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Memories of Paul Schafer - Gene Wensel

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Memories of Paul Schafer
                     By Gene Wensel

   I turned sixty years old last October. Some say memory is the second thing to go when old age sets in. In my case its apparently the first. I can’t really remember the first time I met Paul Schafer. He was one of those type friends who seemed always to be there. I know it was in the early 70’s, before he built his first bow. Jack Whitney of Bigfork, Montana had taught Bob Savage, of Bozeman, how to build beautiful recurve bows. Bob in turn taught Paul what he knew. Paul went to college at Montana State University and knew Bob for many years. Volumes could be written about Bob Savage and Jack Whitney as pioneers in bowhunting.

  I will be the first to admit that Paul and I were never what many would consider close friends. We were good friends but my brother Barry spent a lot more time with him and knew what made him tick a lot better than I did. Paul and I actually hunted together probably less than a dozen times during the years I knew him. Lots more time was spent in various other places. Restaurants, bars, at banquets, camps, friend’s homes, Paul’s home, schools, etc.

  I’m not going to write this piece as a laid out story, as it would be very hard to weave the incidents together to make much sense. Instead, my plan is to fire off short segments and observations about the man.
  The legend of Paul Schafer has grown since his death over ten years ago. In many ways it has taken on a life of its own. He was not a god nor any sort of superman, but a human being just like the rest of us. He had weaknesses as well as strong points. His many friends can attest to that fact. Schaf had a lot of friends. Many were not even bowhunters. Family was very important to him. He also had a special place in his heart for youngsters. When my son took his first buck with a bow, Ken got a personal handwritten letter from Paul congratulating him. I’m sure others did as well. He loved to spend time with young people. Many years ago while stranded in a tent for days in the Canadian wilderness, he reminded me how lucky I am to have a great family. He told me that someday having his own son was one of his biggest dreams.
  Paul had deep feelings for all his friends. In many ways he considered them part of his family. He always worried about relationships. Paul had a daughter earlier in life. He didn’t get to share her youth. That bothered him immensely. Family and friends were very important to him. He broke down the day he called to tell me his friend Dave Gustafson was killed in a plane crash.
  Paul was a natural athlete. His hand/eye coordination was second to none and he had superb musculature to go with it. I’ll leave it up to someone else to tell of his football and wrestling feats. He was as good at anything physical as a human can get. When packing in for a hunt, Schaf’s packframe always weighed twice as much as anyone else’s. Even on a dance floor you couldn’t help but watch him. Many people don’t know he started to play professional football. He quit when he realized he wasn’t having fun when football became a business. He was a world class wrestler. Schaf was never pinned during eight years of high school and college wrestling. Paul once wrestled Dan Gable’s favorite sparring partner in front of Gable’s coach during college. The coach commented that if anyone in the world could beat Dan Gable it was Paul Schafer.

  Many years ago Paul and I were laying in a tent on the top of the Funeral Range in Canada’s Northwest Territories, waiting out thick fog and clouds that limited our visibility to feet. Paul had killed a beautiful ram the week before I got there. When the outfitter suggested Paul be my guide rather than one of his paid guides, I jumped at the chance. Not only did I prefer being guided by a buddy, but being guided on a Dall sheep hunt by the likes of Paul Schafer was a stroke of great luck. He loved the mountains and knew sheep. What we hadn’t banked on was so much bad weather. We were socked in for many days of my hunt, with nothing much to do but wait for the weather to clear and talk about life in general. One day we happened to be talking about track and field for some reason. I commented that I had gone to high school with a kid who ran a hundred yards in 9.6 seconds during his sophomore year. Almost under his breath, Paul said, “Man, I didn’t hit 9.6 until I was in college.”  
I said, “What? You ran a hundred yards in 9.6?”
“Ya, but I always burnt out after fifty yards. Matter of fact, when I was in college, some guy came by with a set of what were then brand new electronic starting blocks. My fifty yard time matched Bob Haye’s best time but Hayes could keep it up for a hundred yards while I burnt out every time.”

  When Buckmasters first got started, they invited a bunch of celebrities, athletes and “name” bowhunters down for a January deer hunt at Southern Sportsman’s Lodge in Alabama. How’s this for a “mixed company” group? Paul, Barry and I, Ben Lee, Tink Nathan, Bob Fratzke and Noel Feather were the invited bowhunters. Bo Jackson was there too. Bo was in his prime. One day I suggested a 100 yard dash between Bo Jackson and Paul Schafer. Paul turned down the opportunity, saying he was “too old for that kind of stuff.” Paul had ten years on Bo but I guarantee it would have been a hell of a race. We did have a shooting competition for anyone who wanted to shoot. Lots of guys participated. Deer 3D targets were placed every ten yards from 10, 20, 30, out to 100 yards. If you missed the kill zone one time you were eliminated. At fifty yards, Noel Feather and Paul Schafer were the only two left. Both double lunged their 3D deer. The same thing happened at 60 yards. They both did it again at 70 yards. At 80 yards, you could have cut the tension in the air with a knife. Paul shot first, hitting the 80 yard deer probably an inch below the heart but just out of the edge of the kill zone. Noel was shooting his compound, decked out with all the bells and whistles. He held at full draw for a long time. When he released, his arrow hit dead center. Paul shook Noel’s hand and walked away. In my heart I knew Paul Schafer won.

  Paul was blessed with natural strength. He could put an arrow on the string and come to full draw with both arms extended straight out if front of him. Try that sometime. Paul had three sisters, Joan, Peggy and Ann. Peggy was into body building. One time I was in a grocery store with Paul. We were standing near the magazine rack when Paul said, “Hey, that’s my little sister.” I turned around expecting to meet someone but found him pointing to Peggy’s picture on the front cover of Muscle and Fitness magazine.

  During our hunt for Dall sheep, the outfitter dumped us on the top of a mountain with only freeze-dried food. We expected to find water up there but there was none. On the fourth day, I put a stick of gum in my mouth. It crumbled dry. I was so dehydrated I was out of saliva. I even quit sweating. I’ve never been thirstier in my life. Something needed to be done. We looked down to the valley below us. A boulder the size of a house was barely visible. Paul said, “I guess I better go get us some water.” He took off with an empty pack on a frame that we lined with several plastic garbage bags we happened to have with us. I watched with binoculars until he went out of sight. Hours before I expected him back, he climbed up out of that hole with close to a hundred pounds of water on his back. End of problem.

  A week or so later, the outfitter found a hole in the clouds and landed his Super Cub to take us out. While still rolling to a stop on the ridge top, one of the plane’s wheels hit something solid, tipping it forward onto its nose while the prop was still spinning. Rocks and sod flew everywhere until it suddenly choked out. Paul grabbed the tail of the plane and pulled it down to the ground, then ran up to the front to check the prop for damage. He and the outfitter reefed on it pretty hard, then said, “let’s go!” Since Paul had his pilot’s license and the Super Cub was small enough to require two trips, I volunteered to watch the two of them take off first. At least thats what I told them. The real reason was that I wanted that prop tested before I climbed on board!

  We only got to hunt three days of the entire trip due to weather and fog/clouds that limited seeing more than fifty yards or so. I had stalks on good rams all three days. Paul chewed my ass on our first hunting day when I allowed myself to be skylined while moving across a ridge. I hadn’t hunted sheep before and didn’t think cresting a hill was any big deal with no sheep in sight but apparently it is. Another day we spotted three nice rams on a hillside below a saddle on a ridge. The plan was for Schaf to go around the mountain and pop up into view on the other side of the rams to encourage them to head for the pass where I waited in ambush. An hour later I saw Paul skylined. The sheep took off, but instead of heading for the pass, they ran uphill. Schaf took off like a racehorse. I’ve never seen anyone run uphill that fast in my life. For  a minute there it looked like he was going to pass the sheep. He did in fact turn them but they still passed out of range. Nice try. I wish I would have got it on film.

  Paul loved the mountains. He could run through them. Before he climbed down for the water, we were looking for pockets or a spring somewhere on top. We had separated for several hours. Suddenly I thought I saw movement a long way off on another finger ridge. My binoculars proved it to be Paul coming in my direction. I figured it would take him a half hour or so to get to me so I laid down to rest. A couple minutes later he was standing beside me, not even out of breath. No way he could have come that far in that time. I thought we had visitors. I said, “Hey, I just saw another guy over on that ridge over there.”  Paul said, “that was me.” I said, “No, this was only a couple of minutes ago.” Paul said, “Ya, that was me. No water over there either.”

  Schaf was one tough hombre. One time I killed a deer. I was dressing it when Schaf decided to show me his way of splitting the pelvis. His hands were wet. The knife handle slipped, rolling in his hand, making a deep cut into the meaty part of the hand at the base of his left thumb. I knew it was going to require stitches but he refused. He didn’t want to take the time or mess up the rest of the hunt so he stopped the bleeding by pinching it closed for a half hour or so, then cleaned the wound and finished up his doctoring with a piece of duct tape. Duct tape!

  Paul had bad luck with trophies. His biggest Stone sheep (43”) was stolen out of a taxidermy shop while being mounted. Another time he killed an absolute monster mule deer buck. He packed part of the meat out. When he went back for the head and the remainder of the meat, he found from tracks where someone on a trail bike had stolen it. Some of Paul’s mounts are on display in the Great Falls, Montana airport. Others are scattered among family and friends. Paul didn’t enter many trophies into record books. His home was always well kept and decorated with fine wildlife or western art, scrimshaw, bronzes, etc.

  Paul was a good cook. Some of us called him “Chef Schaf.” I remember one meal we had during an elk hunt in central Montana. I had killed a bull that morning. Paul cut the back straps into cubes and deep fried them fondue style. He made a dipping sauce by mixing orange marmalade with high octane horseradish. Each meat cube was cooked, then dipped in the sauce, then rolled in sesame seeds to add crunch and a mild nut flavor. It was a meal fit for kings, even more impressive considering it was all done on top of a mountain in an elk camp. Paul Brunner was along on that hunt, as was Schafer’s sister Annie. The next day the Dwarf made a trip down to the Missouri River. He came back with a giant cooler filled with fresh crawdads. We ate boiled crawdads ala Brunner that night and fresh doughnuts made from scratch on the campfire the next morning. Not your average mountain meals.
  Schaf loved to take pictures. This was before video cameras came onto the scene. He used both 8mm and 16mm cameras to record elk, moose, sheep and just about anything he had a chance to get the lens onto. He took quite a bit of elk footage with the Elmer brothers in the back country of Arizona. He filmed his good friend the late Bart Schleyer killing a big brown bear in Alaska. He filmed Lee Poole stalk a world record ram during a bighorn sheep hunt in Montana. He took footage of his cape buffalo, mountain goats, Alaskan moose, cougar, and Sitka blacktails.
  Paul practiced religiously at long range. His opinion was that if he could shoot well at longer ranges, anything inside the thirty yard line was a chippy shot. His personal bows were almost all over 80 pounds at 28”. He shot with an elevated rest and used a high anchor point, coming past his anchor, then locking in. His aluminum arrows were cut an inch longer because of this. They were fletched with vanes rather than feathers and tipped with Zwickey Eskimos. He could give good reasoning why he used what he did. Except in cold weather, he always carried his binoculars tucked inside his shirt.

  Paul Schafer would have made a great soldier. He was “a few good men” all by himself. But more than his hunting and shooting ability, more than the craftsmanship he put into his bows, more than his love of family and friends, more than his integrity and honesty, he had heart. He made better people out of all those whose lives he touched. He is gone but not forgotten. His spirit will live on in each of us who love to draw a tight string. In the woods, on the prairies, in the mountains, in our everyday lives, I can still see Schaf smile with that twinkle in his eye and say, “That’ll be fine.”

8th Dwarf:
Absolutley right on the spot, Gene!  I remember some of those incidents well.  You forgot to tell them that I called your bull in for you, cleaned it, cut it up, and then packed it out!  I think you have a bit of "Tom Sawyer" in you.  You get me to whitewash that fence every time we go out...and I STILL fall for it!

Great anecdotes...or is that antidotes?  I never can remember.

Too Short

Gene,  That's priceless Bro!

Marc B.:
Thanks Gene!

Thanks Gene.  Memories are a treasure to be taken out and shared.  It's what keeps them alive.
"The Prarrie Dog"


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