Eagle Hunting in Bayan Ílgii is not just a tradition, it is a centerpiece of the culture and emblematic of its people.
Nomadic Eagle Hunters
The Eagle Hunting tradition began in Central Asia around 4000 years ago. Right now there are about 250 Eagle Hunters who are still practicing in Mongolia, hunting with the sky lords and catching foxes and the occasional wolf. Eagle Hunting in Bayan Ílgii is not just a tradition, it is a centerpiece of the culture and emblematic of its people.
Golden Eagle Festival
In 2017, the 18th annual Golden Eagle Festival will be held in Bayan-Ílgii. This is a big celebration for eagle hunters. This year around 80 hunters will join in the competition to demonstrate their skills in hunting, riding, and athletics in the nomadic horse games.
This festival is very popular and hotels and plane tickets are usually purchased early so it is best to book at least a few months in advance.
The games include Kokbar, a traditional game played on horseback where two individuals fight over a goatskin until the other releases it in defeat.
Kyz-khuar is a traditional racing competition between a girl and boy.
Tyin Ilu is a competition wherehorse riders will pick up coins off the ground.
Camel races will be held at the festival.
Archery will be performed in the traditional Mongolian style.
Lastly the eagle hunters will show off their traditional Kazakh costumes known as shapans.
The first round of the eagle festival is when the eagles are called to the hunters’ hands from their perches on a nearby mountainside, and in the second round the eagles land on an animal skin held by the hunters.
Prizes are usually awarded to hunters based on their hunting skills and speed.
There are three ways to catch eagles that have been passed down through generations of hunters. The first way is to use a trap made of a piece of meat and a rope. The second way is to take the eagle from the nest as a baby. The third way is to capture the eagle after it has recently eaten a kill because at this time it will be unable to fly. Usually the eagles captured are young so as to make training easier. The eagle must be female, as these eagles grow larger and are more aggressive. And lastly the eagle’s eyes must blood red a trait which the hunters insist is necessary for a successful eagle.
Training the eagle is an arduous process. In summer the eagles usually get fat eating prepared meat. This also allows the eagles to molt. In autumn the hunter will begin preparing the eagle for hunting. The best weather for hunting is after snowfall.
Aisholpan was the first eagle huntress ever. The main reason she became a huntress was because of the history of her family as eagle hunters. She comes from a long line of great hunters, with her father Nurgaiv being one of the best.In 2014 at age 13 she won the golden eagle festival. Now she has become famous because of a widely known documentary about herself, Eagle Huntress.