You know what some badasses around the world do to stay alive? They hunt for animals using other animals. When you travel halfway around the world to what some consider the ‘final frontier,’ in Mongolia, you’ll find the true upper echelons of outdoorspeople. They roam the Mongolian steppe with nomadic flair, they flirt with the sultry Gobi desert while imbibing fermented camel milk, and some of them, those of the Altai Mountains, hunt with eagles.
Hunting with eagles dates back some 6,000 years as a primarily Kazakh custom. 13th century history chronicles relay stories of maddening hunting trips involving thousands of people and horses, charging across the landscape with eagles perched on the hunters arms, striking fear into the hearts of lesser beasts who wished they didn’t occupy the same continent. Over 200 years ago, Russian Empire troops pushed Kazakhs into Western Mongolia, where the tradition has thrived in tight knit and isolated communities.
Few members of the animal kingdom want to screw with an avian murder machine that boasts a seven to eight foot wingspan, razor sharp talons, piercing eye sight, and an aggression that knows no bounds. It’s like bundling all of the rage and hate in this world into a muscular and cognizant torture device designed for ripping things to shreds. Surely Satan was involved in the creation of Central Asian Golden Eagles.
Mongolian hunters prefer to capture their eagles as chicks, before the birds can decapitate them for intruding on their territory. It also diminishes the possibility of the eagle attacking their children or sheep. Over the course of one to two months, hunters get the chicks used to the presence of humans by feeding them from their hands. The chicks are ‘broken’ in late summer by being tied to a wooden block called a ‘tugir.’ That way, when they try to fly away, they fall. During this time they aren’t fed and after few days they become exhausted and ready for training.
The eagles are trained to hunt down marmots, rabbits, small foxes, and eventually even wolves. The prime hunting season occurs in early winter, when after the first snow fall the hunters traverse rugged mountaintops upon beasts of burden and with their eagles perched on their left arm. When prey is spotted, the eagles are sent into the sky to size up the target, and then in one swift strike, they crash down onto the spine of the escaping animal with iron claws.
The final frontier of Mongolia may be the best place to witness the world’s most rugged and competent outdoorspeople. Their navigation abilities transcend our wanderings on wilderness trails, their beanies are self-crafted with the furs of foxes, and their hunting arsenals are made up of wild beasts rather than buckshot and firearms.
By Bryan Schatz