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Bear Archery Kodiaks 1950-1966

In my desire to compile the most complete and accurate information available referencing Bear Archery equipment, I knew that when it came time to approach the subject of the Kodiak line of bows there was only one place to go.  Matt Dickerson of Texas has had a love affair with the Bear Kodiak that stretches back many, many years.  Matt is a junior high school science teacher in Texas, and after giving his family first priority, gives all his remaining attention to collecting and researching bows, specializing in Bear Kodiaks. 

I hope you enjoy Matt’s writing, and I personally thank Matt for all the help that he has given me over the years when I had questions about Bear bows. 

Happy Hunting!

Gene Hopkins, Collecting Editor


 

When Gene Hopkins asked me to write the definitive Kodiak article for the Stikbow this past June at Cloverdale, I was somewhat skeptical about the word definitive. Having been a serious student of Kodiaks for many years, I knew definitive might be somewhat difficult. As collectors and researchers we have some good information available in the catalogs published by Bear, but that is far from a complete knowledge or history of the Kodiak hunting bow. There are many details that we will never know, but I hope to give a basic history, along with a detailed description of Kodiaks available for the hunter wanting the top of the line bow from 1950 to 1966.  These are among the most sought after Bear bows by shooters, hunters, and collectors today.           

As with any history, researchers find some information and evidence that does not fit easily into pre-conceived categories.  This rings true for Kodiaks.  Kodiaks will be found that do not fit into the descriptions I give. This is to be expected as Fred was continually trying to improve on design and material. Some of these oddball Kodiaks are very interesting and often show transition from one year to the next. Some are one of a kind and others are found in limited numbers. Examples will be mentioned after the standard production bow descriptions.           

The Kodiak did not just appear in 1950. It’s forefathers are well known in collecting circles. The bows of  Nels  Grumley  would encompass an article of their own, but I couldn’t talk about Kodiaks without mention of Grumleys.  Nels began working for Fred in the later 1930’s and made beautiful selfbows  until the advent of mass production in late 1940’s. This signaled the end of an era for hand made bows from Bear. Grumley left Bear Archery in late 1947 or early 1948, but Grumley-like bows were made for approximately another year.            

Grumley’s Deerslayer is the father of the Kodiak. These were made in a variety of material configurations but all had the large brush nocks, which helped eliminate brush getting caught between the string and limb of the bow.

Brush nocks were used on the early Bear Grayling bows.  The bow on the left is a Grumley Deerslayer, the middle bow is a transition Deerslayer (around 1948) and the bow on the right is a 1950 Kodiak.

After Grumley left Bear, the Deerslayer was still produced in the same basic configuration except that bi-directional fiberglass was used for backing instead of the former silk, rawhide, sinew, or fortisan. The running Bear decal appeared during this time as well as decals bearing the model name.           

For 1950, Fred introduced the first Kodiak. The Grizzly had been introduced in 1949, and the Kodiak was similar but designated as the top of the line. These bows are easily identifiable because of the aluminum lamination and reddish bi-directional fiberglass backing.  These were “static” recurves which basically meant straight limbs with non-bending (static) ends.  They had a small maple riser with a single shelf sculptured into the grip, which was covered in leather. A thin lamination of lemonwood covers the aluminum on the belly side. The 1951 model is identical to the 1950 model with the exception of the bi-directional glass being replaced with uni-directional blonde glass. We don’t know exactly when this change was made but shortly thereafter the aluminum was also dropped due to bonding failure between the metal and  maple. The 1951 configuration is least common presumably because it wasn’t produced as long as the 1950 model.

           

The early static recurve Kodiaks shown above are, from bottom, are 1950, 1951, two 1952 models with slightly different glass colors, and a 1953 model.

The 1952 model has blonde glass on both sides and a little more reflex than previous years. There is little difference in the 1952 and 1953 Kodiak except for color of glass. The 1953’s generally have reddish to burnt orange glass. There is no definite feature that differentiates the two except glass color and serial number and in my collection there is some overlap of both.           

All Kodiaks to this point were available in three lengths which was designated by serial number prefix: K-2 =62”, K-4 =64”, K-6 =66”. They are all numbered in one series up to about 30,000. All have decals including the running bear, “pat. applied for” or “pat. pending”, and the Kodiak decal. A few late 1953’s have the larger standing bear decal. There is great variation of tip overlay treatment in all years of statics.           

In 1954 Fred introduced a working recurve, the Kodiak II. It was available in four lengths (56”, 60”, 64”, and 68” ) and two different riser materials, walnut and maple. Walnut appeared in the earliest bows and maple followed after a short time. The Kodiak II was a double shelf bow. It could be shot right or left handed ( all Kodiaks were available in right or left hand except the double shelf years of 1954 through 1956). This was the only year a compass was standard equipment on a Kodiak. The Kodiak II was also the only Kodiak offered in a length longer than 66”. The 68” bow was intended to be a target/ tournament bow but the limbs were too long and narrow to hold up. I talked with one old timer who said he was sent four different Kodiak II’s before he got one that didn’t want to twist. The Kodiak II’s are a graceful looking  bow with  blonde/ beige glass and long sweeping limbs.

In 1954, the Kodiak II was introduced.  Also known as the KII or Compass Kodiak, the bow on the left is a walnut riser 1954 KII.  The bow second from left is a maple riser version of the 1954 KII.  The walnut risers were made in the first few months of production, before Bear switched over to maple for the rest of 1954.  The middle Kodiak is a 1954-55 transition design, with a compass and features of the 1954 model.  The bow second from the right is a 1955 model, and the bow on the far right is the 1956 model.  The only difference between 1955 and 1956 models is that the large Bear decal is found on the 1955, while the silkscreen logo is found on the 1956.

1955 brought about some changes in the Kodiak. The maple riser was enlarged and  a thin contrasting accent stripe outlined the riser. Brown glass replaced beige. Still a double shelf, this design remained until 1957. This was the last year for decals on Kodiaks. Collectors consider bows with decals 1955 models while the same bow with silkscreen logos a 1956. The 68" length was dropped at the end of 1954 making 1955 and 1956 available in only three lengths: 56", 60", and 64". Some of these bows are painted brown between the leather grip and shelf.

The 1957 model was changed to a single shelf, which resulted in the most centershot Kodiak produced to that point. Maple riser, brown glass, and leather grip still prevail. This was one of Fred’s favorites and he killed the world record Stone sheep in British Columbia with one in 1957. Available in three lengths, 56”, 60”, and 64”, it is still a hard hitting design.

The brown glass on the 1955, 1956, and 1957 Kodiaks has a tendency to develop longitudinal cracks even if they haven’t seen much use. It doesn't look very nice but does not seem to effect shootability.

Early 1958's were identical to the 1957 with the exception of white glass instead of brown.  They appear to have been made on the same press. This configuration didn't last long and the "sowbelly" 1958 appeared.  Al Reader dubbed this bow sowbelly because the belly side of the sight window curves outward toward the shooter instead of curving in like a 1957.  The white glass was not very popular and was discontinued with this year model.

The Kodiak on the left is the 1957 model.  The middle bow is the 1958 tapered window version, same as the 1957, except for the white glass. The bow on the right is the 1958 model, known as the “sow belly”.  Notice the pronounced arch in the rear of the riser above the arrow shelf.

Up to this point, Bear used maple for the risers of his bows, but beginning in 1959, exotic hardwoods were utilized for the first time. Fred chose beautiful rosewood for his classic 1959 model Kodiak. He also placed a coin in the riser to symbolize Bear quality.  The earliest 1959's had a ¼" lamination of maple sandwiched between the two rosewood laminations in the riser. This was the first appearance of  the "I-beam" construction in the Kodiak line.  The maple was visible in the sight window and made a beautiful contrast with the rosewood. Later 59's had a purple heart sight window and I know of a few with rosewood in the sight window. Brown glass was still used on the back of the bow and a nice brown/orange glass on the belly. The earliest 59's had red, brown, and white overlays but most had only red and white. The Kodiak logo was previously on the belly side of the top limb but moved to the back of the limb starting in '59. The first coin was copper but some early bows are known with no coin. This model was still available in 3 lengths; 56", 60", 64". The 64" length  has two different lengths of sight window. A 6" window for weights up to around 50#, and a shorter 4" window for heavier bows.

The bottom Kodiak is a maple window version of the 1959 model.  Above that is the 1959 with a purple heart sight window.  The 1960 Kodiak third from bottom has an all Rosewood sight window.  Last, the bow on top is the 1960 Kodiak Deluxe.  This was the first Kodiak that came without the leather grip.

The transition between 1959 and 1960 is somewhat gray. At some time in 1960 black and white fiberglass replaced the old red and white paper overlays. This was an improvement in functionality and aesthetics. The coin changed  from copper to aluminum but this is not a defining feature as I have several 1960 Kodiaks with a copper coin. Some of the risers have a little larger grip and these usually have the aluminum coin. New forms were used giving most 1960 Kodiaks a little more pronounced recurve profile than the 1959's. Most have rosewood in the sight window.  This was the last year a leather grip was standard equipment on a Kodiak. The 1960 Kodiak is a favorite today. I think this is the best looking bow Fred ever produced as do many others. Reproductions of  59's and 60's are even being made today by more than one company.

            1960 was also the only year Bear offered a deluxe model Kodiak.  The Kodiak Deluxe was touted as the "King" hunting bow. It featured a beautiful mixture of hardwoods and "crowned" with clear "Crystalight" glass. Risers of rosewood with a zebrawood crescent in the grip area and zebrawood limb veneers under clear glass made a striking combination. They also came with a nice bowsock with the model name on it. These bows sold well, but are hard to find today in excellent or better condition. The clear glass did not stand up well, cracking or fogging up. Also many of these bows broke or delaminated due to a serious glue problem. One dealer ordered ten Deluxe models and all ten delaminated in the boxes between Bear Archery and his shop! Contrary to recent information I've heard, and according to the people who actually wrote the serial numbers at the Grayling plant, many of these defective bows were metal stamped on the riser.  A "2" stamp indicated a factory second or blemish and a "22" stamp indicated a more serious defect. Like the 1960 Kodiak, the Deluxe was produced in 56", 60", 64". These may be found with copper or aluminum coin and was the first Kodiak without a leather grip.

Looking at the back of the bows, the bottom is the maple window 1959 . Second from bottom is the standard 1959 model. The 1960 Kodiak is third from the bottom  The top bow clearly shows the distinctive clear glass found on the 1960 Deluxe model.

1961 brought several changes. The riser was lengthened and the limbs shortened. This design held for 1961 and 1962, producing a very nice shooting bow. African rosewood (bubinga) was introduced along with "Grayling Green" fiberglass which is a deep avocado green. Bear had serious trouble with the riser wood causing cracks in the glass, presumably due to the wood not being seasoned properly. Many of these bows were returned to the factory, refinished for free and stamped with a star. These generally have no serial number as they were no longer covered under warranty. I do know that it is very difficult to find a 1961 in original (unrefinished) condition in excellent or better condition in the African rosewood configuration. The coins in these bows were aluminum early on, and 1961was the first year the Kodiak was offered in only one length, 60".           

Of all the Kodiaks, 1961's probably show the most variation. They may be found built in I-beam construction or a solid piece of African rosewood. Later in production another version appeared. This bow has walnut on the outside of the I-beam and purpleheart in the center which shows in the sight window. This configuration eliminated the cracking problem and made a pretty bow. Also the coin in these walnut bows is pewter with a black finish like the 1962 coin indicating a late 1961 transition to 1962.           

In 1962 the Kodiak was Brazilian rosewood, "Bark gray" glass (medium to dark gray) and a pewter coin with black finish. These are really classy looking bows, made on the 1961 press. They can also be found in one solid piece or I-beam construction. Like the 1961, the 1962 was produced only in 60".

The bottom two bows show some of the variations which can be found in the 1961 models.  The bottom bow is the all African Rosewood 1961 Kodiak.  The bow second from the bottom is again a 1961 model, but this time with the Purpleheart lamination in the  walnut riser.  The bow third from the bottom is the 1962 Kodiak, in Brazilian Rosewood.  Lastly, the top bow is the very distinctive 1963 “dogleg” model, made of Bubinga.

Fred redesigned the Kodiak entirely for 1963 and took a Bengal Tiger in India with this model bow. A massive riser of "Tropical bubinga" in the I-beam construction and a strange "dogleg" profile distinguishes this year. The riser is longer than any Kodiak to this point and the distinctive brass or gold color coin made its first appearance. "Bark Gray" glass continued to be used. To my eyes these bows don't have attractive lines but some have the most awesome burl bubinga I have ever seen. A design flaw caused quite a few of these to break but bows are individuals and I have a 60# dogleg that was being shot when I acquired it. I don't like the idea of wood and fiberglass hitting me in the face at alarming rates of speed, so I don't shoot it. This design was discontinued after one year of production.

Looking down onto the backs of the bows, the bottom two bows are the 1961 models with the "Grayling" green glass.  The bow third from the bottom is the 1962 with "bark gray" glass.  The top bow is the 1963 dogleg Kodiak.

Looks can be deceiving and that may be the case with the 1964 Kodiak. Again the riser was redesigned and the bubinga riser has no frills. "Bark Gray glass" and gold colored coin do little to dress it up, but where this model shines is when you pull it back and let an arrow fly. Considered by many to be the smoothest shooting and fastest Kodiak produced, it is hard to beat. Offered only in 60".

           

The Kodiak of 1964 (bottom), made of solid bubinga with no accent stripes was certainly not one of the prettiest, but is one of the smoothest shooting and fastest Kodiaks ever produced.  In 1965, Bear added accent stripes and mild “horns” to the design of the riser (middle bow).  The 1966 Kodiak (top) is very similar to the 1965 model.

The 1965 and 1966 Kodiaks are very similar except for the material used in construction. The risers have mild horns and accent stripe. The catalogs state that the  '65 bow has olive gray glass and a bubinga riser with Brazilian rosewood caps while the '66 has "Forest brown" glass and a riser of golden rosewood. There appears to be much variation in wood combinations during these two years. The coins are gold colored and risers have a very pleasing look overall. The limbs are set back a little more than the '64 model so they don't shoot quite as hard but are very forgiving. A 64" Kodiak was offered in 1966, the first length other than 60" offered since 1960.

1966 was the end of the Kodiak after 17 years of production. It was listed in the 1967 catalog but I don't know of any with a 7L (60") or 7S (64") serial number prefix indicating 1967 production. The Super Kodiak replaced it in the 1967 ½ Bear catalog.

Again, looking down onto the back of the bows so that the colors can be easily seen.  The bottom bow is the 1964 model with gray glass.  The middle bow is the 1965 with olive gray glass.  Lastly, the 1966 Kodiak on top had Forest brown glass.  The 1966 model marked the end of the reign of the Bear Kodiak as the “King” of the hunting bows.

As you can see by the many changes that occurred in this line, Fred was not one to rest on his laurels. He continually attempted to improve his designs though not always successful. Many oddball Kodiaks are known, many of which are transitions between the bows described above. I have seen double shelf static Kodiaks. I have a "1955" Kodiak II made on the 1955 form but with KII glass and compass.  Just about any year model is subject to factory camo. Some bows that were blemished were camouflage painted, or even painted the color the limbs were supposed to be. For example: I have seen 1958 limbs painted white and 1962's limbs painted gray with silkscreen logos on top of the paint. This was apparently to hide cracks in the glass. Glass color other than described above is entirely possible. I know of a Kodiak II with red 1953 glass, a 1957 Kodiak with clear glass, a 1959 with green woven glass, and so on. Just about any combination would not surprise me. Fred used what he had on hand even to the point of laminating small pieces of rosewood for the sight windows of some Kodiak Deluxes. There are also experimental Kodiaks out there that never made it into production. I recently saw a 56" 1958 exp. bow that had a riser longer than the 64" model! You may also find Kodiaks with finger grips molded into the back or side of the grip, or a compass in just about any year, which was special order. Possibilities are endless!           

Collecting Kodiaks has been a blast for me. I've met untold numbers of nice people with common interests. There are some knowledgeable collectors that are willing to help the newcomer with information and maybe even a bow or two. By all means enjoy your hobby. Shoot and hunt with these bows, that's what they are for.  I'm not suggesting you take a mint condition Kodiak into the woods to use hard. Most bows you will find in used condition. Check for breaks or cracks that may evolve into a break. Use heavy arrows and of course Dacron and have fun!

           

Thanks to all of my friends and acquaintances who have helped me to learn not only about the bows themselves but of the men and history of Archery that made the bows possible.  Special thanks to Al Reader who has helped me immensely over the years and knows more about Kodiaks than anybody on the planet. Please feel free to contact me with questions or additional information you have about Kodiaks or related items.

Shoot Straight!
Matt Dickerson
mattdickerson@aol.com

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