Few names are as synonymous with bowhunting and the outdoor industry as Fred Bear’s.
Widely considered “the Father of Bowhunting,” Bear’s legend has only grown with time due to his unmatched skills in the field, as well as his role in creating one of the leading bowhunting companies in the world.
No bowhunter has ever influenced the sport as much as Bear did, and it’s likely no hunter ever will.
Born March 5, 1902, in Waynesboro, Pa., Bear originally set out to work for the automotive industry in Detroit, but turned his attention to the great outdoors after being inspired by the great Art Young and his film, Adventures in Alaska. In 1933, Bear was still in Detroit producing advertising materials for auto companies, but made archery an after-hours trade, learning to craft his own bows, arrows and strings. Soon enough, that after-hours project would become Bear Archery.
Bear became a pioneer in the archery world, earning patents for tools like the Razorhead broadhead, the modern shooting glove, fiberglass bow backings and the bow quiver, tools that are used by bowhunters around the world.
Perhaps one of Bear’s most impressive inventions was the Take-Down traditional bow, a design that took 20 years for Bear to perfect, beginning in 1947 until its debut in 1967, during which time Bear field-tested numerous prototypes until he was satisfied with a product that would be affordable to the average bowhunter.
“You need to make sure you’re listening to the customer, and Fred Bear listened to the customer as good as anybody,” said Neil Byce, director of operations for Bear Archery.
“If you walk through the facility today, you’ll see on the walls … Fred Bear’s 10 Commandments, and we still live by them today,” said Jack Bowman, president of Bear Archery. “And we do believe that the customer is No. 1.”
Along with helping design and produce revolutionary archery products, Bear proved himself to be one of the top archers in the country, taking Michigan’s target archery championship in 1934, 1937 and 1939. Bear made a name for himself in the Great Lakes State, helping to create Michigan’s first bowhunting season in 1937, prompting other states to follow suit.
“He was a guy that had a way to mold politics and nature in a way that he didn’t offend anybody,” said Don Dvoroznak, CEO of Ripcord Arrow Rest. “He was a gentleman at everything he’d ever done. He was respected. He was looked upon as a man of honor, and I think that ethical way that he promoted the sport, and the ethical way that he showed the sport when he started filming I think was very instrumental in the way it’s carried on today. I think he set the stage for doing it right.”
Bear’s bowhunting prowess would also break grounds cinematically. In 1942, Bear traveled to the Upper Peninsula with Jan Van Coevering of the Detroit Free Press. Van Coevering brought a movie camera along for the hunt, and Bear became the first Michigan bowhunter to take a whitetail on film. The footage would later be used for Bear’s first hunting film, making him a household name.
“He understood getting it out there and showing people how it was done, and the excitement and the thrill of being in the woods, was a way to get people involved,” Byce said. “And then, of course, when he videoed some of his large game that he took from Alaska—like his brown bear—just awesome video, and people really thought that was the pinnacle of what they might be able to do. Fred Bear led the way in videos and going to tournaments, being a tournament winner, and also being an innovator in products.”
Over the years, Bear would become an international bowhunting legend, tackling all manner of dangerous game with his trusty bow and arrow. Bear broke six different archery world records for various big game species—Alaskan brown bear, barren-ground caribou, mountain caribou, Canada moose and stone sheep.
His hunting prowess also proved deadly to more elusive species around the world. In 1963, he took a Bengal tiger during a trip to India. The following year, Bear dropped a 4-ton elephant at 40 yards during a trip to Africa. He returned to Africa in 1965, taking the second male lion ever shot with a bow and arrow—the first was taken by none other than Art Young—as well as a Cape buffalo. Finally, in 1966, Bear was able to take a polar bear, his third try at the elusive beast, during a hunt that was later featured on ABC’s The American Sportsman
In 1970, the Fred Bear Sports Club was founded, and was made open to the public two years later. In 1973, Bear was named an inaugural member of the Archery Hall of Fame, along with Howard Hill, Ben Pearson, Ann Weber Hoyt, Maurice Thompson, Russ Hoogerhyde and Karl Palmatier.
Bear’s archery expertise proved to be a valuable resource for aspiring archers and hunters, who took in Bear’s wisdom through his series of outdoor films, TV shows, books and magazine articles.
Though Bear passed away 1988 at the age of 86, his legend remains as looming as it did in decades past. Today, sportsmen remember him fondly as a pioneer for bowhunters worldwide. The title, “the Father of Bowhunting,” is a fitting tribute to an outdoor legend, and his example is one that should be revered by outdoorsmen around the world.