, a Navy man, was the man responsible for giving the Air Force Academy
its Falcons mascot, live and otherwise.
was co-creator of the association of falconers and grouse hawkers in North America, and he
co-authored the consummate book on the sport on this continent 53 years and nine editions ago.
Webster turns 95 next month, and he's
not done yet.
"I'm writing a new book on gyrfalcons," Webster
said recently in his
second-floor apartment at the Sunrise Bluff Estates.
"We've already got the title copyrighted, and I'm not going to give it to you."
started on his
book-to-be-named-later two years ago and figures he
has three-fourths of it in the can.
knows what you're thinking, but don't worry.
"I'll get through it," he
One room and a corner of another in Webster's apartment overflow with 10,000 fish hooks and the streamers he
ties on them.
Fly-tying and fishing is a distraction from writing, for sure.
"I've already got my application in for this year with Joe Sowerby on the Smith River," he
There's not enough room in this newspaper or any other to cover half the Hal Webster stories - the years he
spent well into his
90s living in a remote ranch house on a Hutterite colony north of here, the fish he's
caught, the sport he
built, the cigar he
smokes and fine whiskey he
sips to watch the Denver Broncos play.
"I used to be quite a dapper bastard," Webster
said with a smile.
You choose your quotes carefully when you write about him.
didn't put it in these words, but said his
family is (upset) at him because he
just bought a shiny new Ford four-wheel-drive truck.
"It's so high I can't get into the (shiny new Ford four-wheel-drive truck)," Webster
"So I'll worry about it in the spring."
Sowerby, a Missoula guide, is one of Webster's favorite people.
"one of a kind.
calls him "just one sweet guy."
They met at a fly-fishing show in Denver 11 or 12 years ago, and Webster
has floated the Smith with Sowerby's Montana Flyfishing Connection at least once a year since.
broken both hips, the second one when he
stumbled last July and broke the ball off the top of his
It was the first night in camp on the Smith.
True to character, Webster
refused a helicopter rescue.
sat up at the dinner table and told stories to the other anglers all night," Sowerby said.
By morning, the pain and swelling had Webster
in their grip.
was 87 when he
asked Sowerby to teach him the powerful two-handed spey cast he
needed to fish for steelhead and salmon.
It's what drew Webster
here from his
native Denver in 1996.
"I had friends who lived in Montana
, and one particular fellow that lives in Havre said he
had heard that the Fort Benton area had more grouse than any area in Montana
"I take him out every day I go," Gregston said of Webster
, the writing thing isn't just a nonagenarian fling.
In 1962, he and the late Frank Beebe, a prominent falconer, writer and wildlife illustrator from Canada published "North American Falconry and Hunting Hawks."
Dubbed a "masterpiece" by one critic of the genre, and widely recognized as the bible of falconry in North America, the beautifully illustrated book has expanded to 840 pages and two volumes.
and Beebe put out the first edition a year after they co-founded the North American Falcon Association
, with Webster
as its inaugural president.
Not a single state recognized falconry as a field sport in 1961, he
Now all but Hawaii do, and NAFA
is the umbrella organization over them all.
was 15 in 1935 when he
landed a cleaning job at a Denver elementary school for 25 cents an hour.
One day a merlin flew into the school.
captured and kept it.
"I soon had it on my fist and was training it," he
So began his
education in the ways of falcons, despite a dearth of information available in this country at the time.
Through active naval service in the South Pacific in World War II and then Korea, he
kept the hawking fires burning.
When the new Air Force Academy
, based temporarily at Lowry Field in Denver, went looking for a mascot in 1955, Webster
was in the right place (Denver) at the right time, near the start of a 30-year stint with what was then Mountain Bell Telephone.
The falcon was a candidate, but a picture Webster saw accompanying an article in the newspaper was that of a goshawk.
"Now the goshawk is a raptor that has short-tipped wings and a long tail," Webster
"It can fly right through a pine tree by just moving that tail."
But it's not a falcon, a point he
made to an Air Force public information officer when he
Five minutes later, he
got a call back from the head man of the academy himself, Lt.
Gen. Hubert R. Harmon.
A day later, Harmon had Webster
on the parade field at Lowry.
"I saluted him because I had a bird on my fist.
had the first class all lined up," he
The first class at the Academy numbered 306, and they were all present and in formation that September day, Webster
"I said, 'Sir, if you have no objections, I'll fly the bird right here on the parade ground.' He
said go ahead."
checked the wind and threw the falcon off.
"I had a pigeon in my pocket bag, and when the bird got up to three or four hundred feet I took the pigeon and threw it down," he
Falcons have been clocked at more than 230 mph in flight.
"That hawk came down and … just cut it down."
said the cadets and Harmon watched the demonstration in awe.
"They voted the next day," he