FRED BEAR SHOWED ME HOW
My first foray into exploring Fred’s mind to get him to write down and share his bowhunting tips, many of which also apply to gun hunting, came in 1966 when I was working on ideas for the 1967 Bear Archery advertising/sales promotion program. It occurred to me that most hunters would love to know how Fred had been so successful as a hunter over the years.
And by promoting the idea that these tips could apply to both bows and firearms, we were helping to support our “Become a Two-Season Hunter” marketing strategy. That idea led to our eventual “Fred Bear’s Secrets of Hunting” record that I helped produce out in Hollywood with Fred and Curt Gowdy.
Shortly after we completed that dealer-loader record promotion, some of the guys at Bear came up with a “Fred Bear Showed Me How” decal that they took along with them down to one of the trade shows we all attended. It was done in two colors to save money. This was in 1969. People got such a kick out of the decal, including the commercial airline pilot that they flew with to Houston, that we later reproduced the small sticker in four colors and gave them away by the gazillions over the years. That’s where the title for this chapter came from.
As I searched for a theme to use in our 1975 catalog, I remembered the interest in the “Secrets of Hunting” record and suggested to Fred that we do something similar, but strictly around white-tailed deer. Whitetails were then, and remain today, the species most hunted by America’s bowhunters and firearms hunters. Fred and Bob Kelly both liked the idea. So Fred and I got to work.
Naturally, I couldn’t write these tips for Fred, since I was far from an expert on deer hunting; but he agreed to work on them with me. Fred also wrote a great deal of the theme copy himself for the 1975 catalog, including the lead-ins to many of the bows. In many cases I sketched out the copy for him, as we normally worked, and he’d go over it and change it into his style of talking and writing. It worked out pretty well that way over the years.
Here, then, are Fred’s tips on hunting the white-tailed deer. These appeared as stand-alone copy blocks with a line drawing of Fred paddling a canoe on 17 different pages in the catalog that year. I’ve combined them all here. Incidentally, as always, Mrs. Bear was our editor on these tips and corrected spelling and punctuation for us, as she did with everything I wrote for some 20 years. I’d write the copy, give it to Fred, and he’d take it home where he’d go over it for content and common sense, and she’d tackle the sentence structure and punctuation.
I should point out that these tips were intended primarily for people new to bowhunting; however, I’m sure experienced bowhunters picked up a good tip or two from Fred in these short paragraphs. Remember that he was 72 years old when he wrote these tips in 1974 and he had been hunting deer since the age of 13 when his dad first took him deer hunting on South Mountain near their home in Pennsylvania. And when he wrote these he had been bowhunting deer for 45 years, since he first did it with bow and arrow in 1929. If there’s a young up-and-coming bowhunter in your family, he or she should especially enjoy these practical tips in Fred’s own words …
|Fred Bear treating his boots for the hunt|
Fred on White-tailed Deer
- There are more deer in some areas than others. Find these areas and hunt there. Ask questions of the natives; scout the country by car or afoot looking for tracks crossing the road, or trails. Drive around at night to determine where most eyes are seen.
- Areas that were good last year might not be the “hot” places this season. Deer habits are governed by their stomachs. They will be found where the food is best. Old, well-established trails may be misleading. They do not pinpoint good hunting unless there are fresh tracks.
- Deer do not lie down during the whole day nor are they up feeding all night. Their movement is determined by their appetite. Daytime feeding is usually in the area of their daytime bedding spots. Good hunting can be had by still-hunting bedding areas through the middle of the day. Blind hunting through midday can produce results also, but usually in thick cover.
- For the beginner, hunting from a blind will produce the best results. The blind should be 20 to 25 yards from a good runway or trail. It is a good idea to have two blinds, one on either side of the trail. You can then use the one that is downwind from where you expect the deer to come. If an intersection of two trails can be found, your chances are doubled.
- Blinds should be large enough for free movement, with space enough to swing your bow in any direction. Some sort of seat is required, and you will be more comfortable if there is a tree to lean against. Blinds should not be more than head height, so you can see through the scant top cover. Shots are made by rising slowly when the animal is not looking and shooting over the top. Do not make a high blind with holes to shoot through. Your bow, with an arrow nocked, should be supported horizontally on forked sticks. It can then be picked up quietly in a ready position.
- Never walk runways to or from your blind. In spite of a thorough bath that morning, you will leave human scent and alarm the deer in that area.
- Hunting from a blind will be most productive mornings and evenings.
- Sometimes white-tailed deer will not leave their heavy daytime cover until late in the evening and will go back in to bed early in the morning. In such cases, and it is a good rule at all times, build your blinds close to this cover to intercept them while there is still daylight.
- The inside of the blind must be cleared of leaves and twigs. Not a sound can be made; clothing must not creak or rasp when you move. Blinds should blend well with the local area. You must sit still and be constantly watching. Sweep the area by slowly turning your head.
- Tree blinds are becoming very popular in states where they are legal. They all but eliminate the wind direction problem, and deer seldom look above eye level. Be sure that your tree blind is a sturdy one, well anchored to the tree and that precautions are taken to prevent falling from it. Never carry your bow up with you. Pull it up with a cord later. (Author’s note: Of course, you should wear a safety belt or harness at all times when you are in a treestand.)
Fred on Still-Hunting
- When hunting from a blind or still-hunting, you must see game before it sees you. Still-hunting is the method of traveling through hunting country looking for game. Stalking means to try to approach to bow range after game has been sighted.
- In still-hunting, do not assume a crouched, sneaking attitude. Walk erect. Do not carry your arrow nocked on the string. This is too dangerous with the sharp broadhead exposed.
- Walk woods trails or game trails when other means of travel are too noisy. Do not walk with eyes glued to the path, or you will not see game. Concentrate on a half-dozen steps ahead and spend most of your time looking for game. Do not step on anything that you can step over. What you have to do is train your eye to pick out three or four steps ahead, and after some practice, your feet will automatically be put in these places where they won’t strike objects where they will make a lot of noise. Travel slowly, stopping often for long looks, especially in areas where there are tracks and other signs. If there are low branches, kneel down for a look under them.
- Rarely is the whole deer seen. Look for white streaks that could be the inside of the legs. A white “V” shape might be the white outline of the tail. Another “V” could be the one formed by the ears. Pay special attention to horizontal lines not long enough to be a log. It could be the back of an animal. Deer can be spotted sometimes by reflections from their glossy hair.
- When a deer is sighted, look carefully to see if there is more than one. This means that there are more than two eyes to watch you as you make your stalk. This is the time when caution is required. You may want to nock your arrow now. But no move must be made when the deer’s head is up. Take advantage of all available cover. This could be the time when each step or movement could mark the difference between success and failure. This may also be time when a noiseless stalk is impossible. In this case be patient, if the wind direction will allow you to be. Study the situation. If the deer are feeding, make a circle to place yourself in a position where they will pass by you. If they are traveling, you might have to hurry or even run. Many times I have had to do this on the double to cover a runway or crossing that I knew was ahead.
- Deer are color blind, but light-colored clothing will show up in a dark woods and will be seen when you move. They will ignore bright red or orange if you do not move. They can recognize the human silhouette, however, even while you are standing still. Blend yourself in with the surroundings.
- When still-hunting, avoid open spaces. If you have to pass through them, do it quickly and get it over with. Do not silhouette yourself on ridges. Come up over a hill or ridge slowly and survey everything in sight before passing. After a few days, your eyes will become accustomed to what is natural and will quickly pick out the things that require closer attention.
- There will be times when still-hunting is impossible–when there are very dry leaves or crusted, crunchy snow. Times like these are better spent in a blind or in camp practicing or out scouting new hunting territory. In a new area it is not unusual to spend several days looking for the best places to hunt.
- Some of the best hunting occurs in the worst weather. Bad weather, snow or rain, is a great aid to the still-hunter. Damp leaves and twigs are quiet underfoot. Do not attempt to hunt either afoot or from a blind with plastic or other conventional rain suits. Wool works well. It is quiet and will keep you warm even when wet.
More Tips from Fred
- The beginner will often be seized with a spasm of buck fever the first few times he finds himself within bow range of large game. And he may always have problems in this respect. There is no known cure for buck fever. The only advice I can offer is to concentrate so completely on the one tiny spot you must try to hit, that it leaves no room in your mind for other thinking. This concentration must be so complete from the time you first see the game until the shot is made, that nothing else can enter your thoughts.
- The rutting season, in the Northern states, begins about the middle of November and lasts about a month. First signs are pawings in the ground, invariably under an overhanging branch, about a month before the rut begins. Some two weeks later, trees and bushes show the effect of being rubbed by antlers. It is generally believed that the bucks are rubbing the velvet from their hardening antlers, but this is not so. It is rather a sort of shadow boxing; a strengthening of the neck muscles in preparation for the forthcoming struggles with other bucks for the attention of does. Where these signs are seen, good hunting in these areas can be expected during the pre-rut time, but not necessarily during the rutting season.
- When a young buck leaves his mother to strike off on his own, he becomes a very shy, retiring animal. He will develop habits of not leaving heavy cover until very late evening and returning in very early morning. When the rutting season is on, however, no rules apply. He may be seen at any time during the day. The urge of the chase has robbed him of all caution. He seldom eats and travels constantly. The reticent buck now becomes a relentless prowler.
- Deer tracks are interesting. To the experienced eye they tell many things. A single track signifies no more than the size of the animal or how recently it was made. It is nearly impossible to determine if it was a young buck or a doe. As deer get older, the tip of the hooves become more rounded on bucks, more pointed on does.
- Deer, when running, will usually leave a splayed track on hard surfaces. Toes spread wide and dew claws showing. To the uninitiated, a small deer is often mistaken for a big buck.
- Does do most of the snorting. It is rare to hear a buck snort. The doe, as a mother, has the responsibility of rearing her offspring safely. The does are smarter than the bucks.
- When game is within range there is one best time to shoot. No hard rules can be established as a guide to tell just when. Wind direction must be considered. If it is not right, a shot might have to be hurried, which is never an ideal situation. Take a little time. A better opportunity might present itself. You might be able to approach closer. If the animal shows no sign of alarm and the wind direction is favorable, a pause might allow time for your heartbeat to return to normal.
- The arrow must be directed to the proper spot. This is in the rib area at or below the horizontal center of the animal’s body, close up to behind the front leg. Do not aim at the whole deer. Pick the spot and give it complete concentration. Come to a full draw. Tighten back muscles. Keep applying pulling pressure and let the string escape your fingers rather than to unhook from it. This will assure a good release, and your arrow will streak to that spot.
- No serious hunter goes into the field without a homemade or professionally prepared map of the area in which he is hunting. The location of game seen can be penciled in for future reference as can streams, hills, odd-shaped trees, vegetation and other points of reference. The value of such a map is beyond question if the hunter becomes disoriented while tracking game or is otherwise lost.
- Consider your right to hunt a privilege and do not abuse it. A kill is the anti-climax. If you hunt only for this reward with a bow, you will have many disappointments. Find pleasure in the woods and streams. Enjoy the animals large and small. The flowers, birds and the sweet odor of wet leaves. Be alert to the sounds of nature and rejoice and thank God that you live in a free country where these pleasures are available to everyone.