March 1993, Bowhunting news
PAUL SCHAFER 1949-1993
By Paul Brunner
I first met Paul Schafer along the interstate that runs from Great Falls, Montana, to Edmonton, Alberta. His wife drove him to our pre-arranged meeting spot and he loaded his gear in my Chevy for the trip up to Fort Nelson, British Columbia.
My wife and I had booked a bowhunt for stone sheep, goat and moose with Gary Moore on the Katcheeka River. Tight money dictated that one of us could not go on the trip. Karen graciously suggested finding someone who could fill in and buy her place on the hunt. I put the word out and Paul Schafer called about taking Karen's place. I had never heard of him. We talked and he agreed to take Karen's place.
The year was 1974. Oh the brashness of youth! I spent much of the trip telling this guy, Schafer, how he should think about using one of the new modern bows, the compound, like the two I had in the back of the rig. Paul just smiled the laid-back, famous Schafer smile and didn't say too much. I had no idea I was in the company of one of the best bowhunters who ever walked this earth. When he had told me he had made his own bows, I had never heard of what would become internationally famous as the "Schafer Silvertip." Ignorance is bliss.
We no sooner got into camp than both my compounds broke. One blew a lower limb and the other had a wheel freeze on it's axle. I was lost. Paul built me a functional bow out of parts of the two. He never lectured, either. He taught by example. He was shooting a 94# recurve and could drive nails with it out to 80 yards. I couldn't pull it, but it was child's play to him. He was one of the most amazing physical specimens I had ever seen.
The hunt went incredibly well and Paul and I began a friendship. I took a huge stone sheep and a dandy mountain goat. Paul took a stone sheep, too, then tacked on a nice goat and a moose that would hold number two in he record books for years to come. he shot the goat while laying on his stomach. He was crawling from rock to rock when the goat spotted him. "Schaf" just nocked and arrow and shot the goat!
After our BC trip, Paul and I began to hunt together a little. We seemed to hit it off, although I am not sure why. "Schafe" was quiet and I was a motor mouth. He finally told me one time that I had such a total joy of life that it infected him. We both shared a consuming love of the woods, the game, and the hunt.
Hunting with Paul was an incredible experience. I have never known anyone who had such knowledge of the woods. He saw everything that there was to see in nature. He had a gift for knowing what each animal was likely to do. He even had the gift when hunting new country and new species. There was never a time that I did not learn something from Paul about hunting. Sure I taught him a few tricks, but it was a lopsided learning experience.
Things seemed to happen to Paul. I mean unbelievable things! Who knows why, but this guy had more experiences than any ten other bowhunters I know. Some of the stories about Paul have become bowhunting legends. You have to understand that Paul was a quiet guy and very humble. Fame and notoriety were not of interest to him. It took me years to get close enough to him that he would tell me details of some of his incredible experiences, because he didn't like to talk about himself.
The Montana Bowhunters' Association is a very active group. Each year they send out questionnaires to the membership about their annual hunting. In the questionnaire is a question asking about recovery distance on game taken. The averages on recovery distance have been kept for years. It used to be that the MBA could print that the average recovery distance for bow killed game in Montana was 43.7 yards. Schafer ruined that forever! The MBA gave him special recognition for destroying years of average recovery figures at our annual convention. "Schafe" told me the story in detail......read on!
Seems that "Schafe" stalked up on this bun-kicker antelope. He raised up and shot. The antelope jumped the string. "Schafe" hit it in the leg... something he never did. Most bowhunters, as the antelope left the country, would have acknowledged that it was a minor flesh wound and gone on to other things. Not "Schafe." He took off in pursuit while his hunting partner on the trip went to get the pick-up truck.
"Schafe" kept the antelope in sight all that day, running after it through the plains. When it got dark, "Schafe" watched the antelope bed down and walked to the nearest county road where his partner picked him up. At dawn, "Schafe" took off on the antelope again. Off they went, at the mile-eating pace of a very healthy antelope. At one point, "Schafe" told me of the large rattler that just raised up right in front of him on it's coils. "Schafe" just leaped over it, while swiping at it with the tip of his recurve. He said that he must have caught it right under the chin, because he saw it swirl away, end-over-end, in his peripheral vision. The area where "Schafe" was hunting was accessible in spots by vehicle, so his partner was kind of keeping tabs on the great chase as it unfolded. By late afternoon, the antelope was finally running out of stem and bedded down. "Schafe" stalked in and shot it. It was a magnificent buck. When "Schafe" filled in the questionnaire for the MBA that winter, he filled in the recovery distance as 40 miles! That's what he and his partner of the day figured it had taken to run the buck down! Our records have never recovered from that figure!
It might help to understand the story above and ones to follow better if you know a few things about Paul Schafer's athletic abilities. He was one of the greatest athletes in the history of Montana. He wrestled through 4 years of high school and 4 years of college. He was undefeated, I believe. He played football as a running back and broke record after record on the field. He still holds the Montana record for carries and yardage. He was only 5'10", but one of the strongest human beings I have ever known. There was absolutely nothing he could not do physically or athletically...he was physically gifted. He went on to play pro football until injuries dictated that he leave the sport.
One time, "Schafe" and I went elk hunting.. We packed up at my house and "Schafe" asked if he could borrow one of my cameras. I said, "Sure, but what happened to yours?" "Schafe" got this real funny look on his face and just kind of mumbled something. I pushed him a little bit, then a little bit more. Finally he said real quietly, "I shot it." I said, "You what?" Again, the silly look and he told me the story.
He had been out with another one his buddies elk hunting and they were laid up during the middle of the day, just loafing and stump shooting. Apparently "Schafe" made a couple of incredible shots (which he always seemed to be able to do) and they started making little bets on who could hit what. Finally the guy looked back towards where they had left their packs and saw Schafer's camera sitting up on a stump facing them. It was about 90 yards. He bet "Schafe" $10 that he couldn't hit the camera.
Well, "Schafe" was a competitor and couldn't resist that kind of challenge. From 90 yards, with and 84 pound recurve, he smoked an arrow right through the center of the lens. He won the $10 bucks, but was out about $400 on the camera.
"Schafe" and I got real fancy 16mm movie camera and gear. We decided to start filming our hunts. This was back in the days before video was all that reliable. We had over $8,000 in the equipment. We were supposed to go to film dall sheep hunts in North West Territories with Greg Williams one August. I ended up being kept home by some serious business commitments, but "Schafe" went. He weighed about 190 at the time. He filmed and hunted for four weeks and carried a pack weighing between 160-200 pounds. The man was beyond belief in terms of his strength and abilities. Many of those four weeks he was completely alone in country that was loaded with griz and unforgiving to greenhorns. He ended up taking his second dall sheep with bow on that trip. The ram was about a curl and a quarter....a truly magnificent sheep.
One of "Schafe's" dall sheep was down and sliding over a ledge and would have fallen about 400 feet straight down. "Schafe" threw his bow and dove for the sliding ram. He caught one of the back legs as the sheep went airborne and held on. Think about this a minute. About 250 pounds of dall sheep kicking in its death throes, hanging over a shear cliff... and you are hanging on to it with one hand. That's the stuff nightmares are made of. "Schafe" just held on until the sheep quit kicking and with one arm, slowly raised the ram back up on to the ledge!
I had the laugh on "Schafe" just once. We were hunting some new elk country and worked our way into this magnificent basin. "Schafe" and I were like identical twins when we hunted elk. We worked as a team and each knew what the other was going to do without having to say a word. We would drift into set-ups and each seemed to know when to call and what to do as an encounter unfolded.
"Schafe" bugled and the bull screamed back an answer. If I live to be a hundred I will never forget what happened then. It may seem like nothing to you, the reader, but it is only because I am not gifted enough to convey in writing what happened. "Schafe" turned to me and smiled. That's all. He just smiled. But in that smile was an entire book of emotions and meanings. It was a smile that only true friends who share a great love of bowhunting might understand. It was the most awesome smile I have ever seen.... filled with power, joy, life, and excitement. We never said a word. I just smiled back at him and we jogged towards' the bull's location.
We sort of took turns on the elk. One of us would drop into a set up and the other would back off and call. This time it was my turn to set up as the shooter. The bull was at the head of a little draw above us. The wind was perfect. I set up in some lodgepole and "Schafe" dropped down below me about 40 yards and set up in some little "Christmas" trees to call.
"Schafe" let out a bugle and the bull went ballistic. Suddenly I saw those black legs coming down the slope above me. Then the entire bull appeared. It was awesome! He was covered in mud and had clumps of mud hanging from his rack. There was a fire in his eye! He came on and "Schafe" squealed out another challenge and began raking brush and breaking large sticks. Instead of coming down the draw where he should have, the bull circled some deadfall and came right at me. Suddenly he was SEVEN FEET ...broadside. I began to move my elbow, drawing the bow, and the bull exploded! He was thirty feet away in one jump before I could even draw.
Two more leaps and he stopped... right in front of "Schafe"...and looked back up the hill to see what had spooked him. True story..I promise...I can vividly remember whispering to myself, "Dumb move..." As I finished the word, "Move," I distinctly heard "Twangthunk," and in what seemed slow motion, and arrow slithered out the rib cage of the bull on my side of him. He did about three jumps and flipped over.
As we cleaned and quartered the bull, there were more bulls bugling further out in the basin. We hiked out to get my horse for the packing job the next morning. Now the story gets better.
Next morning found us unloading the horse at daylight and heading into the basin from a new route. It was agreed that I would go ahead and try to bugle elk, while "Schafe" came on with the horse gear. Well, I couldn't find the dead elk. I spent and hour trying to find the carcass. Nothing looked right from the direction we came into the basin. Finally, I recognized a tree and found the bull. As soon as I got to him, three different bulls started bugling down on the bottom of the basin. I took off.
I had one of the bulls really cranked and his bugle sounded like that of a mature bull. I started calling and working in on him. Soon he was "in my lap." I was well hidden and when he turned broadside looking for the other bull who had ticked him off, I drilled him (with my Schafer recurve, of course). I bugled several times in a row, which was our signal for an elk down. Never heard a peep from "Schafe." I cleaned and quartered the bull and headed back to "Schafe's" bull. This time I easily found his bull. No "Schafe." No horse tracks. Hmmmm.
I went back to the truck. Some hours later I was awakened by tapping on the window. There was "Schafe" with a horse and some meat on the saddle. He looked pretty wrung out.. and very sheepish! Seems he couldn't find the elk either. So he started making big circles. Soon he found horse tracks and wondered whose they were, since he knew he hadn't been there before. As he followed them, he found a very familiar looking ax in the trail. When we went to tie it on the saddle with the one already had there, he realized that it was our ax.
"Schafe" decided to climb a tree and get a look around. He did and thought he recognized a ridge or two. Wrong ridge. Now he headed the other way. As he plodded along he noticed a nice looking recurve bow laying on the ground at the base of the pine tree. HMMM. Who would leave a nice recurve like that out here? At that point he realized he was no longer carrying a bow, but was sure he had been when he left the truck. Finally, after six hours fumbling around in thick timber and blow-down, "Schafe" found his elk, but I wasn't there, so he assumed I must be off after elk.
Story doesn't end there. We went back and got the rest of his elk that evening. Next morning we went back in and packed mine out. My Appaloosa, Smokey, was acting up and wouldn't step out with the load. "Schafe", who was a very experienced horseman, was behind Smokey and gave him a kick in the buns to speed him up. Smokey kicked back and took "Schafe" in the knee cap.. sounded like a pistol shot! "Schafe" went down like he was pole-axed. I knew his knee was shattered! After writhing around a few minutes, "Schafe" got up limped over to Smokey, and just stared into his eyes for about a minute. Smokey headed fir the truck like a stripped-assed ape. What would have meant surgery for a normal mortal, showed up as a bruise on "Schafe."
"Schafe" knew nothing about fear. He was the bravest person I have ever known. He hated the word, "Macho," yet he was more of a "Man" than any other person I have known. He was hunting sheep and grizzly in British Columbia with the same guide who had been with us on our first hunt together. He worked in on a large grizz in some thick willows. The bear was feeding on some berries or something. "Schafe" drilled the bear dead center through the lungs. The bear roared, spun around a couple of times, and charged! I mean, flat-out charged! Paul had nocked a second arrow. When the bear was about 7 yards out, he shot. The arrow went in next to the eye, down through the lower jaw, and into the chest cavity. The second arrow turned the bear and he was already beginning to go down about forty yards out, when Johnny, the Indian guide, cut loose with the 30-30. They found the bullet flattened out against the bear's shoulder blade when they cleaned the bear. "Schafe" could easily have hidden that fact and entered the huge boar in the books, but that wasn't the way he did things. Since there was the bullet in the bear, regardless of the fact that the bear was killed with an arrow, "Schafe" would not claim it as a bow kill.
The most impressive story I ever heard about Paul's bowhunting prowess happened to him in Africa. Paul had sort of been asked to go to Zimbabwe to hunt the dangerous game and see if it could be done with bow arrow. His reputation, which by now was world wide, was such that he was the one approached to try for cape buffalo. "Schafe" ended up in the middle of a huge herd of buffalo, hunkered down in the grass. After lying there for a considerable amount of time with buffalo as close as five yards, he finally had a shot at one of three immense bulls. He drove the arrow completely through the overlapping ribs and into the "goodies." The huge bull went 80 yards and piled up! The cape buffalo is probably the toughest animal to take with a bow. They are also the most dangerous. According to the folks I talked to, this bull may have been the largest taken in all Africa in the last ten years.
Two days after "Schafe" killed his buffalo, he and his guide were driving along and saw a large lioness cross the road in front of them. They didn't have a lion tag, but wanted to get some footage of the cat, if possible. The guide grabbed his rifle and "Schafe" grabbed his video camera. He checked the battery, saw that it was dead, and realized his guide had already headed into the bush. "Schafe" grabbed his bow and followed.
"Schafe" stepped into a clearing and saw two things. He saw his guide was off to his right. Then he saw the lion rise up out of the grass and charge him. He held his ground and threw the arrow on the string. The guide threw his rifle up. The lion saw the movement and turned in mid-charge and came for the guide. The guide fired and apparently grazed the lion...then the lion was on him! The lion pinned him against a tree with his rifle between them. The guide was left handed and having trouble getting the bolt worked while fighting off the cat.
Without even thinking about it, "Schafe" drew and shot and put the arrow right through both lungs of the lion. The lion didn't seem phased and continued severely mauling the guide, who by now had finally cleared the bolt and rammed another round into the chamber. The bullet went into the lion's jaw, breaking it, and out of the side of the skull. "Schafe," meanwhile, nocked another arrow and tried for a second shot. He couldn't get a clear shot and ran over to pull the lion off the guide. Before he got to it, the lion dropped down and ran off, by now badly hurt. "Schafe" took a long running shot, drove the arrow into the hip of the lion, and on out the front shoulder. The lion piled up. "Schafe" scooped up the badly injured guide, threw him over his shoulder and ran to the truck. His incredible bravery and quick thinking saved the guide's life and made Schafer the talk of southern Africa. I admit teasing him about shooting lions over bait!
Four years ago, "Schafe" and I had a falling out. To this day, I don't know what went wrong. I never stooped being his friend, though. I had hoped that we would get to sit down and hash out whatever it was that screwed up our friendship. It didn't happen that way, and I will be eternally be sorry that we didn't patch things up. The amount of respect and admiration I had for Paul Schafer is beyond calculation.
Last week, Barry Wensel called me and I knew from the sound of his voice that something was very wrong. He told me that Paul Schafer had been killed a couple hours earlier in a freak skiing accident. I was shattered! Words can never say the sorrow and loss that I feel. There are many great bowhunters out there. There are some who are truly great and there are some that have been "made" great by the media. There is not really any way to rate greatness in bowhunting. Certainly, heads in the record book do not make bowhunters great...just known. My opinion? For what it's worth? I have had the good fortune to meet and know some of the best bowhunters of our times. I believe in my heart that Paul Schafer was the greatest bowhunter to ever walk the earth! There was nothing he couldn't do with the bow and no game he couldn't successfully hunt with it. I will miss him beyond measure. All of us who truly love bowhunting have lost something in Paul Schafer's passing.
Paul didn't leave much behind, materially. He did, however leave the thing he treasured most in his life; his son, Hunter. Hunter Schafer is three years old and almost sure to follow in his father's footsteps. A special trust fund has been established for Hunter and donations in Paul's memory would be greatly appreciated. HUNTER SCHAFER TRUST , Piper Jaffrey c/o Mike Carter, po box 229, GreatFalls, MT 59403