Rabbit 3, Eagle 0

After the eagle jumped from Dalaihan’s arm and flew down the hill, we watched to see what prey it was after.  Only after the rabbit broke and ran a short distance from left to right did we even know what the eagle was pursuing.  The huge rabbit, perhaps the size of a dog, was far enough away so that when the eagle approached him, we could not tell how far apart they were.  When it seemed that they would collide and the eagle was making his final closing maneuvers, the rabbit broke and ran again.  I was surprised that the he did not run away from the eagle but instead ran towards the eagle in an uphill direction at a diagonal angle to our right.  The eagle quickly changed direction towards the right but the rabbit ran so fast and at the last second.  The eagle dropped his right wing and spun his turn to the right as hard as he could.  But it was too late; he had overshot the clever rabbit who now ran up the hill at full speed towards us.

The frustrated eagle landed and watched as the rabbit raced up the hill, first towards us, and then towards our left to the spine of the mountain.  The rabbit disappeared over the mountain edge and Dalaihan raced down the mountain to retrieve the eagle.  Alpamys and I raced to the left where the rabbit had disappeared.  I was highest up on the hill and as Alpamys approached the spine, I saw a second rabbit break and run.  I shot the photo below just after the eagle missed his mark, Dalaihan was retrieving the eagle, and the large rabbit ran off towards the left edge of the photo.

We called to Dalaihan and he and Baatar came up the hill after a short time.  We looked again for the large rabbit and saw him again and this time he ran all the way up the mountain and disappeared over the summit at the top.

Dalaihan found the rabbit’s tracks and soon the four of us were tracking him up the tall mountain.  The tracks went all the way to the top and disappeared over a rugged rocky area.  I was in the rear of the pack and as soon as the other men passed the first group of horses, I saw the rabbit break and run back down the hill.  This rabbit was clever indeed; he hid behind a rock and waited for us to pass and then ran back downhill towards his hole after we had passed.

I called out to the men that the rabbit was running and they spun around just as it ran past me perhaps only 15′ away.  We pursued the rabbit down the hill until we had a good view and Dalaihan let the eagle fly.  The eagle was pursuing the rabbit when the rabbit again disappeared behind a mountain spine, but this time to the right.  Dalaihan rode straight down the mountain while Alpamys and I rode directly to the right in order to get a view of the eagle.

When we finally had the eagle in sight, he did not have the rabbit.  The smart hare had escaped again!  After a time, Dalaihan called off the search.  He commented that this was an old and wise rabbit and that out of respect, we should let him live to see another day.  We all agreed that this smart rabbit had put on a good show and that we should let him go.

It was at this time that I realized that I was no longer cold, no longer sore, no longer hungry.  The excitement of seeing the eagle and rabbit play out an age-old struggle of predator and prey was quite exciting.  All of the cold and pain in my body had vanished in this brief and exciting moment.  I know, I’ll get hate mail from my tree-hugger, vegetarian, and PETA friends, but hey, eagles eat rabbits every day.  Actually seeing the pursuit is exciting regardless of your views on hunting…

We took a break, drank some water, had a nature call, and then chatted a bit about the chase we had witnessed.  As we were spread out across the mountain, we had seen different things and we shared stories before continuing on our way, looking for more rabbits.  During the break, I shot a photo of our horses – the un-sung labor of this expedition.

Just as I had seen with the drug dog on the train at the Mongolian/Russian border, Dalaihan “trained” his eagle after the unsuccessful hunt.  The Mongolian police dog handler hid a drug pack on the train and let the dog smell it out in order to reinforce its previous training and to keep its skills fresh and honed.  Dalaihan did the same and exercised the eagle much like the drug dog.

Dalaihan put the eagle on a rock and then went down the mountain.  Once he was down the mountain but still within sight of the eagle, he pulled some fresh meat from his pouch and called to the eagle to come to him.  The eagle flew down the hill, flared out, and landed on Dalaihan’s arm in order to eat some fresh meat off of the bone that was presented to her.

At the end of that day’s hunt, we headed down the mountain towards the river where the lodge rests.  We passed a herd of yaks and then as we came through another pass, one of our horses started braying – they usually do this when they smell other horses.  And sure enough, around the next bend, I saw a large herd of horses on the hill.  There is nothing quite like a herd of wild horse; they are so majestic and powerful looking – and they look so free and untamed.


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Altai village

pictured above: (left) Dalaihan’s brother, Khavlet, Scott, and Dalaihan (right) enjoying chai (tea) in Altai Village

Our drive continued until dusk.  When we finally arrived in Altai Villlage, there was just enough light to make out the ground under our feet.  Baatar directed Khavlet to drive us to the local store so that we could buy provisions before it closed.  When we got out of the Scooby-Doo van, the cold air bit into my lungs like I had never felt before.  I would later find out that the temperature was about -20C (-4F).  At my first breath, I coughed uncontrollably, it felt as if I had sucked acid into my lungs.  I had to learn to breath more gradually when going outside in the cold conditions.  Baatar made his way inside while I made my way to the outhouse.  Another lesson in cold weather: do your business fast; its not only the hands that get cold.

I made my way towards the “general store,” front door.  On the way there, I smelled something familiar.  It smelled like a metallic fleshy smell.  It smelled like blood.  I looked down and saw a dark black circular swirl of liquid on the ground and another 3 or 4 feet away and third about ten feet away.  My initial feeling was that an animal had been killed here - and recently.  I opened the door of the “general store,” and saw blood and drag marks all throughout the fourier.  They all led to the door on the left.  I peeked inside and saw what could best be described as a goat and sheep slaughter session in progress.  There were animal parts and a few women with cleavers going to town.  Just then, Baatar popped his head out of the other door (the door on the right) and said, “Over here, come his way.”

I made my way into the second room to at last find the “general store.”  We loaded up on potatoes, some vegetables, and some other staple foods as well as vodka (as a gift for our hunting team), some chocolate for the kids, and a few beers to drink with dinner.  Baatar excercised his experience and purchased a few packages of baby wipes.  These would later turn out to be invaluable for washing whenever warm water was not available.

Altai Village “general store”

After the store, we drove to Dalaihan’s  house.  Dalaihan is the owner of the Ealge that we will be hunting with.  His son, Alpamys also owns an eagle and is training it to be a hunting eagle.  Immidiately on arrival, I was invited into the living room where we had chat (tea) with goat milk (top photo).  On Dalaihan’s wall I could see some of the trophies from his previous hunts, several fox pelts and some rabbit pelts.  I also saw several photos of him on previous hunts with German, French, Italian, Japanese, and Korean tourists.  I also met Dalaihan’s wife and daughters.  The family was very friendly and made me feel welcomed in their home.

After we finished our chai, we loaded into the van to drive to Shar-Gobi, the location of Dalaihan’s winter cabin.  His son, brother, and his brother’s wife and children were wintering at the lodge and would be taking care of us during our hunt.  After I loaded into the front seat I heard a high pitched chirping sound.  I turned around and to my surprise there was a huge eagle sitting behind me; I had almost forgot that he was coming along for the ride!

After we piled into the Scooby-Doo van, we began driving out of Altai Village heading towards Shar-Gobi.  We came to several creeks and rivers and we jsut drove right over them.  They were not completely frozen and several times, one or more of the wheels cracked the ice and slipped a little.  The whole time, the ice groaned and creeked and gave me a very uneasy feeling.  Even during the day the roads were rough, at night, they were just as rought but it was harder to see the pot-holes.  We bounced around and around, the eagle chirping the whole way.

Well Kris, you requested video, here it is.  I shot this video as we drove from Altai Village to Shar-Gobi.  You can see how dark it is, how bumpy the road is, and you can hear the eagle chirping all the way.

 

 

Eventually, we began to slow down and Baatar asked me to put my camera away.  I asked him what was going on and he said that we were approaching a military check point.  The truck slowed and then stopped at a gate arm.  I couldn’t see anything and then suddenly, a Mongolian soldier came into view from the left side of the truck.  He was very tall and wore huge boots, a thick hat and a massive jacket.  He had an AK-47 rifle slung across his back and with each breath a huge bellow of steam came from his mouth.  With the engine and the heater of the truck turned off, the piercing cold bit right into me.  I hoped again that my “loaner” jacket, gloves and hat would be available.  The soldier called to an officer who came out and examined our paperwork and eventually let us pass.

When we arrived at the hunting lodge, it was quite late.  Dalaihan’s boys were still wide awake and eager to see the western visitor.  His wife, Khashy, had hot chai waiting for us.  The men all sat in the living room and chatted about the drive.  We broke out some beers to toast the hunt.  When Dalaihan started looking for a bottle opener, I reached into my bag and pulled  out my leatherman.  When I opened it, the Kazakh men’s eyes opened wide and then they asked to see my multi-tool.  It was passed around and they all complimented its design.  After a little while, Khashy brought out a huge dish of potatoes, carrots and sheep meat.  It was heavily oiled and hot; after a long drive, it had to be one of the best meals I’ve ever had.  Knowing that we had to get up early, we went to bed right after dinner.

Dalaihan checks out my leatherman multi-tool


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