Tom Smart, Deseret News
Patrick Shane with one of his falcons. "There's something absolutely therapeutic about ... letting the falcon loose and letting it command the sky," Shane said.

PROVO — Patrick Shane has been coaching the Brigham Young University women's cross country team for 26 years, but he's been training some other "athletes" for almost twice that long.

The 60-year-old Shane has been involved in falconry for almost 50 years, since he caught his first bird as an 11-year-old boy in California.

"When I was 11, I saw a guy with a red-tailed hawk on his fist, and it was the coolest thing I'd ever seen," Shane said. "And he said, 'Watch this,' and he let it go, and it flew up to the top of this big pine tree, and then he called it, and it flew back down. And then he let me hold it with the glove. And I was enamored."

Shane said he was so fascinated that he read every book he could find about falconry and learned how to build a trap in the hopes of capturing one of the kestrel falcons in the hills near his home.

"I ran home after school and ran with my trap up the hills," Shane said. "It's how I got to be such a good runner, probably. I did that every day, and one day, I got bored and wandered off, came back and, sure enough, there was a little kestrel falcon trapped. So I picked it up and brought it home and was real excited and started to train it."

Shane said he has been training falcons every year since then, and when he got to BYU in 1966, he built a different kind of trap and captured one of the indigenous prairie falcons. He said he enjoys raising and training falcons on many levels.

"There's something absolutely therapeutic about going to Rush Valley and letting the falcon loose and letting it command the sky," Shane said. "You're one with nature, and you're watching this amazing bird. I'm a coach. I train athletes, and I also train falcons. And the coach in me wants to train these birds to do their best."

Shane said he also enjoys putting on the Utah Sky Trials every year, a competition in which the competitors' falcons pursue a racing homing pigeon and are judged in five categories.

He said that fellow falconer Gerald Richards used to put on the trials until he suffered a heart attack in 1994 when he was out with a red-tailed hawk that he was training.

The sky trials continued for awhile, but a year eventually passed without them, so Shane decided that he would continue the event.

"I thought it was a tragedy because there was a chance that it would disappear," he said. "I talked to his wife, and she said that I had her blessing to do it and that she wanted me to do it. So I've been putting it on for six or seven years now, and the girls on the team help me."

Shane says that he occasionally takes on an apprentice falconer to teach. He suggests that beginners interested in falconry should get on the Internet and read up on the subject.

He said the hobby is fairly inexpensive after the initial investment and only as time-consuming as one wants to make it. He spends a couple hours a few times a week in the winter, and during the summer, he just spends a few minutes feeding the birds while they molt their feathers.

Shane currently has two birds, a Gyrfalcon/Barbary Falcon hybrid named Mr. Hobbs and a prairie falcon named Lauvaun, which he named after Richards' wife.

As a master falconer, he is allowed to have three birds, and he said that he had a third falcon, a Gyrfalcon/Peale's Falcon hybrid named P.J. He said it was "amazing" and "one of the neatest birds I've ever had," but it died in an accident about a month ago.

"It was out flying, and there was an airplane sitting, warming up and getting ready to go," Shane said. "It flew down, chasing something, and it flew through the propeller. You know, they have a little brain. They don't reason like we do, and you can see right through a propeller. It had no idea that there was any danger flying through next to this plane. I'm still in mourning over that bird, a wonderful bird."

Shane said that he has lost other birds that have been killed by eagles, and it is not uncommon for a falcon to be killed by a great horned owl or a power line, but he had never heard of a trained bird being killed by an airplane.

"At some point, maybe I'll get another one," he said. "I'm still mourning the loss right now."