Just a very short note tonight, as it’s late and we’ll be hitting the bush tomorrow at 5:30 am.
Today was a transition day. We drove from Deer Lake to the cabin near St. Anthony. It was about a 6 hour drive north and east along the coast. You can see Labrador directly across the channel to the north from our location (see map below). Polar bears sometimes ride ice floes and end up here in far northern Newfoundland. The landscape and fishing villages along the drive were stunning. Had I been driving it would have taken 12 hours with photo stops.
There’s not much to report. They are seeing lots of moose, which are beginning to rut and call, so my timing seems good. The area looks fantastic. Tomorrow I will be paired up with a local Newfoundlander named John who has lived here all his life and knows the local forest and its moose. Temperatures will be in the 30s tomorrow, so it should be a great day.
I’m the only English speaking person in camp. Everyone else speaks French. Fortunately, a few of them are bilingual so we are managing to communicate. I’m learning a lot and having fun. Everyone is very intrigued with my vintage recurves and arrows.
Tune in tomorrow for a report from the first day in the field.
Keep the Traditional Spirit Alive!
PHOTOS AT BOTTOM
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If Cape Cod and the Rocky Mountains had a one-night stand, the bastard child would surely be Newfoundland, with her majestic shoreline, salty fishing community, timbered mountains, and abundant wildlife—all mixed up in a gritty human culture.
I'm not sure how Newfoundlanders would feel about that, but that's how I felt by the end of today.
My hunt doesn’t not start until tomorrow, so today I rented a car and explored Gros Morne National Park, only to fall in love with Newfoundland. The park is named for Newfoundland’s second highest mountain, which is 2,644 ft tall. In French Gros Morne means “large mountain standing alone.” Interestingly, the chain of mountains that contains Gros Morne is considered an outlying range of the Appalachians, which I left behind in New York.
I didn’t really have a plan. The only thing I knew for certain was that I needed some woods time after spending all of the previous day in airports and planes. After driving about 45 minutes, I found the trailhead for Gros Morne mountain (I realize that is redundant!). The sign said to bring plenty of food and water because the hike to the top and back could take as long as eight hours. I realize that 2,644 feet doesn’t sound like much, but keep in mind that you are starting at sea level, so it’s 100% up. I loaded two bottles of water and some local sausage and cheese in my pack and took off.
It was fantastic! The air was thick with the scent of balsam fir and there was a nearly a constant roar from a nearby brook tumbling fast for the Gulf of St Lawrence below. The American Mountain Ash were dripping with ripe red fruit and I saw bunchberry, pearly everlasting, and lots of moose tracks!
At one point, I topped out on a bench that rolled off to each side. The wind was steady from the south, so I decided to break from the trail in that direction to see if could see anything in the creek bottom or adjoining slope. After about 150 yards, I dropped to my knees and peaked over the edge. There, 50 yards below, I was startled to see a mamma black bear and two cubs. I managed to get one quick photo before the threesome disappeared into the tuckamore.
After 3 hours of climbing and taking photos, I was at the rocky base of Gros Morne. I wanted to make the summit, but Mother Nature had other ideas. The air had been changing throughout my hike and now it was getting nasty, with blowing mist and wind gusts up to 20 mph. I did an about face and headed down. By the time I reached the trailhead, it was a full on gale with gusts that must have hit near 50 mph.
I jumped in the rental and headed for the coast, where the Gulf of St. Lawrence meets rock and a tangle of fir. There, Mother Nature was whipping up a froth. I made my way north, stopping now and then to take pictures, but at times it was difficult to remain on two feet in the gusting winds. Eventually, I found a little pub that was all but closed for the season. The place had port-hole type windows and one perfectly framed a neighboring shed that sported several years worth of moose antlers. The pub had stopped serving food for the season, so I had a local beer and then headed south for my hotel.
Thoughts for the day.
I ran into a handful of hikers on the trail to Gros Morne. Each was dressed in high-performance type hiking gear and all were single-mindedly pursuing the summit. One guy almost walked into me because he was so intently focused on his foot falls. I admire anyone who spends time outdoors, as it’s vastly better than being rooted in front of the TV. That said, I wish folks would slow down and appreciate what’s around them. The forest leading to Gros Morne was full of sights that I’ll bet most missed. I’m reasonably certain that in a natural history trivia quiz, avid hunters would beat most other outdoor types. There is a renewed, high-level interest in encouraging non-hunting, outdoor enthusiasts to buy state habitat stamps and federal ducks stamps as a means of supporting conservation. There is also talk of placing a tax, similar to the Pittman-Robertson tax, on outdoor equipment, such as camping gear, binoculars, etc. I think this is a good idea, as it would greatly boost conservation dollars and give other outdoor users some context for the hunter’s legacy.
Today I was reminded about the importance of public lands to hunters, not just in the U.S., where they are in jeopardy, but across North America. Checkout Whit Fosburgh of TRCP on the Canadian podcast, Beyond the Kill.
Near Gros Morne, I encountered the following sign. I’m glad to see that Parks Canada is doing such a favorable job of managing their public lands and engaging hunters to do it!
Keep the Traditional Spirit Alive!
I left home this morning at 6:30 on the dot. In addition to a heartfelt farewell from my family, I was treated with a wonderful sunrise along our road. I'll take it as a good omen.
Assuming I can get adequate internet and/or cell connection, I'll be using this blog space during the next 7-10 days to document my moose and bear hunting trip to St. Anthony, Newfoundland. My plan is to write a brief daily report, including photos and/or videos, in the evening after each day's hunt.
By signing up for the TSO eNews at the right, you'll receive alerts each time that I make a new post.
I'll be hunting with the 1972 Bear Super Kodiak that won the RMS Gear BowVote in June. My arrows are XX75 2117 aluminums with Bear Razorhead broadeads and 100-grain steel adapters.
Moose should be entering the rut during my hunt, so our primary tactic will be to call bulls into range. My license is good for a bull or cow, and since I love a freezer full of wild organic meat more than antlers on the wall, I won't hesitate to shoot a cow as the hunt progresses. I also have a bear tag, but that will get used opportunistically or after we have a moose for our efforts.
Today will be filled with travel, including a two hour drive from my home to Syracuse and then a flight to Deer Lake, NL that first stops in Toronto and Halifax before touching down around 8:45 pm in Deer Lake.
Perhaps the hardest part of this journey is saying goodbye to my wife, son, and daughter, who will turn one while I'm gone. Having an October birthday and an obsessive hunter for a daddy isn't a great combination. I know that as she gets older I won't allow myself to miss her special day, so I thought I'd do it this year when she is less likely to notice or remember. I suppose no amount of explaining is likely to assuage my guilt. Love you, Leela Bell!
Also, a special thanks to Mamma and Rex for their love and support of my crazy adventures!
That's all for now. Thanks for tuning in!
Keep the Traditional Spirit Alive!
One of my favorite aspects of hunting is the preparation. It’s this investment in our craft that gives genuine meaning to the act of hunting and, when we choose to do it, taking an animal’s life. Killing without rationale, physical preparation, and emotional investment is a betrayal of our own spirit. Such an act can only leave us hollow and unsure about the integrity of our own pursuit. I especially enjoy scouting to immerse myself in a new area, tuning a bowhunting setup, and of course the ritual of making arrows.
I have struggled with choosing an arrow shafting material for my upcoming, Classic Year moose hunt in Newfoundland. My first instinct was to build a matched set of ash or hickory arrows, as there is nothing more classic than Mother Nature’s own creation. But, with the winner of the RMS Gear BowVote being a 1971/72 Bear Super Kodiak made of Bear Archery’s resin impregnated “Futurewood,” I thought perhaps something vintage, but synthetic, was appropriate. The arrow du jour of the 1970s was aluminum, so eventually I settled on Easton XX75, 2117s. Though these are still made, I couldn’t bring myself to buy them new…that would be heretical to The Classic Year’s retro philosophy! Now, what classic broadhead would go nicely with these “beer can” arrows? Craigslist and The Eastern Traditional Archery Rendezvous in Coudersport, PA brought the answer and more!
In early July, I found a dozen 1970s era custom cedar arrows outfitted with vintage Bear Razorheads on Craigslist and at the ETAR trading blanket, I picked up a dozen used, but excellent condition 2217 shafts. The cedars from Craigslist were too weak for the 55# Kodiak, but re-mounting the razorheads on the 2117s, with a little added weight, would make a fine moose arrow. ETAR held another surprise. I was able to trade a 1971 Damon Howatt Hi-speed for a 55# 1974 Damon Howatt Super Diablo, giving me a fine back up to the Super Kodiak. With just eight weeks until “wheels up” for Deer Lake, Newfoundland, things were coming together.
Bareshaft testing with both the Super K and Super D resulted in a 28.5 inch 2117 arrow with 215 grains up front, yielding a finished weight of 585 grains. I achieved the 215 grains by simply mounting the old Bear Razorheads on 100 grain steel adapters. With Mountain Muffler strings from Steve Baker and the heavy 2117 arrows, both bows were whisper quiet. Now it was time to make things look pretty. I decided on a yellow and orange cap dip with simple black crest, barred orange and white fletchings, and a yellow nock.
I laid each bareshaft on my workbench, making a mark exactly 10 inches from the arrow’s swaged nock end to demark the location where my painted cap would end. I wrapped a strip of painter’s tape just below my mark to serve as masking and grabbed a can of bright yellow paint. After an application of yellow, I masked again, three inches from the nock end to give the arrow an orange tail.
A few days later, with painting and fletching complete, I arose at 4:30 am and made the short trek to my archery shop to begin the therapeutic task of converting each of 12 broadheads from a simple, beveled hunk of steel to a knife-edged instrument with a deliberate purpose. I pulled up a stool and began running a mill bastard file from back to front across each broadhead to bolster the existing “land,” before moving on to a stone for final honing. The finality represented by a broadhead’s worked edge always leads me to think about our ethical and environmental obligations as hunters. It is our utmost responsibility to take life humanely and to renew it ten-fold by conserving places great and small for wildlife to thrive.
Some readers might be surprised in my claiming that hunters have “environmental obligations.” Aren’t all things “environmental” the bailiwick of anti-hunting, environmentalists? Far from it. Hunters were the first environmentalists and continue that tradition today with strong advocacy for science-based management and protection of public lands.
President and hunter Theodore Roosevelt said, “In a Civilized and cultivated country, wild animals only continue to exist at all when preserved by sportsmen.”
In fact, many of the lasting environmental policies often associated with the environmental movement of the 1970s were actually first championed by sportsmen.
Rachel Carson is often credited for single-handedly raising the red flag about the harmful effects of the chemical pesticide DDT. Yet in 1951, 11 years before Carson published her groundbreaking book “Silent Spring,” Outdoor Life, a magazine for and by hunters, published an article titled “This is Murder,” which warned its readers about the “wholesale destruction” of wildlife through spraying of new pesticides, such as DDT.
As another example, The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is often seen as the crowning accomplishment of the 1970s environmental era. NEPA is the federal law that requires Environmental Impact Statements to assess potential ecological harm prior to large federal, state, or private development projects. The idea, however, of assessing risk to fish and wildlife originated with hunters! In 1944, Arthur Grahame, writing for Outdoor Life, proposed a “coordination law with sharp teeth,” which would make it mandatory for developers to acquire an independent assessment of risk before beginning work.
There is no question that banning DDT in 1972 and establishing the NEPA, have prevented widespread loss of fish and wildlife—in large part thanks to hunters and anglers. Just two weeks ago, I spent a week camping with my family at Cape Henlopen State Park on the Delaware coast. I can’t tell you how many bald eagles we saw, but I know the count wouldn’t fit on both hands. Only 20 years ago, you would have been lucky to see one. The recovery of bald eagles, peregrine falcons, osprey, and many other species is a direct result of having banned DDT.
With the sun now filtering weak light over our eastern ridge, I pushed the stool back and walked to the second story window of my archery shop, lifted the screen, and stuck my head into the wet air. An ovenbird let out a flight song from the ridge and I sensed he was eager to get on with the impending fall migration. Every autumn, without notice by much of humanity, songbirds make heroic, nighttime journeys to their wintering grounds in Central and South America, only to remarkably return thousands of miles to the exact same bush or tree to nest again the following spring. As the ovenbird had already noted, the air had taken on a new character, now carrying the scents of goldenrods and asters, reminding me that soon velvet would strip and bucks would turn silly. I reflexively glanced up at the row of European mounts on my shop wall.
My eyes settled on the last one in the row and my heart swelled—not because of the buck, but rather the memory it sparked of my son. Last season, at just two years old, Rex helped me to track and recover two bucks. The memory of his pure excitement will be forever tattooed on my spirit and I hope his too. He represents the next crop of hunter-conservationists; the next generation to sustain the legacy of taking and giving that is hunting. As hunters and takers, it’s in our hands to ensure the world is passed along in better shape than we found it.
I glanced at the time—6:20 am. I grabbed the file to begin on another broadhead, but then changed my mind. It could wait. I wanted to be back in the house to show Rex a completed moose arrow when he groggily made his way down the steps.
Keep the Traditional Spirit Alive!
A suite of lifetime outdoor experiences forms our relationship to the natural world and its animal occupants. Have those experiences made us afraid of bears or fascinated by them? Are we inclined to snatch up a black-colored snake to see if the scales are keeled, indicating a black rat snake or smooth suggesting a black racer? Does a long nighttime hike from your treestand to the truck give you the heebie-jeebies? Experiences teach us lessons and dot the tapestry of our minds in deep, psychological ways that give us our outdoor personalities. As an example, in his book, “Meateater: Adventures from the Life of an American Hunter,” Steve Rinella describes his childhood struggle with being afraid of deer while he was bowhunting. His fear stemmed from story told to him by his father about being attacked by a wounded deer. Judging from his hunting success, I think that its’ safe to assume that Steve overcame his fear of the dreaded Odocoileus.
Recently, I received in the mail the Bear Super Kodiak bow from RMS Gear that won the BowVote. The giddiness associated with opening the box, which felt like a gift, reminded me of a childhood experience that has stuck with me for nearly 40 years. For Christmas in 1978 at the age of 12, I received a brand new Jennings Lightning compound bow. Christmas in Pennsylvania fell just after the primary hunting seasons and right before the late archery season. Hunting was on my family’s mind, so gifts of guns, bows, knives, and other outdoor gear were anticipated and exciting!
I relived that excitement, as I popped open the long box from RMS Gear and freed the bubble wrapped Super Kodiak from its confines. Fighting my over-eagerness, I struggled to remove the blasted tape and after a few choice words and burst bubbles, she was finally free and resting in my palm. Thanks to all BowVoters who chose a great bow for my Newfoundland moose hunt.
As was our custom, following Christmas day, we headed to our cabin in Pennsylvania’s Sproul State Forest. That year we had cold temperatures and repeated snow throughout the week. By the end of our week-long hunt, a thick blanket of powdery, glistening flakes clung to the trees and layered the ground, hushing the forest like a goose down quilt. The Sproul is nearly 300,000 acres of mountainous forest where the hunting choices are many, but so too are the places for deer to move and hide. The experiential, ecological, and economical value of our public lands can’t be overstated, and our responsibility as hunters to protect them is paramount to all life, humans included. It’s no accident that many public lands are mountainous, out of the way places that afford a view of the valley and waters below.
Teddy Roosevelt, who protected 230 million acres of public land during his tenure as our 26th president, was a student of George Perkins Marsh’s 1864 book, “Man and Nature.” Among other noteworthy philosophies, Marsh argued that to preserve our agricultural land and surface water, we must first protect the higher ground from deforestation and development. Roosevelt made this part of his conservation ethos and passed the notion to Gifford Pinchot who was governor of Pennsylvania, Chief of the U.S Forest Service, and a primary architect of Pennsylvania’s system of public lands.
The Super Kodiak felt good in my hand. Even with a sweat-stained leather bow saddle from the previous owner layering the grip, it still felt more sleek and comfortable than the beefy handle of my 1966 Kodiak. I gave the bow a once over and was immediately smitten. It needed some polish and the bow saddle had to go, but there was no doubt she would be worthy of a moose hunt.
New bows are special. I remember well, the cold metal handle of my new Jennings Lighting as I set out alone from the cabin on the last morning of our late season archery hunt in the Sproul. I shuffled through the snow toward a wooded swamp that I planned to explore. I was just 12 years old and proud to be out on my own, little did I know how badly my confidence was about to be shaken. The morning was uneventful until I cut a set of deer tracks heading into the swamp. Thinking the tracks likely led to a bedding area, I decided to sit for a while and found a fallen log amid a tangle of snow-draped rhododendron. I positioned myself with my back to the swamp, so I could watch for deer coming to bed in the late morning. Huddling against the cold, I peered forward with the intensity of a deer-hunting obsessed kid. To this day, I can’t recall if I heard or just sensed something behind me. I had poise enough to turn slowly and was shocked to see a perfect, basket-racked six point standing not 25 feet from me. He looked huge against the white backdrop and gentle tendrils of breath swirled above his nose before disappearing into the dry air.
I’m a patient person, but the polishing and leather saddle removal would need to be delayed until I had a chance to release a few arrows from the Super Kodiak. Down in my archery shop, I put a Dacron string on the bow, set the brace height to eight inches, and installed brass string nock. My first three shots with Easton XX75 2018s at the bag target 10 yards away fell into coffee mug sized group. Not bad for right out of the box, but I detected a very slight fishtail in arrow flight so some additional tuning would be necessary. That process, however, would have to wait for the arrival of some new strings that I had ordered. In the meantime, I could get started with removing the bow saddle and adding a new rest and strike plate.
The old rest and strike plate peeled off easily, but left behind hardened glue reside. I used denatured alcohol on a rag to soften the glue and then gently removed it with some pressure from my thumb. I used my small fly tying scissors to cut a new rest and strike plate from a sheet of industrial grade Velcro—quality Velcro is quiet with any type of arrow material, resists water, and is durable. Now on to that nasty bow saddle. I knew it was going to be a pain the second I began peeling it away. The leather pulled away from the backing, leaving a hard layer of synthetic material and glue behind.
For years I’ve used acetone to tackle such jobs, but as I get older I don’t like dealing with harsh chemicals and I’ve recently had some bad experiences where acetone damaged the finish of a bow. Instead, I decided to use Goo Gone. I sprayed the handle and allowed it sit for 30 minutes and then scraped away as much residue as I could. After repeating this three times, I was down to the original finish. All looked great, except the area that had been covered by the saddle aged differently than the rest of the riser, leaving it a bit darker. No worries. To me, this is just a reminder of the bow’s interesting history. All that remained was some arrow tuning before I could set off into the woods like I’d done with my new Jennings Lightning so many years ago.
I’d never been that close to a deer and my young heart was unprepared for the adrenaline rush. My chest tightened, my ears filled with the rhythmic flush of warm blood. The buck knew something wasn’t right, but it seemed more curious than afraid. I was inexperienced and thought that I might spin around, draw, and shoot in one motion, but the buck had other ideas. He lowered his head and walked straight toward me. With each step, a new detail emerged--the tuft of black hair on the point of the brisket, the coarse hairs like broom bristles protruding from the muzzle, and the wet, purple, almost iridescent nose. At ten feet my fight or flight response began kicking in, but fear seemed to have me anchored to the log. By age 12, I’d already spent a lot of time in the woods, but had experienced nothing like this. The buck continued forward, only stopping feet from my crouched position. To be honest, I can’t remember what was going through my adrenaline-addled mind at this point. I do vividly recall what happened next. The six point stretched his neck forward, placing his nose only inches from mine, and pushed his tongue out to taste the air. The result was a violent churning of snow, hooves, hide, bow, and boy that left me face down in the snow and a little less confident about my solo hunting excursions. I dusted myself off and returned to camp.
I tried to tell my dad and uncle about the incident, but for some reason my 12-year-old self felt embarrassed and I cut the story short. I was supposed to be growing into a competent hunter, not some greenhorn kid who got knocked off a log by a buck. With little experience deer hunting, I didn’t realize what a unique encounter I had. In fact, until today, I have never told anyone this story. Yet, I know that it has shaped my relationship to the outdoors. The childhood part of my brain is still spooked by the experience and the naturalist-hunter in me wants it to happen again every time I take to the woods...well maybe not with a moose! In the end, hunting is about the experiences we accumulate, not the animals we bring home.
I’d love to hear the stories that shaped your relationship to the natural world and hunting. What keeps you coming back to the woods? Use the comment box and tell us about a memorable experience in the outdoors.
Keep the Traditional Spirit Alive!
Preparing for a hunting trip, especially one in a place you’ve never visited and for an animal you’ve never hunted, is always exciting and a little nerve racking. Now imagine making your preparations without knowing what bow you’ll be toting when that hoped-for bull moose punches through the tuckamore, antlers swaying in aggression, and slides to a violent, snot-blowing stop mere yards from your crouched position!
At that moment, is your sweating palm filled with a Wing, is it a Damon Howatt, or maybe a Bear? Yes, I’ll bet it’s a Bear…or maybe not, perhaps it’s the Browning. Is it 50 pounds or 62? Will I be able to shoot it with confidence or will I struggle? Will the bow even shoot the old Easton 2018 arrows that I’ve been laying aside for this trip?
These are just a few of the nagging questions swimming in my head since I hatched the idea for the RMS Gear BowVote several months ago. Don’t’ get me wrong. I’m not complaining. The anticipation has me more excited about this hunt than any I’ve taken in a long while. I suspect that some of you are excited too, as the winning bow will be given away to one of you lucky BowVoters in October.
A good blues harmonica riff hooks you and keeps your head bobbing by building a groove of tension that eventually gets resolved with a mellow note, putting you back at ease. So, let’s bring the BowVote riff home.
Without further procrastination, the winner of The Classic Year, RMS Gear BowVote is the 55#, 1972 Bear Super Kodiak! This is a great bow and one that I will be very comfortable in carrying to Newfoundland to hunt moose and bear. My primary bow for the past couple years has been a 55# 1966 Kodiak, so the transition to the Super Kodiak should be pretty smooth.
I would like to thank Tom and Tommy Clum at RMS Gear for their generosity in donating the winning bow.
The 1972 Super Kodiak and the Bear takedown were neck and neck for the entire 22 days of voting. For much of this period, the takedown was wining by just a vote or two, but in the last 5 days the Super Kodiak pulled ahead and stayed there.
In all, there were 397 votes. I’m very grateful to all who took a moment to vote. Your enthusiasm illustrates the current high level of interest in traditional archery and classic bows.
There were a few surprises for me. I think the bow that I most wanted to hunt with was the Browning Nomad, yet it received only 12 (3%) of the votes. I was also surprised to see that the Wing Chaparral, a bow made by a relatively small company, and the Damon Howatt Hunter were nearly tied at 44 (11%) and 46 (12%) votes, respectively.
The clear standouts were the two Bear Super Kodiaks and the Takedown, which collectively received 248 (62%) votes.
Interview with Jorge Coppen
The popularity of Bear bows is, in part, what drove Jorge Coppen to write his new book “Bear Archery Traditional Bows: A Chronological History 1949-2015.” I recently had the opportunity to talk with Jorge about Bear Archery and specifically our winning 1972 Bear Kodiak. Below is our discussion. I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I enjoyed talking with Jorge.
RR: How did you get into archery/hunting and collecting Bear bows?
JC: Like many young boys and girls in the late-60s and early 70s, my first interest in archery was sparked by watching a 1930s movie starring Errol Flynn titled "Robin Hood." I begged my mother to bring me a bow and she got me this Bear Archery "Red Bear" youth archery set with a fiberglass bow. I shot the daylights out of it. I was 10.
Fred Bear became an idol and his hunting photos had inspired me to try bowhunting. By the time I was 15 (in 1975) I had my first Bear Archery hunting bow, a Kodiak Magnum that I bought at the pro shop right at the Fred Bear Museum in Grayling, Michigan.
By the 1990s I was already building a collection of Bear hunting recurves and it grew over time.
RR: Of all the bows in the BowVote, were you surprised to see the 1972 Super Kodiak emerge as the winner?
JC: No, I was not at all surprised to see the '72 Super Kodiak emerge as winner. The Super Kodiak is now and was then the top of the line one-piece hunting recurve bow offered by Bear. It was among the most popular bows back in those days when they were pumping out some 350,000 bows a year (just before the advent of the compound bow). Only the Fred Bear Take-down might be considered of more advanced design in the line of hunting recurve bows.
But to tell you the truth, the high-end tournament bows like the Tamerlane, HC-30 and HC-300 designed by Owen Jeffrey were superior, but these were designed for light weight target archery.
RR: What was the atmosphere like at Bear Archery in the early 1970s, especially with the recent introduction of the compound bow and its rapid gain in popularity?
JC: Well the size of the factory and the staff had been growing regularly since 1947 when mass production began, so as to stay on top of growing demand for archery products. By the early 1970s it was a "mature beast." Fred didn't like the new trend toward compound bows but he saw the writing on the wall as other manufacturers were already making ground in the new compound bow market. He knew he had to accept the changes to remain relevant in the archery industry. So, he did. It was "Adapt or Die!"
By 1975 the Bear Archery catalog featured new compound models like the new Victor Tamerlane II and the new Victor Bear Alaskan. From that point forward you saw more compounds offered and fewer recurves being offered. By the time they moved to Gainesville, the catalog was dominated by compound bows and by the mid-1980s you might have only seen 4 recurve models offered.
RR: What are your thoughts on the Super Kodiak, especially compared to its Kodiak predecessor and the Kodiak Hunter?
JC: The Super Kodiak can be viewed as the culmination of design for the "Kodiak" line that started in 1950. I will note than some older guys have affection for certain years: like 1957, 1962, and 1964 and they'll make claim that those are the "best" or "fastest" shooting Kodiaks ever made. I won't dispute them and that may be true of the 1962 model. But, the "horned" Super Kodiak was designed by bowyers to be the best in terms of balance in the hand, smoothness to draw, arrow cast, and overall performance.
The Kodiak Hunter was designed as an affordable alternative to the Super Kodiak in 1967 1/2. It was intended to fill another sector of the bow market for those that wanted a good bow for a bit less. I have shot many Super Kodiaks and Kodiak Hunters and to this day, I still can attest to the idea that the Kodiak Hunter is an even match to the Super Kodiak in performance and it remains my favorite one-piece bow model.
RR: Is there anything that sets the 1972 Super Kodiak apart, either in a good or bad way, from other versions of the Super Kodiak?
JC: No. By 1967 1/2, with the slimmer risers of the new phenolic "black beauty" Bear Archery had pretty much perfected the lines and shapes that go into every Super Kodiak to this day. Put them side by side and you'll see that. Sure, materials and cosmetic look have varied and the certainly use of Dymondwood (laminated plywood) gave it a new look, but the lines and design are the same.
RR: How do you think the move to “Futurewood” affected early 1970s Bear bows? It’s likely more stable and strong, but I think there is something to be said for an all-natural wood versus one that is impregnated. As a collector, what are your thoughts on this?
JC: Futurewood came to be used in the 1970s. It entailed a process of chemically impregnating the wood with a polymer using a pressurized vacuum that fills all the natural pores in the wood, increasing its strength and weight. After baking it into the handle, it is much stronger hence "Futurewood." It is much harder to warp, check, or crack. Yet, all the grain and original beauty of the natural wood are intact. It meant a tougher, longer lasting bow. Based on customer demand, it was reintroduced into their bow-making process in 2013 so it made a comeback because it was so popular. I think the vintage 1970s Futurewood bows were among the prettiest bows Bear ever made and they remain my favorite to collect.
RR: Was the Super Kodiak really Fred’s choice in a hunting bow?
JC: Well, you might say that the "Kodiak" line of bows was Fred's personal choice in hunting bows all along the way as he field tested each new model on hunts over the years in the 1950s and 60s. As he improved the design, he kept upgrading to the recent model knowing it was built to his exacting specifications. He was fond of the Super Kodiak and hunted with them exclusively...but by 1969 he had perfected his take-down latch system and from then forward the Fred Bear Take-Down became his "personal hunting bow of choice".
RR: The four Bear bows in the RMS Gear BowVote garnered 71% of the vote. It seems to me that interest in vintage Bear bows has really grown in the past 10 years. Have you seen the same trend?
JC: The increase really began back in the early 1990s and people seem to be getting more fanatical with each year. Also, Bear is a huge part of archery history and in some ways defines what it is to be a traditional archer so people are naturally drawn to that.
RR: What is the most money you have seen a Bear bow sold for and what was it?
JC: Only about 10% of bows made by Bear were left-handed, so those tend to bring higher prices. About 3 years ago, I saw a left-handed Type 1 B riser with white limb tips sell for $3,850 on eBay. I personally paid $3,500 for a left-handed Signature Takedown and once sold a 1959 Kodiak for around $800.
RR: What’s your favorite Bear bow for everyday shooting and which is your favorite for hunting?
JC: Being a collector and enthusiast, I enjoy shooting a variety of bows. However, usually you'll see me shooting a Super Kodiak, A Fred Bear Custom Kodiak Take-down or a Kodiak Hunter. Having a 30-inch draw, I like a bow of at least 60" AMO length. My all-time favorite hunting bow is a 60" bear Kodiak Hunter.
RR: Can you describe your new book for us.
JC: My book entitled "Bear Archery Traditional Bows: A Chronological History" is both a history book and a reference manual all in one. There is much heritage and history about the Bear Archery factory preserved in those pages, which cover 66 years of factory production.
But, I intended it to be primarily useful as a reference manual to help people who want to know about when their bow was made. These questions are incessant. I developed each of the 41 bow chapters for each specific bow model in chronological order categorized under four categories: Hunting Recurve bows, Hunting Longbows, Target and Youth Bows, and All-purpose bows. Each chapter was intended to be a short, easily read reference describing the bow model for each year. Then at the end of the chapter is a table you can go to narrow down when it was made using 7 diagnostic features.
RR: As a fellow author I know how difficult it is to write a book. What motivated you to take on the task of writing a highly technical reference guide?
JC: Over the years I saw how common it was for people wanting to know what year their bow was made. Much of this was evident of the online archery forums. Often, the responses were close but not quite, a poor recollection, or just way off the mark. After all what was produced in Grayling, well that was decades ago.
I had asked Al Reader, a well know collector and Bear bow authority to write the book including one final time in 2008. He scoffed at the idea at the time. He was taken from us the following year in 2009. So I was left asking...well, who is going to preserve this information for the coming generations? We're not getting any younger! I waited 6 years for somebody to write it but it never came. Then one day in March of 2015 I was walking through the woods with my Labs and I made the decision that I was going to take the bull by the horns.
Let me tell you, it was very challenging to attempt to write a book about all the bow models for 66 years of mass production! I had some expertise with bows I collected, mainly hunting recurves from 1965 forward. But I didn't know everything about all the bows and I still don't!
But, My objective in writing the book was to "preserve the history and heritage of Bear Archery bow production in print forever." So, I started in 1949 and ended in the year of publication: 2015.
RR: Where can folks buy your book?
My book is available online at Amazon.com and BarnesandNobles.com. But, you can also order it through archery retailers like: The Footed Shaft, Lancaster Archery, and even Wal-Mart. They are also sold on eBay! I also sell personally autographed copies for a very competitive price too.
RR: Final question. If you could bring Fred Bear back from the dead, what question would you ask him?
JC: Where are your serial number ledgers, sir!?
First, thanks to everyone who has cast their BowVote. The official tally as of today is an amazing 375 votes! Voting will continue until noon eastern time on June 30, so there’s still time if you haven’t voted. To pass the time between now and our unveiling of the winning bow, I thought I’d set you up with a short natural history lesson.
To be legitimate players in nature’s cycle of life and death, requires us to know something about natural history and ecology. A coyote doesn’t know that the Latin name of the eastern cottontail is Sylvilagus floridanus, but it damn sure knows that rabbits emerge from their brushy hiding places at dusk because it has learned its prey’s ecology. To interpret the natural world through the hunter’s lens, we first must be able to identify its many participants. Further, as hunter-conservationists, we can’t advocate for protection of wild places if we can’t identify, understand, and appreciate their occupants. The late Jay Massey once described hunting as a journey of discovery that …deals not just with the process of hunting, but with what we discover as a result of having hunted. It would be hard to overstate the importance of Jay’s sentiment.
In a recent appearance on The Push Podcast, I was asked how I was preparing for my upcoming moose hunt in Newfoundland. The question was specific to shooting practice and hunting gear, and I answered in that vein. What I failed to mention, however, is how I prepare to discover a new place, especially its natural history. I suspect that many of you are also using the summer months to prepare for fall hunts in faraway places or in your own home state, so I thought I’d devote this post to building a foundation for becoming a “hunting naturalist.” Knowing trees, shrubs, wildflowers, and other plants is imperative for understanding habitat and predicting game movement patterns. It's also handy if you are looking for bow or arrow wood, or wild edibles. Much of what you’ll find below is excerpted from my book, A Traditional Bowhunter’s Path: Lessons and Adventures at Full Draw.
When talking with other hunters I usually sense a similar, deep appreciation and wonderment for the natural world. When I point out something like the melodic “old-Sam-Peabody-Peabody-Peabody” of a singing white-throated sparrow, they often say: “Hey that’s cool. I’ve heard that for years but didn’t know what it was.” I believe most hunters want to increase their knowledge of natural history, but they don’t know where to begin. To lay the foundation for understanding relationships within and among groups of species, let’s start with a little refresher on taxonomy.
King Phillip’s Dinner
When using field guides we often find that an organism’s scientific name follows its common name, such as White-tailed Deer (Odocoileous virgininanus). I suspect these difficult to pronounce words are often ignored, but it’s sometimes important to pay attention to this extra mouthful of syllables. As you probably remember from school, the planet’s organisms are arranged into a hierarchy. The science of this organizational system is called taxonomy. “King Phillip Came Over For Good Spaghetti” is a saying to help remember Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, and Species. For our purposes the details of taxonomy are unimportant, but it’s beneficial to have a basic understanding of this nested-system. The coyote, for example, is in the Kingdom Animalia, Phylum Chordata, Class Mammalia, Order Carnivora, Family Canidae, Genus Canis, and Species latrans. When written, the scientific name for coyote is shortened to just the genus and species (Canis latrans). Knowing how scientific names are derived and used is important in understanding the relationships among species.
The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) and gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus), for example, are in the same Family (Canidae) but entirely different Genera, indicating that their taxonomic relationship to each other is more distant than their similar appearance might suggest. This becomes evident when examining the skulls of these two animals. The daintier, cat-like gray fox has low “U” shaped temporal ridges that don’t support robust muscle attachment, whereas the red fox has a strong “V” shaped temporal ridge for supporting more powerful muscles (Figure 1.).
Taxonomy is also important in overcoming confusing regional differences in common names. For example, if you read about whiskey jacks, camp robbers, moose-birds, Canada jays, and gray jays, you might think they were five different species. But, by including the scientific name (Perisoreus canadensis), along with these regionally accepted common names, the species being referred to becomes unambiguous. There is only one Perisoreus canadensis. Taxonomy also can help to identify common traits within a taxonomic group. For example, all plants in the mint family (Lamiaceae) have four-sided stalks, making it easy to narrow an unknown herbaceous plant down to the Family level simply by rolling the stem between your thumb and forefinger.
It would be impossible for me to cover even a small percentage of North America’s plants and animals on an individual basis. A huge part of successful identification is narrowing down the possible choices. In this post I’ll focus on techniques that will help you sort out woody plants into manageable numbers of choices.
MAD-CAP-HORSE stands for Maple, Ash, Dogwood, Caprifoliaceae, and Horse- chestnut. These are the groups of woody plants with opposite branching patterns. The two primary branching patterns of deciduous woody plants are opposite and alternate. Opposite branching simply means that leaves, stems, and sometimes branches arise from their base immediately across from each other. The same way your arms originate from your torso. Alternate branching means that pairs of stems are offset from each other. To envision this, imagine that one arm sprouted from your shoulder and the other from your waist. Knowing this, you can immediately lump an unknown tree or shrub into one of two categories—alternate or opposite. MAD-CAP-HORSE works during “leaf-on” or “leaf-off.” If leaves aren’t present simply look for the scars where they were once attached to the stem. If the pattern is opposite, it belongs to one of the MAD-CAP-HORSE groups, greatly narrowing the list of possibilities.
There are many familiar species of maple (Acer), ash (Fraxinus), dogwood (Cornus), and horse-chestnut (Aesculus) occurring throughout North America. The name that is likely foreign to you is Caprifoliaceae. Caprifoliaceae is a large Family of plants, including dozens of species with a mostly shrubby growth form. Some common Caprifoliaceae plants include Viburnums, such as arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum), known for its straight stems that were used by eastern Native American tribes to make arrow shafts; honeysuckles (Lonicera), elderberries (Sambucus), and privets (Ligustrum).
If your unknown tree/shrub has an alternate branching pattern, then you have to look outside of the MAD-CAP-HORSE group. Some common trees with alternate branching patterns are oaks (Quercus), hickories (Carya), walnuts (Juglans), beeches (Fagus), cherries (Prunus), elms (Ulmus), and aspens (Populus). MAD-CAP-HORSE will often get you half the way there with very little effort, but what is the next step in making a full identification?
Bark and Form
After branching pattern, bark and growth form are the next best diagnostic characteristic because they are ever-present, unlike leaves, and are easy to see from ground level. In eastern deciduous forest, I can identify nearly every tree species from a long distance simply by looking at the bark and growth form. How is this possible? It’s no different than your ability to recognize specific neighbors from many blocks away. In your mind you don’t go through a checklist of your neighbor John’s features—brown hair, 5’10,” beer belly. Instead, your mind automatically calculates these things from many past encounters with John and returns an identity. World War II British aircraft spotters coined the phrase G.I.S.S.—General Impression of Size and Shape. They used G.I.S.S. to instantly identify friendly versus enemy aircraft from miles away. Waiting to see what was painted on the plane’s side meant certain death. Once you’ve learned the bark and growth form of individual tree species, G.I.S.S works spectacularly well. For closely related species, closer inspection is often necessary. For instance, northern red oak (Quercus rubra) and black oak (Quercus velutina) have very similar bark, but black oak has horizontal fissures making it look a bit like alligator hide. Scarlet oak (Quercus coccinea) and black oak have similar growth forms, but scarlet tends to carry its dead branches while black drops them.
Buds and Leaves
Leaves can be very helpful, but it’s best not to rely on them because they’re only present during the growing season. Nonetheless it’s important to learn basic leaf shapes and growth patterns, such as simple, compound, and whorled. Leaf veins can be important too. Almost all dogwoods have veins that form the line of an arc from the stem to the tip and sugar maple (Acer saccharum) leaves have five veins while Norway maple (Acer platanoides) has seven. Buds are especially important when identifying young trees that haven’t developed their adult bark and growth forms. Take red maple (Acer rubrum) and sugar maple, for instance. Winter saplings of these species can look remarkably similar, but a closer look reveals very different buds. Sugar maple has brownish colored buds with alternating light and dark bands, while red maple buds are small and red in color. Some buds are so distinct that they are diagnostic by themselves. Yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) buds are shaped like a duck’s bill, shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) buds look like a candle flame, bitternut hickory (Carya cordiformis) buds are covered in bright yellow fuzz, and black walnut (Juglans nigra) buds look like a thumb and three fingers brought together in an Italian display of culinary perfection!
Field Guides and Websites
The information I’ve presented is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to identifying woody plants. The same would be true if I had chosen birds, mammals, or fungi. There are tricks and short cuts to identifying any taxonomic group, but in the end it takes some honest effort to get proficient. A collection of good field guides (see below for some of my favorites) and plenty of time in the field are usually what is needed. There are two types of field guides: schematic and photographic. Schematic guides, with their drawings, are able to capture the individual variation that all organisms display, on the other hand, photographic guides seem to be more intuitive. For most taxonomic groups, especially plants and birds, I suggest buying and using schematic and photographic guides in concert with each other. Also, don’t forget web-based resources and identification apps for smartphones. There are many good websites for learning about everything from butterflies to bats. I find these sites most useful once I’ve already made an identification or have narrowed things down to handful of possibilities. I can’t recommend any one web site over the other. I simply do a “Google” search on the species of interest and go from there. “Wikipedia” is often the first site returned by “Google” and is a good place to start.
Keep the Traditional Spirit Alive!
This post will be short, but hopefully sweet!
As many of you know, I’ll be traveling to Newfoundland in September to hunt moose and black bear with vintage archery gear--sounds straightforward, right? Not so fast. There’s a really cool twist.
I’m asking you, that means anyone who is reading this post, to pick the bow that I will take to Newfoundland. In return for your participation in the BowVote, you will be entered to win my moose bow and other traditional archery gear that is being donated by sponsors of The Classic Year.
Here’s how it works. Tom Clum, Sr and the other good folks at Rocky Mountain Specialty Gear (RMS Gear) have agreed to donate a bow for my Newfoundland moose hunt from their sizable inventory of new and used equipment. Obviously, it can’t be any bow. It must conform to The Classic Year golden rule by being at least 25 years old and it must meet my specs for moose hunting. So, we have thinned the herd to eight, quality vintage bows that are capable of close-range moose work. Simply go to the RMS Gear BowVote page on the TSO website, fill in your information, and vote for one of the eight bows. The bow with the most votes by June 30th wins and will be the one I use to hunt moose in Newfoundland.
Your vote automatically enters you in the drawing to win the bow, which will be signed by me and Tom Clum, and other fantastic prizes from our sponsors, such as 3Rivers Archery and Sporting Classics magazine. The drawing will take place in October, just after I return from Newfoundland.
RMS Gear has a HUGE selection of bows, but when you restrict the list to bows that are at least 25 years old, right-handed, and capable of taking moose; the number of choices gets narrow. I could have filled all eight slots with Bear bows, but I wanted some variety. I tried to select bows that were at least 55 pounds, but did make a few exceptions. Checkout the list and see what you think?
Thanks for hanging out with me and don’t forget to BowVote.
Pick a winner for me. My son Rex and I are counting on you!
Keep the Traditional Spirit Alive!
I sat, staring down at the functional piece of wood in my hands. It was rosewood and forest-brown glass, expertly shaped from slabs and strips into something flowing, but purposeful. It represented art and at the same time engineering genius. It left the Grayling, MI factory in 1966, the same year I was born. I’m loathe to call Bear Archery a factory, as that implies sameness and a lack of craft. Anyone who has ever handled a vintage Bear bow knows that they harbor plenty of soul. There is something personal and warm in these bows. Yet, a factory it was, churning out as many as 300,000 bows annually, which was far more than its competitors.
I was enamored with the classic bow resting across my knees on this cool November afternoon during the peak of the whitetail rut. Perhaps my bewitchment arose from a recent birthday in which the bow and I both turned 50. But, no, it was more than that. Admiring the bow’s lines and red-hued grain, reminded me of what it’s like to hear a song that transports you so completely to another time that you can see, hear, and even smell the circumstances of that bygone day. Just a few bars of The Eagles’ Take It Easy conjures the rocking motion of a pontoon boat on the Chesapeake Bay, the sound of blue crabs scratching in a bushel basket, the stink of chicken parts in the sun, and the feel of my dad’s hand on mine as we cast the rod together for bluefish.
Bear bows, among others such as Ben Pearson, Browning, Damon Howatt, Shakespeare, and many more, certainly have their following, but in the big scheme of things, I knew I was one of a rare breed who cared about these old bows and what they represented. Or, was I?
Just three weeks after my November tryst with the 1966 Bear Kodiak, I found myself on a plane heading for Seattle to record a Meateater Podcast with Steve Rinella and Janis Putelis. On the day of the recording, I grabbed an Uber ride from my hotel near the Space Needle to Steve’s house just outside the city. When the old Honda Civic, which was clearly suffering from an exhaust issue, came to a stop in a neighborhood of homes with mixed architectural styles and ages, I slide the Uber driver “a five” and hopped out. The decrepit car continued up the hill with a sound that reminded me of being on a trail ride behind a flatulent horse. As the amusing sound tapered to a flutter, I suddenly got the feeling that something was wrong about the situation. It was a sinking sentiment, similar to how you might react when realizing your bush pilot has just flown off with your arrows.
The closeness of the houses and proximity to the city struck me as incongruent for Rinella, a man who clearly relishes wild places. Maybe I gave the driver the wrong address? I got a little panicky and started looking around for street names and house numbers. Then I saw them—a pair of sun-bleached elk sheds leaning by the door of the house directly opposite of where the gassy mare had dropped me. Life was right again and before I knew it, we were sitting around a table in Steve’s garage with headsets hugging our ears and Janis telling us to start in “3, 2, 1.”
The podcast focused on my book, A Traditional Bowhunter’s Path, and was broadcast on December 22, 2016. The reaction was immediate. My talk with Steve, Janis, and local restaurant owner Jimmy Doran had struck multiple nerves among bowhunters and non-bowhunters alike. The e-mail messages I received were overwhelmingly positive—the passion was contagious, everyone wanted to know how to get started in traditional archery. I suppose that could have been predicted, but here’s what I didn’t expect. During the podcast, I casually mentioned shooting and hunting with vintage bows, which was something that I considered somewhat esoteric. But, not so. Listeners were intrigued, not only with the idea of hunting with something that was 50 years old, but also with what that 50-year-old thing represented in culture and hunting history. Thus, The Classic Year was born to uncover how vintage bows might help us to discover and explore the hunting experience.
So, here’s the deal. During the next year or so, I’ll be hunting exclusively with classic gear and writing about my thoughts and experiences, including some semi-live hunts. I’m passionate about hunter-based conservation and will infuse a lot of my writing with that subject. Of course, we’ll also cover other favorites like American history, natural history, travel, food, culture, and archery. I’ll relay much of this through writing, but I’ll be posting videos too.
A highlight of The Classic Year will be a semi-live, September 2017 moose and black bear hunt in Newfoundland. I want to be clear about something. This isn’t some sort of stunt where I’ll be dressing like Fred Bear and re-enacting a moose hunt. Nor am I doing this to prove something about old bows. Many of the vintage bows perform on par with modern customs and I have no reservations about hunting with them.
So, why am I doing this? I simply love vintage bows and believe they can help me to tell rich stories about adventure and our collective human experience. Fred Bear said that, “The history of the bow and arrow is the history of mankind.” I suspect he was right, but we’ll certainly test that notion. I know that there will be other bowhunters following The Classic Year who regularly hunt with vintage gear. I hope that you too will provide your thoughts by submitting comments.
From this point forward, I’ll be rolling out new essays and videos every few weeks until we bring The Classic Year to a close sometime in 2018.
Please sign up for the TSO eNewsletter (see blog homepage) to keep up with The Classic Year happenings and get alerts when there are new posts or videos. As with all projects of Traditional Spirit Outdoors, 10% of all proceeds generated from The Classic Year will be donated to promote conservation and archery.
I have something very cool and participatory planned for an upcoming post—hint—it involves the chance to win a bow and other traditional archery gear! Sign up now so you don’t miss your opportunity.
Oh, and checkout this photo in case you were wondering what happened on that November afternoon with the 1966 Kodiak across my lap. We’ll get to the skinny of that story in a subsequent post.
Thanks for reading. It means a great deal to be able to share my thoughts and stories with you. I’m excited to get this underway.
Keep the Traditional Spirit Alive!
Stay tuned, I'll soon be establishing the Traditional Spirit Outdoors Blog, featuring the Classic Year. For updates, please type your e-mail into the box at the right and click subscribe. I'm hoping to get this rolling by no later than June 1, as we angle toward a September moose and bear hunt with classic gear! In the meantime, you can check out my blog posts on Clay Hayes' Twisted Stave Media site.
I’m Ron Rohrbaugh, a professional conservation biologist, author, and long-time traditional bowhunter. For the next year, I’ll be hunting exclusively with vintage archery gear in what I’m calling The Classic Year. We’ll explore natural history and travel, geography and culture, and of course archery and hunting. The adventures and stories will be steeped in conservation, both past and present.
|Hunting for Conservation||
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