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INTERVIEW: G. Fred Asbell
Frank Addington (FA): Where and when were you born?
G. Fred Asbell (GFA): I was born August 14, 1940 in Harrisburg, IL
FA: What was your family life like growing up?
GFA: My father and mother, Dwight & Georgia Asbell, had 4 children. Dwain is the oldest, then Richard, myself, and my sister, Judy. We were all born in Harrisburg, IL, but moved to Petersburg, IN in about 1945. Petersburg was a town of about 4000. Farming was big and the primary employer was probably the railroad and the coal mines. My father worked for the New York Central Railroad and they transferred him to a better job in Petersburg. We all went to Petersburg High School.
When I was young I was dedicated to playing cowboys and Indians morning noon and night. Sports intervened with puberty. Every field was a football field, every driveway and barn had a basketball goal, and we all played spring, winter, fall and summer. Nothing was more important. By my senior year I was 6’4” tall and weighed 200 lbs…which was quite large in those days. I was good enough to be offered college scholarships in football and basketball upon graduation. I played with that a little bit but was too immature and there was little money for such unnecessary luxuries so I went off to the Navy.
FA: When did you first discover an interest in archery?
GFA: I always played cowboys and Indians and was always more interested in being an Indian and the bow and arrow were a part of that play acting. There were toy bows around and we made them for Boy Scouts but no one knew how to shoot them and they probably became swords or firewood. At Boy Scout camp (about 1952-54) there were bows and time allotted for shooting them but there was never anyone there who knew how to do it. Mostly we tried squeezing the arrow between the thumb and forefinger, which would give us an 8-10” draw, at best. I remember how disappointed I was.
I went to work for a big company and they had an employee recreation area where several of us would get together to play basketball on an outdoor court in the evening. I saw a bow there in the equipment room and was immediately drawn to it. It was an early model Bear Polar, blue glass, 36 lbs.
The attendant didn’t know anything about it, but dug around and found a box of arrows and pointed me toward a large red, blue, yellow and white target out in the middle of a nearby field. Every evening that summer I shot the bow but couldn’t figure out how to do it with any level of accuracy. I’d usually have to quit each evening because I’d lose all my arrows under the grass. The attendant would find them when he mowed.
I couldn’t find anyone who could tell me how to aim and shoot. Eventually in a Howard Hill catalog I ordered through the mail there was a set of sequential photos of Howard Hill drawing and shooting and I began trying to follow what I thought he was doing and eventually I started to develop some level of accuracy.
I remember shooting arrows at a small wood stake in the ground about 10 feet away and hitting it and being overjoyed and then hitting it 2 or 3 more times and almost swooning with pleasure. I’ve never, as they say, looked back. I’ve basically had a bow in my hand continually since then.
FA: When did you start bowhunting? Who was your mentor?
GFA: Shortly after my experience in the recreation area I joined a local archery club and got properly accoutered and really began shooting seriously (I thought.) I don’t think I knew that people hunted with bows before then. One factor was that, for the most part, there really weren’t any deer around (Indiana), so there weren’t many people hunting them even with gun. It wasn’t something very many people even knew existed.
When I went bowhunting the first time I had never seen a deer and there was only a single fella in the archery club who’d ever seen one. I don’t know that I had a mentor…a fella named Jim Van Ness sort of took me under his wing and showed me things about bows and arrows and took me to a couple of competitive shoots. Jim had been to the National Field Archery championship shoot in Hot Springs, Arkansas and that was big stuff.
I remember how impressed I was that he had a whole dozen aluminum arrows, and TWO bows. I hung on his every word. Jim had bowhunted for several years and was considered one of the more knowledgeable archers and bowhunters. Still, he had not shot a deer yet. But he was the best there was and I hung as close to him as I could. Of course we all followed Fred Bear’s exploits and in that fashion he was the mentor of us all.One of Fred’s early bucks.
I did SEE a deer my first year bowhunting but it was a fleeting thing and was a long way away. It seemed obvious that I needed more opportunity than one sighting a year to become a successful bowhunter. Groundhogs were everywhere in the Midwest in those days and could be hunted every day. I jumped into bowhunting groundhogs (marmots) with a vengeance and it was a rare summer evening when I wasn’t roaming the fields and creeks of central Indiana in pursuit of them.
In August of my second year of bowhunting I drove to Colorado and managed to slip up on and shoot a mule deer buck that was dumber than me at that moment. In about my third year I finally shot an Indiana whitetail. They said it was one of seven deer taken that year in Indiana.
My Buck qualified for Pope and Young, which was just getting started and was in all the magazines. That same fall I went to Wisconsin bowhunting and shot deer and a black bear and met Bob Pitt, who became my bowhunting partner for the next 35 years.
FA: You are well known in traditional archery circles. Did you ever shoot a compound?
GFA: : No
FA: Who are your archery heroes? Those you have met or admire and why?
GFA: The usual, Fred Bear, Glenn St. Charles, Art Young, Saxton Pope, Howard Hill. I knew Fred Bear and Glenn St. Charles, but never hunted with either of them. There’s a ‘second tier’ of archery heroes for me, fellas that have contributed greatly but don’t quite fit into royalty. Fellas like M.R. James, Dr. Dave Samuel, Marvin Clyncke, T.J. Conrads, Stacy Groscup, Jim Dougherty, Will Compton, and Roy Hoff.Fred and M.R. James, Editor and Founder of Bowhunter Magazine in front of the Bowhunter booth at a show in the early 1980s.
FA: Who do you feel has made the largest contribution to the sport?
GFA: Without question, Fred Bear.Common consensus: the greatest asset to archery – Papa Bear.
FA: You were a fairly young man when inducted into the Archery Hall of Fame? How did you feel receiving that honor and what were your thoughts at the induction?
GFA: It was pretty humbling. I think the award should be reserved for bigger contributors than myself. I’ve always thought of myself as a guy who got involved and cared a lot about archery and bowhunting. But, mostly I took jobs that no one else wanted and the next thing I knew I’d been doing it for 40-50 years. Anyway, I’m very proud of the honor but it’s embarrassing to be held up as special.Fred’s 2011 Archery Hall of Fame induction with Marv Cochran, President of Compton Traditional Archers.
FA: Tell us about the books you have written on instinctive shooting and also a website where people can find these books.
GFA: I’ve written 4 books and done one video. Three of the books and the video are on shooting and the other is on hunting on the ground. Most of the traditional shops have the books, and you can get all om my books on Amazon.com.
FA: You have certainly made a name for yourself as one of the top bowhunters in the world. Of your many hunts, local, United States and foreign. What do you consider your favorite hunt and most rewarding trophy taken? Tell us about that experience.
GFA: Mule deer are my favorites. I’d rather hunt them than anything else. I think that has to do with the country they inhabit and with always hunting them afoot, on the ground. Considering the 1000’s of hours I’ve put in after them, my successes comparatively have been minimal and that’s largely because of how I’ve hunted them.
I shot a decent buck in Wyoming slipping around in some cliffs where I caught him sleeping in the shade back out of view from anyplace except straight above him. There were two of them bedded together. He was not the biggest mule deer I’ve shot, but he was one of the most memorable, simply because I’d been slipping around through a lot of very desolate country and was about ready to give it up.
When I looked down from the ledge above him, I could see my shadow on the ground right beside him, and in front of the other buck. I ducked back and then realized that I should have taken the shot when I saw him, instead of ducking back, because now I had to do it again and there was nothing to be done about my shadow because the sun was above and behind me.
Hoping he was still there, I leaned out again, coming to full draw with my longbow. I was using a Catquiver and the steep downward angle caused it to slide around off my back and in between the string and the bow tip. I had to duck back again and get things in order. I was sure he’d be gone this time but he was still there (for the third time) when I leaned out, drew and shot. Both deer bolted out of the shadows; the one I’d shot ran downhill, around a corner and out of sight. The other buck, and he was pretty darned good too, took only a single jump and stood looking around, trying to figure out what had happened.Fred with his WY cliff shot Mulie.
FA: I know you have hunted with some of the world’s best known bow hunters and have become close friends with many others. What are your thoughts on these?
• Art Young
• Saxton Pope
• Howard Hill
• Fred Bear
• Chuck Adams
• Glenn St. Charles
• Rev. Stacy Groscup
• Ted Nugent
• M.R. James
GFA: They are all accomplished bowhunters. I know all of them but have only hunted with M. R. James, who I consider one of the most ethical bowhunters I’ve been around. I’ve spent a lot of time around Glenn St. Charles and I consider him to be one of the most ’aware’ bowhunters/people I’ve known. Clear up until his death Glenn was as sharp as a tack about everything that was going on in bowhunting, politics and socially. He was a very special person. I would have liked to have known Art Young and Saxton Pope because I think they were both exemplary people of very high moral character. I think Art Young was someone you’d want your children to be around and to learn from.Glenn St. Charles flanked by Fred Bear and Dick Mauch.
FA: When did you actually realize archery could be a career for you?
GFA: Interesting question. I’m not sure I’ve ever really thought of myself as being in the archery business, although I obviously am in that business. It has always been a thing I loved so much that I never thought of making money from it as a specific goal, which may speak to a lot of things.
I began making recurve bows because no one was making them anymore and I thought that was a real shame and that someone ought to keep this thing going. I started writing because I wanted to teach people about this wonderful sport/method of hunting. The books and classes are an extension of that. Earlier I worked for companies and people and I did that for the money. But for some reason, archery has always been different for me. Perhaps not a clear cut answer, but a truthful one.Fred with his P&Y Quebec-Labrador caribou tagged on a 1990 bowhunt to celebrate his and M.R. James’ 50th birthdays,
FA: You now hunt extensively, write, give seminars and run your own bow company. Tell us a bit about your bow company.
GFA: I sold the bow company in 1991 to King of the Mountain. We started the company in 1977 in a basement, building recurves and then longbows. It was a small company with about a half-dozen employees. Even though the bows were the first of the custom bows and were very popular, limited capital kept production small and limited expansion.Fred and Dr. Randy Byers posing with their mountain caribou bulls in the Northwest Territories.
FA: What organizations do you belong to and what role do you play in each?
GFA: I probably belong to 25-30 state bowhunting organizations, maybe as many as 50. I belong to Compton Traditional Bowhunters, Pope and Young, Professional Bowhunters Society, NRA, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. I am currently on the Board of Compton Traditional Bowhunters as past president, having been President for 10 years. I was on the Board of Pope & Young Club for 25 years, President for 18. For the first time in 40-50 years I am basically out of all elected offices.
FA What concerns you and what excites you about the sport of archery, the equipment evolution and the direction it is going?
GFA: The need for personal involvement and commitment has always been an important aspect of archery and bowhunting to me. It concerns me as more and more of those things are being removed from the sport and success, in the woods or on the competitive range, has become the most important aspect.Fred addressing attendees at a Pope & Young Board meeting.
FA: I know you are dedicated to traditional archery but what do you think of the compound bow and now the emergence of the crossbow as they pertain to our sport.
GFA: Yes, I am a dedicated traditionalist. I am a history buff and have always loved and savored the old ways. I don’t really care much for computers and technology and feel they are stealing so many very important things from us all, on all sorts of levels.
Of course I use them; you must if you interface with the world on almost any level. The concept of ‘easier’ has led us down some questionable paths whether you are talking about bowhunting, fishing, golf or automobiles. The crossbow belongs in firearms season, not in archery season, most everyone in bowhunting knows that. The archery industry is shooting itself in the foot. Free enterprise is/should be the basics of our economic foundations but there is still a need for intelligent thought that goes beyond just making more money and tossing tomorrow out the window and shooting the goose.
FA: What would you like for people to remember you for?
GFA: As a bowhunter who cares a lot about the bow and arrow itself and about bowhunting, the history and not only what it’s done for the world but the life it draws us into and the lessons it imparts.