LAST UPDATED: May 1st, 2015
MONTELLO, Wis. – When you step onto the porch and admire woodcarvings of an elk and bald eagle in the entry doors of the wood-sided home, you smile and think, “This looks like a home where Gordon Bentley would live.”
The house and surrounding 200 acres of lowlands in southern Marquette County comprise “Arrowood,” the one-time getaway and then home of Bentley, 83, and his wife, Mimi, since they retired in 1989 after careers as archery retailers and bear-hunting outfitters.
The Bentleys ran The Archery Center of Madison from 1964 to 1989, and the Bear Paw Landing bear-hunting camp in Wabigoon, Ontario, from 1968 to 1992, but their influence on archery and bowhunting still extends across Wisconsin and the United States.
If Racine’s Roy Case is the father of Wisconsin bowhunting, Gordon and Mimi Bentley can claim title to First Couple. And if you include their daughter Lynn Stiklestad, executive secretary and administrative director of the nationwide Archery Range and Retailers Organization, it’s no stretch to honor the Bentleys as Wisconsin’s First Family of archery and bowhunting. Stiklestad runs ARRO, a national buying-group cooperative that her father launched in 1981, from an office in Oregon, Wisconsin.
Gordon, 82, and his daughter Lynn who runs one of the archery industry’s largest buying groups.
Bentley now lives alone at Arrowood after Mimi died suddenly at age 82 in February while they vacationed in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Her spirit, woodcarvings and animal mounts still grace their home, and it’s clear she remains the pride, love and joy of Gordon’s life.
“Good weather followed us everywhere we went,” Gordon says with a sad smile, and he means it literally. Whether they were touring Scotland, New Zealand or anyplace in between in recent years, they arrived to sunny skies and warm temperatures.
They met in childhood and married in their late teens while he served in the Marine Corps in Norfolk, Virginia. After his discharge, they returned to Wisconsin to raise their family while working, bowhunting and shooting archery together throughout the 1950s and ’60s.
They competed alongside each other in archery tournaments, winning individual championships in target and broadhead competitions. Then, after Gordon gave up a job in Milwaukee with a salary, benefits and pension, they built The Madison Archery Center into a profitable business that capitalized on the boom caused by the invention of compound bows in the late 1960s.
Mimi with her first archery buck.
“The Archery Center was all Mimi,” Gordon said. “She ran our winter leagues and kept track of everything for hundreds of shooters. She spent hours sitting in county courthouses in the Madison area, writing down the names and addresses of everyone who bought a bowhunting license the previous year. Then she’d create mailing lists and send newsletters she wrote about the Archery Center, our leagues and special deals. She was always behind the counter, running the place.”
Bentley said they launched the Bear Paw Landing bowhunting camp partly out of necessity, even though he also loved the work and challenge of being a bear-hunting guide. Anyone in archery retailing knows its cyclic nature. July through autumn brings a steady stream of bowhunters to practice, buy new bows and arrows, or drop off existing gear for repairs.
Starting in late fall and continuing through spring, archery shops run leagues for everyone from kids to seniors. But May and June are often archery retailing’s doldrums, which was especially true from the 1960s through 1980s before bowfishing and turkey hunting arrived to generate survival income.
“We might not have survived without Bear Paw Landing and spring bear hunting,” Bentley said. “I went up there in 1968 and found a fishing camp that had been vacant a year. The guy was trying to sell it for $30,000. I offered him $10,000. He almost started crying, so I asked him what he had to get. He said he’d stuck $15,000 into it, so I said OK. I’ll give you that if I can do it on a five-year land contract. I only had $2,000, but I got some other guys to go in for $2,000 each, and then I paid everyone off in two years. It was a lot of work but a lot of fun.”
Among those who bowhunted with Bentley was the legendary Fred Bear, founder of Bear Archery and one of modern bowhunting’s creators. The camp’s records show that Bear Paw Landing served more than 1,500 clients during its nearly 15-year run, and the bowhunters went home with over 700 bears.
Gordon with legendary bowhunter Fred Bear, enjoying some time in Bentlye’s Ontario hunting camp.
All the while, Bentley bowhunted Wisconsin and Western states, and traveled nationwide selling and promoting archery and bowhunting. He served nearly a decade as a director and vice president of the Wisconsin Bowhunters Association, and brought the Archery Lanes and Operators Association to Wisconsin.
His efforts helped develop and implement standard operating procedures for archery lanes nationwide. And in 1979 he and Mimi flew to Washington, D.C., for the annual meeting of the Hunting Hall of Fame, where Bear presented him the group’s “Leadership in Action Award.”
More recently he helped launch the Wisconsin Bowhunting Heritage Foundation, and is among a handful of bowhunters whose accomplishments are recognized in the state’s Bowhunting Hall of Fame in Clintonville.
Bentley’s “Arrowood” home and office are decorated with awards and the mounts of animals he arrowed during a lifetime of bowhunting in North America. This includes elk, whitetails, mule deer and a cinnamon-phase black bear, as well as his most treasured bows and arrows.
Although some of his kills qualify for the Pope and Young Club’s record book, he never entered one for recognition. Why? Because he and Mimi never bowhunted for recognition. It was about the pleasure and challenge of getting close enough to be lethal with archery gear.
Even so, they continually looked for new challenges and skills to develop. This eventually led them to woodcarving, which they mastered while creating statues, plaques and window murals. Gordon also carves scenes and other works into the shed antlers of moose and deer.
Bentley continues to bowhunt each fall, and expected to be on stand when Wisconsin’s archery season opened Sept. 13. After the hunt he will stop by an old red oak with a wooden tree stand that is now the family’s memorial to Mimi. A wooden plaque nailed to the trunk reads “Mimi’s Last Stand.”
This is where Mimi liked to bowhunt, and the clan tends a small flower bed there to honor her.
“Her name was Miriam, but she was Mimi,” Gordon said. “I only called her Miriam when I was mad at her. But that wasn’t very often.”
His tone makes clear the truth.