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
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.
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
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
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.