprint from
Bate and Slice Society, and said “go read
this.” And he did. And the rest is history.
David went into the breeding business...
he tried to get me to go into the breeding
project with him and I told him you’re just
wasting your time. I’m not going to do it.
All of history they tried this and it’s just not
to be done. Which is another smart move I
made, to show my brilliance.
Without Brian McDonald and David
Jamieson, I would never have been able to
realize the joy that I’ve experienced through
the sport. Brian got it started and David
finished it off. David and I spent 27 days in an
18‑foot trailer somewhere. The temperature
was 40 degrees below zero at night. And it
would warm up to ten below zero in the
daytime. We were this close face‑to‑face for
all those days and I remember one time
we ‑‑ I think it was my smoking cigarettes.
He would ask me to go outside and I would
say “no, it’s too damn cold.” He finally said,
“Listen, this is my trailer.” And I said, “Yes,
and you’re going to be watching it from the
outside if you don’t dummy up.”
My first peregrine from David was a big, old
black Peale’s who was just so pretty. I named
her Uhura because ... she was black and I
was a Trekkie. And we kind of hacked her
and she was an imprint. I raised her in my,
rolled up in my shirt. And she would follow
me around in the garden like imprints do. I
talk, she’d talk. She never screamed, but she
would talk. She thought she was people.
She was a high flying bird...and I kept her
nine years. And I had one little old pickup
truck that I had all the time. And on a few
occasions...I turned her loose and got in that
truck and drove with the dog out, trying to
get up a hun or something. Drove for seven,
eight, 10 miles. So, down the road, get
out and not being able to see her and get
the telemetry out and she would be dead
overhead. She would just follow you. That
was the best bird I ever had by far. And one
day I caught three ducks in one flight with
Uhura. She went up and knocked down a
duck right at my feet. I grabbed it. It was a
bufflehead or some little duck. I grabbed it
away from her and she took off and caught
another one and I grabbed it away from her
and she took off and caught another one. All
within a ten minute span. I’ve got a picture
holding all three of them with her with a
great huge full crop, standing on the fist
looking down at them.
[On the formation of NAFA and the first
Meet] I think it was an old perfume salesman
named Fogerty that came through. He had a
route. He was from England. And he had a
route that he traveled and sold perfume to
these stores. And he carried a little kestrel
in an overnight bag everywhere he went. He
would look for falconers and he came across
us and said that Webster was organizing,
trying to organize a group in Denver in
1960. I can’t remember the figure, exact
figure, but I’m sure it’s readily available,
how many of us went to Webby’s. And of
course, the names that I heard that were
there were, you know, kind of icons to me.
I recall Beebe sitting there on the mantle of
his new fireplace, slate mantle and drew a
goshawk, which I wanted right away to go
get some shellac and shellac it. They didn’t
bother. Anyway... my idea was to throw a
monkey wrench into the idea. I didn’t want
them to come up with any kind of club.
And Webster and I got to drinking, and I was
going to drink his little ass under the table
and just find out what he was all about.
We were drinking Black Russians. We got
awfully, awfully drunk. I don’t think either
one of us went down, but I’ll tell you this,
not much intelligible conversation went on
after awhile. And to this day, he won’t drink
a Black Russian with me, although he did at
the Reno meet. He drank one. But he signed
my book, the book that he gave me, “To the
greatest Black Russian drinker of all time.”
Anyway, he won me over. I realized there
was a need for a club, I guess. And there
is. I don’t know where falconry would be
today without a good, strong organization.
Certainly wouldn’t be where it is
that was the informal start of NAFA right
So we decided we would meet in Reno the
next year and formalize the organization,
which we did. And I hosted it. And I was
just proud as punch. Some people were
disappointed, but Reno at the time was
pretty much full of game. And I think there
was relatively quite a few head of game taken
compared to what you could do there today.
I’m sure that ten different guys caught heads
of game. [Mostly they flew] peregrines,
goshawks, and prairie falcons and Cooper’s
hawk. Lou Davis had a little Cooper’s hawk.
The people at the meet, I remember the
ones that took game mostly. Smiley had a
peregrine, beach bird that scooped down
across a lake and tried for a duck and came
up with seaweed. That’s memorable. And
Jimmy Adamson had a European bird that
caught a couple of rabbits. And there was a
fellow that I, his name escapes me for the
moment. Had a big haggard goshawk that
dispatched a big giant jackrabbit so fast, I
couldn’t believe how easily that was done.
And it was caught as an older passage bird.
Made me realize the difference in an eyass
and a passage goshawk right away. He had
had it for some time. He was a teacher in
California somewhere.
[Enderson] caught a pheasant [with a falcon].
Yeah, Enderson was there and Webster’s little
boy caught a quail with a little tiercel, beach
bird. We mostly met at my mother’s home
at the time. She had a pretty big house, but
we had a couple of parties. We went down
to John Ascuaga’s Nugget and showed
some movies. I can’t remember whether
Morley was there. I guess Morley was there
and brought some films. [Attendance was]
thirty? Twenty‑eight or thirty. I built a big
weathering pen. Took me three
had a roof on it. We didn’t have a guard on
it like they do now.
Will reflected on his life as a falconer, and his
words ring true for so many of us:
Well, you know, [falconry is] such a passion
that I turned down good jobs. I turned
down this, that, so on because of falconry.
And I lived a whole different life because of
falconry. As do all falconers. I think we’ve all
got about the same story...I think falconers
are born. I think you go along until you
discover that it’s possible and then you do
it. Or you attempt to do it. The highs are
so high and the lows are so low, I don’t
know why anybody does it, to tell you the
truth. Nothing can break your heart harder.
Or nothing can make you feel better. The
friendships that I have had. The hunting
— by Mike Yates
Bill with Ollie North (photo by Carrie Shinners)