Interest in Fred Bear resurfaces due to documentary on the Sportsman Channel

Fred Bear began what would eventually become the Bear Archery Company in the corner of a garage in Detroit during the 1930s. His business, like most, took some time to get rolling, but by the end of the decade, he was making a living as a custom bowyer.

This week, the Sportsman Channel is airing a new documentary about the legend’s life.

In 1941, Bear formally announced the opening of Bear Archery in a magazine called the Ye Sylvan Archer. From that day on, Bear Archery has been building bows for hunters across the world.

In 1947, Fred purchased and built his new factory on six acres of land adjacent to the Au Sable River and officially moved the company to Grayling, Mich. From that year until 1978, (when the company was moved to Gainesville, Fla.) the small town of Grayling turned out millions of bows and transformed hunting forever.

The legend of Fred Bear has thankfully been kept alive through books, magazine articles, a movie, and the continuing success of Bear Archery. New generations of bowhunters are honoring this great hunter who played such an instrumental role in paving the way for those of us flinging arrows today by remembering Papa Bear.

Bear was a pioneer in the founding of modern archery, especially the mass production of bows, which both caused and supported the rapid expansion of bowhunters in America during the middle of the last century. Bear was a hunter, archer, conservationist, and so much more.

On a trip to Northern Michigan, my travels took me near the town of Grayling. Curiosity about any possible museums or remains from the Fred Bear era won out and convinced me to make a side trip in hopes of learning more about the famous archer and his company. I figured there could be no better place for finding information on Fred Bear than at a local outdoor store, so when I spotted Skip’s Sport Shop, I pulled in. I was disappointed when he said, “There’s nothing here anymore.”

Skip did clue me into a friend of his, Pete Kocefas, who is a serious collector of Bear memorabilia. I thanked Skip and started to head off toward Pete’s place, when I noticed a realty office. I decided to stop and pick up information on land in the area and the kind woman inside told me where the old Bear house was and who the present owner is. I explained my position as a writer and she told me it would be worth talking to the current owners to see if they’d let me have a look around.

After a thorough examination of my writing credentials, the owners were kind enough to allow me to walk around the property. Rain was coming down fairly steady as I strolled out toward the river. It was a special moment as I pondered the classic bowhunters who had walked through those pines. I sat on a stump looking out at the river as a group of kayakers made their way down the famous waters of the Au Sable, then walked to the end of the pier to examine a wood duck box Fred supposedly built with his own hands.

Inside the home, I was able to sit next to the fireplace in the den where generations of early archery pioneers filled the air with tales of hunting adventure.

The home still holds some personal effects of Bear’s. Oil paintings, photographs and a life-sized cardboard cutout of Bear remain, but the most interesting piece of Bear history may be a steel arrow which appears to be a maker of some sort with the No. 23 welded on it. The current owners children found it in the yard, and no one seems to know what it is.

Visiting the home of Fred Bear was an experience I’ll never forget. I’ll forever be thankful to have been given the opportunity to walk where the greats walked and to touch a piece of history so important to the thriving tradition of bowhunting.

See you down the trail ...

III

Brandon Butler is an outdoors columnist for the News Tribune. Contact him at outdoors@newstribune.com.

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