January 09, 2023
As the 2023 ATA Archery Trade Show prepares to open up this week at the Indiana Convention Center in downtown Indianapolis, bowhunters all across North America will be mourning the loss of one of the archery world's most legendary figures.
That comes with news of the Jan. 7, 2023 passing of iconic traditional bowhunter G. Fred Asbell over the weekend after some recent medical issues.
"Today it is sad for me to report the passing of a very special member of our Archery Hall of Fame Family," said a Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023 Facebook post from The Archery Hall of Fame & Museum, which is located at the Bass Pro Shops complex in Springfield, Mo. "G. Fred Asbell passed away last night at 82.
"A member of the AHOF Class of 2010 he will be sadly missed by all who knew and loved him," the post continued. "Our condolences go out to Teresa and the family. R.I.P. dear friend."
One of Asbell's dear friends was Bowhunter magazine founder and longtime editor M.R. James, himself a bowhunting icon. James took to his Facebook page earlier in the weekend to ask for prayers for Asbell as he struggled with reported kidney problems. Then came the sad confirmation that many in the bowhunting world were dreading.
"I hate to share the sad news that Fred Asbell has passed away at the age of 82," wrote James in his Facebook post. "I'll have more to say later about my longtime friend and Hall of Fame bowhunter, but I wanted to personally thank everyone who prayed for Fred as he was being treated for kidney failure in a Grand Rapids hospital near his Michigan home. Heartfelt sympathy to Teresa Asbell and all of Fred's thousands of friends and followers."
The Pope and Young Club, where Asbell served as P&Y president for nearly two decades, also announced the legendary bowhunter's passing via Facebook.
"A Legend Lost," said the P&Y post on Monday morning. "The archery community lost a legend this past Saturday. G. Fred Asbell was a past president of Pope & Young, an accomplished outdoor author, a highly regarded instinctive archery instructor, and a member of the Archery Hall of Fame."
Born on Aug. 14, 1940, Asbell's Archery Hall of Fame biography notes that he began shooting a bow in 1961 following service in the U.S. military. After being elected president of the Deer Creek Archers in Cloverdale, Indiana, Asbell became the Bowhunting Director for the Indiana Field Archery Association in 1965.
A year later, Asbell became the founding president of the Indiana Bowhunters Association, a leadership position he held until moving to Colorado in 1970. In the Centennial State, Asbell's passion for archery and bowhunting continued to grow and he was soon the director for the newly formed Colorado Bowhunters Association.
According to Asbell's Archery Hall of Fame biographical sketch, living in the shadow of Colorado’s high country fueled Asbell's passion for bowhunting and cemented his place in organizational leadership circles, eventually landing Asbell as the President of the Pope and Young Club, a spot he held from 1984 until 2002.
As founder and president of Bighorn Bow Company, a maker of custom recurves and longbows, Asbell made traditional bows in the late 1970s, the 1980s, and the early 1990s. With a traditional bow in his hand, he also reportedly bowhunted in 32 states, 9 Canadian provinces, and Africa. While a traditional archer who was more interested in the how and why of bowhunting, Asbell still took numerous record book game animals and a total of 19 different big game species, not all that far from a career Super Slam.
Asbell was a prolific outdoor writer too, serving as the Hunting Editor for Bowhunter Magazine for many years, as well as writing for Bowhunter's sister publications including Petersen's Bowhunting and Petersen's Hunting.
As mentioned, he was a great friend to Bowhunter’s M.R. James, as well as to many others in the Outdoor Sportsman Group family, including Bowhunter's late magazine editor Dwight Schuh. While the bulk of Asbell's work for Bowhunter came prior to the magazine's digital era, he still impacted many as the world of the Internet evolved.
If Asbell was known to readers of Bowhunter magazine for many years, he was also widely known due to a series of bowhunting books that he wrote down through the years. The best-selling author was widely lauded for the superb volume entitled Instinctive Shooting, which the Archery Hall of Fame notes was published in 1988, sold 75,000 copies, was reprinted six times, and was published in English and three other languages.
“G. Fred’s “Instinctive Shooting” from ’88 was a bestseller that went through numerous reprintings and international translations and helped fuel the traditional bowhunting renaissance in the late ‘80s and ‘90s,” said Jeff Waring, the publisher of Bowhunter magazine and a veteran observer of the bowhunting industry.
Asbell's written work, which reportedly included more than 500 magazine articles, a score of Internet blogs and online stories, and work for several other bowhunting and hunting periodicals, also included more successful books published on his favorite subject. Those traditional bowhunting volumes included Instinctive Shooting II (published in 1991, the book reportedly sold 35,000 copies and was reprinted four times) and Stalking and Still Hunting (published in 1998, the book reportedly sold 25,000 copies).
While Asbell was an old school traditional archer and then some, he also learned some of the new school ways later in his life that kept him a familiar name in bowhunting circles. He did instructive seminars, produced some video work, including a tape that served as a compliment to one of his books, and dabbled in online writing in his later years. He even had a bit of a social media presence, something that we'll come back to momentarily.
Asbell wasn't a camouflage guy, really, usually being seen in distinctive plaid wool clothing, something that his family's company Asbell Wool still sells to this day along with a selection of other bowhunting items and accessories.
"We’re a small, family business with a long history of involvement in traditional archery," Asbell wrote on the company's website. "We care deeply about our customers and friends and hope everyone who finds our site feels like part of the traditional community."
In the end, in addition to his passionate commitment to bowhunting with a traditional bow, in addition to his prolific communication skills that entertained and instructed countless archers and bowhunters, and in addition to his leadership of organization's responsible for the place that the sport of bowhunting enjoys in the world of hunting today, perhaps it's that word — community — that describes the man the best.
Asbell loved the world of bowhunting, from marrying types of wood together in the crafting of traditional bows to the pleasant thump that the string makes when an arrow is released to the satisfying process of "making meat" after a successful harvest to wearing the clothing and hats that date all the way back to Fred Bear to spending time with those who shared a passion for the sport.
As one of bowhunting's most legendary figures, Asbell influenced countless bowhunters and left an amazing impact on the archery world, even if it looks a little different today than it did when he began so many years ago. He reveled in the sport, embraced the lifestyle of the stick-and-string, and was a friend to any and all in the bowhunting community, all the way to his life’s end.
That was illustrated in a haunting way just last August as G. Fred Asbell turned to his Facebook account and thanked the many bowhunting friends who had remembered the day that he celebrated his final birthday on.
"At a point in most people's lives the arrival of another year and another birthday isn't as big a deal as it was a few years back," wrote Asbell on Aug. 24, 2022. "Birthdays were always a big deal in my family and next to Christmas were a kid's best chance of getting a gift with lots of attention and sweets.
"I've been particularly lucky the last few year(s) in that my birthday has fallen in the middle of one of the best traditional bow-shoots and gatherings of traditionalist gatherings going. My birthday is August 14th and for the last several years Teresa and I have spent that day surrounded by traditional bowhunters where I hear "Happy Birthday" throughout the day and the weekend, and I thank you all for that. For making it a day that put a smile on my face instead of a frown about another year past.
"Thank you all my friends. I look forward to more of them and hope yours is as happy and pleasant as you made mine."
Sadly, there won't be any more birthdays for G. Fred Asbell after his passing this past weekend. But that final sentence sums up the thoughts, the feelings, and the prayers of so many that the bowhunter influenced down through the years.
Because actually Fred, as so many are pointing out now in tributes on social media, you were the one that made so many of our lives as happy and pleasant as they could be, all thanks to the mutual love and connection to a stick and a string.
Thanks for everything G. Fred Asbell, and rest in peace dear friend.