The Proud Eagle Hunters of Kyrgyzstan

Written By: The Planet D

It was the number one experience we wanted to have when visiting Kyrgyzstan. Seeing the Eagle Hunters of Central Asia finally happened on the last day of our trip. The Salburun Federation is the face of falconry in Kyrgyzstan. If you want to experience the way of the eagle hunter, this is the place to book. We visited Kyrgyzstan with US Aid to promote untouched regions like Jyrgalan and Lake Issyk Kul’s south shore. But even if you are commissioned to go off the beaten path, you still need to see the country’s number one attraction. To us, the Eagle Hunters are it.

Eagle Hunters of Kyrgyzstan

Eagle Hunters Kyrgyzstan 12
The Eagle hunters of Kyrgyzstan

We met Eagle Hunter, Nursultan, on the side of the road and followed him in his car down a bumpy lane to a horse race track and open field.

The golden eagles were in the back of his hatchback, and he brought them out to show us how he hunts and trains the birds.

We even had the chance to feel the weight and power of these beautiful creatures as he placed them on our gloved arms.

He told us the story of how he captured this bird of prey at a young age, trained him to hunt, and kept him for 20 years before setting it free to live out its days. Golden eagles live for 30 to 40 years and have at least another decade of freedom.

Eagle Hunters Kyrgyzstan snack time
Snack time for the eagle

I asked him how he keeps the eagles from flying away and he said they give them just enough food to keep them hungry. If they were full and satisfied, they’d fly away. But knowing that there is a regular source of food coming each day, the eagles stick around.

Our eagle’s name was Karakoz placed second at the World Nomad Games and is ready and poised to take the championship at the next one!

There are few hunters left in Kyrgyzstan and the family business is passed down from generation to generation.

Eagle Hunting Demonstrations at Issyk-Kul

Demonstrations consist of first learning about the eagle, eagle hunting, and having hands-on experience.

When the eagle is placed on our arms, we feel its weight. It is heavy and strong. I am tentative about making it flap its wings as it feels precariously perched on my arm with its hood on.

The hood is kept on to keep the eagle calm until it is sent off to hunt. I am unsure how I feel about all this. The eagle is captive, but it is the family’s main source of food.

Eagle Hunters Kyrgyzstan hoods
The hoods are used to keep the eagles calm

During the Russian occupancy the tradition nearly disappeared. Today families have taken up eagle hunting again and while they compete in many festivals around Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia, they still use the eagles for hunting and food.

Why are Eagles Used for Hunting?

Cholpon tells us that the Kyrgyz people didn’t believe in using weapons to kill animals for food. To them, it is more humane to use eagles. Traditionally, they didn’t believe in using weapons to kill animals.

They train the eagles with fox skin for two months before moving on to live rabbits. The poor rabbits are sacrificed daily to keep the eagles sharp, but the families get a meal out of it. Plus the eagle’s attack is swift and precise.

Eagle Hunters Kyrgyzstan 9
They are incredible hunters

Once Nursultan is finished explaining how he captured the eagle, trained it, and will keep it for twenty years before setting it free again, his assistant sets off to trek up to the top of a cliff with two eagles.

Nursultan stood waiting patiently with an outstretched arm before calling Karakoz to attack his arm. There was raw meat waiting and once he made the high-pitched call, the eagle swooped down with such grace.

It was down in an instant. Its eagle eyes found the chunk of meat with ease and as it munched on its afternoon snack, we snapped photographs and videos in awe of its beauty.

Eagle Hunters Kyrgyzstan flight
Catching the eagle on your arm is no easy task
Eagle Hunters Kyrgyzstan 10
They weigh a ton!

We were lucky, they had two eagles, so we got to see it a second time. This time was with a younger eagle named Black Eyes, who is only one year old.  It was no less exciting, and even at one year, this eagle was strong.

Archery Demonstration

Eagle Hunters Kyrgyzstan archery
Shooting from a horse look hard!

After our hunting demonstration, our guides were on their horses to showcase their archery skills.

They stuffed the eagles back into the hatchback, and I worried about the heat inside the car. But the horse demonstration was short, and these men loved their eagles. They are not only their livelihoods; they are family.

So, we took heart that they knew what they were doing.

During this experience, three horses with riders had been running the track at full speed.

Eagle Hunters Kyrgyzstan training
Training for the World Nomad Games

They were preparing for the upcoming holiday. Independence Day was just a couple of days away and the races were taking place and the horses were training for a 10,000 metre race. I couldn’t believe how long they could keep up that pace!

Kyrgyz People are Horse People

The Kyrgyz people are the original nomads. They are true horsemen. Descendants of Western Mongolia (Genghis Khan country) and the nomadic Central Asia tribes.

Many people still live a nomadic life moving from mountains to valleys in their yurts as the weather changes. Horses roam free when not in use and have an almost wild quality.

The Horse and Rider are at one and the Kyrgyz people are skilled and graceful in a saddle.

Eagle Hunters Kyrgyzstan 13
These guys were awesome!

This next experience displayed that talent beautifully. They showed us how they can hit a target while riding at full speed.

We had just finished a mountain horse trek two days earlier, and I remembered how it felt to move on a horse when it ran. It took all my concentration to stay on the saddle, yet this guy was running with his hands held high on the bow with an arrow pointed and ready to shoot.

These men start riding as early as three years old, and it shows. They are as comfortable on a horse as you and I on our favorite comfy chair.

Deb Takes a Turn

Eagle Hunters Kyrgyzstan theplanetd
We were better at posing than shooting

He easily hit the target and let me try my hand at archery. Albeit without riding the horse.

I’ve tried shooting a bow and arrow several times, and it’s always the same thing. My first shot is great and close to the bullseye. I almost look like a professional.

But once I try it again and overthink it, my aim gets worse, and the harder I try, the farther from the target I get. When will I ever learn? I need just to shoot once and say. “Thank you! And that’s all folks!

Taigan Dogs

Eagle Hunters Kyrgyzstan Taigan Dogs
These Taigan Dogs were so cute

Our final demonstration was with Kyrgyzstan’s most prestigious dog breed, the Taigan.

Taigans are sighthounds used for hunting. The upper class has adopted these beauties as a sign of wealth and we are told that there are only 40 or so Taigan dogs in the country. They are excellent hunting dogs and our guides have yet another hunting demonstration planned.

They ask if we would prefer a demonstration with a live rabbit or dead fox. We chose the dead fox. I had already watched one sacrifice during our trip in Kyrgyzstan, where they cut off a goat’s head in Jyrgalan for a game of goat polo (more on that at a later date), and I wasn’t ready to see a rabbit killed for my amusement.

Eagle Hunters Kyrgyzstan dog hunting
Watching the dogs hunt in Kyrgyzstan

As the horseman pulled the fox fur along the back of his horse, the dogs began to run, but were quickly distracted by an actual live rabbit hopping in the distance. These dogs are born and bred to hunt and quickly discard the silly dead fox and the chase is on for the rabbit in the field.

Lucky for the rabbit, it had a huge head start and outmaneuvered the hounds, who come back to the cars with tails wagging.

The dogs are friendly and adorable. Their coats feel like soft sheep wool, and they nuzzle in to say hello before finding a cool spot in the shade to relax.

Not Quite the World Nomad Games, but Not Bad Either

Eagle Hunters Kyrgyzstan hunting
Such a beautiful scene in Kyrgyzstan

We didn’t get to see the eagle hunters ride with their eagles perched, but Dave did ask them if they could at least sit on the horse with the eagle on his arm.

Nazrul Tan tells us that this horse is not trained to ride with an eagle, but if he is careful, he can sit on the horse.

I never really thought about it, but the horse, rider, and eagle would all need to be in sync and at one with each other. Hunting from a horse in the middle of the Central Asian plains is serious business.

Eagle Hunters Kyrgyzstan champion

Those eagle talons are deadly, and if one species doesn’t trust the other, panics, or doesn’t know the other, it could turn deadly quickly. Eagles can take down a wolf, and those talons are razor-sharp.

Imagine if a horse panicked and caused the eagle to attack.

So, while we missed out on the mini world nomad games originally scheduled during our time in Kyrgyzstan, we got to see and meet the eagle hunters.

The Eagle Hunters are surprisingly slight and quiet. They don’t seem like the fierce warriors I expected, but then again, it’s the eagle doing all the work, right?

This trip was made possible by the support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development. (US Aid). The contents are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of US Aid or the United States government

Eagle Hunters Kyrgyzstan photo

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About The Planet D

Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil are the owners and founders of The Planet D. After traveling to 115 countries, on all 7 continents over the past 13 years they have become one of the foremost experts in travel. Being recognized as top travel bloggers and influencers by the likes of Forbes Magazine, the Society of American Travel Writers and USA Today has allowed them to become leaders in their field.

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6 thoughts on “The Proud Eagle Hunters of Kyrgyzstan”

  1. Beautiful photos!

    I will be travelling The Stans, and I’ve been doing research on eagle demonstrations. The Salburun Federation came up several times. Your link to their website didn’t work, but I did find a Facebook page for them. I messaged Salburun Federation on Facebook for information, and they replied back with a contact name and WhatsApp number.

    I messaged the WhatsApp contact, and they provided me with information on eagle demonstrations, as well as a homestay in a yurt and help with transportation from Bishkek to Issyk Kul. My question is, is this what you guys did? I couldn’t find any reviews on TripAdvisor when I searched under “Salburun Federation”. I am a solo female traveler and have safety concerns.

    Many thanks in advance for your help!

  2. Thanks for this fascinating and very exciting article. The pictures are wonderful and how amazing those birds and their handlers are, indeed! I do wonder what the ’20’ year marker of captivity is about and whether the eagles live on without their handlers or if they are simply past their prime hunting years but still cared for and remain ‘part of the family’?

    So happy to share in your experience and feeling a bit nostalgic for my own travels on the Eastern part of the globe. Perhaps soon we will have more liberty to get back on the road.

  3. Nice blog, i really love eagles and want to train them.These people do have different life style and culture, on my coming visit to Kyrgyzstan i will try to study the methods of training eagles .Thanks for sharing such nice article

  4. Hey Deb and Dave,

    Fantastic post. Watching the eagle hunters up close is one of the main reasons I have long wanted to visit Central Asia.
    The photos here are fantastic, almost life-like.


  5. This looks incredible! You know, it’s not often I see a travel blog post that is interesting, This is really great blog post. Thanks for sharing it.