Barringer brings black bear bow slam to Classic
The bear was on the modest side by most standards. But when one of the foremost black bear hunters in the world says the 250-pound bruin was the most remarkable bear he has ever shot, well, you wonder …
First, the black bear was of the blonde variety – along with possibly cinnamon, by far the most rare of the four black bear color phases.
Then, there was the fact that Bernie Barringer spent four years trying to arrow a blonde black bear so as to complete what might be the first – and only – black bear grand slam by a bowhunter.
And then there was the surrealism of that hunt itself.
Barringer, of Brainerd, Minn., will again be a headliner at the 2019 Outdoor News Deer and Turkey Classic, March 8-10 at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. At the Classic, he’ll also have the mounts of each of the four black bear color variations – black, brown, cinnamon and blonde – that he shot by bow, a grand-slam feat that took eight years to complete.
And while his seminars will address “How to Bait Big Bears” and he has a real passion for “do-it-yourself baiting and getting these big bears to come to the bait,” he will likely find himself revisiting that life-changing bear hunt last June in far-northern Saskatchewan – at the Classic and most every day of his life.
It had been four years since Barringer killed a cinnamon black bear, leaving just the blonde bear to complete the slam. He had a few opportunities to take a blonde black bear in recent years, but “I wanted it to be a real nice bear,” he said. “I knew it would get a lot of publicity. I wanted it to be a good representative bear.”
He even shot a blonde bear during a hunt in the spring of 2018. But tracking efforts failed to turn up the bear.
“That was the lowest point of my bowhunting career,” Barringer said.
But, as is often the case for hunters, the hunting rollercoaster would quickly take an upturn for Barringer with the trip soon after to very-remote northern Saskatchewan.
“It was way the heck up there,” Barringer said of the location. “It was a planes, trains and automobiles type of thing to get there – just south of the Northwest Territories border. It was quite a production just to get you there – an amazing place with a lot of bears and a high number of blonde bears.
“We were going through the pictures (from the field cameras) and there was about a 150-pound female (blonde bear). Then the guide said, ‘There’s another one here – a real good one.’ I said, ‘Forget the shore lunch, I want to hunt now.’ And he said, ‘You better hurry, that picture was taken eight minutes ago.’
“So he was probably still right there. I was looking around … and I saw movement. And there he was – about 15 yards away and coming right at me. A lot of these bears have never encountered human beings before. So he was analyzing me, like maybe I would be his next meal.”
The bear stood there, curious, for a moment. Barringer scrambled to get his bow and to get situated, drew the bow, and when the bear bent down to get bait that had been placed at the trail-cam site, he shot it from about 15 yards. It ran about 60 yards before falling over dead.
“It was eight years,” Barringer said of the grand-slam quest, “and I got him five minutes into that hunt.
“I’ve had close calls before,” he said of stumbling upon the blonde bruin. “I’ve shot 28 bears with a bow. Some moments are a little dicey. But that one is a story you can tell the grandchildren.”
Barringer isn’t sure if he’s the first – or last – bowhunter to accomplish the feat as he said there is little such record-keeping.
“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 the various color phases.”
While more than 85 percent of black bears are indeed black, there are geographic variations that also include cinnamon (reddish brown), chocolate (dark brown), and blonde. Only 2-3 percent are blonde and cinnamon, while about 10 percent are chocolate, occurring in only the western half of North America.
Barringer has been a mainstay at the Deer and Turkey Classic, and this year, “I want to help people shoot a mature bear,” he said. “Too many young females are being shot. Shooting young females doesn’t help the population. So if bear hunters really know how to target large males … The goal is to help them shoot more males than females. It’s better for bear management.
“There are a lot of factors involved – things you can do to create a bait-site environment where big bears will be more comfortable coming in.”
And expect the display of the four color variations of black bears to draw some attention at the Classic, too.
“Most of the hunters haven’t seen anything but black bears. The blonde bears are really amazing looking,” Barringer said.
“It’s really a thrill to accomplish this,” he said of the slam. “The feeling of having completed this grand slam was overwhelming. I was just in shock that it happened the way it did.”