Sometimes, while sifting through the political rants, click baits, and mindless updates of my Facebook feed, I find a real gem. This particular one, written by my dear friend Jeff Wilcox, pays tribute to his Uncle Chuck (Baker) whom he credits as being responsible for his love of all things stick and string. I have tremendous respect for Jeff and his family and felt that anyone striking this kind of chord with a man of his stature, deserves a bigger audience.
But the story isn’t just about Jeff’s Uncle Chuck. It’s a tale of Michigan bowhunting heritage and I guarantee you will enjoy it.
Wow where do I start? How do I explain a man that has truly touched my heart? All I can do is start and hope I do him justice.
I remember my uncle to be a strong man, as well as a man of integrity. One committed and faithful to God. I remember him to be totally devoted to his wife – whom he loved more than anything on this earth – and the kids who were his life.
I remember his smirky little smile as he would tease the girls during Thanksgiving dinner and watch his face glow as the boys told of their adventures in the outdoors.
I remember when I was a very young boy and he built two bows for his two oldest. One had a 100#, the other 80#. He knew the boys couldn’t shoot them, but everybody in Gladwin knew about those bows and at least tried to pull them back once. That was the start of my passion for archery.
I remember when they moved and I visited them in the country. Their basement was a bowhunter’s shrine filled with arrows, arrow shafts, feathers, paints, fly-tying equipment, head mounts, bows quivers, all kinds of leather goods, old bamboo fishing cartels, bamboo fly rods, and many other things an outdoorsman could want.
I remember the beautiful red canoe he built from scratch and how us boys would cruise the lake in it; hunting frogs, black birds, chipmunks, and any other critter to cross our path.
I remember a dozen of the most beautiful blue arrows I’d ever seen. I can still see them to this day. That was the final confirmation for me. From that point on, I knew the way of the bow and arrow had hooked me deep!
I remember many of the hunting and fishing stories my uncle would tell me back when he was just a young man, and would like to recall one or two of those old stories with the hopes they will ignite the flame inside of you, as they did for me.
The first begins in the Grayling, Michigan area where my my uncle used to live. He was already an established and accomplished archer by this time, and used to shoot at several of the local archery tournaments. I remember him telling me he would shoot against several of the Bear Archery guys and even Fred himself on occasion. (You know I never once remembered him saying who won or who the best shot was – only how much fun he had.)
He was already making his own arrows, but after awhile, decided he wanted to start building his own bows too. He would go down to the Bear factory, hang out, and ask questions. I am not sure who it was that he befriended, but one of the crew told him they would scrap out all the bows, risers, and limbs that got rejected for various defects. If he was interested he could go through the scrap and salvage what he wanted.
He would find bits and pieces in those piles, take them home to his workshop, and piece them together. Now that I look back on it, he had his own line of bows. He could’ve given them colorful names, like “the Bear Baker Take Down” or “Baker Bear One Piece”. It was around this time he made the 80# and 100# bows for my cousins. I’m not sure what happened to those two bows, but would sure love to know.
Thankfully, I do know what happened to his arrow building equipment. He had a homemade spine tester, cresting machine, a Bohning feather burner and ½ dozen Bitzenburg jigs with different clamps. In case you haven’t guessed, they are safe in the archery room of my basement, and when you see me out shooting, you can rest assured that the arrows leaving my bow have passed through that very equipment. In fact, the first deer I ever shot with a longbow were the first arrows I made using the equipment my uncle gave me. They weren’t very pretty, but they were very effective!
The second story is about a dozen matched-arrows I doubt anybody could ever match again. Uncle Chuck used to teach and teach driver’s training at Mio schools systems. One particular summer, he had a young man in his class who was very interested in archery. My uncle took some time to teach this young man a thing or two about archery and they developed a friendship of sorts. As best as I can recall, my uncle took a liking to this young man and decided to build him a dozen brand-spanking-new cedar arrows. Not only was it a dozen arrows he made, but a matched set on the plus side of perfection.
Forty years later, I found myself and eight other archers driving up to Grayling, on a Sunday morning to go to the MTB Jamboree. We got there just as the Christian Bow Hunters of America service was ending and met up with this man who seemed pretty interested in us being there. After an hour or so of great conversation, we asked this fine gentleman if we could tag along and shoot the 2D course with him. Of course, had no choice but to agree to go with us.
For the sake of all you readers, I’ll cut through all the good stuff and get to the great stuff. After a couple hours of talking to this gentleman, I realized he had been around archery for a long time and knew about some of the same things my uncle would talk about. To test him, I mentioned my uncle Chuck who used to live in Mio and was quite an archer, bow hunter, and fly fisherman.
Suddenly, I saw a spark show in his eye. “Your uncle’s name wasn’t Chuck Baker was it?” He asked. When I confirmed we were talking about the same man, a big smile came to his face. He then told me a story about my uncle giving him a dozen matched arrows to like he hasn’t seen since, and how he wished he had another dozen just like them.
That young man my uncle helped all those years ago not only stayed in archery, but ended up being the President of the Michigan Bow Hunters and founder of the Christian Bow Hunters of America.
I’m not claiming its because of my uncle this gentleman went on to do those wonderful things, but I’ve got to believe it had an influence on this man’s life. I can’t help but wonder how many other people my uncle influenced through his passion for God, family, and the great outdoors. Now, when I hear someone ask to define a “traditional archer”, my Uncle Chuck immediately pops into my mind and heart.
On February 18, 2008 my uncle went on his final hunting trip. He’s been called home to the Happy Hunting grounds he so anxiously looked forward to most of his adult life and is now sharing a campfire with his Lord and Savior. He’ll be greatly missed and appreciated for the legacy he left his family, friends, and country.