Weekends never seem to be long enough when hunting with good friends. Actually, this story takes in a long weekend; a Thursday through Sunday bowhunt with my good friend Paul Schafer. At the time it didn’t seem like anything special. The fact we take this sort of stuff for granted bothers me. We need to be thankful for every moment spent with special friends or relatives because nothing is forever. We all need to remember that simple fact more often.
Looking at the calendar of life, I realize it has now been fourteen years since my friend was tragically killed in a skiing accident. It happened on a Monday, January 18, 1993. Just hours after the accident, Steve Carlson, another friend who happened to be on the ambulance crew that day, called to break the bad news to me. Fourteen years. Unbelievable!
In that time, the name Paul Schafer has become a legend in traditional bow hunting circles just as I knew it would. When stories are told over and over around different campfires, facts sometimes get distorted through different storytellers imaginations. In reality, most legends are what they are and who they are because their reputations were built on truth.
If Paul were alive today to read and hear some of the stories told about himself I honestly think he’d laugh. He’d laugh and be a little bit embarrassed at the attention he’s been given. Not because of any untruths, but because people were talking about him. In his own mind, Paul didn’t think he was anything special. He told me that. He also told me he thought he was a “decent” bowhunter but he thought I was a better whitetail hunter. Ha! That’s like Jack Nicklaus telling me he’s a decent golfer but I have a prettier swing. I laughed until I peed my pants on that one.
I don’t intend for this piece to exaggerate the legend of Paul Schafer. I just want to share what a typical hunt with Paul was like. I hope it gives readers a better understanding of what made Paul, the man, tick. I’ll purposely be lengthy in order to better describe each circumstance and bring the entire weekend hunt together as I remember it. But please forgive me on some of the minor details as we’re talking twenty plus years ago. And my memory isn’t so hot anymore.
Paul called me one evening to tell me a rancher friend of his on the Sun River west of Great Falls, Montana wanted us to thin out some deer for management purposes. I don’t recall the year, but I’d guess it was maybe 1984. Back then there were multiple either-sex, either-species (whitetail or mule deer) tags available for various areas. It was the end of November. I had a bunch of deer tags in my pocket. Schaf wrecked his Ford Bronco the week before. He swerved to avoid hitting a deer, rolled the rig and totaled it. I kidded him about needing a ride that weekend.
Wednesday evening I pulled into Schaf’s driveway. We planned to make the two hour drive to the ranch that evening and start hunting Thursday morning.
My arrival at the Schafer residence found Paul scurrying around trying to finish a couple new bows, packing for a four day hunt and halfway cleaning up the house before we left. On one trip past me, he handed me a one piece recurve and said, “Here, take this.” I stood admiring the bow when I read the newly written wording on the riser. It said, “To my good friend Barry Bensel”.
I said “what’s this?” He said, “I made you a new bow for the weekend.” I said, “It says here you made it for Barry Bensel. Who’s Barry Bensel?” He grabbed it out of my hand and read his own words in his own handwriting and said, “Screw it... I was in a rush… Bense”. He used to call me “Wense”, which was obviously short for Wensel. So from that day on he started calling me Bense.
He already had a string on it, set up with string silencers, nocking point and everything. It was ready to go but the finish wasn’t quite dry.
On the way down through the Swan Valley he pointed out where he’d just rolled his Bronco. When we crossed the Continental Divide on Rt. 200 at Rogers Pass I hit a sheet of black ice. I had a full size Chevy Blazer. We skidded broadside down the middle of the highway with a sheer cliff off to our right. When you looked out the right window it felt like you were looking out of the window of an airplane. My rig did a complete 360, then started for a second time around when I got her straightened out. Schaf looked at me with really big eyes and a smile on his face. All he said was “All right!” I said something about being raised in Vermont and living in Montana made me pretty good on ice.
Arriving at the ranch we were greeted by our hosts. It was a big, working ranch that spread up and down several miles of the Sun River. Forgive me, but I’m thinking the owner’s name was McGuiness. We stayed in a ranch house with the owner’s son. If I remember right, his name was John. His mother was Patti. I remember Paul telling me the ranch was for sale and I could either buy the whole thing, or if I’d prefer, just the main house and 20 or 40 acres around it for a couple million. Right then I didn’t have that kind of cash! In fact, if I remember correctly, the ranch was ultimately bought by a paint baron. I’m thinking it was Benjamin Moore but maybe it was Sherwin Williams. It doesn’t matter.
The first afternoon on stand I picked a tree in a narrow spot where the foothills funneled down to the river bottom. John said some of the really big bucks tended to bed up in the coolies and drifted down into the bottoms to chase does at night. About primetime, here came a string of six mulie does and one smiling forkhorn. Since our tags were good for either species/either sex, I picked out a big, fat doe and zapped her. After the dust settled, I could see her white belly laying about fifty yards away.
As I was gathering my stuff to get down from my perch I heard a vehicle. Off in the distance I could see John and Schaf glassing me. I waved them down. They drove up just as I approached the doe. They were both saying, “all right!” when John suddenly stopped and said, “that’s a mulie.” I said, “Yeah, our tags are good for either species. Why?” He then informed me he was brought up on the ranch and had never seen a mulie in the bottoms his whole life. I said, “well you have seven of them.. Well …six now. But I left the forkie to breed.” He just kind of looked at me funny.
The next day I shot another doe. A whitetail this time. That evening as we were showering, John came by and said his mother was having a get together at the big house that night and wanted Schaf and I to stop by. We were a little hesitant because all we had to wear were blue jeans and camo. But he insisted, so we agreed we’d stop by for a little while.
Now you have to picture this. Here’s a party at the landowner’s multi-million dollar home with all the guests decked out in sport jackets and tweed except for Schaf and I in jeans and camo. A pretty cowgirl gave me a quick tour of the house that included a pool, library and game room. I noticed Schaf talking to a distinguished looking gentleman when I saw him wave me over. He introduced me to the man whose name was Ray Goff. He was from St.Louis, Missouri. Schaf said he worked for Budweiser. I figured that was why there were multiple cases of Bud sitting around everywhere.
Anyway, this gets good. Apparently this Goff fellow was telling Schaf about seeing a recent hunting video where this bowhunter shot not one but two bucks on the run with his recurve. Schaf casually pointed to me standing across the room and said, “Yeah. That was Wense.” Think about that. Here’s this guy telling Paul about a video he’d seen in St. Louis months before and there’s the guy he’s talking about standing across the room from him. Small world.
Mr. Goff was really impressed. He said he’d never bow hunted but always wanted to. He said he’d shot a bow some but didn’t have the time to get into it. We invited him to join us the next morning as we intended to do some short pushes after our morning sits.
I hate to admit I can’t remember exactly how it all happened but I put Ray Goff on stand and then pushed a river bottom willow bar to him. Low and behold he got his first deer with a bow. I approached Ray, who was standing frozen with an arrow on the string with the still somewhat alive deer bedded 30 feet away. Poor Ray was shaking like Jon Voight in that scene from Deliverance. I took him by the arm and quietly walked him up to about ten feet from the deer, close enough where I knew he couldn’t miss and let him finish it off. I said something about him no longer being a bow hunting virgin. Schaf looked at me funny. We were all laughing and patting each other on the backs when the realization came that it was time to field dress the deer.
Ray pulled out his knife and gamely said he’d do it. His heart was in it. But when I saw the shaking knife in his hand, I figured I’d better do it so no one got their wrists sliced in the process. Ray gladly stepped aside when I offered.
Since there was just a skiff of snow on the ground, after I finished the field dressing chores I wiped my bloody hands in some snow, shook the water off and knowing he worked for Budweiser turned to him and said, “It’s Miller time!” I noticed Schaf gave me another funny look, then we all started laughing and dragging.
Later that evening Paul said to me, “ I can’t believe you told Ray Goff it’s Miller time.” I said, “Are you telling me a guy who works for Budweiser wouldn’t sip a Miller if he was thirsty?” Schaf said.. and I’ll never forget this quote, “ He doesn’t WORK for Budweiser. He’s executive Vice-President of Anhauser-Busch.” Whooops……
It was fact. Several months later I was reading a magazine and there was a photo of my new buddy Ray Goff handing over a $800,000. donation check to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Somehow I just knew the recipient didn’t look Ray Goff in the eye and say, “It’s Miller time.”
Actually Ray Goff and I visited periodically via phone for years after. I
tried to get him to bottle red beer. In Montana, or just about anywhere out west for that matter, you can go into any bar and ask for a red beer. That’s a draft beer with an inch or two of tomato juice mixed in. Actually you can make it with tomato juice, bloody Mary mix or my personal favorite, Clamato juice. It goes down smooth. My idea was for Budweiser to bottle it in long necked dark bottles and call it
Budweiser Redneck. Ray said he thought the tomato juice would settle. I told him that was the beauty of the whole thing. A guy would have to shake the bottle in order to mix the beer and tomato juice. Then, when he popped the cap half the bottle would foam up and run all over the place. It’d be great for laughs but the consumer would have to buy twice as much beer to get a buzz. Brilliant! Ray said he’d let me know. That was twenty plus years ago. I’m still waiting impatiently.
That afternoon we put on a few more pushes. In fact, Jim Dean, an excellent whitetail bowhunter from Michigan stopped by. Jim ran a cherry orchard by profession. After his cherry harvest he was able to spend months in Montana chasing critters. I recall he killed two Boone and Crockett class bucks with his bow in Montana during previous years. In fact, I think he might have been the first guy to ever kill two Booners with a bow.
Schaf had his 16 mm camera along. He filmed me shooting another whitetail on the run that afternoon. I’ve never seen the footage to this day but he was behind me filming when I shot it. I suppose it’s out there somewhere. Schaf took a bunch of great 16 mm footage over the years that included Alaskan bowhunts, elk hunts, goat hunts, several sheep hunts, etc. It’s all out there somewhere. What a shame it hasn’t been handed down or come to the surface through the years.
By Sunday I was feeling pretty good. I’d shot three deer and Schaf shot one. Sunday morning he shot another. Then in the afternoon he asked me to push a little patch of timber to him. As I approached the area of his stand, I looked up and saw Schaf waving me over. He was giving me hand signals. When I got to about forty yards he signaled me to stop and look down. There on the ground was a bloody shaft. I stood there as he climbed down from the tree and walked over. He said, “This is where he was standing.” I said, “Schaf… that’s a hell of a shot.” To which he casually and nonchalantly answered, “What do you mean? It’s only about forty yards.” Yeah… it was only about forty yards.
That evening we drove home with six tagged deer crammed into the back of my Blazer. After we got to his house, unloaded his gear and his three deer into his garage, he shook my hand, put his other hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye and said, “It’s Miller time.”
I really do miss the man.
[ January 23, 2007, 04:01 PM: Message edited by: Terry Green ]
Posts: 1123 | From: Lineville, Iowa | Registered: Jul 2003
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-------------------- What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.
Crowfoot, Blackfoot warrior and orator Posts: 635 | From: NJ | Registered: Jun 2003
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Barry, Thanks for sharing. Great read.I have his picture in a place of honor on my wall of fame in my game room..next to yours. Rich Lopez
Posts: 2517 | From: baltimore, md. | Registered: Mar 2004
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