Fred Bear did not lecture people. Nor did he tell the people who worked for him at Bear Archery how to act. He let his own life and actions serve as the guide they were to follow. He let his own words during meetings and quiet talks provide us with the guidance and direction he felt we all should go, both within Bear Archery and in the outside world. When one works for a legend in a sport, the people with whom you come into contact watch you very closely to see how well you represent that person. And when you work with those outside the sport, you not only represent the legend, you also represent the sport. Unfortunately, some people I’ve known over the years do not grasp that fact. I always tried to remember it.
From time to time Fred shared with us bits of advice, wisdom, books, newsletters or articles that he felt were worth our time and effort to read and live by. I thought by knowing what some of these were you might gain more insight into his way of looking at things and in what he felt was really important in life.
ANOTHER LEGENDARY BOWHUNTER
One of his favorite books that he gave out to friends, associates and people in the wildlife community for many years was Aldo Leopold’s “A Sand County Almanac” published in 1949 by Oxford University Press. If you’ve never read it, you need to track down a copy and do so. When the book was published, the San Francisco Chronicle wrote, “We can place this book on the shelf that holds the writings of Thoreau and John Muir.” And a fellow by the name of Fairfield Osborn said, “The book is a revelation of the intimate feelings of a man who fully senses the wonders of nature. Further, it sings with Aldo Leopold’s very special and rare sense of ethics and philosophy.”
Leopold began his professional career with the U.S. Forest Service in 1909 and he joined the Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin in 1924. He died in 1948 shortly after he had become an advisor on conservation to the United Nations. Aldo Leopold was also a bowhunter.
As Leopold said in the Introduction to his book “There are some people who can live without wild things, and some who cannot.”
Fred admired Aldo Leopold. Here is a letter that Fred gave me that Leopold wrote to a friend, Herbert Stoddard, in Tallahassee, Florida on March 26, 1934. This is from one archer to another.
I am sending you by express a yew bow, which I have been making for you this winter. I have enjoyed it because it was a way to express my affection and regard for one of the few who understands what yew bows-and quail and mallards and wind and sunsets-are all about.
I cannot assure you that it is a good piece of wood. Staves, like friends, have to be lived with in many woods and weathers before one knows their quality. The fact that the stave is yew, has a specific gravity of .432, came from Roseburg, Oregon, and has been waiting for a job since 1930, is no more a test of how it will soar an arrow than the fact that a man is a naturalist, weighs 160, and has had time enough to season, is a test of the zest or nicety with which he will expend his powers in the good cause. All I can say of this bow is that its exterior “education” embodies whatever craft and wisdom is mine to impart. What lies inside is the everlasting question.
The bow is built for endurance rather than speed, hence the length. Its weight (in a cold cellar) is 50 pounds at 28 inches. This ought to temper down, in your climate, to a heavy American or light York. I doubt it will hold on the gold at 100 yards, but it might. Should you use it regularly for York, I would advise a lighter string.
If it proves a good piece of wood, it should be re-tillered after a season’s use, to catch up any “hinge” which may by then have developed. I will be glad to do this for you. At that time, should it have proven a worthy stick, it may also be shortened to make a straight hunter, or a York.
I have tried to build into this bow the main recent improvements in bow-design, but since some of them are not visible, they will bear mention. The square cross section and waisted handle are, of course, visible innovations, but probably less important than the new location of the geographic center. In former days this was put close under the arrow plate, but in this bow it lies as near the center of the handle as is possible without overworking the lower limb. In a 31?2″ handle I have found this spot to be 11?2″ below the arrow plate. Some authorities make it 13?4″, but I know from observation that these too-modern bows never appear at two successive annual tournaments, or if they do, they are “on crutches” and ready for premature pensioning to some idle peg on the bow-rack.
The horns whence came these nocks were pulled off the skeleton of an old cow on the Santa Rita ranges by Dave Gorsuch. The slight flaws at the base of the upper nock are the measure of the seasons which bleached her bones before Dave found her. I doubt not that many a black vulture perched on her skull meanwhile, and many a quail and roadrunner, coyote and jackrabbit played their little games of life and death in the hackberry bush hard by her withering hide. Did that stodgy old cow, whilst living, know, or get any satisfaction from knowing, that within her growing horns she was converting her daily provender of desert grama and sun-dried mesquite into an enduring poem of amber light? Does an eagle know, or get any satisfaction from knowing, that in his incomparable pinions he is converting carrion into a structure so perfect that every breeze sings its praises? Does a yew tree glory in fashioning from mere soil and sunlight a wood whose shavings curl in ecstasy at the prospect of becoming a bow? Does a cedar’s pride lie in his towering height, or in the fact-unknown to all save archers-that under his shaggy bark lies a snow-white wood that planes with the joyful sound of tearing silk-the sound that bluebills make when they hurtle out of the sky at the invitation of placid waters? These are questions meant for an archer to ask, but for no man to answer.
One cannot fashion a stave without indulging in fond hopes of its future. I hope this one will one day sire a litter of six golds for you, and will many a time hear your gleeful chuckle as you add up the ends for a 500 score. On many a thirsty noon I hope you lean it against a mossy bank by cool springs. In fall I hope its shafts will sing in sunny glades where turkeys dwell, and that one day some wily buck will live just long enough to startle at the twang of its speeding string.
Among my more homely prayers are these: That the nock will never come off just as you start out for the woods or targets, nor the arrow plate spring loose just as you modestly explain to some visiting tyro that the inlay is of mastodon ivory which “stayed put” since the Pleistocene.
And, lastly, if the bow breaks, with or without provocation, pray waste no words or thoughts in vain regret. There are more staves in the woods than have yet sped an arrow, all longing to realize their manifest destiny. Just blow three blasts on your horn and I will make you another.
Yours as ever, Aldo Leopold
I think perhaps you can see from the above letter why Fred admired Aldo Leopold so very much and why he wanted us all to understand how he looked at things, especially as they related to our sport of archery and the outdoor world in general.
Leopold’s writings remind me very much of an author I’ve admired and read many times over the years-Loren Eiseley. He was a naturalist, humanist and poet. His day job was as the Benjamin Franklin professor of anthropology and the history of science at the University of Pennsylvania. His book “The Star Thrower” is a classic.
Another book that Fred gave to many of us at Bear Archery was David Halberstam’s “The Reckoning.” This is the story of the Ford Motor Company and Nissan and how the Japanese took over the American automobile market. After a period of time went by each of us received this personal note signed by Fred:
Sixteen of our top people here at Bear Archery received a copy of “The Reckoning” by David Halberstam. I have heard from only one person who commented that it was most interesting and thanks.
This is a second attempt to arouse an interest in improving yourself, to be a greater asset to Bear and to upgrade your personal outlook. As you know, we are now a member of the Hanson Group who are portrayed so favorably in this writing. This information, plus the Royal Bank letter, and some time spent on the book will help you understand how it happened that we gave the auto industry to the Japanese, and how our standard of living can go only down unless we make a better product at a lower cost.
WORDS OF WISDOM
Near the end of his life, Fred wanted to share with those of us who worked with him, and who he considered to be friends, some of the thoughts he had collected over the years and kept stored in his desk drawer. I thought that by sharing this you might gain more insight into Fred’s personality, ethics and focus. On Aug. 26, 1986 (just a year-and-a-half before he died) he sent us the following memo:
A COLLECTION OF SAYINGS FROM FRED BEAR’S FILE
“Children today are too fond of luxury, have bad manners, despise authority and have no respect for their elders. What will they be like when they grow up?” This statement was made by Socrates who died in 399 B.C.
“Modesty is for those who have no talents.”
“Chief Justice Earl Warren was addressing the New York City dinner of the Jewish Theological Seminary of professional ‘counselors of ethics’ who ‘might well include the ministers of all faiths’ as well as scholars. ‘The world needs such counselors as much as it needs lawyers,’ Warren argued, because ‘law floats in a sea of ethics … Society would come to grief without ethics, which is unenforceable in the courts and cannot be made part of law.'”
“People soon forget delays in doing a job, but they will long remember how well you did it.”
“When one is consumed with envy and self-satisfaction, all around him is disorder and malice toward fellow man.”
“There is no limit to what can be done if it does not matter who gets the credit.” … (This particular thought was one Fred drilled into my head over and over, and he had placed this quote on my desk several times over the years as I struggled to get the various factions within our sport and the conservation community to work together.)
“Let us not get a living by thy trade, but thy sport.”-Henry David Thoreau
“Concentration translates into courage.”
“Forgetfulness makes life viable.”
“It’s a short walk from Hallelujah to the Hoots.”
“A book reflects the author’s experience, knowledge, point-of-view and limits.”
“We cannot demand, of any great person, that he be faultless.”
“No man builds a business. A man builds an organization and the organization builds the business. It cannot be done any other way.”
“The size of any business is limited only by the size of the man. No business long remains greater than the man who runs it.”
“The man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing he cares about more than his personal safety, is a miserable creature with no chance of being free, unless made so by the exertion of better men than himself.”
Here’s another one Fred liked to give out to folks at Bear Archery when he wanted to remind them of our goal of making the highest-quality products, even though we might have to charge a bit more:
“Buying Bear Bows is like buying oats. If you want nice, clean, fresh oats, you must pay a fair price. However, if you can be satisfied with oats that have already been through the horse … they come a little cheaper!”
And here were our Bear Archery guidelines during the time I worked for Fred. Frank Scott put these together with Fred’s input and approval, and they were sent out to all of our Bear Archery dealers.
Fred Bear’s – Ten Commandments of Good Business
is the most important person in any business.
is not dependent on us — we are dependent on him.
is not an interruption of our work — he is the purpose of it.
does us a favor when he calls — we are not doing him a favor by serving him.
is a part of our business — not an outsider.
is not a cold statistic — he is a flesh-and-blood human being with feelings and emotions like our own.
is not someone to argue or to match wits with.
is a person who brings us his wants — it is our job to fill these wants.
is deserving of the most courteous and attentive treatment we can give him.
is the lifeblood of this and every other business.
Look for next installment: Chapter 17 of ‘I Remember Papa Bear’