Perhaps the most famous archer of the 20th century, Fred Bear did more for the sport of archery than most folks could dream of.
Fred Bear. The name is synonymous with archery. If you know somebody who isn’t an archer, odds are the only archer they may have heard of is Fred Bear. He’s been called the “Father of Bowhunting” for good reason. He was a pioneer, gentleman, and stalwart advocate of the sport you and I take for granted everyday. Fred Bear did as much for the sport of bowhunting as Henry Ford did for the automobile. His story can teach us about the history of our sport, and how much impact one person can have.
Fred was born in 1902 in the southern Pennsylvania town of Waynesboro. As far as anyone can tell, nothing in Fred’s youth pointed to the archery legend he would become. A simple life on the family farm, appeared to be his way forward. However, some just have a burning for adventure in their heart though, and when he turned 21 Bear left the farm for Detroit, Michigan. At the time Detroit had a rapidly growing auto industry, and Bear looked to make a name for himself in the young auto advertising industry. While in Detroit, Fred happened to hit the movies up one night for a little R&R. The movie, Adventures in Alaska, would change his life forever.
The film featured the famous archer Art Young hunting the Alaskan bush. As with many of us, Fred was captivated by the arch of the arrow and the allure of archery. He soon picked up a bow and started shooting. Before long he was learning the art of bow making from the man who inspired his quest, the one and only Art Young.
By 1929, at the age of 27, Fred was confident enough in his ability to begin his bowhunting career. In doing so, he was embarking on a journey that would span the rest of his life and take him on adventures around the world.
Although archery had clearly become the man’s driving passion, in 1933 it was still his after-work hobby. He was relegated to shooting and making gear after his full-time job was finished. Even while boxed into his off hours, Bear became a well-known and awarded shooter. He won Michigan’s state archery championships in 1934, 1937, and 1939. Not only did he love archery, but he was good at it. By the time 1940 rolled around, Fred was able to transition out of the auto industry and begin full-time working at his new business; Bear Archery.
It was during the 1940’s that Bear would begin innovation into one his greatest bow-building accomplishments. By this time, Fred Bear was traveling the world hunting big game with his hand made equipment. On a trip to Alaska he had flown into Anchorage and discovered that at some point his bow had gotten lost. There he sat, in Alaska, with no bow, and no hunting prospects in the immediate future. True to his nature, Fred decided right then and there to build a bow that he could take with him on a plane and keep track of himself. Over time he would eventually create the takedown recurve bow that has become so popular today.
You can watch this video of the man himself describing the story. Start at around 6:00 for the story.
Even today, the idea for this bow is the mainstay in recurve bows. There are many different style of takedown bows, but Bear is still manufacturing models very similar to the original model released in 1969. Bows of this design were to become his favorite hunting bows, and accompanied him until he finally had to leave the woods.
You can watch this video about Fred’s life and the modern production of the brand that carries his name.
Over the course of his life Fred would not only travel the world and take big game animals such as grizzly bear, polar bear, tiger, lion, and elephant with his bow, but he advocated for the first ever bow seasons to be held in America. He worked tirelessly in promotion of the sport, and videos of his hunts were often the first people ever saw of archery. It was his advocacy for the sport that really opened people’s eyes to bowhunting. True to form, Bear always put his best foot forward, and showed people how exciting and noble our good sport is.
Few people in the modern history of archery can hold a candle to Fred Bear. Not only was he an exceptional archer, but his ability as a bowhunter helped to promote the use of archery gear to take big game. Combine that with his contributions to the growth of archery gear, and you can see why Papa Bear is a true legend of archery and the Father of Bowhunting.