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Fred Bear Museum
written by Michael Burch

A glimpse into the life of "The Father of Modern Archery."
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There isn't another person that has done more for the modern history of archery than the late, great Fred Bear.  A lean, sinewy man that always donned his famous Borsalino Hat, Fred Bear spent 60 years of his life devoted to archery and is considered by many to be the father or modern archery.

 

Fred Bear grew up on a farm in rural Pennsylvannia, but moved to Detroit to explore new things. His first peak into archery was in 1925 after watching an Art Young (of Pope & Young fame) film on a hunting trip. This movie captivated Bear and when he finally met Art Young, it was the catalyst that started the chain of events that led Bear down a long road of archery innovations and hunts across the world.  Not only did Young become a friend of Bear's he also taught him how to make bows, arrows, and bowstrings in Bear's basement workshop.


Bear began bowhunting in 1929 with a bow carved from an $8 Osage orange stave. Six years later, he finally connected on a whitetail deer -- it was the first of many big game animals he eventually downed with a bow and arrow.


According to the Fred Bear company history, during the height of the Great Depression in 1933, Bear and another acquaintance named Charles Piper pooled $600 and started Bear Products Company. They worked with printing, but in one corner of the shop, Bear handcrafted archery equipment for a growing circle of friends who appreciated the craftsmanship his patternmaker's training brought to the art of the bowyer. In just six years, Bear's archery business expanded to the point it could support him and he launched Bear Archery Company.


To make a living building bows, Bear first had to expand the market for his products. He was instrumental in promoting a bowhunting season in Michigan (1936). He also tackled target archery, winning Michigan's state championship in 1934, 1937 and 1939. In those days, Bear traveled the sports show circuit, demonstrating his instinctive shooting skills at exhibitions in major urban areas.


In 1942, Bear and Detroit Free Press editor Jack Van Coevering journeyed to Michigan's Upper Peninsula to make a bowhunting film. It was the first of many films to be produced over the years to follow. Films gave Bear something to show sportsman's groups to interest them in hunting with a bow. Bear used outdoor magazines, films and specialty shops to promote archery sales and seasons.

 

Bear remained active in designing products and promoting the sport he loved until his death in 1988 at 86 years of age. Truly an icon in archery, Fred Bear will forever be remembered in the archery industry and in the hearts and souls of many people for generations to come.

 

As you walk through the Fred Bear museum, you are walking through a piece of his life and a huge part of bowhunting history.  You'll see exquisite life-size mounts of animals whose live weight exceeded the 1,000-pound mark.  Even though most of the mounts are more than 40 years old, the work performed was phenomenal and way ahead of its time.


You'll also find large photos depicting the lean Fred Bear on many of his adventures in the wild.  With his trademark felt hat firmly on his head, Bear shows his humorous side in each picture with a slight smile brightening his face that clearly shows that he was in his element and having the time of his life. 


Items from his collection of bowhunting artifacts, trophies and memorabilia in the museum, as well as a great number of historical bows and arrows used or built by the innovative Fred Bear and his company.  It is the largest privately-held collection of archery artifacts in the world with some dating back to the turn of the century.  It is a must-see for outdoorsmen of all ages and a great piece of history that every bowhunter should get to experience.

Through the treasures found in the museum, you'll quickly be able to tell why he was one of the first persons to be inducted into the Archery Hall of Fame, and known across the world as the father of modern archery.

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