WINNING OVER GUN HUNTERS
Fred Bear was very much aware that there was resistance to bowhunting among the firearms hunters of the day. They spread all kinds of rumors about “porcupine deer” running around with arrows in them. Truth be known, many were jealous of the bowhunters’ ability and at getting the extra time out in the woods. Of course, many of the bowhunters didn’t help the situation any, some of whom had an elitist attitude. Some of this still exists today and probably always will. Some people just like to think that they are superior. Fred abhorred this attitude.
He quickly realized that if archery hunting was to grow, and his company along with it, he needed to jump right in and start selling the gun hunters. He had a huge advantage in this in that he could draw on his own long years as a firearms hunter himself to really relate to them. Over my years with him, I saw him many times directly confront a situation in a positive manner, rather than trying to fight it or go around it.
John Mitchell, writing for Audubon magazine, came to interview Fred, skeptical about our sport and about Fred Bear. Yet, he ended up convinced of the appropriateness of hunting with the bow and arrow, and of Fred Bear’s part in its history and development. John, Fred, Les Line (then the editor of Audubon, and a dedicated bowhunter) and I spent many hours around the dinner table at Grousehaven talking about bowhunting. Fred’s gentle manner won John over. Here is a part of what John said in Fred’s biography:
… I suspect I had come to Grayling looking to bury Caesar, not to praise him. At the time, I was one month into a yearlong assignment, a series of articles (and later a book) exploring all aspects of hunting in America. The question being: Was it an honorable tradition or a dishonorable shame? I think I went into it leaning toward the latter. I had hunted a bit as a youngster, had drawn away from it more by circumstance than by disfavor, drifted gradually into a circle of acquaintances who by and large regarded hunting as an activity falling somewhere on the far side of abomination. And I had just come down from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, having observed there a shabby no-show bear hunt replete with CB radios and jack pine savages in Cadillac sedans. Now to the lair of this man whom Cleveland Amory had dubbed the ‘Grand Dragon’ of the bowhunt. I was loaded for Bear. Or so I thought.
We talked for more than three hours, Bear and I. About what I was up to and how he perceived the motivations of anti-hunters, why one could learn more about deer in one week with a bow than in a lifetime with a rifle, and where he had traveled to film his classic hunts, and what he had shot; and whether, indeed, there would be any hunting left over when the corporate farmers got finished plowing their field to the borrow pits of the county roads, and all the Earth’s wild places had gone down the drain of development, or been shot up to hell by the lawbreakers. I was loaded for Bear, all right—and totally disarmed by him. It was not so much what he said, but how he said it; openly, undefensively, sometimes humorously (and then, at his own expense), often with perception and sensitivity; and always, it seemed to me, with such a large measure of humility for a man so tightly hitched to the practical business necessities of self-promotion. Disarmed, outflanked and won over, and then Bear saying that the whitetails were running down in Ogemaw County, and why didn’t I join him there at Grousehaven for a bowhunt in October. I told him I didn’t hunt, much less with a bow. No matter, he said. There’d be time to continue the conversation. And we did that.
We did that four years in a row—three in the bow season and one in rifle (when I did go armed, if only to put an ambiguous punctuation mark at the end of my story). Mostly, I just moseyed over the acorns with the old hunter, sponged up his yarns and savvy, watched him spend his time making sure, as Joe Engle would testify, that everyone else was having a good hunt. I had never before been in the wood with such a lucid observer of the ways of nature. And I don’t just mean his knowing where the deer might run. I mean his sense of place, his appreciation of light and color and where the wind was blowing and what a certain cloud might bring. “The finest natural hunter I’ve ever known,”the pro from Alaska had said. “A practicing ecologist,” Merrill Petoskey would say of him in Gainesville. “A catalyst … toward helping the American citizen better understand the outdoor life as we believe it should be understood—wonderful, awesome, sometimes cruel, but always dynamic and revealing of truth to those who do understand.”
After the first two seasons at Grousehaven, my official chores as questing scrivener of the hunt were finished. I had covered the beat from Texas to Alaska, from Montana to Michigan, and had met and talked along the way with scores of hunters and anti-hunters, game biologists, public officials, and professors of this-and-that. So where, an occasional critic wanted to know, where had the moment of truth come to me? Who, of all the respondents along the way had touched me with the stoutest staff of wisdom and turned my perceptions about hunting into a better understanding of the outdoor life? And always, without hesitation, I would have to make reference to this lanky archer, and that rainy day in Grayling, and the days with him that would follow, afoot in the acorn woods of Ogemaw County. It was as if the Bear had loosed a razorhead at my prejudice—and skewered it clean. Requiescat in pace. I buried that gizzard at Grousehaven. For that alone, all praise to the Bear in the famous Borsalino hat.
Early on, Fred had begun speaking to sportsmen’s groups wherever and whenever he could, selling bowhunting. A good example of this was the Rogers City, Michigan Sportsmen’s Annual Banquet. Here’s how the local paper reported on the coming event in an article dated Dec. 2, 1948:
Annual Banquet of Sportsmen Dec. 12
Noted Archer Heads Fine Program
Something new in the line of entertainment is in store for those attending the 11th annual banquet of the Presque Isle County Sportsmen’s Club Sunday, December 12th, in Rogers City.
Fred Bear, one of the outstanding archers in the country, has accepted the club’s invitation to speak. He will also show colored movies of bow and arrow hunting and stage a demonstration. Mr. Bear has hunted with the bow in all parts of the country and has bagged deer, bear and moose as well as many other smaller animals, etc.
And so the article went. It also featured a photo of Fred and his Canada moose taken with the bow. Fred’s purpose, of course, was to whet the appetite of these firearms hunters for trying his sport of archery. And was he ever successful! One way he convinced them of the striking power of the bow and arrow was to shoot a broadhead through a large sandbag with a pane of glass behind the sandbag. A .30-caliber rifle bullet shot by Frank Scott would be stopped by the sand, but the broadhead shot by Fred would pass right through and shatter the glass behind in a very noisy and effective demonstration of the arrow’s penetrating power. I still have the wooden frame on which he sat the sandbag and piece of glass in this dramatic demonstration.
Another small article appeared in the Carlisle, Pennsylvania newspaper during the late 40s as well. This one concerned Fred’s dad, Harry. This is the same hunting area where Fred first hunted with his father. And the fact that Fred had pasted it in his early scrapbook says how proud he was that his dad had taken up the bow and arrow as he had done:
Local Hunter Bags Deer With Arrow
Harry L. Bear, 73, of 407 West South Street, a retired machinist, felled a 95-pound doe on Saturday in the one-day season with a bow and arrow in the South Mountain near Huntsdale.
Hunting with Raymond Porter, who was armed with a rifle, Bear bagged the deer with a shot through the neck. He brought the animal down at a range of 25 yards with a 28-inch broadhead arrow. His bow has a 30-pound draw.
Joking with Bear as the two started on the hunt, Porter declared, “If you shoot a deer with an arrow, I’ll drag it to the automobile with my teeth.” Porter, who returned home empty-handed, made his boast good by dragging the animal 500 yards.
Bear was using equipment made by his son, Fred, of Grayling, Mich., who specializes in the manufacture of bow and arrows and accessories. Fred hunts only with archery equipment and has killed three moose and a bear with bow and arrow.
Bear is a member of the Carlisle Archery Club and was one of the outstanding marksmen before the War in competing with members of the Club and in inter-club matches.
Fred was a big believer that potential archers and bowhunters could be found anywhere and so he sought out publicity for his products and sport wherever he thought he could get some “ink” as those of us in the public relations business call editorial coverage. Here is a portion of an article that Fred stimulated by a letter to Cyanamid in its “Plastics Newsfront” publication in March 1947. This was part of a series the magazine did on “Why we chose a Cyanamid plastic.”
NEXT: Chap 1d, THE TOUGHEST TEST FOR URAC