Ed Groom from Saline has always been lucky when it comes to hunting. One of the first turkeys he bagged was a smokey gray gobbler, and he got a bull moose in Ontario with antlers that had a 58-inch spread. Then, on his first bear hunt in the U.P. last fall, he shot a black bear with a red coat while hunting with guides Susie and Roy Little.
Almost all bears in the state are black, but an occasional bruin turns up where the hair is a different color, such as cinnamon, dark brown, blonde or red. Color phase bears are rare in Michigan, but they may be increasing. A second color phase bear was also tagged in the western U.P. during 2020.
Color phase bears have been captured on game cameras in Houghton County each year from 2017 through 2020 during DNR research projects. A blonde cub on the back of its black mother was photographed during 2017. A larger blonde bear was photographed in 2018. An adult that was cinnamon in color was captured on camera during 2019, and a larger adult male that was dark brown was caught on camera during 2020.
After accumulating eight preference points toward a bear license, Groom successfully applied for the first hunt in the Baraga bear management unit last fall and hired the Littles as his guides. Susie was his guide.
“She told me I might have a tough choice to make about which bear to shoot,” Ed said. “The bait they put me on to hunt had a color phase bear and a bigger black bear.”
Bear season started on September 9 in the U.P. last fall.
“I hunted from a ground blind that was 25 yards from the bait,” Groom said. “My guide told me most of the bear activity at that bait was during the afternoon and evening, so I didn’t start hunting until the afternoon. I didn’t see any bears that first day.
“When I checked the game camera the next day, I found out that the big bear came to the bait one minute after I left.”
On the second day of the season, Ed shot the color phase bear. It showed up at about 3:30 p.m.
“I made up my mind that I was going to shoot the first bear I saw,” Groom explained. “The red bear came out at an angle from behind me to go to the bait and was only 10 yards away when it crossed in front of the blind. When I shot, it went straight up in the air, landed on its back, rolled, and ran 10 yards.”
Ed shot the bear with a Ruger .450 Bushmaster.
“When the sun hits the hair on that bear, it looks like the reddest red-head you’ve ever seen,” he said.
The female had an estimated weight of 200 pounds and was shot in Houghton County. Ed is having a full mount done of the bear. The second color phase bear taken by a hunter in the U.P. last fall was also shot in the Baraga BMU. That bruin was an adult male taken with the help of hounds on the last day of the 2020 bear season.