“Where is he?” I whispered too quietly, because Ignacio didn’t hear me. But my question was answered with the sight of two ibexes fleeing the scene about sixty yards down the mountain. All of my excitement and electricity went out like someone had pulled the breaker switch, and I stood up straight from the hunch I had adopted on the stalk and began to really notice how cold it was and the small rain drops beginning to fall from the sky. The sun was lowering close to the horizon now, and we wouldn’t have enough daylight to make another stalk. That was it. The hunt was over.
“No—there!” Ignacio nudged me and I slouched back into stalking mode. For a second, I thought he was crazy. But then, an ibex, a really really old ibex, appeared from behind a bush, walking slowly with a limp in his back foot. I locked in on him and made the necessary calculations. Wind—slight, left to right. Slope—steep. Position—slightly quartered away. Walking—lead him. Distance—roughly thirty yards? There wasn’t time to range him because he was already getting farther away with every step. Without taking my eyes off him, I nocked my arrow and lifted my bow halfway up, ready to draw.
“How far is he?” I asked, but I didn’t hear the answer. I knew he was farther than I usually shot, but a strange and inexplicable certainty enveloped me. Three fingers numbed by the cold under my nock, I took a deep breath, and drew back.
In what felt like slow motion, I watched the brilliant red glow of my Lumenok soar through the raindrops. The arrow arched down at the perfect moment, lodging into the neck of the old ibex, severing the jugular. Limp forgotten, he bolted through the bushes with the arrow flopping up and down with his gait, a wide trail of blood left behind him. Staring after him, I replayed the shot over and over in my head in hyper speed, and started to breathe once I was satisfied that I made the best shot I could make. In the moments after every shot I ever make on an animal, even if it looks like a good shot, I am a bundle of anxiety. There is no jumping up and down, no squealing, none of that. I don’t feel true elation until I know the animal has died and isn’t suffering, that I for sure made a good shot. My dad caught up to us and ranged the shot, he and Ignacio both giddy with excitement. We discovered that it was over forty yards—ten yards farther than my usual maximum distance. Especially with traditional archery, every foot will affect the trajectory exponentially as the distance increases. I don’t even think I practiced shooting at forty yards because there was no way I’d take a shot that far. But stranger things have happened.
It’s not a good idea to run after an animal after an archery shot because the adrenaline of being chased might cause it to run farther, so we sat down and gave him some time. The sky was darkening and the sprinkling raindrops were getting colder, and I forced myself to take deep breaths. Ignacio and my dad were beaming and talking about the shot. They asked me if I meant to hit the jugular. I didn’t; I was aiming for behind the shoulder, and I must have led him too far. They laughed and said that the jugular was an even better shot, and that I did a great job with my estimate on the trajectory.
“How did you do that?” Ignacio asked. I just smiled with my lips squeezed tightly together and shrugged to hide my anxiety. I aimed, of course, but my style of aiming with a traditional bow is—more or less—to lock into my anchor point and focus all of my energy onto the smallest detail of my intended target.
After about fifteen minutes, we got up and started following the blood trail. He ran less of a distance than I shot him from, and we approached slowly when we saw the bright glow from the Lumenok through some leaves. When we got to him, he was still barely alive. Up close, his age showed even more. His thin legs were folded under his small belly, the points of his shoulders sharp against the knobs of his spine.
He was close to death, but I knew I needed to put another shot in him to end it quicker. Shaking now and trying to shoot quickly, I completely missed the first shot, and the arrow whizzed above his head into the bushes. Embarrassment enflamed me, and I fumbled for another arrow. Ignacio and my dad told me it was okay, to try again. I inhaled sharply and blinked hard. Get it together, Caroline. You can do this. No room for error. Make a good shot. I nocked another arrow and pulled back smoothly. Shooting a longbow is a lot like how a key opens a lock; as the key is inserted, each of the ridges engages a tumbler in precisely the right way, and if all of the tumblers are properly in place, boom, the key turns and the lock opens. All of my tumblers have to be engaged perfectly when I’m shooting: my stance, grip, finger placement, breath, draw length, anchor point, string on my nose, and the way I release. Just one of those being off can alter the shot entirely. No room for error. The challenge of it is exhilarating and utterly calming all at once, every time, and I love it.
At full draw, I looked at the spot on the ibex I knew would be the best placement for the shot based on how he was laying, and when I released the arrow, it struck exactly where I wanted it to. The ibex flinched as the broadhead sliced through his lungs and into his spine, and he was dead within a few seconds.
Relief washed over me as I walked up to kneel beside him, finally beaming like my dad and Ignacio as I gave both of them hugs. The ibex was so old. Ignacio lifted up his lips and we saw that the poor guy had worn down his teeth to mere nubs, and gummed grass was lodged in his cheeks. In one of his back feet, he had a gruesome abscess that looked horribly painful. Ignacio told me that he probably wouldn’t have made it through the next winter, and I could not have been happier that this was my trophy. I looked around at the mountains again, breathing them in and etching them into my mind so that I’d never forget this moment. I felt a rain drop land on my cheek and it felt like a kiss, as if now the mountains have met the sky.
By Staffer: Caroline Pruit