Our Annual Community National Park Clean Up
October 30, 2018
Guidebook to Mongolia
November 11, 2018
A young Kazakh boy in western Mongolia with a golden eagle that he uses for hunting in the winter

Hunting With Eagles – Mongolia

Western Mongolia is dominated by the Altai Mountains physically and culturally. The Altai have functioned for thousands of years as a homeland for the nomadic cultures of Eurasia including the Kazakhs – Mongolia’s largest ethnic minority group representing 3-4% of Mongolia’s population (Mongolia’s entire population is just over 3.2 million people). Hunting with eagles (‘berkutchi’) is a form of falconry traditionally found throughout the Eurasian steppe. It is still practised by a percentage of the Kazakhs of western Mongolia and in 2011 UNESCO added Kazakh eagle hunting to the List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, as an example of living human heritage.

‘The Kazakhs of Bayan-Olgii are somewhat isolated – torn between their nation-state of Kazakhstan, within which they would not be able to live a traditional nomadic, pastoralist lifestyle, and the country of Mongolia, a state that is populated by ethnic Mongols, who are primarily Buddhist and have an entirely different linguistic, historical and cultural tradition. … proudly referred to themselves as “Mongolian Kazakhs” and felt that they would neither fit in, nor desire to live in, Kazakhstan or in the other aimags of Mongolia.’ Lauren McGough

But to experience real Kazakh eagle hunting you need to visit in the Mongolian winter.

Why winter?

Hunting with eagles is primarily a source not of meat, but of fur. The main prey species are red and corsac foxes and of course, their winter fur is more valuable. That’s why the hunting only takes place from early November through to February. Female golden eagles, known as berkut, are used for hunting because they are typically larger and stronger. Another major reason for the Kazakhs hunting with eagles is the tradition and the sense of identity it gives.
We work closely with a number of Kazakh eagle hunters on our hunting with eagles Mongolia winter tour experience

Meet Bashakhan – just one of the Kazakh eagle hunters we have worked closely in long-term local community partnership with for the past 15 years plus. He together with his family host you as part of our Hunting With Eagles Mongolia winter experience.

We offer a hunting with eagles experience – where you are hosted by Kazakh families – all headed by eagle hunters – and you will get to experience the Kazakh herding way of life as well as the tradition of hunting with eagles where you travel alongside the eagle hunters and are part of the hunting experience. Out here, all schedules go out of the window. You’re on nomad time, and the hunting activities depend on your host family, the eagle hunter, and the weather conditions – we leave these days entirely in the hands of the eagle hunters as it makes for a more authentic style of trip but you’ll witness the eagle hunt, and the close relationship and communication needed between hunter and eagle. The birds can weigh over 6kg; hunting with them requires skill, strength, and not a little courage.

We work with the families directly throughout the year and have formed long-term local community partnerships with them. Our experiences are put together in a way which benefits and supports each family, rather than disrupting their lives. We don’t ask them to change their daily schedule or to put on an ‘act’. We do not arrange contrived experiences where live prey is pre-captured,  held and then released on purpose for our guests to be able to photograph the experience. We will never arrange any artificial experiences as they damage the culture, the way of life or wildlife itself.

For those concerned about the welfare of the eagles, the Kazakh eagle hunters have a respectful yet practical approach to their eagles – they have a close connection with their eagles – they are virtually family members although it is sometimes hard for outsiders to recognise this.  The eagles are released back into the wild after about ten seasons so that they can breed. Once released, the birds are observed to make sure they successfully reintegrate back into the wild. 

Sailaukhan the Kazakh eagle hunter - one of your hosts for our hunting with eagles Mongolia experience

Meet Sailaukhan – together with his nephew’s Aibolat and Baibolat – he hosts in the small community of Sagsai you as part of our hunting with eagles experience.

For those that brave the winter weather in Mongolia, the rewards are without limit. With no other tourists in evidence, it is easy to feel that you have the country to yourself. This is the time that people come together, that challenges are faced as one, that unique experiences become everyday occurrences. This is the time that the legendary Mongolian hospitality comes into its own. Although the winters are harsh, they are also extraordinarily beautiful. This is a wonderful time of year to visit for anybody interested in photography – the low afternoon winter light is perfect for capturing the Land of the Eternal Blue Skies. Not only does Mongolia produces a stunning natural show but there are festivals to enjoy and experience. Although it’s ‘out of season’ local communities organize annual events in celebration of local community, networking and collaboration to ensure a better future for the specific region and its herding community. These are in addition to the traditional cultural festivals. This image was taken by our guest Massimo Rumi in the Altai Mountains at the home of one of the Kazakh families we work with. We look forward to welcoming you at this spectacular time of year. Just pack thermals!
Since actual hunting takes place in deep winter and is very physically demanding, how you witness eagle hunting will depend on your level of fitness. To travel by horse with the hunters you must be a confident rider and happy with heights. The ground will be rocky and uneven and the horse may at times slip. Alternative options include walking to the high spot where the eagle hunters will release the eagle or you can view the action from below using binoculars.

If you’re interested in learning more, why not explore our Mongolia winter tours website page for more details on how you can experience hunting with eagles with Mongolia’s Kazakh eagle hunters.

Jess @ Eternal Landscapes Mongolia

Jessica Brooks
Jessica Brooks
I’m Jess Brooks. I am the founder of Eternal Landscapes Mongolia - a registered Mongolian business and social travel enterprise that focuses on providing travellers with a real 21st Century insight into Mongolia. I have been based in Mongolia since 2006 and together with my beloved Mongolian team, we focus on tourism that makes a positive difference. I'm also a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society - awarded for my work in Mongolia and a published guidebook author - having worked together with World Adventure Guides to produce a digital interactive guide to Mongolia. http://www.jessbrooks.co.uk/
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