WE LIKELY WERE A RATTY-LOOKING, RAGTAG BUNCH after spending a full week in Colorado’s Book Cliffs chasing velvet-racked muley bucks. Bewhiskered, bleary-eyed and bone-tired, we could have felt out of place within the plush confines of Denver’s towering Regency Rodeway Inn. But we didn’t; the hotel was crawling with other bowhunters.
It was late August of 1972. My hunting partners and I had decided to take in the Pope & Young Club’s eighth biennial convention and awards banquet before heading back home to Indiana. Not only were Don Clark, Bob Schisler and I covering the gathering for our fledgling publication, Bowhunter magazine, but a huge 20-inch black bear I’d arrowed in June of ’71 had earned an Honorable Mention record book award. Earlier, I’d received an invitation to pick up the plaque in person from Pope & Young Club records chairman, Dick Mauch, during the two-day gathering. What better reasons where there to meet and rub shoulders with some of the country’s top bowhunters? None that I could name.
Everywhere we looked in the crowded room were people we knew personally or by reputation. Over there was Pope & Young Club founder Glenn St. Charles talking with Larry Bamford, current Club president and newly named Bowhunter magazine hunting editor. And there was Roy Hoff, Archery Magazine editor and the man who purchased and published my very first bowhunting articles. Beyond Roy were brothers Joe and Jack Jonas of taxidermy fame, and Arthur Young’s grandson, Chuck. And there was Club treasurer Carl Hulbert. G. Fred Asbell and Bob Pitt, too. Goateed Tink Nathan. Steve Gorr. Fellow Hoosier Pat Wolf. Art Kragness. Dr. Lowell Eddy. Doug Kittredge. Jim Dougherty. Doug Walker. Scott Showalter. Norm Goodwin. Astronaut Joe Engle. Judd Cooney. Ron Sniff. Colorado Governor John Love and DOW Director Harry Woodward. Down from Alaska was the Club’s self-appointed curmudgeon, crusty George Moerlein. And, of course, there too was the most famous bowhunter of them all, Fred Bear.
Back in those early days of Pope & Young Club banquets, dinner was strictly cafeteria-style. And after picking up trays and passing through the serving line, we all gravitated to any tables offering empty seats. Among our party that evening was my favorite hunting buddy, Jack Reinhart, and a young Indiana bowhunter, Gary Turpchinoff. Gary readily admitted that he simply idolized Fred Bear. From the very first moment we entered the spacious banquet room, he’d hardly taken his eyes from the lean, jug-eared, chisel-faced man who stood constantly surrounded by old friends and admiring fans.
“I’d sure like to meet Fred Bear,” Gary had said.
“Go on over and introduce yourself,” I’d urged.
“No, I couldn’t,” Gary protested. “I’m nobody.”
“You’re a bowhunter,” I said. “That’s enough.”
Gary remained unconvinced. Despite gentle prodding, he refused to approach the living legend. Later, when we found our seats, it so happened that there was an empty chair beside Gary. Moments later he was stunned to look up as a shadow fell across our table. There, holding a tray, smiling down at us, stood Papa Bear himself.
“Mind if I join you fellas?” Fred asked. Then, after seating himself, he immediately turned his ice-blue eyes directly to Gary, extended a big hand and said, “Hi, my name’s Fred Bear. What’s yours?”
This unlikely yet perfectly timed moment, although occurring more than three decades ago, remains forever etched in my memory as one of my all-time favorite Fred Bear recollections. This was not only a twinkling in time that my young bowhunting friend would forever treasure, it was an instant that I would come to discover was typical of one man who arguably did more to popularize bowhunting than any other single individual living in the 20th century. Fred Bear – gifted draftsman and designer, talented archer and compassionate hunter, consummate storyteller, tireless promoter and eloquent spokesman for all hunting – introduced millions to archery and to bowhunting. Perhaps more importantly, he inspired them – by personal example and the friendly radiance of his familiar toothy smile – to follow in his size 13 footsteps and enter the wondrous and challenging outdoor world he knew and loved.
This is the photo that Fred signed and gave to me the year before he died. I have it
hanging in my office to remind me of the special bowhunter and an Alaskan moose
hunt he made in 1971, the same year I launched Bowhunter magazine. Talk about
IN TRUTH, FRED WASN’T all that much to look at on the hoof. He was mostly lines and angles, what some folks I know would call gawky, and when he faced you his jutting ears reminded me of two car doors some youngsters hurrying into the house had forgotten to close. But the likeable and lanky left-handed shooter always seemed relaxed with himself, comfortable with who and what he was. In turn, you immediately felt at ease with this silver-haired gentleman’s unique appearance, with the man himself.
My first contact with Fred Bear was strictly professional. In early 1971 I’d called his Graying, Michigan, office. I asked Fred to take a look at the future of bowhunting and to offer insights for an editorial piece I was writing at the time. Among other things, he said:
“Today’s social climate has introduced some new factors which might affect bowhunting. First, of course, is the objection to hunting which is exemplified by some of today’s people concerned with general environmental and ecological deterioration. This, I feel, can take two courses. One would be general decline in the acceptance of hunting as being socially acceptable. This would probably take many years to accomplish. There are just too many sportsmen who really enjoy hunting.
“The other course would be a rise, perhaps very rapid, in bowhunting. Bowhunters, with a success rate of about six percent, have all the basic thrills of hunting with very little killing. To me, the greatest thrill of bowhunting is in the stalk, in being in the woods and the companionship. The kill is last.
“It’s a fact that intelligent game management requires a certain amount of harvesting to protect, improve and expand the species. For this reason, I’ve always offered full cooperation to intelligent groups trying to provide scientific game management. I believe that bowhunting will continue to grow at a rate somewhat in excess of 10 percent a year.”
His predictions proved uncannily true.
IN 1974, WHEN I BEGAN EDITING WORK on the very first Pope & Young Club record book, Fred was one of a dozen Club board members serving as “advisors” on the book’s editorial committee. We exchanged routine letters and telephone calls. We also agreed – and sometimes disagreed – on exactly what to include or omit from that history-making volume. Intimidated at times, I’ll readily admit that more than once I had to search for the backbone starch necessary to stand up to the man whose own 1968 book, “The Archer’s Bible,” had been a popular and profitable hit with readers eager to devour anything with the Bear byline.
Producing the first bowhunting record book was difficult and stressful, leaving several committeemen testy and troubled. (For more specific details, check out the chapter spotlighting Larry Bamford.) But in the end Fred not only approved the editing work I’d done, he helped underwrite publication of the book by putting up some of his own money to help our cash-strapped Club pay the printing tab.
Later, when he confided that he felt I’d done a good job creating the book, I glowed with editorial pride. Frankly, an “attaboy” from Papa Bear was worth far more to me than the few hundred dollars I was paid for my professional editing services, which likely broke down to earning less than a penny an hour for time spent on this groundbreaking book project.
Bob Munger, Fred’s longtime hunting companion, gave me this signed photo after I
checked over the manuscript of his book, “Trailing a Bear.” One of my regrets is that
never found time to accept an invitation to join Bob and Fred on a Grousehaven deer hunt.
IN THE MID-1980s BOB MUNGER, Fred’s lifelong bowhunting companion, sent me a rough draft of an autobiographical book manuscript he planned to publish. Bob asked me for a candid editorial evaluation of the book he had titled “Trailing a Bear.” I eagerly read it and promptly discouraged him from including the details of how these two friends first met back in 1951.
Briefly, for any readers who might not know the story, one morning Bob witnessed a virtual parade of Michigan deer crossing onto private property owned or leased by the Port Huron Hunting Club. Unable to resist temptation, Bob trailed after the whitetails. He finally took up a ground stand in a brushy area and before long got a shot at a passing buck – but missed. As he was nocking a second arrow for a follow-up shot, he heard a stick crack nearby. Another hunter was approaching.
“Oh, my God!” Bob muttered, his heart sinking. “It’s one of the Port Huron Club members, and he’s caught me red-handed.”
Not to worry. The approaching hunter was Fred Bear, who just like Bob had given in to the urge to sneak onto private land to arrow a deer. And, thus, with that chance meeting of two admitted trespassers, began a 36-year friendship that would take these hunting companions to many of the world’s wildest and most remote regions. Late in his own life, Bob perfectly summed up his personal feelings about his famous friend with these words, written shortly after Fred’s death in 1988:
“It was my good fortune to see firsthand the many things he did with his bow. Fred was always a true joy to be with, because of his jovial and friendly personality. He was a storyteller extraordinary! Fred, in my opinion, was the world’s best bowhunter, the best bow designer and one of the greatest American sportsmen of our time.”
In his book’s initial draft, Bob concluded his introductory chapter with a somewhat humorous account of that first meeting with Fred. He wrote that in December of 1951 he’d seen a paid ad in The Detroit News that read:
Unlucky Archers Can Get Arrows – Archers who aimed their arrows at deer and missed during the recent bow and arrow season can have their arrows by calling at the Port Huron Hunting Club near Curran. Club members Roy and Walter Norton picked up two arrows during the present gun season. Names inscribed on the arrows read: Fred Bear and R. Munger.
“I cut this out of the paper,” Bob told me, “and sent it to Fred at Christmas time as sort of a Christmas card. That was the last time, I believe, either of us ever put our names on our arrows.”
Still, I remained very uncomfortable with Bob relating his Fred Bear trespassing tale for the whole world to read. And it’s likely that introductory chapter soured me on the balance of Bob’s book manuscript, which I promptly returned to him with myriad observations and suggestions, plus a long letter explaining why the book shouldn’t be published in its present form. Among other things, I urged a complete rewrite of that first chapter. I told Bob it was my editorial opinion that no writer or publisher should help to cast a shadow – even a small one – across the legend of Papa Bear.
As it turned out, Bob’s book of personal reminiscences wasn’t published until 1994, several years after his death. As I read a copy, I noted that Bob had followed some of my suggestions and done some rewriting, but he’d left the story of the initial meeting with Fred pretty much intact. In retrospect, I’m honestly glad he did. After all, Fred Bear was no saint; he was human. Bob’s story merely underscores that fact.
Most of my many personal one-on-one conversations with Bob and Fred took place each June at the Anderson Archery International Bowhunters Clinic in Grand Ledge, Michigan. These talks remain among my fondest memories of those two old friends. In my office are three treasured reminders of Fred Bear and Bob Munger. One is a signed photo that Fred himself gave me. He’s standing over a moose he tagged during an Alaskan bowhunt in 1971; the inscription reads, “Not much of trophy, M. R., but most welcome in a meatless camp.”
Another is a signed Fred Bear photo which Bob also autographed and sent to me. It shows Fred posing beside one of his giant Alaskan brown bears. Clipped to it is a note which reads: “M. R., Can’t remember if I sent you one of my favorite pictures of the Two Bears, one dead and the other one happy.” The third treasure is a copy of Bob’s book, which contains the following notation written by his daughter, Ann: “M. R., Thanks for your help with this book. Wish dad was here to give this book to you himself.”
So do I, Ann. So do I.
MY OLD FRIEND FRED BURRIS, the Wyoming-based writer and outdoor photographer whose work has appeared in Bowhunter magazine for decades, once sent me a black-and-white print of an aspen tree he’d found with Fred Bear’s name carved into its trunk. He asked me if I could check with Fred to see if by chance the “signature” was authentic or a forgery created by some bowhunter whose own name would be unrecognized by passersby. My own curiosity piqued, I promptly dropped Fred a letter along with a copy of the Burris photo of that aspen. Papa Bear’s response speaks volumes about him as mature, responsible bowhunter – and the great storyteller he was. (see actual letter below)
MY SINGLE PERSONAL and professional disappointment with Fred Bear centered on the fact that he developed and held patents on drug-dispensing pods for hunting arrows. Monitored field tests of bowhunters using both liquid and powdered forms of the powerful tranquilizing drug succinylcholine chloride (SCC) for deer hunting date back to 1960. And while in Bowhunter magazine I always publicly pooh-poohed the idea of Papa Bear endorsing the use of “poison pod” arrows, there is absolutely no doubt that Fred advocated their widespread use by modern bowhunters. It’s common knowledge that he personally field tested the effects of SCC on some of his hunts, although rumors of him taking his African lion, Cape buffalo and Indian tiger with pod-tipped arrows remain unproven.
In May of 1990 Glenn St. Charles told me of witnessing Fred shoot a mule deer with a “poison pod” during a Canadian bowhunt they shared. Fred intentionally arrowed the animal in the rump, according to Glenn, just to see how effective the drug would be with such shot placement. “It was one of the worst things I’ve ever seen,” Glenn said. “It took 20 lingering minutes for that deer to die. Fred later tried to get me to use the stuff, but I didn’t want any part of it.”
Charlie Kroll, Fred’s son-in-law and a talented bowhunter and writer in his own right, personally confirmed that Fred went to his grave convinced that the use of drug-tipped arrows would somehow be beneficial to bowhunting. Before his own death in 2004, Charlie confessed he’d be eternally puzzled by Fred’s stubborn stance on this particular subject. Charlie credited Bob Kelly, one-time Bear Archery president, for refusing to ever allow drug-dispensing devices to be offered for sale by the company.
Proponents of drug-tipped “poison pod” hunting arrows, most notably Texan Adrian Benke, who in 1989 authored the pro-drug book “The Bowhunting Alternative,” gleefully quoted excerpts from a lengthy letter Fred wrote to Pope & Young officers and Glenn St. Charles and Dick Cooley in 1964. Fred urged the club’s leaders to allow animals taken with “tranquilizer” arrows to be entered in the Pope & Young Club records. Among his more controversial comments were the following:
“… if we don’t do something to clean up our ranks the time will most surely come when we will be unmasked, the impotency of our weapons revealed, and we will stand there with bowed heads faintly mumbling, yes, you are right.
“… no archer, no matter how good he is, except under certain circumstances, can be sure of hitting an animal where he wants to hit him at bow shot distances. What is wrong with Killing what you Hit?
“I can answer this one. The whole thing is very simple. It is the word poison. It’s a bad word and conjures up visions of skull and crossbones. Of elephants stuck in the belly by pygmies who follow the victim for days before he succumbs to the venom. The type I am speaking of kills quickly and … is not fatal to humans.”
Fred concluded his ’64 letter recalling two gut-shot bruins he knows he’d killed but failed to recover. One was a polar bear that was tracked “about a mile” to the edge of an open lead where the wounded animal apparently sank while trying to swim to the other side. The other, a big 10-foot Alaskan brown bear, disappeared forever after an overnight cloudburst washed out its ample blood trail. A daylong search failed to locate the bear within the dense alder thickets. “My conscience gave me trouble,” Fred confided, voicing his frustration with this emotional admission:
“Actually, I would feel better qualified to kill a Michigan whitetail deer dressed in a Santa Claus outfit with sleigh bells tied around my waist and a tranquilizer on my arrow than I would completely camouflaged without the tranquilizer.”
REGARDLESS OF SUCH DAMNING EVIDENCE, when I look back over my 16-year association with Papa Bear, I refuse to allow any professional or personal philosophical differences over our sole disagreement – namely whether to mix drugs and bowhunting – to affect my personal fondness and admiration for all that he accomplished during his long, productive lifetime. And as long as I live I’ll regret that I never took advantage of Fred’s invitation to share an annual visit to Grousehaven and bowhunt Michigan bucks with him and a handful of his friends.
And each time I think of us hunting together, I always recall one of Fred’s favorite jokes. It deals with a party of bowhunters who spent the better part of a week pursuing big game in some backcountry camp. Seems that as the days passed, the unshaven and unwashed crew grew increasingly ripe. At last Fred said he could stand it no longer. “It’s time to clean up and change underwear!” Fred declared. After an appropriate pause for the proper dramatic effect, Fred flashed a toothy smile and said, “Glenn, you change underwear with Dick. Bob, you change with Joe. Bud you change with …”
I can still hear the echoes of Fred’s cackling laugh and see the wrinkled face beaming with a master storyteller’s glee at a tale well told.
WORD OF FRED BEAR’S DEATH reached me in early 1988, just as I was leaving for a Pope & Young Club board meeting in Boise, Idaho. I immediately thought of the last time I’d seen Papa Bear – almost a year previous at the Tulsa, Oklahoma, airport, just after the Pope & Young Club’s ’87 gathering where he’d been the featured speaker. Fred regaled the admiring audience with stories of shared hunts and other personal recollections. He was frail and stooped at the time, trailing a wheeled canister of oxygen (which he joked actually contained a supply of peppermint schnapps). Yet he was wearing his ever-present bolo tie and flashing that familiar Papa Bear grin. And his eyes still twinkled as he greeted old friends – always hugging the ladies close – and patiently posing for countless pictures and signing autographs for all who asked. That is the Fred Bear I remember – and miss.
IN OUR 1988 BOWHUNTER magazine Deer Hunting Annual, we printed a tribute to Fred written by W. Horace Carter. One Illinois reader took exception with the piece, calling it “an insult to a legend.” He wrote:
“I am very unhappy to find the photo of Fred Bear with a compound bow … Any bowhunter that has been around for very long knows that he always shot a recurve … Fred Bear was left-handed. The bow he is holding is for a right-handed archer … The bow has sights; Fred Bear shot instinctively (he was a snap shooter). It is very obvious that Fred Bear was posed for this photograph and it saddens me to see him remembered in this fashion. You may not think that it matters, but to Fred Bear fans it does!”
I promptly responded, in part, as follows:
“The photo which accompanied the interview article was furnished by Bear Archery … It was snapped on an Alaskan moose hunt five or six years ago.
“You are right, of course, regarding Fred’s preference for a recurve. And he did shoot his bows left-handed, instinctively. But please remember two things …
“First, this particular article was at the printing plant when word of Fred’s death came … The piece was not intended to be a final tribute to the man but rather an opportunity for him to state his views on a variety of topics. An obituary and eulogies will appear in our October/November issue.
“Second, all of those who knew and respected Fred could look at the photo as indicative of the kind of man he was … generous, sharing, unable to say no to any request for an autograph or photo. Imagine, if you will, someone asking Fred to pose holding a bow – any bow – so a legend could be captured forever on film. Do you think Fred would have refused? Do you think he would have felt ‘used?’ Do you believe he would have considered the use of such a photo an insult? We think not, because that’s the kind of person Fred Bear was.”
MY FRIEND AND FORMER Bowhunter magazine partner, Fred Wallace, once joined Fred Bear’s gang at Grousehaven and had a hunt he’ll never forget – for more reasons than one. A lefty himself, Fred borrowed Fred Bear’s favorite recurve and promptly tagged a buck and doe. Afterward, he proudly displayed smiling photos of himself posing with his deer and famous host. Fred promptly wrote a detailed story of the Michigan hunt for use in Bowhunter magazine. But just before the piece was slated to be published, Fred sheepishly asked me not to run the story.
Why? Red-faced and thoroughly chagrined, Fred admitted he’d belatedly discovered that technically he’d broken a Michigan game law by shooting his buck before tagging a doe. While he’d reported the infraction to authorities immediately and was told he wouldn’t be ticketed for this minor offense, Fred simply couldn’t allow the story to appear in print. And I know for a fact it almost killed Fred not to be able to tell the world how he’d once shot a couple of whitetails using Fred Bear’s own bow. Who wouldn’t have been disappointed at having to keep that kind of story to himself?
Here’s another favorite Bear photo of mine. It shows Fred and Henrietta wearing their special
Rolex watches with custom golden bear watchbands. Janet and I now own those
same watches and wear them on special occasions when paying tribute to the legendary
bowhunter seems appropriate.
TODAY, AMONG MY MANY “priceless” personal treasures, are a 1980s-era photograph and two old Rolex watches from the 1970s. The color photo shows Fred and Henrietta Bear sitting together at a long table, wearing the same watches my wife Janet and I now own and wear on very special public occasions. The Bear watches and accompanying photo came into my possession in 2001, thanks to my good friend Colonel Billy Ellis, the noted Mississippi banker (now retired), bowhunter, orator and author. Billy, one of Fred’s great admirers and friends, had obtained the watches in the 1990s. He passed them along to me with graciousness of a Southern gentleman: “I know that these watches will be worn and appreciated by a wonderful couple who walk the same trail as Fred and Henrietta.”
Fred’s watch is a stainless steel Rolex Submariner oyster perpetual date model (serial number 2,500,205). It features a custom band containing two 14kt yellow gold standing bears, one on each side, approximately 30mm tall. Each golden bear is surrounded by a 14kt white gold horseshoe piece finished in black. Henrietta’s watch is a stainless steel Rolex oyster perpetual date ladies model (serial number 1,571,200) also with a custom designed band. That band contains two 14kt gold standing bear figures, one on each side, measuring approximately 16.5 mm tall and situated on a 14kt white gold antiqued solid plate.
Included with the watches was a short personal note from Fred’s stepdaughter, Julia Kroll. “Sorry this is late,” Julia wrote. “But when I began wrapping P.B.’s (Papa Bear’s) watch the memory of his pride at having had a matching one made for mama and the look on his face when he gave it, was too much. If it is eventually going into a museum, they should go together.”
I agree, Julia. Janet and I promise that the watches will remain together. Always. With us now. And in due time on public display in the Pope & Young Club/St. Charles Museum or the Archery Hall of Fame Museum for all visitors to view, admire, and remember Fred Bear.
- Born March 5, 1902 in Pennsylvania farmhouse; killed first deer with a
rifle at age 14; attended Carlisle High School
- Moved to Michigan in 1923 and worked for Packard Motor Car
Company; saw Art Young’s “Alaskan Adventures” movie in 1927 and
bowhunted for the first time in 1929; founded Bear Products Company
in 1933; arrowed first whitetail in 1935
- During late 1930s and early 1940s earned patents on modern shooting
glove, fiberglass as bow backing and the first bow quiver; opened Bear
Archery plant in Grayling, Michigan
- Began marketing Bear Razorheads in 1956; killed world record Stone’s
sheep in 1957 and world record Alaska brown bear in 1960; authored“The Archer’s Bible” in 1968, “Fred Bear’s Field Notes” in 1976 and“Fred Bear’s World of Archery” in 1979
- Inducted into Archery Hall of Fame in 1972, the same year The Fred
Bear Sports Club was opened to the public; Bear Archery plant moved
to Gainesville, Florida
- Fred Bear died in a Gainesville hospital on April 27, 1988; cremated
remains later spread by Dick Lattimer and Jim Hatfield near a favorite
flyfishing spot along Au Sable River near Grayling, Michigan