If you’re planning a trip to Mongolia, one of the fascinating activities you can engage in is eagle hunting. Eagle hunting is a traditional Kazakh sport where hunters use eagles as their tools for capturing and killing animals for food. Not only is this practice deeply rooted in Mongolia’s history, but it also holds immense cultural significance for the Kazakh people. In this guide, you’ll find all the information you need about the history, practice, and culture of eagle hunting in western Mongolia, ensuring a well-rounded experience on your journey.

History: Eagle Hunting and the Kazakh Culture
Eagle hunting is primarily practiced by the Kazakh community, an ethnic group residing in western Mongolia. The Kazakh people, of Turkish descent, make up the country’s largest minority group and can also be found in neighboring Eurasian countries like Kazakhstan. Falconry, the use of birds to hunt for food, has been prevalent in Asian countries since ancient times, and eagle hunting follows this tradition. When the Kazakh people migrated to Mongolia from Kazakhstan to escape communist rule, they brought along thousands of years of history, elevating the significance of eagle hunting in Mongolia. Bayan Ulgii, where the Kazakh community largely resides, is the hub for preserving their cultural traditions, including eagle hunting, as well as their music, artwork, and cuisine. Exploring the Kazakh culture will provide a comprehensive experience if you choose to witness the ancient and celebrated sport of eagle hunting in their region of Mongolia.

Sport: How to Hunt with an Eagle
Now, let’s dive into the logistics of eagle hunting. Acquiring an eagle is the initial step in capturing prey with this majestic bird. Unfortunately, you can’t simply buy a domesticated eagle from a pet store. Hunters either bait wild birds with food or take them from their nests. Training the eagles is typically done through examples set by experienced birds who help groom the newcomers for the sport. Fully trained eagles will successfully bring back rabbits and other small animals, showcasing their skill. Hunting with an eagle requires dedication and expertise, highlighting the challenging nature of the sport, which is deeply respected in the Kazakh culture.

Eagle Hunting Festivals
If you’re eager to witness eagle hunting in action, you’re in luck! You don’t have to join a private hunt to experience this unique craft; there are well-known eagle hunting festivals in western Mongolia. The most popular is the Golden Eagle Festival, held in Bayan Ulgii in October. Skilled hunters and their eagle partners showcase their abilities to an audience, and awards are presented to the most impressive pairs. Another festival to consider is the Altai Eagle Festival, typically taking place in the town of Sagsai a few weeks before the Golden Eagle Festival. Although smaller in scale, it is equally impressive. These festivals offer a rare opportunity to observe a significant ancient practice cherished by the Kazakh culture. Travelers can easily access both festivals through special tours with Selena Travel.

In 2016, the documentary film “The Eagle Huntress” premiered at the Sundance International Film Festival, following the journey of Aisholpan, a young Kazakh girl determined to become an eagle hunter in a male-dominated sport. While the film faced criticism for not equally representing other female eagle hunters, it has helped expose the sport to a global audience. To fully appreciate the craft of eagle hunting, it’s recommended to visit Mongolia now while it remains an authentic attraction for tourists in the western region.

During your visit to Mongolia, we encourage you to seize the opportunity to witness the Kazakh community’s eagle hunters in action. This experience will leave you in awe of their way of life and become the highlight of your trip. We hope this introduction to the eagle hunters of Mongolia has been beneficial in planning your adventure. Happy hunting!