Black Bear Grand Slam: Quest for a Blonde

The author’s quest for a blonde bruin to complete his black bear grand slam continues.

Black Bear Grand Slam: Quest for a Blonde

In an earlier Bowhunting World article, I related the first 4 years of my quest to shoot each of the four color-phases of black bears with a bow. By the beginning of 2015, I had bagged roughly 20 black bears including every color-phase, except a blonde bear. I knew that focusing on one color-phase exclusively, especially when only a small percentage of bears are that particular color, would be a GIGANTIC challenge. To this point, I had pursued bears on spot-and-stalk and hound hunts, but it became clear to me that my best odds for shooting a blonde bear was to hunt over bait, aided by the use of trail cameras. My heart was telling me that this hunting method was the only way to shorten the long odds.

Manitoba Bound

Tom Ainsworth of Grandview Outfitting in the Duck Mountains of Manitoba was working hard to find a blonde bear on camera for me. I had hunted with Tom several times, and he became engaged in the excitement of my quest.

I focused most of my attention on the Duck Mountains of Manitoba, where color-phase bears make up as much as 40 percent of the bear population. On a spring hunt with Tom in 2015, a blonde bear appeared in front of me on the first evening, but it never presented an ethical shot. At first, it was facing toward me, and then it rose on its hind legs to sniff my trail camera. I waited patiently expecting to get a shot, but when it dropped down on all fours, it took a step forward; a branch covered its vitals. Then it left.

Long hours on stand produced one more brief sighting of that bear 2 days later, but once again, it broke my heart when it left before I could get a shot. This time it came in from directly downwind. It smelled me and drifted back into the bush.

The Duck Mountains were good to me. When the likelihood of shooting a blonde bear disappeared, I would take another bear near the end of the hunt, so I would have my story. I shot a B&C 21-inch bear in the fall of 2015 and a 500-pound bear in the fall of 2016.

As the photos above and below show, the author had tagged three of four black bear color phases: black, chocolate and cinnamon. He still needed a blonde bruin to complete his grand slam.
As the photos above and below show, the author had tagged three of four black bear color phases: black, chocolate and cinnamon. He still needed a blonde bruin to complete his grand slam.
Chocolate black bear
Chocolate black bear
Cinnamon black bear
Cinnamon black bear

Closing In

In 2017, Tom sold Grandview Outfitting to Todd Wohlgemuth, who renamed it, Baldy Mountain Outfitters. Todd took up the chase for me right where Tom left off. I had one more close call with a blonde, but couldn’t close the deal. Even when hunting over bait, targeting a specific color bear is an extremely tall order. If I had not been voluntarily handicapping myself with archery equipment, the chase would have been over long ago.

Late in my spring hunt of 2017, I shot a big, mature chocolate male. However, in 2018, things took a horrible turn for the worse.

My hunt with Baldy Mountain Outfitters in the Duck Mountains took place the first week in May, and unfortunately, the spring weather was stacked against us. There was still some snow on the ground. The lakes were still locked in with 4 feet of ice, and even the few bears that had emerged from their dens were not moving far. No blondes had appeared in front of the cameras. It was going to be a tough hunt. We all knew it.

The first day, I sat in a stand where a blonde bear had been seen the previous year. Intermittent snow and a cutting wind made the 6-hour sit a difficult ordeal. I was accustomed to seeing 30 to 40 bears during a week-long spring hunt in the Duck Mountains. In all the years I had hunted with both Tom and Todd, that day was the first one in which I did not see a single bear.

The morning of day two, Todd burst into the cabin with an SD card in his hand and a huge smile on his face. Sure enough, he had a blonde bear on one of the baits. I knew where I would be spending the remainder of my week.

That evening, a giant black bear approached the bait; it was clearly a B&C bear — a monster. Any bear hunter would’ve been thrilled to shoot it, unless, of course, that hunter was focused on a blonde bear. I videoed the huge bear, but never took my bow off the hanger. It was the second straight year I’d passed a B&C bear at Baldy Mountain Outfitters. I may have been nuts, but I had a singular objective.

The following day, a 4- to 5-year-old black, male bear spent a lot of time around the bait. These “teenage” males are often aggressive and unpredictable, and this one fit the mold. As I watched the young bear, I caught sight of a blonde bear in my periphery. Before I had any type of chance, the black bear chased it off. I got a better look at the blonde an hour later when it raced across the clearing with the black one hot on its tail. Then things got even worse. An hour later, the blonde cautiously approached the bait, finally coming to the barrel to eat — I thought. Instead, it laid down, offering no shot. Four times, it stood up, looking in all directions, nervously. Each time it stood, I drew my bow. As soon as I did, the bear laid right back down. Then it left. It was gone!

As I rode the 4-wheeler back to camp that night, a feeling of disappointment washed over me, crushing my spirit. To be so close, yet unable to close the deal once again was so disheartening. But it was about to get even worse.

The following day, I went to the stand in the morning with the intent to sit all day. That aggressive black bear kept me company for much of the first few hours, even bluff charging the base of my tree once when he saw me move.

In early afternoon, the black bear once again chased the blonde across the clearing behind the bait. It was back! Would I get another chance? My spirit soared.

Within an hour, I had seen glimpses of the two bears a couple more times. Finally, the blonde approached from my left, walking on eggshells. It eventually came to the barrel and laid down once again. When it stood to look around, I drew my bow, but the bear promptly laid right back down.

As I let my bow down, I realized I was putting a huge amount of pressure on myself. I was angry and frustrated. This 8-year quest was no longer fun. I had thousands of people following my quest, and the tension was so strong at that point, I just needed to tell myself to relax. I felt as if I was performing in front of thousands of people and my ability to make good decisions was rapidly degrading.

At that moment, the aggressive black bear appeared in the right side of my vision, and the blonde stood up to face him. All that effort at calming myself down was for naught. It was now or never.

I rushed the shot — totally blew it. The arrow hit the bear’s shoulder blade. Todd and I followed a good blood trail for 130 yards where it ended as if the bear was picked up by a helicopter. We came back in the morning with every other hunter in camp and searched for 2 hours, but never found the blonde bear. This was the darkest moment in my 45 years of bowhunting. It was a crushing defeat not just for me, but Todd had done everything right and I had let him down. The heaviness of that feeling has not left me.

To the Pinnacle

From the lowest point in my bowhunting career, I would reach the pinnacle only 4 weeks later. I had met Mark Belchamber in person twice; we had talked on the phone and exchanged many texts before I finally committed to Big Spruce Outfitting in northern Saskatchewan. The combination of flights, ATV, boat and floatplane rides required to arrive at Theriau Lake is daunting in itself. It’s an elite and expensive hunt, but Mark has the blondes, as was proven by the photos he had been texting me over the previous 2 years.

Our plan for the first morning was to run some baits by boat and look at trail camera photos. At lunch, the guides would make decisions on where everyone would spend their afternoon hunt.

That plan came to an abrupt halt at the second bait site Mark and I checked. There were two blonde bears on camera, and one of them had been at the bait just a few minutes before we pulled up. I immediately returned to the boat to grab my gear. Forget lunch, my hunt was starting right that moment.

A trail camera photo showed that a blonde bear was at the bait moments before the author arrived.
A trail camera photo showed that a blonde bear was at the bait moments before the author arrived.

I tossed my bow and backpack behind the pile of brush that served as a ground blind and grabbed a Covert scouting camera out of my pack. I was about to mount the camera to a tree near the bait when movement caught my eye. There was a big blonde male walking right at me, just 15 yards away.

Heart pounding, I backpedaled into the blind and managed to signal Mark that the bear was approaching. Over the next few frantic moments, I managed to locate my release and get my video camera on the tripod and ready for a shot. The bear took a bite of oats from the bait, looked at me scrambling around in the blind, then looked at Mark, who was now filming the entire fiasco with his phone.

I was finally able to take a deep breath, draw my bow and make a perfect shot. The bear ran up a steep embankment and tipped over. The 8 years of hard work was over in the first 5 minutes of this hunt.

I was in shock. When I ran my fingers through that beautiful blonde fur, I was overcome by emotions as the realization that what I had come to call my “Blonde Ambition” was finally over.

So where do I go from here? I suppose I will cut down to just a couple bear hunts per year. It feels good to have the pressure dialed down, but I love bear hunting and I love having a freezer full of bear sausage. My favorite part of this quest is that I have raised awareness and interest in bear hunting; there’s nothing quite like it. I’ll be in the bush, hunting bears both spring and fall, into the foreseeable future.

This blonde bear was the culmination of 8 years of hunting specific color-phase bears and put a cap on the author’s incredible quest.
This blonde bear was the culmination of 8 years of hunting specific color-phase bears and put a cap on the author’s incredible quest.

Sidebar: Trusted Outfitters for Color-Phase Black Bears


Baldy Mountain Outfitters, Manitoba



Big Spruce Outfitting, Saskatchewan



Thunder Mountain Outfitters, Saskatchewan



Eureka Peak Outfitters, British Columbia



Reggear Outfitters, Idaho



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