Fred Bear and his Time-Tested Commandments

Conservation Featured

As a new hunting season begins, reflecting upon seasons long past helps us understand how the hunting community arrived to where it is today. As with most lifestyles, certain pioneers often blaze a trail for others to follow. Bowhunting and archery are no different – and any discussion about the icons of the sport is incomplete without mentioning Fred Bear.

Most notably known for his worldwide bowhunting adventures and for founding Bear Archery, Bear is largely credited with putting the archery community on the map. He dedicated his life to archery long before it was a well-known sport. Little did Bear know that his small archery shop located in Grayling, Michigan, in the late 1940s would still be in business long after his death in 1988.

However, Bear left behind much more than an iconic archery name. More important than the early bowhunting videos where he shared his adventures, Bear is probably best known for his inspired 10 Commandments of Hunting. His wisdom lives on to this day – and whether you’re a brand-new bowhunter or a seasoned veteran, Bear’s practical insight is always worth revisiting.

“Don’t step on anything you can step over.”

Avoid anything on the ground that could cause unnecessary noise. Photo Credit: ATA

Stealthy woodsmanship is instrumental in the success of any bowhunter. Being able to identify and avoid noisy hazards while entering the woods prevents your quarry from discovering you. In his first commandment, Bear advises all bowhunters to pay keen attention to twigs, logs and anything else that can alert game animals. If you can enter the woods undetected, you’ll see more of your quarry close-by.

“Don’t look for deer, look for movement and remember it’s what they’re looking for, too.”

Deer are cautious animals, and very rarely will they move in a way that easily alerts potential predators. Think about most deer you see in the woods – they take a few steps, stop, listen, and continue on with their seemingly high-alert body language. Keep an eye out for the flicker of an ear or a set of deer legs sneaking through the woods. Modern hunters can also utilize this tactic, especially when entering treestands. Rather than noisily marching into an area, meticulously evaluate your every move. You’ll be surprised how you’ll stay out of sight and mind.

“Always approach from downwind. In the cool of the day, move uphill; in the heat of the day, move downhill.”

Don’t let the deer catch your scent. Photo Credit: ATA

This commandment hopefully goes without saying, but it’s still just as true today as it was the day Bear put it into practice. Approaching from downwind will significantly reduce the odds of deer pin-pointing your location. Just be sure you know where to go. Much like humans, deer need to regulate their body temperature. This means in late fall and winter, they’ll spend most of their time in sunlight-exposed hillsides, but will revert to the shade when the temperature warms during hotter months.

“The best camouflage pattern is called, “Sit down and be quiet!” Your grandpa hunted deer in a red plaid coat, think about that for a second.”

Although modern camouflage patterns are always useful, Bear stresses the importance of being still rather than just wearing the latest and greatest in concealment technology. Regardless of what you use to stay hidden, sit still and be quiet. When you allow yourself to blend into your surroundings, you’ll drastically increase your chances of intercepting wild game.

“Take only the gear to the field that allows you to hunt longer, harder, smarter.”

Don’t take more than you need. Photo Credit: John Hafner

Rather than taking too much gear and ending up inefficient, evaluate everything you take with you into the woods. Leave behind gear that doesn’t have a direct benefit on your time outdoors.

“A rainstorm isn’t a reason to quit the hunt, it’s a reason to stay.”

Most game animals move in relation to weather patterns. These ever-changing patterns usually bring some sort of precipitation. Rather than using these uncomfortable conditions as an excuse to go home, re-evaluate and consider spending more time in the woods when the patterns are changing. Remember, you’ll never fill your tag from the couch. Don’t let a little poor weather dictate your hunt’s outcome.

“Camouflage your appearance, your sound and your scent.”

Camouflage your scent as well as your body. Photo Credit: ATA

Being invisible is only half the battle when hunting. Staying silent and scent-free will allow you to spend more time with wild animals in bow range.

“Be sure of your shot. Nothing is more expensive than regret.”

Taking poor shots can result in wounded game and ruined hunts. To prevent this from happening to you, never release an arrow unless you have total confidence in your shot. Rather than forcing a questionable shot, pass on the unethical opportunity and develop a game plan to be in the right position next time.

“Hunt where the deer actually are, not where you’d imagine them to be.”

Track physical evidence of deer. Photo Credit: Shane Indrebo

Look for physical evidence that deer are in the area you plan to hunt. Sign such as rubs, scrapes, tracks and beds are telltale examples that you’re hunting where deer hang out. Failure to hunt areas with significant sign can leave you empty-handed and ultimately frustrated.

“Next year’s hunt begins the minute this season’s hunt ends.”

The process of scouting new areas, identifying game-rich environments and honing your skills is an ongoing process. If you want to stay atop your game, put constant effort towards whatever goals you set for yourself. Doing so will ensure you’ll be prepared when next season begins.

All of Bear’s commandments still hold true today. Although hunting strategies and gear are constantly changing, these core principles remain. Ultimately, bowhunting isn’t much different today than it was when Bear toted his hand-made bow and arrows into the big woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in pursuit of whitetail deer. So if you find yourself discouraged or frustrated when things aren’t going your way, remember Bear’s advice. These time-tested tips will always point you in the right direction.


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