Bowhunter Aug/Sept 1993 issue
Gone but not forgotten, bowhunter Paul Schafer made history by helping to open Zimbabwe to the sport he loved.
By Paul Schafer
Editor's Note: Before he met his untimely death last January in a skiing accident not far from his kalispell, Montana home, 44-year-old bowyer Paul Schafer wrote the following account of one of his most memorable bowhunting adventures especially for readers of this magazine. Ever modest and soft spoken, he simply presented a handwritten account of his stalk for a Cape Buffalo- along with a handful of photos- and asked for assistance in preparing the manuscript for publication. It and the accompanying piece which describes his face-to-face confrontation with the charging African lion earlier on that same Zimbabwe bowhunt, were to have been among the first of a number of bowhunting adventures he planned to share. Now, unfortunately, they must serve as a final remembrance of a man known by his peers as one of the best bowhunters to ever come to full draw.
A molten African sun scalded my exposed skin, drenching my clothing with sweat as I inched across burning sands, pushing my bow ahead of me while belly-crawling toward the herd of Cape buffalo bedded less than 70 yard ahead. Only two days of my 1989 Zimbabwe adventure remained. This could be my last chance to take a buffalo with my bow. Con Van Wyk, my professional hunter, and I had left Victoria Falls about 3:30 a.m. to meet up with a game warden and professional hunter prior to this days hunt. Con had been working long and hard with the Zimbabwe Parks and Game Department to legalize bowhunting in this part of Africa. Back then special permission from the government was necessary to bowhunt Zimbabwe and we were finally given a green light to attempt to take a Cape buffalo. The government officials accompanying us would be videotaping my stalk and the shot to see if such dangerous African game could be effectively stopped with a bow and arrow. make no mistake, Cape buffalo can kill you. When wounded, they become doubly dangerous. Because a bowhunter must get close before releasing an arrow- and because even a mortally hit buffalo might remain on it's feet for a matter of moments-the danger in hunting these huge beasts is very real. These thoughts kept coming to mid as I eased closed to the black shapes just ahead. Tom Sander, a good friend of mine from Montana, once told me of a test he'd conducted after dropping a Cape buffalo with his rifle during an earlier trip to Africa. Curious about how well an arrow might penetrate a big bull's rib cage, Tom had used his 90-lb. compound bow to shoot several arrows into the propped up bull. The broadheads didn't even penetrate the chest cavity after striking the bull's heavy hide and large ribs. While Tom's informal penetration test could hardly be called conclusive, I couldn't help but recall his words. Regardless, I had complete faith in my hunting setup. I was carrying a 90-lb. recurve bow of my own design. My 29-inch arrows were a combination of 2117 aluminum shafts with 1916 shafts inserted in them to create a heavy arrow weighing between 800 and 900 grains for increased penetration capability. Two-blade broadheads, carefully honed not only on the cutting edge but on the backside of the head as well, completed my gear package.
My throat was dry. Trying to swallow, I fought down a sudden urge to cough. At this point I scant yards away from bedded buffalo and one false move- or noise-could end this stalk in a heartbeat. The big bull I wanted was still 40 yards away. Suddenly a bull just ahead of me stood, slowly turned a walked to a nearby clump of brush, hooking at the clump with his horns. This captured the attention of the other nearby buffalo. As they watched him I bellied closed to the huge bull only to be stopped short by an alert cow. She apparently caught a movement and stood, staring suspiciously in my direction from only 15 yards away.
I froze, staring at the cow out of the corner of my eye, waiting for her to make the next move. Minutes dragged. The heat was nearly unbearable. When I began to think I was not going to get my chance after all, the cow looked away and I gathered myself for the shot. Unsnapping an arrow from my bow quiver, I nocked it and peered ahead, searching out the big bull. He was less than 20 yards away, bedded in the shade of a large bush. At least another 80 buffalo were bedded or standing within my line of sight.
Glancing back at the suspicious cow, I saw her boring holes through me with a gaze from dark eyes that penetrated me like laser beams. She appeared about ready to explode and once again I froze, waiting to see what she'd do next. She took two steps toward me, then turned and circled away, moving between me and the big bull, staring back at me as she walked. I knew she was trying to get my wind and soon she was standing only 10 yards to my left, the whites of her red rimmed eyes showing and moisture dripping from her broad snout as she peered down on me.
A movement just ahead caught my attention. A good bull, alerted by the cow's action or some slight move I'd made, was circling closer. I'll admit he was a tempting target at under 10 yards but the thought of the huge bull kept me motionless.
Just then the cow whirled and pounded away. Buffalo rose from their beds all around me, milling about. Several black shapes loomed between ma and the bull I wanted. Unaccountably, he remained bedded. When the herd began moving away, I focused all my attention on the bull. he was still bedded, quartering away at a slight angle. I wanted a broadside shot or nothing, fearing his heavy ribs could deflect anything but a perfectly placed arrow. Then he was on his feet, swinging his heavy head from side to side, facing directly away from me. I rose to my knees. As the buffalo started to turn broadside, I came to full draw. Then he was broadside and I let fly. Smack! My arrow took him right behind the shoulder and disappeared to its fletching. Grunting, he thundered off, taking the herd with him. In an instant he was lost in the cloud of choking dust that rose in swirling opaque curtains at least 10 feet high.
I knelt there, unmoving, awestruck. I knew that I had a good hit- almost perfect-but seemed almost too good to be true. After all the doubts...
Suddenly from out of the clouds of dust I could see dozens of dark shapes, materializing shoulder to shoulder, moving my way. I had a fleeting sense of how Custer and his troops must have felt that June day on the eastern Montana plains just before hordes of painted horsemen swarmed over their position.
"Don't move," came the voice of my professional hunter from just behind me.
He needn't have worried. unmoving, I scarcely breathed, merely watching as the buffalo circled past, testing the wind. Minutes slipped by. One cow, apparently catching our scent, abruptly lumbered our way menacing only to spin at 12 yards and pound away. After a time the herd dispersed and we took up the trail of the stricken bull.
He had only made it 80 yards but what happened after my arrow struck was lost from my view among the dust raised by hooves of milling buffalo. It wasn't until we viewed the videotape that we could see the devastating effects of my arrow. in less than five seconds the big bull's head was down and 10 seconds later his powerful legs were turning to rubber. Although we didn't see him collapse because of the swirling dust, he surely couldn't have stayed upright very long. I never cease to be amazed by the killing power of a well-placed arrow- and the government officials were suitably impressed as well.
Looking back, I must say that this African experience is one of the top bowhunting thrills I've had and I rate this Cape buffalo as one of the greatest trophies I've been lucky enough to take. The stalk was incredible! Lady luck was on my side that day. The clean killing shot was a bonus. All in all, it was the sort of moment you dream of pulling off- rewarding beyond all words. I still marvel at the chain of events that unfolded that day on the boiling Zimbabwe plains. As for my bull, he weighed nearly a ton. his massive horns had a 41 1/2 inch spread, 17 1/2 inch bases and tip-to-tip measurement (following the curve of the horns) of 89 inches. While I realize my words could never do justice to this experience, I just wanted to share the adventure with other bowhunters.