A Brainerd, Minnesota outdoor writer and bowhunter has made history by bagging all four of the major color phases of black bears with archery equipment. On June 12, 2018 Bernie Barringer harvested a blonde color phase bear in far northern Saskatchewan to complete his eight-year quest for the Grand Slam.
Black bears are unique to North America and are one of our most popular big game animals. While more than 85% of black bears are black, there are geographic variations where they occur in other colors in addition to black. These are known as color phases and include cinnamon (reddish brown), chocolate (dark brown), and blonde. Only 2-3% of bears occur in blonde and cinnamon, while about 10% of bears occur in chocolate. All of these colors only occur in the western half of North America.
“Eight years ago I was having a discussion with the owner of Bear Hunting Magazine about how we could promote bear hunting across North America and he pointed out that a few people have bagged all four colors with a firearm, but he didn’t know of anyone who had done it with bow and arrow,” Barringer remembers. “At the moment he said it, I knew I had to be the one to do it. I’d already shot a chocolate and several black bears with a bow, so I had a head start.”
This started a quest where Barringer traveled North America hunting bears from British Columbia and Idaho to Maine and a lot of places in between; about 30 hunts in all. “I came very close to getting a blonde twice in four years in the Duck Mountains of western Manitoba. Then I ended up getting the cinnamon bear near LaRonge, Saskatchewan in 2014, so all I had left to get was the blonde.” Barringer focused on the Duck Mountains, travelling there 2-3 times per year. He worked with an outfitter there who had trail camera photos of blondes. “I had three close calls, seeing blonde bears in person, but could never close the deal with the handicap of shooting them with a bow rather than a gun.”
Barringer’s quest gained national attention through Bear Hunting Magazine, social media and online blogs. Barringer tried to get all the hunts on video. “Especially after I shot the cinnamon, and was only one bear away from completing the Grand Slam, this thing took on a life of its own. My YouTube channel went nuts with bear hunters following my hunts.”
An outfitter in Northern Saskatchewan, Big Spruce Outfitting, appealed to Barringer by sending him scouting camera photos of blonde bears. After two in-person meetings, several phone calls and texts, Barringer agreed to travel to the bear camp on an island in Unknown Lake, about 100 miles east of Lake Athabasca and try for a blonde bear there. The move paid off and he collected the blonde bear on the very first day of the hunt. A 15-yard broadside shot, and the bear was piled up dead within five seconds. “The feeling of having completed this Grand Slam was overwhelming,” Barringer said. “I was just in shock that it happened the way it did.”
An award-winning taxidermist has offered to mount the bear into a full body, life-size mount and take it to taxidermy competitions.
“I have heard from many other avid bear hunters who are interested in trying to complete the Grand Slam, and that was one of my goals, to help grow the sport of bear hunting. I would like to see an organization set up that will recognize hunters who collect various the color phases.”
So where does Barringer go from here? “I’m not going to give up bowhunting for bears,” he says. “But it feels good to have the pressure dialed down a little, so I can relax and enjoy the experience more. I love having a freezer full of bear sausage and smoked bear meat, but I’ll probably cut back to one or two bear hunts per year.”