Genetics favoring a blonde coat color among black bears are present in the U.P.’s Ontonagon County. A minimum of three bruins of that color are known to have been there and at least one remains. The first blonde black bear documented from the county was in 2008 when Michael Wilton from Ortonville bagged one with bow and arrow.
Wilton arrowed a male that had a dressed weight of 157 pounds on September 10 that year, which was opening day of bear season. If the blonde bear Wilton arrowed was three years old, it would have been sexually mature and may have passed on his genes. Even if that animal didn’t pass on its genes, the parents that produced that blonde bruin could have produced others.
Since blonde bears are rare, the genes necessary to produce such a coat color are probably recessive. That means that both parents must possess the genes for that coat color for their offspring to inherit it, but only a fraction of their offspring would be blonde. Most would be the dominant color, which is black.
The most common color phase of black bear other than black is various shades of brown. Some brown black bears have been taken by hunters in the U.P., but they are not common either.
James Fryers from Mayville is the second hunter to collect a blonde black bear from Ontonagon County. He shot a whitish/blonde bruin there on September 14, 2012 while hunting with White Pine Outfitters operated by brothers Dean and Dan Moshier from Lapeer. The Moshiers have a hunting camp at White Pine that they guide bear hunters out of.
Fryers’ bear, which is the first one he has ever shot, was a female that was two years old and weighed 135 pounds.
At least one other blonde black bear in Ontonagon County that is still alive has been photographed by a trail camera at a bait. The hunter who has the photos shared them with me. He was hunting for that rare color phase bear last fall, but never saw it while hunting. That bruin has more of a yellowish coat than the one James got and is in a different part of the county.
The hunter who has photos of the blonde black bear that’s still alive drew a bear tag again this year, so he hopes to tag it this fall.
James was hunting over bait from a tree stand when he got his white black bear. The bruin showed up about 6:30 p.m.
“When I first saw it, I thought it was a coyote or wolf,” Fryers said. “When it got closer, I realized it was a bear. Then I took the first good shot I had.”
The bear was about 25 yards away when James shot it with a 2 ¾-inch Remington slug out of his iron-sighted 12 gauge shotgun. It ran about 30 yards before dying. Fryers stayed in the stand until Dean Moshier arrived. When James told Dean he got one, Moshier started following the blood trail.
“I actually thought he shot a wolf when I saw the white hair,” Dean said. “I was relieved when I saw that it was a bear. We had no idea that bear was on the bait. We had heard around town that someone had seen a light colored bear in the area, but we never expected one of our hunters would get it.”
Dean said that during 20 years of guiding bear hunters, this is the first color phase bear any of his hunters have taken.
“James wasn’t thinking of having the bear mounted when he got it,” Moshier commented, “but I told him he would regret it if he didn’t. ‘You have no idea what you have here,’ I told him.”
Fryers did have a full mount done of the bear. The white bear was actually the second bear he saw while hunting last fall. He saw a big bruin that he estimated would have weighed 400 pounds during his first day of hunting, but it didn’t come to the bait before leaving, so he didn’t have a shot at it.