PAPA BEAR: Chapter 6, Part 2: Spreading The Word

Spreading The Word

So in 1976 I began traveling on behalf of the AAC, and over the next five years I logged more than 100,000 air miles just on AAC business. I might add, that the AAC paid none of my travel or office expenses. Fred and Kelly insisted that all would be absorbed into our regular Bear Archery budget. My travel and involvement with the AAC continued until sometime early in 1984 when we in AMO decided that it was important to turn control of the AAC over to the consumer membership organizations. And, quite frankly, after serving as the unofficial AAC head guy for so many years, I’m sure that many people felt it was time to move on and get someone new to handle the AAC, one not tied to one of the manufacturers. That’s when my old friend, Dr. Jim Shubert, was asked to take over the AAC, and he did a commendable job for many years.

In 1979 Gordon and Mimi Bentley and Fred and Henrietta Bear traveled to Washington, D.C. to represent The American Archery Council and to receive the prestigious “Leadership in Action” award from the Hunting Hall of Fame. It was a formal event, and Fred was very proud of this honor as were Gordon Bentley and I and all of the others involved. The award was given to the AAC “for its actions to promote hunter education and the perpetuation of the sport of hunting. It was in recognition of the unprecedented active role in modern-day conservation affairs on the grass-roots level as well as in the meeting rooms of our nation’s capital, wherever the future of our freedom to hunt is discussed.” By that time AMO was providing $100,000 a year for the fiscal operation of the AAC.

Fred, Kelly and I also sat down one day in 1979 and discussed the need for better communications between all of the archery organizations, not only at the national level as we were doing on The American Archery Council, but also at the grass-roots level. We discussed it further with Gordon Bentley, the AAC President, and he, too, agreed that more was needed in this regard.

Gordon, Gene Jones and I planned a series of regional meetings across the U.S. to bring together as many of the state archery and bowhunting organizations as possible for a day-long session. The purpose was to bring them up-to-speed on what all was going on nationally, as well as to seek their input on special opportunities and problems they were working on at the state level. These were extremely valuable get-togethers. For one thing, it helped bowhunting leaders and fish and game professionals from adjoining states get to know one another so they could work together.

The first such meeting was held in 1979 in Dallas, Texas and covered representatives from Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana. We held similar regional meetings in San Francisco, Atlanta, Denver, Washington D.C., and Milwaukee during 1980 and 1981. Fred and I flew together for the meeting in San Francisco so that he could see how our meeting format worked and how the meetings were going. He was very happy.

“Bowhunting in North America”

Another project I got involved with during this same 1978-79 timeframe for the AAC was in producing the “Bowhunting in North America” film. As I mentioned earlier, AMO and the AAC had done some film work earlier to put together things that would get the story of our fun sport out to the American public. But it was felt that we needed a generalized bowhunting film that depicted all of the different kinds of bowhunting that people could do in this country. We had been noodling this idea for some time.

Then, one of our AAC members, the Professional Bowhunter’s Society, brought us a proposal along the same lines, and we finally got the project off dead center. I was asked to produce the film for the industry and was happy to have the opportunity. To do so I traveled with a film crew to Arizona, Michigan, Alabama and Florida shooting the various segments of the film. And Gene Jones handled a segment done in Colorado. I convinced some of our top archery people to get involved in appearing in the film—Fred Bear, Chuck Saunders, Jim Dougherty and his son, Holt, Ben Rogers Lee (world champion turkey caller), Gene Jones, and many others.

Fred was filmed teaching two young boys about bowhunting in one segment. This we filmed at our hunting camp, Grousehaven, near Rose City, Michigan. The two young boys were my son, Scott, and Hap Fling’s son, Scott. Other segments included Gene Jones elk hunting in Colorado; world champion Ben Rogers Lee calling wild turkeys in Alabama; Chuck Saunders bowfishing in Florida, and Jim and Holt Dougherty on a javelina hunt in Arizona.

Jim Hotchkiss, a friend from the Athletic Institute at the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association in North Palm Beach, Florida, hired a film crew and was the director of the film. Jim was always a cordial pro, and I really enjoyed the film work with him over the years.

One purpose of our film was to provide our state hunter safety coordinators across the U.S. with a film to help them promote and teach bowhunting. Another reason for producing the film, of course, was to gain widespread exposure to our sport among the American public, in general, and to America’s firearms hunters, in particular (more of our “Become a Two-Season Hunter” marketing approach.)

We had the help of fish and game people wherever we went, and I wish I had kept a record of all of their names. One, though, who was a big help in the final edit of the film was Jim Thornhill, Alabama Department of Conservation, who was also the training aids chairman for the North American Association of Hunter Safety Coordinators. We also wrote a bowhunting instructor’s training guide to go along with the film.

The film was written by Gary Santee of Shawnee, Kansas and funded with $30,000 from the AAC and a $12,000 grant from The Athletic Institute.

This film eventually won a Teddy Award at the National Outdoor-Travel Film Festival for the “Best Hunting Film” of 1979-80 and was one of only three films shown that year at the North American Wildlife Conference. It also won a Gold Camera Award at the 1980 U.S. Industrial Film Festival against more than 40 other films in its category.

Bowhunter Education

When I first became involved in the archery industry in 1966 one of the first things I asked Fred, Kelly and Tom Blee was what kind of demographics were available on America’s archers and bowhunters. I soon found out that the answer was “little or none.”

So while Pat Wiseman and I were running the American Archery Council, we combined that need with our available pool of Fred Bear Sports Club members to do the first national bowhunter expenditure and demographics study for our sport. There had been an earlier study of the same kind done in the state of Wisconsin.

Now another major issue of the 1970s was dealt with in a resolution that I wrote at the time for the American Archery Council. And that revolved around the idea of bowhunter education. As in many other matters, I represented Fred’s point-of-view on this as well, but was cast in many quarters as the “bad guy” because of our stance.

Since I, not Fred, was the one doing the talking and writing on the controversial issues those years, I was the one who took the heat from those on the opposite side of a number of issues facing our sport. It was far easier to attack the lowly messenger than it was to go against the top legend in the sport. Being thin-skinned, these attacks really bothered me at the time.

But Fred understood what was going on and was always very compassionate about what was directed my way. And knowing that I had Fred’s full support made all the difference in the world. Nowhere was this more evident than in the sensitive area of bowhunter education.

All of us at Bear Archery fully supported the idea of bowhunter education as a part of each state’s hunter education and safety programs. Hunter education had begun in New York State after World War II and was a very necessary and successful idea.

Our friend, Bill Wadsworth, of the National Field Archery Association, had been the “father” of the National Bowhunter Education Program. Bill was an executive with the Boy Scouts of America and a fine gentleman. When I was the president of AMO it was a real thrill the evening we inducted Bill, posthumously, into our Archery Hall of Fame. His beautiful wife, Bobbi, was in attendance. It is always a shame when the people so honored have already passed on.

We in AMO and on the AAC had invited Bill to meet with us in North Palm Beach, Florida, in about 1977 to explain his new NBEF program to us with the idea that we would endorse the program. We did so, and, for a short time, I even attended his NBEF Board of Directors meetings representing AMO, AAC and the manufacturers. There were many fine people associated then, as well as now, with that worthy NBEF program.

One sticking point that all of us in AMO and the AAC had with the program; however, was in Bill’s insistence at the time that the NBEF program would be mandatory over and above the already mandatory general hunter education programs. Fred was deeply concerned that this would present far too many required hours of training for new bowhunters if they were required to first take a general hunter education course and then a separate long bowhunter education course. He felt that Bill’s NBEF program should be a part of the general hunter education course and a voluntary “post graduate” course, if you will.

I won’t get into all of that controversy. Let’s just say that I took a written stand on the issue to NRA then-president Harlon Carter, at Fred’s urging. Some in Bill’s camp attacked me very strongly at the time because of the stand that I took on Fred’s behalf. But, as they say, that sometimes goes with the territory. I’ve learned over the years that quite often people in our sport with no connection to the manufacturing end of it don’t have a wide enough view of some of these things that could adversely affect the health and future of the sport. And this doesn’t apply only to our sport of archery.

Bill Wadsworth is now gone, and I respected him very much and liked him as a person. Let’s just say that he, Fred, Kelly and I did not see eye-to-eye.

Finally, at the NFAA annual meeting in Cincinnati in the spring of 1978 Bill and his folks finally went out of their way to change their focus so that they were not publicly promoting NBEF as a mandatory program to replace present hunter education programs. And on another sticky point that Fred was concerned about, at this meeting they also agreed that shooting proficiency would not be a mandatory or optional part of the NBEF program.

Fred was fully cognizant of the fact that these artificial shooting proficiency tests had no real relationship to what happened to a bowhunter in the field at the “moment of truth.” And no one was a more respected authority than Fred on such an issue. We had the top tournament archer in America at the time on our clinic staff. He consistently won national tournaments, often with perfect scores, yet when faced with letting an arrow loose at a deer when he was out hunting he completely fell apart and forgot all of the training he had done. He really got “buck fever.”

We on the American Archery Council formally approved and endorsed the National Bowhunter Education Program at our Cobo Hall meeting in Detroit in April 1978. This stand was unanimously reaffirmed at the annual meeting of the North American Association of Hunter Safety Coordinators a week later. At the time the NBEP was operating in one form or another in 47 states.

I had also written another resolution for the American Archery Council that dealt with bowhunter education.

Resolution on “Bowhunter Education”

Gordon Bentley, President

You can probably read between the lines from the above resolution that many people in the bowhunting community across the U.S. at the time had their noses out-of-joint, as Kelly liked to say, because the NBEF was perceived as trying to unilaterally replace these other bowhunter training programs. It, indeed, was a very sticky situation in our sport at the time, but one that was resolved, I hope, to everyone’s satisfaction when it was all over and done with.

Yet, a dozen years later in the early ’90s, while I was the president of AMO, I was once again publicly chastised by one of the NBEF fellows in front of a large roomful of my peers at a meeting in Bozeman, Montana because of my perceived stand on this NBEF program in the ’70s. Rather than respond, I just smiled and tried to let it roll off my back, but it was damned hard to do.

Ironically, not too long after that Montana meeting we in AMO had to bail out the entire NBEF program with a financial grant in order to keep it afloat. Life certainly can take some strange twists and turns.

NRA Goes Bowhunting

In the spring of 1974 the NRA passed a resolution endorsing bowhunting at its annual meeting in Atlanta, Georgia:

Whereas, bowhunting requires the same skill and techniques necessary for other sport hunting methods; and

Whereas, the limited range of the bow requires greater development of hunting skills and knowledge of animal habits and characteristics; and

Whereas, bowhunters are regulated by state game laws, and

Whereas, the National Rifle Association of America is vitally interested in the promotion of sport hunting when carried out as a wholesome outdoor recreational activity; now, therefore, be it

Resolved, that the board of directors of the National Rifle Association of America, assembled in annual meeting here this 26th day of March, 1974, endorses bowhunting as a legitimate and proper means of utilizing our renewable wildlife resource, when carried out by methods which are in full compliance with existing laws.

In the fall of 1975 Fred received a memo and follow-up telephone call from the NRA inviting him to what was to be the first meeting of their new archery & bowhunting subcommittee. This was to be held October 19 at Fort Rucker, Alabama, in conjunction with the NFAA National Bowhunter Rendezvous.

Fred explained that he would be busy the entire month of October at our bowhunting camp, Grousehaven, entertaining clients, media representatives, and our salesmen. He suggested that he would like to nominate me to take his place on that new committee. He explained that he was having to cut back his travel a great deal due to his health and that he trusted me to represent his views on the committee. The NRA agreed, and I attended the meeting. That was the beginning of a long and extremely interesting time for me inside the NRA. Later, while running AMO in the ’90s, I again found myself working with old friends and some new ones from the NRA in various committees in Washington, D.C. Susan Lamson, head of the NRA Hunting & Conservation Division at the time was an especially cordial friend.

The executive director of the NRA in those days (1970-1977) was Gen. Maxwell Rich. He was a nice guy and treated me very well. In WWII he served with the 75th Infantry Division and was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star Medal, Army Commendation Ribbon and the French Croix de Guerre with Star.

One day when I was in Washington for a meeting at the old NRA building up the street from the White House, Gen. Rich called me into his office to chat like he had done a few times before. He said that they had an old term out West that he needed to tell me about. Seems when a fella inadvertently does something to someone that upsets them it is necessary to “dust ’em off.” In other words, let them know you’re sorry for having offended them. Seems I had called a meeting of the bowhunting subcommittee to go over an NRA resolution that I had written for the group without clearing it first with the fellow in charge of that subcommittee. So this was the General’s gentle way of letting me know that I’d hurt someone’s feelings and gotten their nose out-of-joint. I quickly made amends and never forgot the message. I always thought the way he handled my gaff was just great. And I understood how he had made the rank of General.

I really didn’t do much on the NRA Public Affairs Committee other than attend meetings and add my two cents worth when it seemed appropriate. Cass Hough, from our sister company, Daisy Air Rifles, in the Victor Recreation Group, was the one who suggested an advertising campaign that became very effective for the NRA in those days. But I was more actively involved in the NRA Hunting & Conservation Committee, and, of course, the NRA Bowhunting Subcommittee.

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