Papa Bear Blazed A Trail For Bowhunters To Follow

by Frank Addington Jr.

Frank recalls his experiences with archery great Fred Bear!
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THE IMAGE OF a tall, lanky, gray-haired man in a red flannel shirt, faded camo jacket, bolo tie, and Borsalino hat with recurve bow in hand is forever embedded in most older hunters' minds. 

These were the trademarks of legendary archer Fred Bear.

This year marks the 16th anniversary of Bear's passing, yet his spirit is alive and with us today as much as ever.

My father's archery shop did business with Bear and we later became good friends. When he died in 1988 I wrote an article in a local newspaper that outdoor writer Skip Johnson ran. 

The article was on Fred's life and how he had impacted not just me, but the sport of archery. The story must have been picked up by a wire service because Bear's widow Henrietta saw the article and sent word via Bear's PR man, Dick Lattimer, that they appreciated the kind words. 

It was easy to find kind words about Fred.

As a kid, I had two heroes -- Fred Bear and John Wayne. Bear had put tracks across lands never before walked by a bowhunter.  He promoted the sport like no one before him ever had. 

He often appeared on ABC's Wide World of Sports with people like Curt Gowdy, and Bear hired good videographers to record most of his adventures. These videos were always done with class and showcased the entire experience of the outdoors.

Lattimer and others also got great still photographs, like the famous picture of Bear walking bow in hand with two teen-aged boys under the autumn leaves at Grousehaven. The photo spoke volumes about the old teaching the young -- and the spirit of the outdoors and the circle of life.

Bear was a conservationist who cared deeply about nature and man's impact on the habitat.

Probably archery's biggest boom came after Bear ran the "Become a Two-Season Hunter" campaign in the 1970's. Lattimer and staff shot great photos of Bear at full draw and then added the two-season theme on a poster. The campaign was to encourage gun hunters to pick up a bow and try extending their hunting season by bowhunting.

It worked.

What I liked about Bear was that he emphasized the entire experience and enjoyment of the hunt as much as anything.  He never focused on just the harvest -- it was the total experience that mattered. 

I think some people in the sport today can get too wrapped up in the harvest and miss the point of the total experience we get from being outdoors and sitting around a campfire at the end of a hard day.

I first met Bear around 1978. From then until his death in 1988, I spent time around him every chance I got. I enjoyed just hearing his stories and watching how people from all walks of life reacted when they saw him at a show.

He was a celebrity, but could always laugh at himself -- like the time a chair collapsed with him at a big show in Atlanta. He had been watching a brunette in a red dress walk down the aisle (he was in his 80's at the time) and, as he leaned the chair out to watch, it simply collapsed. I still remember seeing those huge shoulders shake with laughter as he watched the woman walk out of sight. That was Papa Bear.

The stories poured from him and I enjoyed every one. I really enjoyed hearing about his early days when he first started in the archery business. 

He couldn't afford a booth at sport shows, so he would lay his leather goods out on a hotel bed and sell from there. Later, he began trading   sports show promoters an archery exhibition in exchange for booth space. The highlight of Bear's show was when he'd shoot a coin from midair. I regret I never got to see one of his shows.

Bear was a snap shooter and shot instinctively. Although photographed a few times with compound bows, he never really bonded with them. He cut down the shelf on his recurve so that the arrow would be close to his knuckle. The rollover of the compound was hard for him to get used when snap shooting. He "united" bowhunters and did not divide the traditionalist from the modern bowhunter. He simply wanted people to try bowhunting -- whatever method, brand or style of shooting they used.

He also loved good jokes.  One time I used a camera with a motor drive to capture his changes in expressions as I told him a really funny joke.  Today those photos are framed in my office and show him going from a grin to that full laugh that made his shoulders rock.  That's how I like to remember Fred.

The last time I saw Papa Bear, I told him I'd be doing a book someday and wanted a long quote handwritten from him for the book. He wrote a fairly long quote that ended with, "It is not required that a great man be without fault."

Although he's been gone 16 years, his spirit and vision for the sport of archery lives on.

Kids were also dear to his heart.  I know Fred would be proud of the advances in equipment for young people and the National Archery in Schools program.

Fred Bear signing Bear bows for Fred Lutger's kids in the 70's.

Every time a new shooter shoots his first bull's-eye, harvests his first game or simply enjoys his first day in the great outdoors, he is following in Bear's large footsteps.   Take his advice and spend some time pulling a string---and get your family and friends involved in archery.

I can almost see that famous grin of Fred's now...and those tall, lanky shoulders rocking as he laughs.  Make it fun folks and enjoy God's abundant outdoors.   Remember to enjoy your child's first few attempts at archery, your first game animal, and even those misses.  It's about the total experience.

After all these years, Fred Bear is still showing us how.

 Until Next Time, Shoot Straight.

 Frank Addington, Jr.


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Frank Addington Jr. 
Instinctive Archery Exibitions

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