No one survives a cape buffalo attack, but miracles happen.
If they didn't, Larry Trotter II would have been stomped to death by a one-ton cape buffalo in South Africa.
Miracles come from God, said Trotter, and that's whom he thanks.
"This is not about broken bones or buffalo, it's about being saved by an angel and prayers being answered," Trotter said.
It was July 3, his first day of an African safari where he was supposed to be archery hunting Africa's version of elk and deer. His professional hunting guides convinced him that adding a cape buffalo hunt to his trip was a good idea.
His 25-day hunt lasted 20 minutes. For 20 seconds of those 20 minutes he was nearly killed by a cape buffalo.
Trotter is semi-retired and decided it was the time to cross a few things off his bucket list, including an African safari.
He and his brother Rob own TNT Ranch south of Gypsum and run Trotter Real Estate. The family started skiing Vail in 1965. This winter will be Larry's 25th season teaching private ski lessons with Vail Resorts.
He was one of the strong young bucks who cut down trees to clear a path for Interstate 70 over Vail Pass. He and a friend set a world rowing record July 6, 1973, in Henley, England where the Olympics are right now.
He's 6 feet 4inches, 220 solid pounds and has never broken a bone in his 58 years on this earth.
"But I've never been attacked by a cape buffalo before," he said.
Cape buffalo are massive and wake up in the middle of the night wishing they were meaner than they already are, and getting their wish.
The crew of six guides and four professional hunters located one and stalked it to within 49 yards. But there was too much acacia brush to get a clear shot.
"I told them I wasn't going to wound a cape buffalo and have it charge me," Trotter said.
One well-placed arrow in the heart and lungs will take it down, but without a clear shot it won't be well placed, Trotter said.
The buffalo trotted off and they stalked it to within 100 yards the second time.
The third time they stalked to within 40 yards and that's when life changed and would have ended if not for divine intervention, Trotter said.
The buffalo spotted them and turned 90 degrees to face them. It snorted and charged.
Trotter was standing in the open, preparing to uncork an arrow at the buffalo when he clearly heard the first of what he said were three angel voices that saved his life.
He said that first voice clearly told him, "Get rid of your bow and arrow, turn around and run as fast as you can."
"I didn't argue," Trotter said.
He said he knew he couldn't outrun the thing, but maybe he could cut its momentum, maybe he could give himself a chance to live.
"I knew I couldn't out-run it and I thought I was going to die," Trotter said.
It was 80 degrees and everyone in the hunting party had given him their extra clothes and water bottles to stuff into his backpack to carry.
"He hit that backpack and crushed the water bottles, but if they hadn't been in there he would have broken my spine," Trotter said.
The pack disintegrated, but it had saved him from the impact that launched him 15 feet and sent him crashing to the ground on all fours.
The buffalo was momentarily distracted by Trotter's daypack and gear that had broken off from his backpack when it first charged him.
A water buffalo tears you to pieces with its horns then stomps you to make sure you're dead, and that's what it was doing with his daypack.
The second charge came with his back to the buffalo. It hooked his left arm and flipped him into the air like a rag doll.
"On that second charge I just remember the crushing blow from my left. I heard the bones breaking and felt the bones breaking. I blacked out and thought I'd died," Trotter said.
Two inches back and the horn would have gone into his heart and he'd have been dead before he hit the ground, he said.
He quickly regained consciousness, and felt enveloped in a bright light. He thought he might have been on his way to heaven.
He snapped back to reality and found himself lying on his back facing the beast again.
His backpack sat him up so he could see the buffalo coming for the third charge. He crab-walked backwards on his right hand and his butt as fast as he could.
"I could feel the bones grating and grinding," Trotter said.
He says he heard a second voice command him to put his boots on the beast's horns and push away. He did, and that kept his chest and head away from the buffalo's trampling feet and crushing and tearing horns.
"That voice, during that third attack, saved my life because it gave the four professional hunters time to fire shots with elephant guns, dropping the buffalo vertically to the ground," Trotter said.
Elephant gun cartridges are six inches long. The hunters pounded that buffalo nine times.
It fell with its nose just 12 inches from his boots, rather than falling on top of him and crushing him to death.
"I'm watching the bullets hit, the blood flying only 5 feet away," Trotter said.
A professional hunter named Abrie ran around and fired the ninth elephant gun blast into the buffalo's brain box, and Trotter's near-death experience was over.
"Abrie told me he saw a pillar of light surrounding me during the third charge with an angel above my head. He said the dark beast could not penetrate the light as the angel fought the beast. I thought I'd died and this was heaven. I could only see it from inside the light. I remember everything being bright," Trotter said.
The outfitter hit the buffalo in the spine with the eighth shot that dropped it.
"Larry, are you all right?" the outfitter screamed.
Trotter is an Eagle Scout and has all kinds of first aid training. He was a pre-medical student. He knew the answer.
"I don't think so!" he answered.
Ten people witnessed it and said he did exactly the right things at exactly the right times.
"The thing is, I was only doing what I was being told," Trotter said.
The whole thing is on video. It's 30 seconds from the bull's snort and first charge without warning, to Abrie's ninth shot into the beast's brain box.
It ends with Trotter's body broken and bloody, but he's alive and assessing injuries, holding his broken and dislocated left arm and crying with overflowing humbleness and thankfulness to God for sparing his life.
Trotter said that a third voice also made itself pretty clear: "No more extreme pursuits. Focus on faith and family."
After hours of ambulance and plane rides, two of the best doctors in Africa were unable to put Trotter back together. He spent five hours in surgery in Capetown and came out with titanium plates and eight screws.
He called his friend, who he had given medical power of attorney and they arranged for an emergency seat on a flight back to the United States. The Steadman Clinic shoulder specialist Dr. Peter Millett went to work on him, removed all the hardware installed in Capetown and reconstructed Trotter's shoulder. It took about four hours.
"I'm back here under the best care in the world. You don't realize it until you don't have it," Trotter said.
There's no infection so far and they're praying there won't be any.
He's heard from people around the world who are praying for him. The power of healing prayer is real and it's accelerating his recovery, he said.
Back at the hunting lodge, after it was over, the guides ran a battery down in the video player watching the attack over and over. Trotter watched it three times, then had four or five filet mignon steaks from the beast that tried to kill him.
He was in church Sunday with Father Keith Brooks who talked about miracles, pointing out that Trotter is one.
"Maybe God spared me to be more than semi-retired," Trotter said.
His four children are grown and strong-minded. They did a little research and found that more than 200 hunters are killed each year by a cape buffalo.
"Why did you do that?" they asked incredulously.
Maybe to snap his life into focus, maybe to be more than a successful semi-retired business owner, maybe because this is a story that needs to be told.
God only knows, Trotter said.
"It's an absolute, for a fact, true miracle. Lots of people believe in miracles and here was an angel saving my life," Trotter said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.