Chapter FOUR/ Part 3 – Fred Bear Showed Me How
Fred on Hunting Clothes
I use a camouflage jacket, the standard archer’s camo jacket. For years, I’ve worn a dull felt hat. The reason I prefer a hat is to keep the snow and water from running down the back of my neck.
(Author’s note: What Fred left unsaid here, is that his Borsalino hunting hat was his trademark, and that everyone could recognize who the bowhunter was in films, still photos or on television when they saw his trademark hunting hat. One day in the mid-70s he called me down to his office and asked me what size hat I wore. I told him, and he asked me what color hat I liked, if I was ever to use one for hunting. I said I thought a green one would be nice to wear in the woods, really not knowing what he had in mind, of course. He later made a call to Henry the Hatter in Detroit where he got his Borsalino’s, and the next thing I knew there was a hat box on my desk with my own Borsalino in it. What a nice surprise.
Before he died, he also gave me his own Borsalino for “safekeeping,” as he put it, knowing full well that he’d never use it again. A bittersweet moment for us both. He had worn out a number of Borsalinos over the years, so mine isn’t the only one in existence. There was another one in the house when I helped clean it out after Mrs. B died, and I turned that one over to Frank Scott for possible future use.)
I wear grey wool pants, camouflage pants in warmer weather. I use no camouflage on my hands and face unless I’m real hungry and, here again, I suffer from the business of being in the archery business and usually have a cameraman with me. And I think it’s important to look like a human being when you are facing the camera. I know it’s a handicap for hunting deer because white faces loom up in the forest like a moon and deer can very quickly pick you out. And I’d like to point out also that an animal is very alert to the human silhouette, so try not to expose yourself too much, I mean your body, head and shoulders. They can recognize it.
(Author’s note: I’d like to interrupt Fred again, just for a moment here. When I first started bowhunting with him back in 1966 one of the first things he told me was that the glasses I wear all the time are a big disadvantage for me when bowhunting. Not only can the lenses reflect light toward the deer, but the frames can easily be seen in the woods. To combat that, my daughter cut up some camo material that I took home, and she made me sleeves to put over the side frames that fit over the ears, and I punched out the glass from an old pair of clip-on sunglasses that I had and she sewed camo around that frame to hide it, too. Then when I slipped the sunglasses onto my eyeglasses you couldn’t see the frames at all. And since I usually used camo paint on my face when in a blind that seems to have done the trick for me over the years. Now, back to Papa Bear.)
For footwear, your next question, when wet weather or cold isn’t a factor, I wear a dark tennis shoe. I recently got myself a pair of leather gym shoes that I like very much.
For colder weather hunting, I use a rubber-soled leather boot. As a matter of fact, I mention these rubber soles, I should have said they are part cork combination. It’s a lace-up boot, it’s 10 inches high and it has a regular heel and counters. These are made from medium-weight leather and are lined with a thin calfskin leather. I do not use the heavily cleated rubber soles. They are noisy.
In spite of all the new fabrics, the rainproof and the water-repellent materials, in my opinion, none of them have done the job of replacing wool. I still like wool. Wool will shed water for a long time and even when wet it will still keep the warmth. And it has the advantage, and this is important, of being quiet in the woods. A branch can brush your arm or any part of your body and it will not give off the rasping sound that most other materials will.
I never cover my hands, regardless of how cold it is, unless I am riding a horse, or unless I’m hunting polar bears. I have pockets in my camouflage jacket, slash pockets. These are filled with wool cloth, and I cradle my bow and quiver under my right arm and go along with my hands in my pockets. I cannot shoot accurately with any kind of glove on my bow hand.
Fred on Guides, Guns
I recommend guides when hunting for game larger than deer. And you have to have some kind of outfitter in Canada and many areas in Alaska, if only to get into the hunting territory. And in Alaska, for hunting some types of game, it’s a requirement of law.
Your next question has to do with hunting dangerous game, and you mention bears and back-up rifles. Yes, it would be very foolish to tackle the grizzly bear or the Alaska brown bear without some kind of back-up gun. I’ve never purposely done it, although I have on a couple of occasions, well, I shot a grizzly without any back-up. I thought that it was a black bear until I got close because he had a very dark coat. And I went snooping around for a wounded brown bear with a .44 Rem. Mag. revolver, if you could call that unarmed. But, in all cases I have a backer with me and would recommend that to everybody.
Now for a black bear it’s not necessary to have a backer or to carry a handgun. As a matter of fact, on two occasions, I have run black bears up a tree by running, barking and yelling at them. But I don’t recommend that you do that, you might just pick the wrong bear to try it with.
Most of the time when I was hunting for grizzlies, Alaska brown bears and polar bears in earlier years, I carried a .44 Rem. Mag. I’ve never had occasion to use it. I only had occasion one time to pull it from its holster, and that was on an Alaska brown bear that I put an arrow through. He came running right at me. I was just about ready to start a burst of double-action shooting, when five feet away from me, he saw me and veered off. Fortunately, I had a good hit and did not have to put any bullets into him. That would have denied me the bow and arrow trophy.
I think that it was Townsend Whelen who said one time that he considered the same weight in bacon carried on your person would save your life more times than a pistol or a revolver.
Yes, I liked guns, as a matter of fact, my father was a good rifleman and quite a hunter. I learned to hunt from him and I did a lot of rifle and shotgun hunting until 1935 when I swung over to the bow. I still have a house full of guns. I get them out and clean them and sometimes I shoot the things. I like to hunt birds with a shotgun and I shoot trap.
Fred on Danger, Trophies
The most dangerous game, without question, is the polar bear. I had to make three different trips to get a polar bear without a bullet hole in it. The first two that I shot with arrows, wanted to eat me immediately, and my Native guide had to gun the bear down both times.
I have a friend who is the director of the Detroit Zoo, and he tells me that the polar bear is the most unpredictable animal that they have ever had in the zoo.
I’ve had some trouble with other animals. I spent a night in a tree up in British Columbia with a sow grizzly down below. She stayed with me before darkness in the evening until 8:30 a.m. the next morning. I was charged by a grizzly one other time, but she was a sow with a cub, as usual, and didn’t follow-through with the charge. She stopped short about 30 yards away.
I spent six hours in a blind in Africa, from dark until midnight, with a lion roaring at me just 20 or 30 yards out. That was certainly an experience.
Then you asked about my greatest trophy. That’s really pretty difficult to say. There are many trophies that provide moments for reflections that are pleasant. I guess that the Stone Sheep from northern British Columbia was probably one of my most prized possessions. It was quite a chase and a real lucky shot that brought it down. It’s a beautiful animal with nice horns, more than full-curled horns that are not broomed off.
And I don’t know how to answer your questions about the most desirable trophy to go after, one that I’ve not shot yet. I’ve done a lot of hunting and I’ve been a great many places and shot quite a few animals. Please rest assured that there are plenty of them left and I doubt very much if I’ll get around to hunt all of them in my career.
Fred on Hunting’s Future
You asked how archers can improve the bowhunting picture. Archers can do that first by remembering that there are people who like to hunt with a gun, just as many of us like to hunt with the bow. Each should have the same respect providing he is as good a sportsman as anyone else. Many archers look down on the gun hunter. That is not the proper attitude. This fellow is enjoying the same sport, only he’s doing it with a different weapon of his choice.
Many people get the sportsmen’s fraternity against them by scowling at the business of hunting with a gun, thinking that bowhunting is the only way to hunt. That is wrong. You have to be a good sport. You have to try to shoot accurately and to kill cleanly and you don’t go around telling people that you hit an animal just simply because you couldn’t find your arrow.
Fred’s 13 Basic Rules
- Never step on anything you can step over.
- Do not move continuously. Take a few steps, stop, look and listen.
See your quarry before it sees you. Take short steps.
- Train your eyes to see detail. Seldom will you see the whole animal at first, only part of it.
- Hunt into or across the wind.
- Avoid all unnecessary movements.
- Whenever possible, time your shots to coincide with natural noises or when the animal’s head is down. This will help prevent him from seeing your movements and jumping at the sound of your bowstring.
- When working up on a feeding deer, move when it moves and watch its tail.
- Keep cool and don’t be in a hurry.
- Scan the area close to you–a second deer might be watching you pass.
- Check the wind direction carefully before beginning a stalk.
- Avoid carrying a nocked arrow while on unsafe footing.
- Know your capabilities. Stalk to within a good shooting distance.
- In contrast to instructions to hunt slowly and deliberately, there are times to throw caution to the wind and run just as fast as possible to get to a place where a traveling animal might pass within bow shot.
Fred: Why I Hunt
I am often called upon to defend myself by answering the question—Why does man hunt? The answer could be that a mysterious psychological urge, inherited from early ancestors, takes him afield to meet nature on its own terms while matching wits with creatures of the wild. The meat, we avoid reminding ourselves, at a price at least 10 times that of the butcher shop’s.
Then, again, I am confronted with the accusation, how can you shoot a deer? They have such beautiful eyes.
Perhaps only a vegetarian should challenge hunters, one who does not wear leather shoes or fur. Cows and other domestic animals have beautiful eyes, too, and I am sure that they do not appreciate their ignoble deaths in the slaughter house. Yet most people eat steak and lamb chops. To the housewife a piece of meat wrapped neatly in plastic has no more emotional effect than a bunch of carrots. But let someone say he is going hunting and her heart bleeds with sympathy for the game.
Ask these critics: If you were an animal, and had a choice, would you prefer to be led into a slaughterhouse with no possible chance of escape, or would you choose an opportunity to try to out-guess the hunter in the forest where you knew every tree and bush and trail, had the advantage in speed, superior eyesight, an amazing nose and a pair of ears keyed to the slightest sound?
Ask them also: Isn’t the hunter’s bullet or arrow more humane than death by fang or claw where feasting is often begun before the animal is dead. This is nature’s cruel way with herd reduction by predators.
It would behoove us to give more attention to our more serious problem—population control. Wildlife habitat is being destroyed at the rate of 3,500 acres a day to provide more room for humans. With this daily loss in habitat the hunter is called upon to reduce game species before nature moves in with her cropping tools of starvation and predation.
One hundred years ago our national purpose was to conquer the wilderness. The problem now is to restore it. Thinking people are alarmed at the rate the Corps of Engineers is channeling rivers and draining swamps to make more tillable soil of which there is already a surplus; adding additional acres to the soil bank to take more of our tax dollars. The time has come when there is no more room on our planet for wildlife.
Over-population is polluting our world at a dangerous clip and has become so serious a threat that it is fast moving to the top of priority lists. People living in overcrowded areas look to the great outdoors to give them relief from choking air and littered streets. Wildlife is a part of this fresh air haven they seek, and, conversely, anti-hunters think it should be allowed to roam, multiply and live forever in a sort of Garden of Eden world. Just a little thought would bring them to the realization that without game management the Garden of Eden would soon be without apples to keep its inhabitants alive!
Considering all this, and that not all non-hunters are anti-hunting, hunters have work to do policing their ranks, promoting the ideals of good sportsmanship, working closely with law enforcement agencies and respecting the laws of fair chase. Further, since hunting is a logical aid in controlling overpopulation of wildlife, those who hunt must strive for ever more humane methods of killing and strict adherence to game limits.
Hunting is man’s oldest occupation. It must have been as challenging to emerge from a murky cave with a knobbed club to wander through the maze of primeval forests in quest of food as it is for the man today who escapes office or factory walls to hunt in our forests and fields matching skills of chase with the game.
An Englishman named Sir Alfred Pease, put it this way in his “Book Of The Lion:” “The most and best is known to the man who quits his bed before sunrise … who spends his days on mountain ranges, in forests and wilderness … or over the sun-withered wastes of the earth, to visit the utmost refuges of beast or bird.”
At a recent meeting of an American Outdoors Conference a speaker said: ‘With a gun or bow, a man becomes part of the chain of life. Without either, only a spectator.”
Fred’s Thoughts About Bowhunting
I still get the same thrill out of deer hunting that I did when I started at the age of 10. I think the reason I have always loved the sport so much lies in its inherent challenge, for the white-tailed deer is the smartest creature to walk this earth. It has eyes for anything that makes the slightest movement, it has a nose that can pick up just about any scent, and it has ears that act like radar, warning it of any sound that is out-of-place. To outwit a creature as well-tuned to its environment as the whitetail, takes some doing. They know where every tree, stump and twig is. We’re definitely the ones at a disadvantage.
I hunt deer because I love the entire process: the preparations, the excitement, and sustained suspense of trying to match my woodlore against the finely honed instincts of these creatures. On most days spent in the woods, I come home with an honestly earned feeling that something good has taken place. It makes no difference whether I got anything, it has to do with how the day was spent.
Life in the open is one of my finest rewards. I enjoy and become completely immersed in the high challenge and increased opportunity to become, for a time, a part of nature. Deer hunting is a classical exercise in freedom. It is a return to the fundamentals that I instinctively feel are basic and right.
I have always tempered my hunting with respect for the game pursued. I see the animal not only as a target, but as a living creature with more freedom than I will ever have. I take that life if I can, with regret as well as joy, and with the sure knowledge that nature’s ways of fang and claw or exposure and starvation are a far crueler fate than I bestow.
But a hunt based only on trophies taken falls short of what the ultimate goal should be. I have known many hunters who, returning empty-handed, have had nothing to say of the enjoyment of time spent in nature’s outdoors.
I like to think that an expedition should be looked upon, whether it be an evening hunt nearby or a prolonged trip to some far-off place, as a venture into an unspoiled area. With time to commune with your inner soul as you share the outdoors with the birds, animals and fish that live there.