At full draw, my bow becomes weightless. Life moves in slow motion. Everything around me is still, quiet, calm. I focus only on what my pin is pointed at. I thought I knew what true hunting was. The thrill of the challenge when in pursuit of an animal. Dealing with uncomfortable conditions and crossing tough terrain to get within range. Looking through my scope, lining up my crosshairs, trying to calm my nerves enough to steadily squeeze back the trigger until the gun goes bang.

I thought, there was no high like rifle hunting, until, I spent an evening in a Camel Thorn.

Large lima bean looking seed pods sprinkle the ground around the base of the lone Camel Thorn mimicking mini maracas when the wind blows. Creepy oversized armored crickets known as Koringkrieks guard the trunk of the tree. Scot, my significant other who doubles as my “personal” professional hunter, grabs the koringkrieks by their enormously long spider like legs and tosses them off the tree clearing a path for us to climb up. The Koringkrieks click and hiss the moment they hit the ground and immediately start marching back towards us.

Scot leads the way up the Camel Thorn using a thick knot in the trunk as a stepping stool to hoist himself up. I am wary of where I place my hands as the branches of the tree are covered in thorns as long as the broad heads on my arrows, and nearly as sharp. We stop just above halfway on a branch thinner than my thigh making it hard to balance on. From his camouflage pack, Scot pulls out two round faded throw pillows. Even with the extra cushion, the tree is less than comfortable, to say the least. However, walk and stalk is not an option here. With little cover other than the bushes along the dried river beds, and grass that reaches no higher than our knees, it would be nearly impossible to sneak within shooting distance of any of Southern Namibia’s plains game. So we wait, sitting still and quiet, hoping something might be thirsty enough to come in for an evening drink.

The Hunt Begins

Gifted to me for Christmas by Scot, I have yet to draw blood with my bow. My target species is a springbuck. Any animal much bigger would prove to be a challenge for my lightweight arrow to acquire deadly penetration. Scot tells me to take a practice draw making sure I am able to aim through the mess of branches in front of me. Unsteady at first, I figure out how to brace my knee against the trunk of the tree to hold myself still. “You see the far edge of the watering hole?” Scot asks. “That’s twenty-five yards, anything that comes in for a drink will be within range.” Feeling confident after a second practice draw, I place my arrow snugly in my quiver and hang my bow by its string on a branch in front of me.

As the sun slowly begins its nightly descent, golden rays fading into pigmented pink peak through the branches of the Camel Thorn. One by one, Namaqua doves fly down and perch on the water’s edge. After a few minutes, the entire watering hole is covered. Every so often a dove will fly up and perch on a branch just a few feet away from us until it notices the watchful eyes laying upon it and flies back down to the water. Scot and I enjoy nature’s natural music as the birds coo back and forth, accompanying the existing melody of the creepy clicking Koringkrieks. But the serenading doesn’t last for long. Like a helicopter taking off, the band of doves flush into the sky and the Koringkrieks fall silent. Something is close by.

Snapping Twigs

Out from the bushes that line the waterless river bed prance six bat-eared foxes. The lead fox is undoubtedly hesitant. It stands staring, ears twitching, focusing on the slightest sound or movement. I hold my breath and freeze hoping not to spook them. Scot looks at me and smiles in a way that says, “I knew you would love bow hunting.” We continue to watch the little canines, observing how they take turns drinking and standing guard. After the last fox quenches its thirst, they turn around and disappear back into the bushes leaving no sign they were ever there besides the little paw prints left in the sand.

I lean over to grab Scot’s camouflage pack resting on the branch next to us. Quietly, I unzip it and pull out my beat-up silver thermos to enjoy a cup of hot coffee while watching the setting sun. With each passing minute, the night sky snuffs out more and more of the daylight. There are a few springbucks in the distance but in order to reach the watering hole before it becomes too dark to see through my sight, they would need to stop grazing and walk straight for the water. The chances of that are slim. While trying to stay optimistic, it does not seem like I will be drawing my bow back again tonight. As I slowly unscrew the top of the thermos and catch a faint whiff of medium roast, I hear the unmistakable sound of a snapping twig.

Wind blows leaves, birds whistle, seed pods drop from trees, and animals snap twigs. I spin my head towards the direction of the noise and freeze, staring intently at the barren river bed in hopes of seeing movement through the bushes. My heart pounds in my chest. It has become cold without the sun, but my face feels hot and my hands are clammy. Still unaware of what animal may descend from the bushes, I wait, excited, like it’s Christmas morning and I am eight years old about to open my gifts from Santa Clause.

The Springbuck Emerges

“There,” Scot whispers, pointing to the river bed. “Don’t move, he’s going to come out over there.” I peer through the chaos of greenery unable to see what Scot has spotted. “What is it?” I whisper excitedly. “Springbuck ram,” says Scot. My heart starts racing. Nearly every time we go hunting, Scot spots animals I never end up seeing. It makes sense as he has the eyes of a trained professional hunter and I have the eyes of a college student who stares at a computer screen all day. So it doesn’t surprise me when he spots the ram first. We sit in the tree paralyzed, trying not to make a sound. I know when he is coming in closer because I can hear him when he walks, but I still can’t see him. Long agonizing minutes pass until, finally, just as Scot predicted, the spectacular black springbuck ram emerges from the trees heading straight for the water.

Never in my life have I suffered nerves as bad as when the springbuck took his first steps out of the bushes. “He’s coming in, wait for him to start drinking,” whispers Scot over my shoulder. I slowly lean forward to unhook my bow from the branch in from of me. My arms feel weak and my hands tremble as I fiddled with the trigger trying to clip it onto my D loop. The beautiful ram is still too far for me to take a shot, but each step brings him in closer. As I wait, I envision where I will place my pin. Up his front leg, just behind the shoulder. I imagine my arrow flying flawlessly through the air making perfect contact with the springbuck. As the ram slowly closes the distance, my nerves only heighten. My legs feel like they are ready to give out at any moment. As if he knew how nervous I was, Scot whispered to me, “Just breath, he has no idea we’re here, he isn’t spooked at all.” I listen to Scot and take a few deep breaths, my hands begin to steady.

Missed Opportunities

Twenty-five yards away, the ram lowers his head to indulge in a cool evening drink. I stretch my arm out and squeeze my shoulder blades together, bringing my bow to full draw. I focus only on my site, staring through the opening in the jumble of branches. My green twenty-meter pin flutters around the ram’s shoulder. My eyes water and my vision blurs. An unrecognizable cluster of color replaces the ram. I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and refocus on my target. “Whenever you feel comfortable,” Scot whispers. At the end of an exhale, I slowly squeeze my finger around the trigger. With a click of the release, my arrow flies down, out of the tree towards the water, and dives into the dirt sending a puff of dust into the air. The springbuck jumps and runs for safety towards the cover of the bushes.

A feeling of agony overcomes me as I stare wide-eyed at the uninjured fleeing ram.

“What happened,” Scot says. “I don’t know,” I respond with the sound of defeat in my voice. “I got nervous, I rushed the shot.” “It’s okay,” Scot says with a smile in an effort to reinstall some confidence. But I know it’s not okay. Nearly all the daylight has faded into darkness, I won’t get another shot. With hopes of catching a final glimpse of the ram that got away, I peek through the branches of the tree. But what I see is not what I expected. Rather than spooking and running off into the cover of bushes, the ram turns and stops. “He’s still there,” I whisper to Scot.

“He doesn’t know what happened,” Scot says surprised. “He’s still thirsty, he’s gonna come back in.” But the ram is now weary. He doesn’t head straight for the water like before. Instead, he circles wide, gradually walking towards the Camel Thorn until he stops directly underneath us. “Just hold still,” Scot whispers. The ram stands perfectly broadside, so close I can watch his diaphragm expand as he takes a breath and shrinks as he lets it out. “If only there was an opening between the branches for you to take a shot,” whispers Scot with a wide smile on his face. I watch the dust puff up when the ram sniffs the seed pods on the ground and remember my arrow missing him just a few moments ago. “Deep breaths, take your time, follow-through,” I tell myself. The ram lets out a grunt, surveys his surroundings, then starts for the water.

Second Chances

“Let him start drinking,” Scot reminds me. Slowly, the springbuck steps up to the water. I concentrate on where I want my arrow to penetrate the ram. I let out a deep breath while simultaneously drawing back my bow. Everything around me is still, quiet, calm. The ram continues to look around. I focus on my pin and place it just behind the ram’s shoulder. As he drops his head to take a drink, I exhale and slowly squeeze the trigger.

Thump! The undeniable sound an arrow makes when it comes in contact with its target. “You got him! You got him! Your first animal with a bow!” shouts Scot. But I already knew. I could feel the difference in my shot, from my draw to my release, everything was smooth. A welcoming sensation of relief replaces the nerves, but my hands are still shaking. Scot looks at me with a smile stretched across his face and asks, “So, what do you think of bow hunting?” I share his smile and say, “That was amazing.” We give the ram a few minutes then climb down the tree and follow the blood trail into the bushes along the dried riverbed. We find the ram laying still, up against the bank with my arrow intact just a few feet away. With the last bit of light in the sky, we set up the ram for a few quick photos and reminisce of our evening spent in a Camel Thorn.