When I began researching the life of the late Paul Schafer, I quickly discovered a man who I desperately wish I knew. His simple lifestyle just didn’t jibe with modern society’s dog-eat-dog, get-what-you-can world.
Still, Paul P. Schafer’s ultimate place in bowhunting history would probably be different had he not succumbed to a tragic ski accident on Montana’s Big Mountain, January 18, 1993, at the age of 44. Surely some scribe would have managed to coax a few more words out of Schafer in describing one of his hunting exploits. That, in turn, might have brought manufacturers to his doorstep offering sponsorships, endorsements, and royalties...Nah! Schafer would have graciously declined.
Schafer was a Robin Hood, Boone, Crockett, Pope, and a Young rolled into one: Though he arrowed world-class and state-record big game, he honestly felt the animal, not the hunter, should be given credit for its outstanding physical attributes.
A case in point is the huge Rocky Mountain goat Schafer arrowed after passing up big billy after big billy on a grueling hunt.
“Two months later I put a tape to those horns,” wrote Barry Wensel. “Checking my figures twice, I learned the goat was not only a new Montana state record, but if entered in the records (it) would rank #2 in the world. When I (gave) Paul the news, I’ll never forget his reaction. He simply said, ‘Huh? Good for him.’ ‘Good for who?’ I asked. ‘Good for the goat,’ Paul replied. ‘He’s the one that grew the horns, not me.’”
As a result, that goat isn’t found in any record book. Neither are the bulk of other Schafer trophies.
“Paul worried that putting a number or a ranking on an animal might detract from its inherent worth,” Schafer’s buddy, Matt Riley, explained. “He believed in his heart that every bow kill is a trophy. He entered only a few heads to help out some of the outfitters he hunted with. He was extremely sensitive about giving due respect to [each] animal.”
Here’s another glimpse at the man’s character. It was Christmastime 1991 when a woman visited Schafer’s bow shop. She wanted to buy a “nice” bow for her young son who had expressed an interest in archery. Not having a clue as to the amount of work that went into a $600-plus Schafer Silvertip recurve, she said she had about $35 to spend on his Christmas.
Without hesitating, Schafer replied, “Oh, I’m sure I can build him a really fine bow, ma’am.” And he did—for $35 plus tax.
Born on March 11, 1948, Paul P. Schafer was raised on a wheat farm north of Great Falls, Montana. As a strapping teenager he played as hard as he worked, developing a physique that resembled Tarzan’s. He became a talented wrestler (no one ever pinned him in high school or college) and a feared running back.
At 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, Schafer’s strength was legendary. One time while bear hunting with Scott Koelzer, a flat tire threatened to strand the pair in the middle of nowhere. The spare was useless because of a malfunctioning jack.
“I’ll just lift the car while you change the tire,” Schafer proposed to Koelzer. In no time the duo was back on the road.
Another time Schafer shook bowhunting buddy Gene Wensel upside-down by the ankles, causing loose change to spill out of the pockets of the 250-pound “human bowling ball.”
“Schaf’s upper body strength was amazing,” Wensel recalled. “He was fanatical about his nocking point, so he’d continually draw his 85-pound recurve, then hold it out in front with arms spread apart so he could eyeball the angle of the arrow shaft. And we still talk about the time he downed a dandy bighorn sheep that was about to tumble hundreds of feet over a steep cliff. Well, he dove for the sheep, putting a death-lock on one of its legs while gripping a nearby tree with his other hand to keep his position. Slowly he managed to hoist the 275-pound sheep back on top of the ledge.”
A quiet inner strength propelled his uncompromising pursuit of excellence. Consider the day he set the Bobcats’ rushing record, in which he helped win the game in the waning seconds by carrying the pigskin eight times in a row. One other thing: He scored the winning touchdown in spite of playing the entire second half with a broken collarbone, sprained knee, and twisted ankle.
“He literally cried in the huddle between plays,” recalled Dennis Erickson, former college and NFL coach who was MSU’s quarterback at the time. “Paul Schafer was the toughest man I’ve ever met, on or off a football field. Period.”
Schafer’s inner strength developed on the gridiron helped transform him into a never-give-up bowhunter. On a spot-and-stalk pronghorn hunt, a potential state-record antelope had filled Schafer’s Zeiss binoculars, and he just couldn’t shake the image. A low sun nearly blinded him when he belly-crawled up a narrow rock ledge to glass a distant speck on the horizon for perhaps one more time before nightfall. Schafer squinted at what looked like the biggest pronghorn he’d ever seen!
Somehow he scratched and clawed within range for a last-minute shot. But just as the arrow was about to find its mark, the animal whirled, causing the broadhead to glance off a rear leg. As the antelope loped out of sight, Schafer tried to keep pace until darkness ended the chase.
How long should an ethical bowhunter pursue an animal with a superficial wound? Five miles the following morning? Ten miles or 10 hours, whichever comes first? For Paul Schafer, you “weren’t done till you were done.”
“The correct answer is three days and more than 40 miles,” said eyewitness Tom Sander, longtime friend from Whitefish, Montana. “Paul got that antelope, which was a state record at the time, because he was in a class by himself.”
Part II: African Adventures…