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!?
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.
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