April 06, 2023
By Fred Eichler
I have written about Fred Bear and his influence on me in the past for a lot of reasons. Besides Fred being a major factor in why I wanted to bowhunt, in many ways I feel he was the “Father of Bowhunting.” I’m not saying Fred was the first or only influencer in our sport, because there have been many great men and women who have also done their part to promote archery and bowhunting. A few early day influencers that come to mind are Will and Maurice Thompson, Art Young and Saxton Pope, Ann and Earl Hoyt, Doug Easton, Howard Hill, and Ben Pearson, to name a few of many.
While many others helped introduce archery to the masses, you’d be hard-pressed to argue that Fred was anything other than the most influential advocate of our sport. Fred brought archery and bowhunting to millions of Americans through his company, Bear Archery, and his videos brought bowhunting to television on ABC’s “The American Sportsman,” where some of Fred’s exploits were shown by host Curt Gowdy. Fred’s VHS tapes, books, radio interviews, and articles inspired countless numbers to enjoy “flinging” arrows at targets and animals… God bless him for doing so!
Whether you agree that Fred was the most influential bowhunter ever or not, I know for a fact he impacted my life, especially in my younger years. His “Field Notes” took me to places I could only imagine in my mind but never thought I would see. He signed a copy of that book for me at a mall in Gainesville, Florida, that my mom took me to when I was just nine years old. I met Fred in person two other times after that first encounter, and he made me feel special both times by taking just a few minutes to talk to me.
Fred was always humble, despite his amazing accomplishments, and he always asked questions that made me feel like he was truly engaged in our conversation. When I was in my early 20’s, I took a job working at Bear Archery’s pro shop and museum. Fred had unfortunately passed by that time, but his spirit was still there, and I could feel it.
I also worked with Frank Scott, who had been employed by Fred at age 17 and stayed there until he was in his 70s. I got to meet guys like Bob Munger and many others who were there and are still looked at as icons in the archery industry. I still have my original Bear Archery name badge from back in the day, and I still remember how many of the employees, including myself, would proudly explain to people that Bear Archery was the largest archery manufacturer in the world.
I have always felt a closeness to the company that still bears its Founder’s name. Fred’s presence is alive and well at the factory, and Bear continues to use Fred in their promotions, which to me is a sign of respect for this legendary man. When I left Bear, it was for a job managing an archery shop in Fort Collins, Colorado, and Frank Scott gifted me a Fred Bear takedown recurve.
Since that time, I have been fortunate to hunt some of the places Fred did, and some of the animals Fred spoke of and wrote so eloquently about. My passion for bowhunting and promoting the sport I care so much about has been a major part of my life. As I get older, protecting our hunting heritage, as well as learning more about our archery and bowhunting history, means even more to me now than it did when I was a young man.
Over the years, I have also been fortunate enough to help some iconic companies like Hoyt Archery make design changes that I think improved their line of traditional bows. I also designed a finger tab that 3Rivers Archery picked up after Jonathan Karch and his dad, Dale, saw it while they were on a mule deer hunt with me. Jonathan and Dale both took beautiful mule deer with traditional equipment on that hunt, further solidifying my belief that both of them were the real deal when it came to traditional equipment.
Just last year, I got an amazing opportunity to work with the General Manager of Bear Archery, Jonathan Lene, and Timmy Langley, one of the company’s engineers, on a new recurve riser. Their vast experience with bows and bow design eclipsed mine, but I was able to make some of the changes I really wanted.
I really wanted a bow that was super-light and designed to shoot better off the shelf, with more feather-clearance than other models. I kept the small-handle design, because most recurves I’ve shot make it hard for me to consistently put the riser in my hand where I want it.
My reasoning behind my suggested change to Fred’s original shelf was due to a lot of arrow contact on the older designs, which hindered me from achieving the perfect arrow flight I so desired. I also wanted to change up the side plate. The original design had one set screw for adjusting the plate, and I wanted two set screws. Just the opportunity to make some improvements on Fred’s original takedown with the unique latch system Fred designed was inspiring, to say the least. Bear Archery is where my archery career started, and Fred Bear was my bowhunting mentor, even though he didn’t really know me or the impact he had on me as a youngster.
One of the most exciting parts of this project was the testing of prototypes that we kept tweaking. I understood that things like curved designs and taking out material in the riser and adding another set screw all added more costs in machining, but I had an image of what I wanted — and we did it.
At the same time I was working on the project with Bear, I also had the unique opportunity to work with another company that still bears its Founder’s name, and one that has given more back to the sport of archery than any other company — Easton Archery.
Easton was started back in 1922 by Doug Easton. Doug started making longbows to sell after a chance meeting with Saxton Pope (who the famous record-keeping organization Pope and Young was partially named after).
During the conversation, Mr. Pope complimented young Doug on his craftsmanship on the longbow he had made. Doug figured if he impressed his mentor, he may as well start making them to sell.
Not long after that, Doug stopped making longbows and started selling just arrows when he realized he could make arrows faster and easier than a handmade longbow. Anyone who enjoyed archery or bowhunting may only need one bow, but I guarantee he/she will go through hundreds of arrows. It was a good decision, and Doug built an amazing company from the ground up as a result, and one that has been passed down from father to son for two generations so far. I never met Doug Easton in person, but I can say with great pride that I do own two of his original longbows, plus a few of his original footed wood shafts. So, in a way, I do almost feel like I know Doug Easton.
I did get to meet Doug’s son, Jim Easton, multiple times, and I also got to walk through the Easton factory and interview Jim about his family’s history. To hear Jim talk about throwing quarters in the air in his father’s shop, and watching Howard Hill shoot them out of the air, was pretty amazing.
It was also impressive to learn about how Jim’s dad perfected the manufacturing process for aluminum, which helped make arrows stronger and more uniform. More people shoot Easton arrows than any other brand, but what is even more impressive to me is the millions of dollars Easton has given back to the sport through their support of organizations like NFAA, NASP, and USA Archery, to name a few, as well as building Easton Foundation archery centers in Salt Lake City, Utah, Newberry, Florida, Chula Vista, California, and Yankton, South Dakota. Currently, Doug’s grandson, Greg Easton, is at the helm and carrying on the family tradition of making amazing arrows and supporting the sport.
As a teen, I killed my first deer with an Easton arrow and a Muzzy broadhead — a combination I still use to this day. As a young man leaning over his first-ever archery deer, I had no idea that one day I would get to work with Easton on testing arrows — much less eventually helping Easton design one.
Back when Easton came out with their Axis and Full Metal Jacket shafts, I was privy to test and ultimately give my opinions on said arrows to the company on things like strength, accuracy, flight characteristics, and performance on game animals. Being able to test Easton prototypes that weren’t named yet, and didn’t even have labels on them, was incredible.
This past year, while testing and working on the new Bear riser, I was able to help Easton work on an arrow that is designed specifically for traditional shooters but will also work great for those of you using “training wheels.” Calm down, because I’m just kidding. I shoot both — I just prefer bows that have fewer moving parts.
To have a hand in helping design a bow that has my name next to that of the “Greater Fred’s” and to offer input on an arrow that is designed for traditional shooters and bowhunters at the same time, is by far my proudest archery moment.
My humble suggestions weren’t that groundbreaking and certainly aren’t going to change the sport like so many other people have done. However, I’d like to think Mr. Bear and Mr. Easton are somewhere shooting their bows and watching their arrows fly, while also appreciating that there are many of us who are thankful for the work, sacrifice, testing, and promoting they did. I don’t know if they’re on hunts with me or not, but I’d be lying if I said I haven’t had moments where I felt like both of these great men are standing right beside me…probably laughing at me…and for good reason!