Written by Beka Garris
The name “Fred Bear” is well known amongst many modern day bowhunters, particularly traditional bowhunters. Most folks are familiar with Fred being the founder of Bear Archery, one of the most well-known archery companies today – they sell everything from traditional bows and gear to compounds and crossbows and their brand can be found in virtually any big outdoor store across the country.
At a young age, I was familiar with Fred Bear not only because of the name Bear Archery, but because he was someone my dad looked up to and had met years ago. Fred Bear, fondly referred to as “Papa Bear” by many, is to this day one of the biggest bowhunting legends to ever live. I grew up hearing the stories and seeing some of Fred’s hunts that were photographed and filmed long before I was even born. He gained his fame through his archery skills, his business skills, and his hunting skills – not to mention his ethics when it came to living the outdoor lifestyle.
In my mid twenties I decided to take up traditional archery myself, and was inspired by my deep dives into the archives on Fred Bear and the stories surrounding him. I purchased both the book “Fred Bear: The biography of an outdoorsman” as well as “Fred Bear’s Field Notes” which details many of his hunts.
He came from humble beginnings, born to a Pennsylvania family in 1902 and worked a blue collar job into his 30’s. He started tinkering with building his own bows while working in the automotive industry in Detroit in the 1930’s. Many people simply assume that Fred was raised building and shooting his own bows and got an early start in life, however this is not true and it is also what made him so relatable to me. Knowing that Fred didn’t get into traditional bowhunting until later in life like I did, and the fact that it was something he started doing as a hobby like most of us do, made me want to learn more about him.
In the 1930’s traditional bows were really the only archery equipment used for hunting – compound and crossbows weren’t really thought of yet. I often wonder what Fred would have thought on the subject of compounds and crossbows, the impact they have had on the hunting industry and Bear Archery company today. Would he have embraced the modern technology or as many traditional hunters like to say, “would he have rolled over in his grave?”
Much of what Bear worked on back then is still in production today including his legendary Bear Razorhead and the bow of all traditional bows, the Take-Down. The Take-Down bow took nearly 20 years for Fred to perfect and it is still one of the most iconic recurves to this day. The design was patented by Fred years ago, and the bow itself is not only innovative but breathtaking. I shot one a few years ago and it shot amazing.
Yet, my interest in Fred Bear had less to do with his creating bows – and an archery company that to this day is still selling -- and more to do with how he hunted and his perspective on how he went about it. In today’s modern age most people care more about the size of their trophy and posting it on social media than anything else. One of Fred’s most famous quotes is “A hunt based only on trophies taken falls far short of what the ultimate goal should be.” There was more to Fred’s hunts than simply taking a trophy or taking the biggest animal out there, and it shows when you read the words he put on paper.
If you take the time to read Fred Bears Field Notes, you will come to quickly realize that Fred loved to hunt and shoot and that was what he was out there for – the enjoyment. Many hunters view Bear’s hunts in Africa as some of his most amazing stories, however I am always drawn to the hunts here in the United States, particularly Alaska. The idea of hunting Brown Bear with a traditional bow sends chills up my spine, yet Fred did it successfully several times.
No matter whether you hunt with a traditional bow, a crossbow, a gun or a compound, I think that all of us can learn from Fred’s stories and his experience in the wilds. His view on hunting and life in general is something that shouldn’t be forgotten simply because he is gone. His legacy lives on through many of us, and will continue to do so if we make sure of it.
Whether you are an avid reader or books or not, I highly recommend any hunter or outdoorsman take the time to at least read “Fred Bear’s Field Notes”, although the Biography is a good read as well. Hunting has come a long way, but some things such as ethics and the true meaning behind hunting should never be put in the past. The old ways should not be forgotten.