I drove slowly through the log ranch-style gateway of the Grousehaven Hunting Camp that day in 1988 in Ogemaw County, Michigan with apprehension in my heart. I didn’t know how I’d react to being back there under the circumstances. I had flown from Gainesville to Atlanta to Detroit and then on to the Midland-Bay City-Saginaw (MBS) airport. This was the airport Fred and I and the other Bear Archery traveling people generally drove to from Grayling on all of our business travels.
On this particular day I rented a car, put my suitcase on the back seat and set a rectangular black plastic box on the dashboard. I drove the quiet trail roads through Grousehaven, which had been our Bear Archery hunting camp for decades. Here, each fall, we would gather with our salesmen, selected customers and some of the people from the factory to enjoy one another’s company, to bowhunt the whitetails that came out of the surrounding swamps, and to introduce our folks to our new products and advertising for the coming year. Grousehaven was about an hour’s drive southeast of Grayling, just a couple of miles southeast of Rose City, Michigan.
I’ll always remember Papa Bear, strolling along a trail road in Grousehaven in the fall looking for deer sign.
The Bear Archery Getaway
We’d have groups in for a week at a time, and Bear Archery would spend tens of thousands of dollars to host its guests for the month of October. We paid rent on the property, travel for our guests, licenses, food, incidentals, etc. And we did not skimp on the food. Although Fred wasn’t a heavy eater, he wanted to make sure his guests were well taken care of. Matter of fact, one of Fred’s favorite meals in camp, other than fresh deer liver and heart, was asparagus soup. I think it reminded him of his boyhood days in Pennsylvania cutting the asparagus in his Mennonite maiden aunt’s garden and then taking it to market with them early in the morning in their horse-drawn spring wagon. Often, Carrol Wert, our camp cook and Grayling area portrait photographer, would make up a pot of the asparagus soup just for a treat for Fred.
Carrol had owned the Lone Pine Inn in Grayling for quite a long time and was an excellent cook. He’d always get things going for supper and then slip out to a nearby tree blind just east of the main lodge at the edge of one of the grass runways for the evening’s bowhunt. That way he could be back to finish preparing the meal when the rest of us hunters returned. I often hunted out of his blind when he didn’t want to go out. Never shot an arrow there, but saw a lot of does and young deer. Never a buck. But it was a “golden blind” from which to hunt, especially since it was within walking distance of camp in case of rain or heavy snow.
Ray “Hap” Fling, our Bear Archery sales manager was the “Huntmaster” of Grousehaven during these hunts in the later years, and his ever-present smile and laugh brightened up many a hunt for all of us. Fred often said that the white-tailed deer was the most difficult big game species that he hunted in any of his world travels. And when one of us was lucky enough to score, Hap always saw to it that we had help tracking, field dressing and bringing in our venison for the buck pole next to the main lodge. We’d often have three or four deer hanging there aging in the cool October sunshine against a backdrop of colorful fall foliage. Those of us who wanted meat for the freezer were not above hanging a tender doe on the buck pole, either.
We generally hosted about 100 hunters each fall at Grousehaven. And after our customers and salesmen left, Fred always let those of us from the factory, supervisors, foremen and managers come over for a nice, long hunt. A wonderful bonding experience for us all. During those times, I generally came over and enjoyed doing some of the cooking. I especially got a kick out of fixing Larry Bland, our head maintenance guy, instant grits for breakfast! That always was a light-hearted moment between Larry and me during the hunt. He was a great guy, with a wonderful manner and smile.
Military Muscle at Grousehaven
Grousehaven was a 3,000-acre prime hunting area adjacent to the Rifle River Recreational Area in the forests of northern lower Michigan. The roads in Grousehaven were named after famous people who had hunted there. There was Arthur Godfrey Drive, Hoyt Vandenburg Circle, Munger Alley, Boutelle Circle, Curtis Acres, Alger Road, Everett Circle, Harley Earl Road, Remington Road, Winchester Drive, and, of course, there was Fred Bear Circle.
This was property owned by Harold R. “Bill” Boyer of Grosse Pointe, Michigan, a former General Motors vice president who had been in charge of their GM Cadillac Cleveland Tank Division and the architect of GM’s Air Transport Division during World War II. Mr. Boyer helped manage the nation’s aircraft production during World War II and the Korean War. In the Korean War he was in charge of all aircraft production. His official title was Chief of the Aircraft Manufacturing Branch of the U.S. War Production Board from 1941 to 1943, and Chairman of the U.S. Aviation Production Board during the Korean War.
He had also been the GM vice president in charge of the Defense Systems Division and in the early 1960s he supervised tests on experimental vehicles for possible use on the moon. General Motors later built the lunar rover that the astronauts used on the moon during the Apollo 15, 16 and 17 missions.
It was at Grousehaven that Fred taught such people as Gen. Curtis LeMay (who would later run for president of the United States) to shoot the bow and arrow. At the time Fred first met him, Gen. LeMay was the Commander of the Strategic Air Command and later U.S. Chief of Staff. Others who were among the regular Grousehaven gang were television personality Arthur Godfrey; Harley Earl, head stylist at General Motors for 35 years whom you might have seen portrayed in Buick television commercials; Dick Boutelle, the head of Fairchild Aircraft; Larry Bell of Bell Aircraft; Gen. Hoyt Vandenberg (for whom Vandenberg Air Force Base is named); and four-star Gen. Hank Everest, head of T.A.C. The current president of GM at the time would also join in the annual hunt.
Fred’s friendship with Arthur Godfrey led to several appearances on his national television program and a trip to Africa together in 1964 where Godfrey took some trophies with his bow and arrow, and Fred took a 4-ton bull elephant with his bow. All this news was sent back to the U.S. on tapes recorded around the campfire by Godfrey and Fred and later heard by a national radio audience. This really put bowhunting on the map! I can remember listening to them on the radio before I went to work for Fred.
Gathered here at Grousehaven during the early 1950’s were some of the biggest names in aviation on their annual deer hunts where they could let their hair down, hunt during the day and help plan out strategy for the war going on in Korea at the time in the evenings over a libation.
When Arthur Godfrey visited the area again in 1977 he told the local Bay City Times newspaper that, “If people only knew how many Washington decisions were made at this Rose City (Grousehaven) cabin … they would be shocked.”
Next: Chapter 8, part 2