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This Recurve Bow Is Hunting Its Way Across the Country, and Keeping the Spirit of Fred Bear Alive
When the box arrived, I opened it immediately.
Enclosed was a soft, vintage-style carrying case with leather handles. Even though I knew what I would find when I unzipped the case, it didn’t lessen the anticipation. Inside was a recurve bow, built of shiny black maple and disassembled into each of its parts. The dark riser, inlaid with a gold Bear coin, has a red stripe running vertically through the wood grain. The limbs are dark to match, with the “Fred Bear Custom Kodiak T/D” stamp on the lower limb. Beside it was a coiled string, a leather journal, and a Grayling quiver from Selway Archery—a remake of the original quivers made by Fred Bear himself, years ago.
It was a beautiful bow, and I couldn’t wait to hunt with it. The only catch was that it wasn’t mine to keep.
The author with the traveling takedown bow. (Beka Garris/)
Like me, Fred Bear didn’t start bowhunting until later in life. His father taught him to hunt when he was young, but he didn’t fall down the bowhunting rabbit hole until he was 29. And it happened at the movies.
Bear saw the film Alaskan Adventures, a 1926 documentary about Art Young hunting the Last Frontier. He brought one cameraman, and neither of them brought a gun. Instead, Young used his osage longbow to take sheep, mountain goat, moose, and a brown bear on Kodiak Island.
A detail of the riser; a biography of Fred Bear. (Beka Garris/)
I was raised as a gun hunter, and I also fell in love with traditional bowhunting in my late twenties. I considered making the switch from my compound to traditional archery for years, before finally taking the leap and buying a recurve. Learning that Fred Bear was a beginner at the same age made the challenge more approachable. I pored over stories about Bear, and even used several photographs of him shooting as an example for my own form. His story is why I shoot Bear traditional bows.
But more inspiring to me than Bear’s technical knowledge and eventual archery prowess was his connection with nature, and his love for the hunt. That’s a bit different from how many of the big-name hunters today portray things. Bear was all about the experience, and the journey. It wasn’t always a game of antlers and scores. To him, any animal taken with a recurve was an accomplishment.
Details of the custom Bear Kodiak takedown. (Beka Garris/)
To this day, I still see Fred Bear as a role model for all of us. Although he passed away in 1988, he continues to inspire people of all ages. A few years ago, I joined a Facebook group called Traditional Bear Archery Group, a place for like-minded hunters and archers who enjoy all things traditional archery. That’s where the traveling takedown project was born.
The idea began in July 2019 with Jeff Nowak, the founder of the Facebook group. He reached out to Bear Archery about a traveling bow. The company not only thought it was a great idea, but immediately shipped a brand-new 2019 Takedown. The takedown bow is one of the most legendary models that have ever been made by Bear Archery, and it appears in many photos with Fred Bear. It took Bear archery 20 years of field testing and perfecting the takedown before Bear himself was happy with the finished product. This year, they released a special 50th anniversary edition to honor one of their best-selling bows.
If you’ve never heard of a traveling bow, it’s pretty self explanatory. This bow travels around the country from traditional archer to traditional archer. Some may choose to hunt with it, while others may use it simply for target practice. There are no rules about how you must use it. Each archer is, however, allotted a finite amount of time with the bow, which varies depending if they are planning to hunt with it.
Whoever is in possession of the bow is asked to share photos on social media and with the Traditional Bear Archery Group, so everyone can see where the bow is and the adventures it’s helping create. Once the allotted time is up, whoever has the bow will ship it to the next participant. The bow is also accompanied by a small leather journal, in which each archer can make an entry.
Stephanie Neuman, one of the participants, at full draw with the traveling takedown bow. (Courtesy Stephanie Neuman/)
A takedown bow is named for its construction; the bow is built so you can remove the limbs from the riser. This makes for easier transportation, and allows you to swap limbs for a different draw weight. The 47-pound limbs on the traveling Takedown is a “middle of the road” weight that the majority of archers can draw fairly easily. And the fact that this bow is a recurve means that it’s a one-size-fits-all model. Modifications need to be made as it passes from one archer to another, no matter their draw length or shooting style. All that is required is arrows, plus the practice and dedication to make the arrows fly true.
If you’ve never heard of a traveling bow, it’s pretty self explanatory. This bow travels around the country from traditional archer to traditional archer. Some may choose to hunt with it, while others may choose to simply for target practice. There are no rules about its use, though each individual is allotted a certain amount of time with the bow, which varies depending if they are planning a hunt with it. Whoever is in possession of the bow is asked to share photos on social media, as well as in the Traditional Bear Archery Group so everyone can see where the bow is and the adventures it’s being taken on. Once the allotted time is up, whoever has the bow will ship it to the next participant. The bow is also accompanied by a small leather journal, where each archer can make an entry and share a bit about their journey with the takedown.
A takedown bow is named for its construction; the bow is built so you can remove the limbs from the riser. This makes for easier transportation, and allows you to swap limbs for a different draw weight. The 47-pound limbs on the traveling takedown is a “middle of the road” weight that the majority of archers can draw fairly easily. And the fact that this bow is a recurve means that it’s a one-size-fits-all model. modifications need to be made as it passes from one archer to another, no matter their draw length or shooting style. All that is required is arrows, plus the practice and dedication to make the arrows fly true.
On the Road
When Nowak first announced the project, it was met with great excitement. Everyone wanted an opportunity to be a part of the project. And since it’s a higher-end model with a corresponding price tag, many archers have never had a chance to shoot a Bear Takedown.
The first participant was Tuck Holstein of Montana. On Nov. 10 last year, he killed a beautiful buck with the traveling takedown. One of his journal entries tells the story, and reads as follows:
Today temps went from 45 degrees to 12 degrees with 6 inches of snow on the ground. This weather has kicked rut into full swing. I changed my field points to Bear Super Razorheads and head out scouting. At 2:00 PM I see a buck and 2 does walking up a cut just off the edge of the Missouri River. I watch them for about an hour before they bed down. I turned 600 yards into 40 yards and waited for him to crawl out of his bush and walk out into bow range. I drew my bow and sent an arrow to its mark. He ran down the draw and shortly after, he fell to his knees. And thus ends my journey with The Traveling Bear.
The buck taken by Tuck Holstein of Montana, the first recipient of the traveling Bear bow. (Courtesy Tuck Holstein /)
I was one of the first in line for the bow, and I received the bow shortly after Holstein did, in late November 2019. I had shot a Takedown only once before, at the annual Archery Trade Association show, and was thrilled to get the full experience by hunting with one.
Normally I shoot a shorter recurve with a 45-pound draw, so the Takedown felt very different. It was heavier in my hand, and heavier to draw than my own. It was, however, a very smooth and hard-hitting bow.
After several days of practice, I was ready to hunt with it. Unfortunately, I received the Takedown a week before our gun season opened. Gun season on public land in Ohio is a bit chaotic, to say the least. Nevertheless, I persisted and hunted public land right up until opening day of gun season, with my then one-year-old daughter in tow. Once the season opened, I donned the requisite blaze orange and hunted my o
wn property. Despite my determination, I didn’t get an opportunity to shoot anything with the traveling bow and, before I knew it, my time with the Takedown was up.
The author holding up the recurve on a hunt; the recurve beside her daughter on one of their hunts. (Beka Garris/)
It was bittersweet to send the bow away, but knowing I was a small chapter in its story helped make up for it. Like Fred Bear, the bow has connected many archers who would have been complete strangers otherwise. Since I hunted with it, the takedown has traveled to Michigan, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Washington, and Arizona. It has been shipped to men and women, young and old. It has flung arrows in backyards, been to 3D shoots, visited some historically significant spots, and been carried on hunts for big and small game across North America. I’m hoping that it will soon make it will make its way to New Jersey for my dad to get a turn. He has just gotten back into traditional archery after 40 years.
I like to imagine how, in a few years, the journal will be filled with all those stories. Not all of them will be as action-packed as Tuck Holstein’s, but that doesn’t mean they’re less powerful. Many of the entries penned since I last held the journal simply state the meaningfulness of the project, and how thankful they are to be a part of it.
For now, this short entry from participant Bill Campbell might say it best:
March 5, 2020
Today is Fred Bear’s Birthday. His legacy inspires all of us to this day who seek that “Cleanse of the soul.” He shared and taught us so much. Maybe most of all how to be a good steward of Mother Nature. In the wind he is still alive.