Part rockstars, part craftsmen – the Eagle Hunters in Mongolia are an epic bunch of people.
For many generations, the Eagle Hunters in Mongolia have lived and practiced their unique craft in the Altai Mountains; a rugged, isolated region in the western part of Mongolia.
These days, the tradition of hunting with eagles is still alive and well within the Kazakh community living in and around the town of Olgii; a sort of Mecca when it comes to the Mongolian eagle hunting tradition.
Below, we take a deep dive into eagle hunting culture, its history, and also reflect on why it is such a cool component of our trips we now run here in this incredible part of Mongolia.
If you too are curious about the eagle hunters in Mongolia and perhaps are even interested in seeing them in action with Epic in the future, then you have come to the right place.
No live rabbits were harmed in the writing of this article…
Who are the Eagle Hunters in Mongolia?
Eagle hunting traces its roots back over two millennia, with origins steeped in the nomadic cultures of Central Asia – which historically has been the Kyrgyz nomads and the Kazakh people in Mongolia. Historical accounts suggest that the practice emerged as a means of survival, as skilled hunters partnered with these magnificent birds of prey to secure food for their communities.
Over time, the art of eagle hunting evolved, becoming not only a vital hunting method but also a revered cultural tradition, passed down through generations. As empires rose and fell, the tradition endured, weaving itself into the tapestry of Mongolian heritage.
Despite Kyrgyzstan being a Soviet Union satellite state for many years, the eagle hunting tradition there was not lost, despite the best efforts of the Soviets to crush just about every other aspect of nomadic culture.
The largest number of known eagle hunters at present are living in the Altai region of Western Mongolia.
Eagler Hunters of the Altai
There is no other way to say this: Mongolian eagle hunters are badass. So are the eagles they train and hunt with. This symbiotic relationship is a spectacle to behold. Perhaps only man’s deep-rooted connection to dogs and horses over the ages is comparable when we are talking about a profound human-animal bond.
Central to the culture of eagle hunting is of course the deep connection forged between the hunter and the eagle. These magnificent birds, often golden eagles, are meticulously trained from a young age to assist their human partners in the hunt. The training process involves patience, trust, and an intricate understanding of the eagle’s instincts.
This partnership is not merely utilitarian; it’s a testament to the deep respect the Kazakh nomads hold for the natural world. In short, the hunters often treat the eagles they train and work with as a member of the family; a practice that defines the essence of Kazakh nomadism.
The Golden Eagle Festival in Mongolia: A Dazzling Celebration
The #1 place to see most of the real eagle hunters in Mongolia in action is at one of the annual festivals.
The “Super Bowl” of such festivals is the October Golden Eagle Festival, an annual event held in the Bayan-Ölgii province.
This grand gathering brings together eagle hunters from across Mongolia to showcase their skills, compete in various events, and basically just party in the name of eagle hunting traditions.
Visitors are treated to a spectacle of mesmerizing displays of agility, speed, and precision as eagles and their handlers engage in a series of challenges. From traditional games of “Kyz Kuar” (girl-chasing) to spectacular eagle flights and hunting demonstrations, the festival offers a rare opportunity to witness the mastery of both humans and birds.
Plus, the outfits the eagle hunters wear are so cool that the clothing on display makes these festivals worth attending!
Best Time to go to a Golden Eagle Festival?
While there is no doubt that the famous Golden Eagle Festival is an incredible spectacle, it is also one of the most popular tourist festivals in Mongolia. At least one thousand tourists from all over the world attend the main event each October which can feel a bit hectic.
Epic staff has attended such festivals and we much prefer the similar, yet smaller in-scale festivals that occur in August and September – which is why we built our Horse Trekking in Mongolia itinerary around the smaller September Golden Eagle Festival festival.
September the weather is still cold but a sunny day in this month equals near-perfect weather for the Altai. October can be fine as well, but temperatures can easily drop below freezing level during the day and even colder at night.
Here is a video we made at the last Golden Eagle Festival we attended:
Kazakh Nomad Culture: The Real Eagle Hunters
The Kazakh people, who have inhabited the Altai region for centuries, have woven their nomadic lifestyle into the fabric of eagle hunting traditions. The rugged terrain and unforgiving climate have made these people industrious as can be as well as tough as nails.
Most Kazakhs (unsurprisingly) speak Kazakh as their primary language, and speak Mongolian as a distant 2nd. In schools, they continue to teach children the Kazakh language in the Altai region which is helping to keep strong linguistic traditions alive in an era where local languages are often being replaced slowly by the official tongue of the state.
Though the majority of Kazakh people (and eagle hunters) today live in permanent houses, it is very common for them to still have a Ger (or yurt as they are also known) on their home property as well.
The Ger (yurt) is still an iconic structure all across Mongolia and in the Altai region they are the main means of housing for the folks still living the nomadic lifestyle.
Eagle Hunting in Mongolia FAQ
1. How long does it take to train an eagle for hunting?
Training an eagle for hunting is a patient and gradual process, often taking several years to develop the necessary trust and skills between the hunter and the bird.
Some birds live for 20-25 years with the same owner!
2. Are Golden Eagles endangered by this practice?
No, the practice of eagle hunting among Kazakh nomads is deeply rooted in respect for nature, and the eagles are never harmed during the hunting process. The practice is also carefully regulated to ensure the well-being of the birds.
The hunters are not “harvesting” young birds in huge numbers either, thus the population of golden eagles in Western Mongolia is not threatened even slightly by the eagle hunting tradition.
3. Are live animals used in the eagle hunting demonstrations?
It depends. In Kyrgyzstan, we saw them practicing with live rabbits, but at the festivals in Mongolia – it seems they understand that foreign tourists don’t enjoy seeing a rabbit eviscerated so instead they use dummy rabbits – which is a much better option in our opinion!
Mongolia Golden Eagle Hunters: Wrap Up
The whole business of hunting with eagles is a fascinating subject. It is quite powerful to observe the intense bond between hunter and eagle in such a stunning setting. We highly recommend attending a Golden Eagle Festival in Mongolia – nothing beats seeing this tradition practiced in person.
We hope this blog gave you some interesting insights about the culture of Eagle Hunters in Mongolia! Thanks for stopping by.
If you are keen to join us for our Mongolia Expedition (where we will also go to a Golden Eagle Festival!) next year, please visit our trip page for all the details and to get signed up.