FRED BEAR, THE BIOGRAPHY OF AN
THE MAKING OF A LEGEND
Early in 1955 Al Vander Kogel of Abercrombie & Fitch in New York asked Fred to join the first organized bow and arrow safari to Africa. Deciding it was time to expand his hunting horizons and realizing the tremendous advertising and promotional benefits of such a trip, Fred accepted and in March left New York via Air France in company with Vander Kogel, Ken Lockridge, John Smith, Zoli Vidor and Frank Travins of New York, Cliff Wiseman of New Jersey and Joe Woodard and Steilson Ferris of Michigan. Also in the group were photographers Don Redinger, Pittsburgh and Robert Halmi, New York. They were assigned to make a film of the hunt for Bear Archery (Halmi is now a successful New York television producer.)
From the start a great variety of game was encountered, but Fred soon realized that approaching to respectable bow range of animals would be difficult. It was no trouble to get within one hundred yards or so — good rifle range — in the flat, semi-open terrain, but to cut that distance in half was a real problem. Bear's intention on this trip was to test the bow and arrow only on smaller African game.
The game bag was not spectacular. Fred came back with two reedbuck, one oribi, a large iguana, and a fine topi or damalisque.
Further details of this, plus two more African safaris and a dozen of Bear's other major hunts in various parts of the world between 1955 and 1967 are to be found in a book he authored a few years later entitled, Fred Bear's Field Notes, Doubleday, 1976. (Available NEW in paperback from Bear Archery or many archery outlets and book stores.)
A native leopard trap is examined.
In the fall of 1955 Fred and his wife left Michigan for another western trip. They drove to Seattle through spectacular country with stops at Glacier National Park and Mount Hood, etc.
At Glacier one day, a tourist asked Fred (who was photographing eagles) how much his telephoto lens cost and Fred replied genially, "Oh, don't ask me that on such a nice day." Fred's growing inventory of camera equipment soon equaled that of a professional and says a great deal about the dedication he brought to the job of doing the very best he could to help promote his sport of bowhunting.
Arriving in Seattle they met Wes Loback who had invited Fred to share a hunt in British Columbia. Henrietta, who had planned to stay in the Washington-Oregon area during the hunt was persuaded to join the party in British Columbia instead. The Lobacks lived in Seattle but had a summer home in Tweesdsmuir Provincial Park, B.C., east of Bella Coola. Their lodge was located on the shores of Ootsa Lake. Fred and his photographer, Don Redinger, flew up with Wes in his Cessna.
The hunting camp was a 20 minute flight from the Loback lodge. Despite generally bad weather (Fred's diary mentions sleeping at camp in four layers of clothing and two sleeping bags) the hunting proved good. During their thirteen day stay, Fred, besides completing a film of the hunt, bagged a large moose with antlers in the velvet and an Osborne or mountain caribou. The moose was an unusually handsome trophy, its chocolate brown antler velvet patterned with white swirls.
The beautifully marked in-velvet antlers of Fred's British Columbia moose are admired by Fred and Wes Loback, his host for the hunt.
When Bear was not field-testing his products in the mid-fifties, he was doing continuous research on archery equipment, sending home suggestions and orders from the hunting camps. One such communication concerned a faulty bow tip:
"...make the bow as is. Cut the grooves even wider and then bond a piece of fiber glass (impregnated but not cured) about an inch wide across the ends of the belly glass — pushed down into the grooves with a rubber male form and cure. I don't know whether the bow will stand the curing heat or not. If not, use a piece of glass cloth impregnated with epoxy.
That is all I have to say about this problem. I don't want another twenty-seven thousand write-off like we had in August on the Magnum. Bill, this is your problem."
An outstanding example of Fred's product research was the Bear Razorhead, first marketed in 1956. Fred had realized for some time the need for a more effective head for hunting arrows. He had come up with the basic design in 1953 and tested it for three years on hunting trips. The final test, in which Fred brought down his 50th big game trophy, a Yukon grizzly, with a Razorhead-tipped arrow, satisfied him that it was ready for production.
This Yukon Grizzly was the first big game animal taken by Fred with his new broadhead design, the Fred Bear Razorhead.
Larry Ostrander operating the Razorhead machine, another of Fred's inventions. The Razorhead hunting point became the most popular style of all time.
The main blade of the Razorhead was of a special steel alloy hard enough to hold an edge, yet soft enough to sharpen with a file. It featured a slotted ferrule that accepted replaceable auxiliary blades. These were of thin, razor blade stock, sharply honed and designed to increase appreciably the cutting pattern without reducing penetration. Further advantages lay in the fact that the auxiliary cutting edges eliminated pinch on the arrow shaft, yet were limber enough to fold or break when they struck heavy bone, again aiding penetration.
The biggest problem posed by this new broadhead model was producing enough to meet demand. To do so, Fred designed a complicated machine with some 14 stations and hired a shop in Prescott, Michigan to make it. Long after the promised delivery date, the machine had not been assembled. But the Razorhead already had been announced, and a great many heads had to be brazed and finished by hand to meet the demand. For a time Bear took a substantial loss. Finally he cancelled the job contract and had a broadhead machine using an in line process built in his own plant. A second broadhead machine using a rotary process was constructed later.
Progression of design changes in the Fred Bear Razorhead. Latest model at the right.
Perhaps the most significant and far-reaching 'advertising' for Bear came about through the 1952 radio and television broadcasts of the extremely popular Arthur Godfrey Show. Godfrey's style of carrying on homey talks laced throughout with his pitches for the sponsors and performers was on everyone's list.
Fred first met Godfrey at 'Grousehaven,' a private 3,000 acre prime hunting area near Rose City, Michigan, that was owned by Harold R. "Bill" Boyer of Grosse Pointe, Michigan. Boyer hosted a group of celebrities who were interested in hunting every fall at this untamed tract of land in northern Michigan. In the early fifties Fred had become a member of the group that included, besides Godfrey, such friends from Boyer's war years (he had been head of General Motors' Cleveland Tank Division and architect of its Air Transport Division) as General Curtis LeMay, Commander of the Strategic Air Command and later Chief of Staff, U.S. Air Force; Harley Earl, head stylist and designer at General Motors for 35 years, Four-star General Hank Everest, head of T.A.C., World War II, and Dick Boutelle and Larry Bell, heads of Fairchild Aircraft and Bell Aircraft, respectively, plus whoever was president of General Motors at the time.
Fred, of course, introduced archery to the group and the most enthusiastic response came from Godfrey. He soon began talking about Fred Bear and the sport of archery on his radio and television shows. Letters of inquiry concerning archery poured in as a result. Fred was twice featured on Godfrey's television shows — one out of the New York studio and the other staged at Godfrey's farm in Virginia. The setting for the latter was on the sloping lawns of the farm. Attendants were responsible for keeping peacocks, ducks and barking dogs at a safe distance; not a leaf fell unbidden from the trees. Everything clicked into exact time-slots, all of which belied the easy going one-on-one tone of the broadcast.
This exposure from Godfrey went on for many years, including a trip to Africa in 1964 (see Chapter 11) when he was a member of Fred's hunting party and took several trophies with his bow. It was during this safari that Godfrey's famous radio tapes were picked up periodically from the African camp and flown across the Atlantic for broadcasting in the United States. The publicity and recognition Fred and bowhunting received from these broadcasts would be hard to evaluate in dollars.
Fred presents Arthur Godfrey with a bow and arrows at Grousehaven.
Many outdoorsmen, asked to recall their most memorable wilderness experience, will tell of a hunt full of danger and hardship or the taking of a record-class trophy. Although Fred had more than his share of both, he has often said that his favorite memories have to do with a combination of fine companions, a comfortable camp in a relatively untouched region, and interesting encounters with wildlife — in that order.
The hunts that most stood out in his mind took place in 1958 and 1959 in the Little Delta region of south-central Alaska. In 1957, while on a bowhunting trip in Alaska's Brooks Range, Glenn St. Charles and Dick Bolding of Seattle and Keith Clemmons of Fairbanks became acquainted with a bush pilot who suggested that they look over an area in the Alaska Range, south of Fairbanks.
On a reconnaissance flight with pilot, Marc Stella, St. Charles had discovered a sizeable stream running through a beautiful valley rich with moose and caribou, with white Dall sheep speckling the bordering mountain slopes. According to the map this was the Little Delta River valley. From the air Glenn spotted an abandoned trapper's cabin that he believed was ideally located for a hunting camp.
The next day, the entire group flew to Portage Creek and from there backpacked up the Little Delta Valley to the trapper's cabin. It was in remarkably good condition, considering it obviously had not been used in many years. Meanwhile the pilot air-dropped supplies, including shovels, saws and axes for hacking out a new landing strip.
Between hunting forays the men wrestled with boulders, cut alder and willow and rearranged earth and gravel until a suitable, but short, and hopefully adequate, airstrip finally emerged.
Plans were made for hunts there the following year and Fred and a few others were invited along. In flying to the area from Fairbanks the party's baggage was marked "drop" or "no drop." The men were flown in one at a time with their "no drop" gear. "Drop" bundles, containing such unbreakable items as sleeping bags and bush clothing came in later in a larger plane and were kicked out to fall in a clearing near the cabin.
The cabin demanded respect. It had been built by two Russian fur trappers and prospectors in 1927 with the finest of backwoods workmanship. Fred met one of the builders in Fairbanks and was told about the construction.
The cabin was in a marvelously peaceful setting. Sitting quietly at its rustic table, bathed in sunlight from the open door, Fred felt at ease with his surroundings.
The hunters arrived on August 17, 1958 and hunting season opened on the 20th so there was time to settle in and become acquainted with the territory. Game could be seen from the camp at almost any time. Caribou and moose browsed in the diamond willow thickets of the valley floor and across the lichen-carpeted hillsides. Farther up, contrasting sharply with the surrounding dark rock masses, Dall sheep looked down on the scene with steadfast gaze, their keen amber eyes missing nothing that moved. The weather was beautiful, crisp but not yet frosty, much like early September in the Midwest.
Their hunting was never hurried. On the contrary, they all seemed content to ease along in keeping with the timeless feeling of the region, trying for bow-range encounters, but never pushing themselves. Not that the hunting was easy. Wild animals that have been hunted for thousands of years have sharp senses, and the effective range of the bow and arrow is comparatively short.
The third day of the hunt found Fred and Dick [Bolding] headed for the top of the mountain. To get there they had to ford a glacial stream with hip boots. In the morning, water in these streams is low and wading across is not too difficult. By evening, however, the water is often considerably higher — a result of the day's glacial melt, and hip boots are sometimes not high enough.
They spent three hours observing and photographing a small band of Dall Sheep. Early in the afternoon they sighted a good ram about a third of a mile away. It was in fine position for a stalk, and Fred was able to work within 25 yards before being detected while Dick obtained some good footage of the action with his movie camera. Fred's arrow proved effective. The ram traveled but a short way before collapsing and rolled down a shale slide. It was not of record size but had a nice full curl showing 11 annual growth rings.
There is no better meat than that of mountain sheep, consequently Fred and Dick were warmly welcomed by the group in camp. Several had shot at caribou, but none had made a hit. Two of the hunters had run into a grizzly in a blueberry patch and took pictures from 15 yards before withdrawing (grizzlies were not legal game until September in that area).
Fred with his Dall ram taken on the mountain slopes above the Little Delta.
Jack Albright was the next successful bowman, taking a bull caribou near camp. A few days later Fred shot a bull that made the mistake of stopping for a last look at 45 yards.
The next evening hunters Bud Gray, Benton Harbor, Michigan, and Bob Arvine came into base camp with a beautiful Dall ram. After a lengthy and difficult stalk, Bud had shot the ram from a distance of four yards. The head was a fine one with full curl and wide flaring horns. A quarter of a century later it still ranked in the top half of the Pope & Young record book listings.
Glenn had also downed what he referred to as an "eatin'-size" caribou, so the party had plenty of the finest meat on earth in camp. The final trophy of the hunt was a huge caribou taken by Keith Clemmons.
Bud Gray later wrote of his association with Fred on the Little Delta: "A long stay in a remote hunting camp is a true test of a hunter's tolerance, good nature and plain consideration of his companions. Fred has got to be the world's best hunter. I could stay with him on shooting at random targets, but on the clutch shots in the split second action of the hunt, there was no contest. His lob shot over a rock ridge to kill a Stone sheep on our British Columbia hunt is a stunning example of his instinctive skill."
When the group assembled for a second Little Delta hunt in August 1959, everything was in order. McIntyre had put on a new door [on the cabin], but had left it open so the bears could move in and out at will and there was little damage inside.
The year before, there had been considerable backpacking to do. This time one of the group brought a "Merry Packer," a sort of elongated wheelbarrow powered by a small gas engine. It had handles at both ends and rolled on a low pressure tire. A backpacker's dream, the machine could handle 500 pounds easily and would go almost anywhere, through muskeg, over rocks, and up steep slopes.
The weather was not so pleasant this year — the hunters experienced considerable rain and toward the end of the trip had several inches of snow. The river rose above wading depth, a situation that had to be overcome by the hunters who built a suspension bridge over the water.
Fred leads the way across a neat bit of engineering accomplished by the Little Delta hunters. His companion is Bob Kelly.
A short distance from camp, spruce trees leaned precariously out over the water. These were joined by two spruce poles dropped into the water on the opposite bank. The poles, supported by guy wires anchored to a tree, were then fashioned with ladder rungs. Handrails completed this ingenious piece of wilderness engineering and served the party well for the remainder of the hunt. Bob Kelly, Jack Albright and Bob Arvine did the actual construction.
Despite stormy weather, the bowmen had considerable success. In two weeks they bagged six caribou and two bull moose, one of which taken by Bill Wright of San Francisco, occupied first place for its species in the Pope & Young records for fourteen years. It was brought into range with a birch bark moose call made by Fred Bear.
After leaving the Little Delta camp, Fred, Glenn St. Charles, Dick Bolding and Russ Wright flew to Cordova, Alaska, where they joined skipper Ed Bilderback aboard his 58 foot commercial fishing boat, the Valiant Maid, for a brown bear hunt along the shores and islands of Prince William Sound. In spite of the weather the hunt proved enjoyable and intriguing, with opportunities to observe first-hand the activities of a great variety of wildlife, from whales and sea otters to mountain goats and black and brown bears. Although Fred stalked and downed a medium size brown bear, he wanted to try for one of the giants of that species and before leaving laid plans with Ed for another expedition the following year.
Tuesday, September 10  — Charles Quock, my Indian guide, and I rode a long way up Connor Creek to the west branch. Lost some time trying for a moose on the way. Got there at noon and stopped by a creek to eat lunch. Located a lone ram bedded down high on the shale. Put the scope on him. "A full curl," said Charles.
We made a stalk. The ram had been facing away from us, but as our heads showed over the ridge he was looking at us at fifty yards. He got up and started away over the shale.
I shot an arrow at about sixty yards, but it didn't reach him. He disappeared around the mountain with us hot on his trail. The ram climbed a rocky peak and stood looking at us from the top. We continued along the side, planning to circle over and find him again on the other side.
After crossing the shale we were on a grassy, steep, rolling hillside. Charles ahead and me panting along in back of him. Looking back I was surprised to see three rams in a depression we had passed. One was lying down and two were feeding. We kept on going because the lone ram we had seen first was the biggest.
Just before reaching the top and behind as usual, I saw the big fellow crossing the draw beyond. I signaled to Charles. He came back and we watched him go over the next ridge. We continued after him and routed a flock of seven rams on the other side. No time for them, however.
Circling back we peeked over a ridge beside a glacier. Our ram was about 150 yards below and just going over the next knoll. When he was out of sight we ran and slid down the fine shale just in time to see him disappear over the next ridge. We ran again and there he was about thirty-five to forty yards away. Just his head showing looking at us. He knew we were after him.
I do not like a head-on shot. Just a few inches off the mark will only wound and the hole through the rib cage into the chest cavity is no larger than a baseball. In addition, to shoot an arrow at full draw to clear the ridge would hit him in the head.
The only way was a short draw to lob it over the ridge and drop it into the brisket. If I had been alone, I would not have taken the shot. But Charles barked, "Shoot Quick!" I felt that I was on the spot and to hesitate would have been to lose face with my guide.
The arrow went in a line but I had a sick feeling that after it cleared the ridge it had dropped too low. The head disappeared and Charles ran over while I tried to regain my breath. When he got there he turned to me with a wide grin.
We found him jammed against a rock halfway down the shale slide. He had run about sixty yards and died on his feet. Then rolled down the mountain until he hit the rock.
He was a beautiful animal. Horns not broomed. A 41½-inch curl and 27-inch spread. He would dress out at well over 250 pounds. There was a big hole right in the middle of his brisket. I was very lucky to get such a large ram on the second day of hunting and would have been quite happy with a smaller one. A 42-inch ram is the biggest head that has been taken out of this area.
We had left our hats on the other side of the mountain weighted down with rocks to keep the wind from blowing them away. Charles said he would get them and told me to roll the ram the rest of the way down. I did so reluctantly and he came to rest on a bench far below.
It was now 4:30 and raining. We were four hours from camp. We propped the ram up for pictures and then went down to the horses and back to camp. I was bushed.
Thirty years later, Fred's Stone ram was replaced as the World's Record for a bowhunter. The successful hunter was Dr. Brad Thurston of Indianapolis, Indiana.