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Eagle Hunters in Mongolia Explained

golden eagle festival mongolia

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 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

eagle hunters in Mongolia

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

eagle hunters in Mongolia

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?

eagle hunting mongolia

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

horse trekking in Mongolia

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. 

Eagle Hunters in Mongolia Photo Gallery

More from the blog

Welcome to our Journal!

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Here at Epic Expeditions, adventure is constantly on our minds. 

Our blog – or Journal as we like to call it – contains epic trip stories, photo diaries, and news about new tours. 

Thanks for checking it out! 

What's new in the journal?

The trip we're most stoked about

Island Peak Climbing Expedition

Next trip: October 14th - 31st, 2024

Adventure Guide

Hailing from the Toronto region of Eastern Canada, with a background as a former standout athlete (hockey of course) and a  love of mountain adventure, Clark is a welcomed addition to the Epic team.

In addition to being a keen photographer and adventurer, Clark brings his brilliant sense of humor, leadership skills, and positive attitude to everything he puts his mind to. 

When he is not leading trips, he is working on taking over the hard apple cider game in Canada as a skilled craft brewer. 

Adventure Guide

Noemi grew up in the mountains of German-Speaking Switzerland where she naturally developed a deep love and respect for mountain environments.

She is a talented photographer, aspiring climber, and speaks at least 5 languages fluently including Arabic (and probably a few more that we don’t know about), which she taught herself in a matter of months by watching YouTube videos. 

Noemi has spent the last several years traveling, hiking, and photographing her way around many different countries in the Middle East, South and Central Asia, and Europe, and we could not be more stoked to welcome her to the Epic team! 

Adventure Guide

As our man on the ground in Mongolia, there is not much this legend can’t do. As a native the Bayan-Ölgii province of the Western Mongolia Altai, Syerik has been working as a guide and tourism entrepreneur…

for the past several years and is one of the rising stars in Mongolia adventure travel industry. 

He is currently building a beautiful Ger (Yurt) camp near his hometown where he will host Epic Mongolia team members on our trip as well as other travelers from around the world! 

He is the perfect guide for your trip to Mongolia. Serik did an amazing job giving us a well rounded experience in the Altai NP region and down in the Gobi…
The food was fantastic and Serik gave us many opportunities to learn about the Kazakh culture in that region including traditional meals. (I can’t recommend enjoying the milk tea enough!)

– Coastal

Head of canine operations

Choriza started off life as a care-free vagabond on the streets of Madeira Island without any place to call home. From the moment we met her, we knew this dog was just different, and it was pretty much love at first sight. 

She gave up the dog street life in favor of joining her new dad Chris to become a full-time member of the Epic family towards the end of 2022.

These days she can be found listening in on the fringes of important Epic business meetings while half-asleep on the couch. She is a keen hiker, lover of mud, rare steak, and might just be the sweetest little dog we have ever seen. 

Adventure Guide

An experienced trek leader and
IFMGA aspirant ski guide, avid alpine climber, devoted adventure photographer.

Organized and guided trekking expeditions, climbs and ski tours in Tajikistan’s Pamirs, Patagonia, Peru, Morocco, Nepal, Kyrgyzstan, Georgian and Russian Caucasus and Kamchatka.

A full member and meets the organiser of the British Alpine Club. Visited over 40 countries, lived in the UK for four years. Certified first-aider.

We joined Andrew on a fantastic trip to the Fann Mountains in Tajikistan, pure nature and magnificent scenery! Andrey was super prepared and led us safely up and down numerous passes and through some rough and icy cold rivers. Thank you for a very memorable trip, your planning and prep was excellent!

– Monika Steinlechner

epic expeditions team

Adventure Guide

Our man in Nepal, Sandip is what we like to call a “Swiss Army Knife”. There is not much Sandip can’t do when it comes to helping Epic to run our expeditions smoothly in Nepal.

His tireless work ethic, passion for all things trekking in the Himalayas, and smart decision-making mean that Sandip is a truly invaluable member of our team.

Sandip is passionate about showing visitors to his country an amazing time, and he goes above and beyond to make sure that happens. 

His company Himalayan Masters is Epic’s trusted partner in Nepal and one of the country’s top new tour agencies.

We really enjoyed the entire journey, and I would like to say that Sandip is truly professional. He guided us and he is a hardworking person, providing us with the best service and taking care of each one of us. Plus, he is super funny! The kind of professionnal you always want to find on your path for your explorations! 

– Alexandra Ruth

Fairy Meadows

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Our Favorite Experiences

#1 Sunrise from Reflection Lake

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#2 Hiking to Nanga Parbat Base Camp

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#3 Playing cricket with the locals

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Trips Where We Visit Fairy Meadows

Our flagship Pakistani adventure tour.  Road trip with some  hiking and cultural immersion.

A trekking-style tour that features some very remote locations, inlcuding a K2 viewpoint.

Adventure Guide

João has born in the mountains of Madeira Islands in Portugal. Nature lover, writer, musician, guide, for him, a day without contact with outdoor vibes is a nightmare. 

With a degree in Cultural Studies in Portugal and a Master of Arts in Global Cultures and Creativity in the U.K.

João found out what really matters in life can be found on the trails, and in the contact with people from different backgrounds and cultures.

Guiding, crazy trekking missions, and sharing observations about the natural world, – these are some of João’s passions. 

After trekking to K2 Base Camp and exploring all over Northern Pakistan, he fell in love with the country and the local people. His experiences resulted in his desire to share these feelings with the world.

João is one of the most experienced guides at Epic and his skillset and positive mindset in the mountains is second to none

When not in Pakistan, João is  guiding and exploring in the Madeira Islands trails –  discovering some of the hidden treasures on his Portuguese Island.

João I can not thank you enough for the off the beaten paths and views you keep giving. Definitely one of the most challenging and amazing hikes we did 1200m meters all the way up to Fanal forest and circling back to the hidden village. Wow!

– Jeffery 

travel hunza valley

Adventure Guide

Sohail is the newest addition to the Epic team and we are beyond stoked to have him on board. As a veteran of the Karakoram and a native of Karimabad in Hunza, there is not much Sohail can’t do in the mountains. 

Besides having the ability to speak more languages than we can count, Sohail has explored every corner of Gilgit Baltistan and logs more trekking miles 

in a year than most people will do in a lifetime. As of the summer of 2022, Sohail has summited Gasherbrum 1, Gasherbrum 2, and K2 – three of Pakistan’s five 8000-meter peaks. Sohail guides several trips including our annual bespoke expeditions but specializes in Hunza Valley tours.

Chris and Sohail, and the team at Epic are FANTASTIC! Highly recommend anyone to do a tour with ‘Epic’. They have the perfect balance of fun, excitement and wild adventures, tied in with being super professional and ensuring your safety/health in a foreign environment. Don’t waste a moment and book a tour with these guys as the value for money is UNREAL!

– Borgan

iran travel tour

Adventure Guide

Pedro’s been traveling all around the globe since 2009. His keen interests in documentary photography, rural life, and local people from different ethnic groups have been the focus of many of his professional projects.

Since 2012, he has developed his passion for travel and awesome shared experiences into a full-time adventure photography tour leader position.

Pedro has found himself continuously going back to the Middle East, with his likely favorite destination being Iran. Pedro lead his 11th tour in Iran with Epic in spring 2020

When Pedro’s not traveling the world with Epic Expeditions, you’ll find him based in the western south of Portugal planning he’s next adventure missions, logistics and working out his photos in local exhibitions.

 I loved the combination of hiking, camping around breathtaking scenery mixed with the cultural aspects. The guide (Pedro) is knowledgeable and work very hard to make the trip as memorable as possible. All in all an epic adventure with some extremely epic individuals! Go for it, you won’t regret it!

– Coastal

Diane Bouvet

Adventure Admin / Marketing

After fleeing from the corporate fashion world in Paris towards the start of 2020, Diane has been working as a web developer and graphic designer remotely from various bases across the globe

She brings all of her incredible design and organizational power to Epic Expeditions and is responsible for many of the beautiful behind-the-scenes design elements. 

Diane has been to Iran and to Pakistan twice including all over Gilgit Baltistan and KPK.

k2 gondogoro la trek

Head of Operations | Guide

A veteran of Pakistan travel, Ralph is an experienced guide, photographer and writer who specializes in documenting remote locations. 

Not one to simply go where everyone else does, he insists on exploring new and lesser-known areas.

Together with Epic Expeditions, he shows people parts of Pakistan that most other operators don’t even know about. He is particularly fond of the village of Barah, which he believes will become just as famous as Hunza one day.

Just got back from EBT’s Trekking Amongst Giants 15 day tour. The experience was first class. Ralph, our head guide, ensured that the entire trip ran smoothly and relatively on time (a bonus for anyone travelling in Pakistan). We had so many unforgettable days on the tour and the trekking was well-planned, safe but also a rewarding challenge. 

– Calvin

Traveling to a non-tourist destination can be a little intimidating but EBT takes all of the worry and trepidation away. From the pre-trip call to meeting the wonderful staff in person you can tell that you are dealing with a company that has a passion for what they do each and every day. Ralph, Zahid, and Khan were supportive, kind, and always willing to go the extra mile to make sure that everyone on the trip was getting what they wanted out of the experience.

– Katrina 

adventure tours pakistan

Founder | Adventure Guide | Director

Since he started exploring the world, Chris has been seeking out every shade of adventure in various parts of the globe and had visited more than 70 countries along the way. 

Over the last 10 years, Chris has logged more than 7000 trail miles across five continents and climbed multiple 6000 + 7000 meter peaks in Pakistan and Nepal.

A few years back, a distant dream and a deep passion for the mountains and the people of Pakistan led Chris to co-found Epic Expeditions at a time when foreign adventure tourism in Pakistan was almost nonexistent. Since then, Chris has guided more than 20 expeditions to various parts of Northern Pakistan.

Chris believes in using photography and powerful adventure experiences to dismantle negative stereotypes regarding what mainstream media considers “dangerous” countries while facilitating unique and meaningful memories in the mountains for countless people from around the globe. 

For him, an ideal start to the day begins with a steaming cup of good coffee, the beam of a headlamp, alpine boots, and a camera in hand.

He lives in Madeira Island when not leading expeditions in far-flung lands. 

Chris also works as a writer and photographer on his blog Off the Atlas – an adventure travel blog all about Pakistan.  

Read this interview our staff did with Chris to learn more about him!

Chris believes in Pakistan and its people, and he believes in the value of journeys shared with others and family cultivated on the road. Honesty and integrity are at the heart of what he does, and this really shines through in his work as a guide. He also makes great coffee – whether at 5am in an empty guesthouse or half way up a Himalayan peak.”

– Will De Villers

Pakistan is a magical country! Had 3 of the best weeks of my life thanks to Epic Backpacking Tours with owner, and one of our awesome guides, Chris. From detailed itinerary, preparation with an equipment list, and visa assistance. To amazing food, great porters, helpful guides, and great accommodations. Epic really hit home run after home run. […]

Their desire for adventure and amazing trip is just as high as yours. Bring a good pound of coffee for the trip. French press coffee every morning and no average tin coffee, plus you’ll be in your guides good books.

– Clark Tyler

epic backpacker tours

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