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  • Writer's pictureArch Gibson

Bows, Fred Bear and Ted Nugent

Updated: Jul 22, 2021

What to do during this long, hot summer when not writing or reading? Try making an American long bow, like I’m doing. Doesn’t require a lot of tools or sophisticated design. A lot of folks used to make their own bows for basic survival, hunting, and sport. Today, archery is still a growing sport and has expanded to include compound as well as traditional archery bow and arrows. You can build your own bow from simple oak, maple or other hardwood boards purchased from a lumber yard, or take the long way around and build it fastidiously from a stave. . Be sure to select a board with a straight grain and no imperfections that will weaken the bow. The internet is loaded with bow designs and DIY how-to instructions. I have a long-time interest in bow hunting. My father introduced and taught bow hunting with a six-foot English style long bow he had built in shop class in junior high school! He also subscribed to the belief that outdoor living and the respect for all life is an excellent pathway to a successful life. My sister enjoyed archery and encouraged me along that path.

I started building this long-delayed bow a couple of months ago with a 5/9”X4X96” board of hard Maple. I’ve taken my time, learning some basics on how to use or abuse a draw knife, working with, not against, the grain, the best wood rasps to use, and tillering, the removal of excess wood from the bow limbs to balance them and achieve the optimum draw for your personal physical size. My bow is built in a traditional pyramid style: 68” long. It will have a 45 to 50-pound draw and draw of 28 inches.

It’s been a highly gratifying experience so far, several decades beyond the willow bows we used to fashion with pocket knives on the creek banks back home in Kansas.Little did most of us realize at the time that the best bowyer wood, Osage Orange, literally lined most farm roads. It was a favorite for planting tough, resilient windbreaks.

Interesting how easy modern technology and tools can make the process. Or you can stick to the traditional tools such as draw knife, ax, and rasp. I’m about two-thirds of the way to completion of tillering.

Notable how bowyering had become a skill by 10,000 B.C., the late Paleolithic period. Our ancestors were hunter-gatherers and the power of a bow and arrow must have been earthshaking to old Joe and Jane sitting around the fire wishing for ways to feed themselves. They succeeded. By the time the Greeks were creating divinities, Apollo was their god of archery! Well, we all know the stories of William Tell and Robin Hood. The Chinese had their own heroes and deities of archery dating back to 1766 B.C. in the Shang dynasty.

Our native American tribes succeeded in creating extremely deadly bows and arrows with the most basic of flint tools and scrapers. Today, it is a growing sport in hunting and archery. I recall a relative in Oregon switching from his rifle to a compound bow years ago to breathe some life back into the thrill of bagging his own meat. “It’s more close up and challenging,” he said. Indeed!

Bow hunting enthusiasts had their own heroes back in the 1950s and ‘60s: Ben Pearson and Fred Bear. Pearson achieved fame in beginning in 1927 when he won the Arkansas State Archery Championship using self-made equipment. He began marketing his own arrows and bows in 1937-1939. In 1938 he placed seventh in the National Archery Association’s national tournament. Quite a feat. He finished 24 places ahead of another upstart, Fred Bear. Pearson went on to become one of the most successful archery equipment manufacturers in the land. By early 1960’s he was selling 3,000 bows and up to 4,000 arrows a day, most at modest prices which fed the nation’s growing appetite for the sport.

Today, Bear is most often described as an American bow hunter, bow manufacturer, author, and television host. Back then, he was a real-deal hunter hero. He gained his credibility as an excellent bow hunter by hunting and bagging some of the most dangerous and elusive big game in the world. A humble man, he inspired thousands of young creatures, like myself. One of his friends was today’s bow hunter celebrity hard-rock musician, Ted Nugent. Nugent penned a song about Fred. “Fred Bear” is a pensive ode to Bear and Nugent’s respect for the wild life and his hunter mentor whose “touch” he felt long into his life.

I have no doubt millions of young hunters have a similar mentor, a father, mother, sister, brother who passed along their archery skills and hunter savvy. The good thing about archery and bow hunting is that it has been mastered and enjoyed by all sexes, all ages. And you may meet some spirit of the woods there, along Nugent’s hazy trail, who will gladly share the great outdoors life with you.

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