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What it takes to become an eagle hunter

Interview by: Sam Cossman
PHOTOGRAPHY: JUSTIN BASTIEN

Born and raised in the Altai Mountains, Kairat khan is a herder like his father before him. The 50-year-old says it took him 30 years to become a master.

Where does eagle training begin? 

You have to become an apprentice of an experienced eagle master. You go and stay with him — at least for a month or two — and he will show you how to feed it, take you hunting, how to fly it. Then, once you have your own eagle, you have to practice with it. It’s not something you start and then give up. And the eagle is not a machine. It has its own individual behaviors and manners, and each eagle is different.

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Were you a natural? 

No, it took me three years in order to understand how much effort you have to put in and how much time you have to dedicate to your eagle. My first bird, I thought it had enough training when I took it out. But whenever we went hunting it wouldn’t fly. It would see a rabbit or a fox, or a wolf or wildcat — anything — and it would just sit there. It was a matter of my confidence in the eagle, but also the eagle’s confidence in me. I went to one of the elder hunters to get some advice. They said I should concentrate on the feeding. When you are first training, you have to know the right portion of meat to give your eagle. If you give it too much, or not enough, the eagle won’t be tamed. 

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Now, not only are you a master, you’re a competition winner.

My most important motivation is learning and sharing. I always learn from others, no matter how many years of experience I have. When I travel from one place to another, or when it comes to the festivals or any kind of contest, I usually go there to learn and to gain other experiences or other skills, not to just win the contest.

Are the youth as eager to learn? 

I’ve seen younger generations who were really committed to being eagle hunters. But after seeing all these difficulties — traveling in the cold, going up and down the mountains, and not having good luck every day catching an animal — they just gave up. You have to be mentally strong enough to face some of the failures or some of the bad luck. But if there is a strong bond between you and your eagle, then nothing is impossible. What I’ve learned from my own experience is that if you have the passion and the patience, it turns into dedication. So when you are passionate and patient, there is nothing that’s impossible.

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Tools of the trade

Kairat Khan’s gear is all homemade and as a result easier to repair while on a hunt. 

1. Fox-fur hat lined and topped with silk and eagle feathers

2. Horsehide jacket

3. Thick leather eagle-hunter glove to protect against strong, sharp talons

4. Eagle’s eating bowl

5. Saddlebags for storage on long rides

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6. Eagle treat bag, containing pieces of fox meat and bone

7. Eagle brace to support the load of the eagle on long rides. The brace rests on the saddle; rider’s hand is placed on the sling to take weight of the bird off the arm

8. Wire to get foxes out of fox holes

9. Classic ’80s binoculars wrapped in protective silk scarf

10. Homemade binocular bag

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04 2017 THE RED BULLETIN

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