The Bows of Bear Archery

The Bows of Bear Archery

Without a doubt, Bear Archery Company has produced more traditional bows than all the other traditional bow companies combined. In fact, in one year alone (1975), Bear Archery made over 360,000 bows. Why then, if there are so many Bear bows out there, are they so valuable? Wouldn’t it make sense that other bow companies who madey fewer bows would be rarer, and thus command more value?   Without a doubt this can be attributed to the influence of the man himself, Fred Bear and his immense popularity

Seriously, Bear bows were the best marketed bows in the world for over 50 years. Most all of us who grew up in the days before compounds saw Bear ads and promotions everywhere we turned. And as a result, many of us grew up with Bear bows in our hands for a good part of our lives.

The Pre-Grayling Era Bows of Bear Archery

Fred’s first bowyer back in 1938 when the fledgling Bear Products Company first began commercially producing bows was a remarkable man by the name of Nels Grumley. Nels was a fantastic craftsman, and his skills show in each and every one of his bows. The pride in his craftsmanship is demonstrated in that each and every bow which Nels made is either stamped or signed with his name, along with the words “Bear Products by Grumley” or “Bear Archery by Grumley”.


Beginning in 1938, Grumley bows bore the stamped mark of the maker, sometime in the early 1940’s, the stamp was broken and all bows after that date bore the written mark of their famous maker.

Why the different means of signing the bows? Well, when Nels first began making bows for Fred in 1938, he used a sort of branding iron to stamp into the wood his mark “Bear Products by Grumley”. Then somewhere in the early 1940’s, the brand was dropped and broken and instead of buying a new one Nels simply began writing his name on the bows.
Note: Remember that the company was known as Bear Products until 1940, so the “Bear Products by Grumley” bows were obviously made before those marked “Bear Archery by Grumley”.

Nels left Bear in 1948 when Fred made the decision to begin mass production of bows at the new factory in Grayling. Nels felt strongly that bows should be individually crafted, and not made by machine.

Nels left, even though Fred tried to convince him to stay with some handsome financial offers, and struck out on his own to make bows. However, his private venture into the bow making business lasted only two years before he took a job in an appliance manufacturer as a model maker.

These “Grumley by Grumley” bows are marked with a simple stamped signature “Grumley” either on the limb or on the riser, and are very scarce and excellent collector items.

Not all Bear bows made in these early years were made by Nels. There were several other bowyers who made Bear wooden bows, mostly the lower line lemonwood models such as the Ranger. These bows were simply marked “Bear Archery” in a written form.  However, in late 1948 Bear began using what later became known as the small “Running Bear” decal, and thus some bows built beginning in 1948 may have this decal instead of the written brand.

Models of Grumley bows

Nels made 4 basic styles of bows:
◦ Field (straight limb)
◦ Hunter (steamed limb tips but without Brush Nocks)
◦ Bush Bow (having brush nocks carved into the ends of the limbs about 1-2 inches long)
◦ Deerslayer (with brush nocks 3-4 inches long).
These bows were available primarily in one piece design , but a few were made in 2 piece take-apart and some in 2 piece hinged models. The later Grumleys also can be found in laminated woods as well as self-wood models. Additionally you will find Grumley’s backed with sinew, rawhide, and various types of wood. A characteristic of Grumley bows is the trapezoidal limb cross section. By this I mean that the face of the limb is wider and tapers down towards the back of the limb giving a cross-sectional view which appears as a trapezoid.
Remember also that Bear would take special orders for bows during this time period, and the above models are only the “stock” models. Many one-of-a-kind Grumleys exist in collections that represent the buyers wishes expressed by Nels Grumley’s hands.
But whatever the model,and whatever the wood or backing, the quality of the craftsmanship was simply unparalleled. Of the bows which I have seen over the years, the only bowyers who I would put in the same class as Grumley would be James D. Easton of California and E.F. Pope of Texas

The Grumley bow on the left is a Bush Bow, while the bow on the right is the Deerslayer model. Notice the different length of the brush nocks.


The Grayling Era bows of Bear Archery

Beginning in 1947, Bear Archery moved into a new plant in Grayling, Michigan. Bow sales were now beginning to soar as new archers and bowhunters entered the sport in record numbers due in large part to the successful promotions of Fred Bear.

Fred realized that he could not meet the demand which would come from these new recruits by making bows one at a time like Bear had been doing since it’s inception almost 15 years earlier so he came up with a new method of mass producing bows, finally allowing his company to meet this demand.

But Nels Grumley would not accept that quality bows could be made by any other manner than one-at-a-time, so Nels left the company to go out on his own.
Upon Nels departure, Fred moved another employee by the name of Bob Meeker over to supervise the manufacturing of the new bow lines. Even though bows were then largely the result of machine work, Bob came to be considered a fine bowyer in his own right.

The Aluminum Laminated Bows

The first new bow model which was introduced in 1949 after Nels’ departure was the Grizzly. The Polar and Kodiak were introduced in the following year, 1950.

These bows of 1949, 1950 and early 1951 can be recognized by the lamination of aluminum in the limbs. This aluminum was scrapped from B-17 bomber airplanes of WWII, the purchase of which was arranged from the government by Glenn St. Charles. The aluminum lamination on the Kodiak and Grizzly is found only in the inner lamination, surrounded by layers of maple and glass. However, on the Polar, the aluminum is found both under a layer of maple and glass, and on the outside lamination.

In 1949 and 1950 Bear was using a bi-directional glass on their bows which looks somewhat like a basket weave pattern. Then in 1951 Bear began using a new Uni-Directional glass in which the glass fibers all ran lengthwise to the bow limbs. This is a good way to tell the difference between the 1949/50 and the 1951 models.

The 1951 Grizzly also began production with the aluminum lamination, but very early in 1951 the aluminum was dropped due to the high reported breakage problems.

The Kodiak was introduced in 1950 with the bi-directional glass and the aluminum lamination. Then in early 1951, just as with the Grizzly, the new uni-directional glass was introduced but the aluminum lamination was still present. This glass change apparently occurred around serial number 5000. Then in mid-1951, the aluminum lamination was dropped. So for 1951 you will find Kodiaks with aluminum and bi-directional glass, aluminum with uni-directional glass, and no-aluminum with uni-directional glass.

This aluminum laminated caused two problems. First, the bows had quite a bit of handshock when shot, and as a result were not comfortable to shoot. Secondly, the large amount of shock contributed to a large number of bows delaminating. This warranty problem caused a substantial strain on the companies finances, but Fred insisted that all bows be replaced if returned broken.

The Compass Kodiaks

Another popular bow for collectors of Grayling manufactured bows is the Kodiak II of 1954. Also known as the Compass Kodiak because of the small, round compass embedded into the riser section, this bow was another good idea which almost caused the company to go under. The compass required a significant amount of wood to be removed from the riser in order to be inlaid, and as a result caused the riser sections on many of these bows to fail. Again, Fred insisted that the warranty on these bows be honored and all returns were replaced with another bow.
The Kodiak II’s of 1954 were made using two different woods for the riser, maple and walnut. If the riser section of your K-II is very dark, then you have a walnut model. Conversely, if the riser of your K-II is a light colored wood, then you have a maple model. The walnut bows were made only for the first 2-3 months of 1954, before being replaced by maple in mid-year.
There were also many different lengths available in each of the different kinds of wood. But all K-II’s are very collectible and highly sought after bows. don’t shoot a Compass Kodiak! The structural strength of this design was the main reason for it’s discontinuance, and many years later the bows that survive are too valuable as collectors items to risk breaking another.

The Bear Take-Down

Fred had been tinkering with take-apart and take-down bows of different styles for 30 years when in the mid-1960’s he began working on a new design that would require no tools for assembling/disassembling the limb and riser sections. Finally, in August 1969 the famous Bear Take-Down recurve went into production.
Note – Although introduced in August 1969, the Take Down model bow did not appear in the Bear catalogs until 1970.
This new model bow was manufactured in 3 different riser lengths, which were known as the “A”, “B”, and “C” risers. The “A” riser was the shortest, and the “C” the longest, with the “B” being in the middle. In this manner, the archer could mix and match riser styles with various length limbs to allow the bowhunter to pick the bow which best fit his or her desires.
Note – Although officially discontinued in 1972, several parts for these bows remained on the shelves at Bear, and a few “A” and “B” models were assembled in 1973 and 1974. These later assemblies can be recognized by their white serial numbers.
How many Bear Take-Downs were actually made? In the three years of production, there were 400 “A” models made, 800 “B” models made, and only 300 “C” models. Then why is the “C” the least valuable of the lot even though it is actually the rarest of the Take-Downs? Apparently this is because it is thought of as a target bow rather than a hunting bow by collectors.

Some collectors place significance on the year of the manufacture of the take-down relative to the value of the bow. Actually, more than year, the collector should be referring to Type. The first models made in 1969/1970, up through approximately serial number 2000, are referred to as Type I’s. Models made in 1971 and later are correctly referred to as Type II’s, due to a change in the riser style.
Note – The serial numbers of all the Take-Downs begin with a letter which designates the riser style. For example, and “A” handle will have a serial number which begins with an “A”, a “B” handle will have a serial number which begins with a “B”, etc.
◦ The Type I bows will have serial numbers in the range of 1000 to somewhere near 2000
◦ Type II bows will have serial numbers in the range of 2000 and up.
There is some greater value attached to the Type I bows by some collectors because these “improvements” of the Type II models actually caused some weaknesses in the bow riser’s strength.

Note – An option from the factory on the Bear Take-Down was the Bear Premier Hunting sight, only listed in the catalog for the “B” handles, and for the second and third years of production. This sight was factory installed in the sight window of the bow.
The Bear Take-Down could be ordered in one of three different limb lengths. Known as Limb Style Number 1, Style Number 2, and Style Number 3. The #1 limbs were known as the Short Limbs, the #2 as the Medium Limbs, and the #3 as the Long Limbs. Matching these various limbs with the different risers allowed the buyer to choose a bow length all the way from 56″ to 70″. These limbs can be found with both a white overlay in the limb tip, and with a red overlay. The white overlays were made before the change to the red overlays.

How to Date Bear Bows

A very common question from beginning Bear bow collectors is how to determine the age of a bow. There are many features and changes applied by Bear over the years which will help you in determining your bows model year.
Note – A great deal of the credit for the following information is due to the late Mr. Al Reader of North Haledon, New Jersey.  Al studied Bear Archery for many, many years and is considered by everyone as the King of Information regarding Bear Archery collecting.
First, if your bow is all wood, meaning that there is no laminations of any kind, then your bow had to be made before the mass production beginning in 1949. If your all wood bow has a stamp which says “Bear Products” in some form, then it had to be before the early-mid forties. If your all-wood bow says “Bear Archery”, then it had to be manufactured after the early-mid forties and before 1949. Wooden bows with a small “Running Bear” decal can be dated to 1948.
Another way is to look for a leather grip. All Bear bows had leather grips from those first Grumley’s in the late 30’s until 1959. In 1959, the Kodiak Special dropped the leather grip, and in 1961 the Kodiak followed suit. The Grizzly kept the leather grip until 1964.
Yet another way to help determine the age of your bow is to look for a coin type medallion in the riser. Beginning in 1959, all Bear bows had a coin medallion of one type or another. The coin was copper in 1959, then changed to Aluminum in 1960-61, and Pewter in 1962. Brass coins were used in 1963-1970, and nickel-silver in 1971-72. The coins were all flush with the wood until 1972. Then in late 1972 it was raised above the surface of the bow. These raised medallions came in both gold and chrome covered plastic and are still used in todays Bear bows.
Note – Using the medallions for dating bows is not an absolute rule with Bear bows, as sometimes the plant would just throw medallions in a bin and the bow maker would reach in and grab medallions which may have been from a year or two earlier.

Place of Manufacture
In 1978, a strike at the Bear plant in Grayling, MI forced a move of all manufacturing and offices to Gainesville, Florida. If your bow says Gainesville on it, then you know that it was made after this move.

The 1953 Patent Date
All Bear bows from 1953 until 1972 have the “1953 Canadian Patent” date on them. This patent covered the working recurve limb. This is the date of the patent only, and does nothing to date the bow itself.

The 1953 Patent date which appears on all Bear bows from 1953 until 1972 is simply the date of the patent for a working recurve limb and has nothing to do with the actual model year.

The Decals and Silkscreening
The small Running Bear decal was first used in 1948, and was replaced by the large Standing Bear decal in mid-1953. The large Standing Bear decal also had the words “Glass Powered” under the Standing Bear.

The small Running Bear decal on the left was used by Bear from 1948 until 1953, with the larger Standing Bear decal replacing it in mid-1953 and lasting until the 1955-56 model years. Beginning in 1955-56 Bear began using the silk-screened logo shown on the far right.

The large Standing Bear decal was used until 1955 when it was replaced with the improved methods of silk-screening the identification on the bows. The silk-screening appeared on all bows by the 1956 model year.

How About Serial Numbers for Dating?
According to research done by the late Al Reader of New Jersey, who by the way is considered by most to be the most knowledgeable Bear collector of our time, serial numbers work very well for dating Bear bows, but only for the years 1965-1969 when the first digit of the serial number is the year of manufacture. For example, a serial number of 6Z3884 would be a 1966 bow. Prior to 1965, the serial numbers for all Bear bows were started over every month, making these bows almost impossible to date by serial number alone. The “K” series of serial numbers (for example KZ9399) were started in 1970.
Even looking at the catalogs is not a sure way of dating a Bear bow, as sometimes the pictures were used for more than one year, even though there might have been changes in the woods used, or the colors available.
Remember also that Bear had to take the next years catalog to the printer in late fall of the prior year. This means that bows for that catalog or model year had to be available to take pictures of in the fall before the catalog was printed. For this reason, you will find bows of a particular year with features of the previous year.

A good example would be the few known examples of the 1954 Kodiak II (Compass Kodiaks) with the small “Running Bear” decal which was actually discontinued in late1953. Most 1954 Kodiak II’s will be found with the large Standing Bear decal which replaced the small Running Bear decal in 1954. Another example would be the few known 1959 Kodiaks which don’t have a coin medallion which were supposed to be on all Kodiaks beginning in model year 1959. Obviously these bows were made in late 1958 before the medallions became available to the factory.
Sometimes showing the bow to a knowledgeable collector is the only sure way to get an accurate date of manufacture.

Yearly Production Chart For The Most Popular Grayling-Made Bear Bows

(Researched by and reprinted with the permission of Al Reader, North Haledon, NJ)

Wood Handle Take-Down 1969-1972
Wood C-Riser Victor Custom 1973-1975
Magnesium Handle Take-Down A-B-C 1971-1978
Kodiak Static Recurve 1950-1953
Kodiak Recurve 1954-1966
Super Kodiak 1967-1976
Grizzly Static Recurve 1949-1957
Grizzly Recurve 1958-1978
Super Magnum 48 1966-1976
Kodiak Magnum 52″ 1961-1977
Kodiak Hunter 58″ and 60″ 1967-1977
Tamerlane 1962-1968
Tamerlane HC-30 1965-1967
Tamerlane HC-300 1968-1972
Kodiak Special 1955-1967
Temujin 1968-1970
Tarter 1968-1972
Victor Patriot 1973-1977
Victor 1972
Polar (recurve) 1957-1970
Alaskan (leather grip semi-recurve) 1959-1961
Alaskan (recurve) 1966-1970
Tigercat 1964-1978
Bearcat 1964-1971
Black Bear 1972-1978
Little Bear 1965-1978