HE SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA grizzly (Ursus magister) flutters on the California state flag but roams free nowhere as far as anybody knows. Another
grizzly that "common knowledge" also considers to be extinct may actually still exist, though no one in recent years has ever laid eyes on one for
certain. This mystery bear was ?maybe still is ?the Ungava grizzly that once roamed the Ungava Peninsula, on the east side of Hudson Bay.
Like the California grizzly, scientists believe the Ungava grizzly to be extinct. Might these rare bears still roam the Hudson Bay?
The Ungava grizzly roamed (and maybe it still roams!) the barrens from the east shores of the Hudson Bay to the Atlantic Ocean of Labrador. It is above
all others a bear of mystery. Most authorities doubted the existence of this bear until 1975. Then someone dug-up a skull from a late-tenth-century
camp site near Okak Bay, Labrador. Before then, many authorities had scoffed at the idea that a grizzly existed in that area ?one writer even said that he
would not believe that such a bear had ever existed unless he saw one with its abstract of title attached.
The only other authenticated grizzly find from the region is a 12,000-year-old skull that archeologists unearthed near Lake Simcoe, Ontario, in
1965. Extensive aerial surveys on the Ungava, Peninsula, including the Torngat Mountains in 1958 and their associated local inquiries failed to produce any
information on grizzlies. Several authorities have noted that there are no ground squirrels in the Ungava region (ground squirrels are essential elements of
the barren-ground grizzly's diet).
Recent literature on American bears includes numerous mention of the mysterious Ungava grizzly. Harper wrote, in Land and Fresh Water Mammals of the
Ungava Peninsula, "And if perchance still extant in some remote corner of the barrens, the grizzly must be on the extreme verge of extinction." His treatise also
mentions such evidence as several hides, tracks, and sightings. Nothing is conclusive, but it is at least proven that the Ungava grizzly did live and roam
the eastern barrens at one time. One authority described the sighting of a "largish brown bear followed by two smaller ones" reported by a plane crew between
Fort Chimo and the Hudson Bay in 1946. Off-color black bear are unknown in that region.
The Hudson Bay Company (HBC) sent a considerable number of grizzly pelts from the Ungava region to England. If HBC had acquired those pelts by trading
with natives far to the west, they would have had little commercial value by the time they reached the Ungava region. Other skins have come from northern
Labrador. Huge tracks were reported in 1896 and 1897 at Cambrian Lake.
Harper believes that the Ungava grizzly could have become extinct after the Indians first acquired and began to use firearms. He thinks that the
decline in caribou numbers during the early part of the century could have contributed to the extinction of this rare bear.
Another expert described a territorial expansion of the barren-ground grizzly during the winters of 1948 and 1950. Grizzlies were seen on the ice of
Southampton Island, only ninety miles from the northwest corner of the Ungava Peninsula.
Does the Ungava grizzly still roam the vast wilderness between Hudson Bay and the Atlantic Ocean? Before you say yes or no, consider that the grizzly when his
numbers are low becomes a most elusive citizen of the remote wilderness. Today's experts can't even decide whether the grizzly still roams the vast
Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Area in the Bitterroot Mountains of Idaho and Montana, even though there are many reports of sightings and rumors of transplant
projects. I think that the Ungava grizzly is probably still out there. If he is indeed still out there, he is one of the rarest of the
The glacier or blue phase of the black bear may be the rarest huntable bear in the world. Just as generally unknown to the sporting world is the
all-white Kermode bear. Only a very few have been killed in the last eighty years. Several mysterious subspecies of the grizzly tantalize
the hunter ?the plains grizzly, the barren-ground grizzly, the possibly extinct Mexican grizzly, and the rarest of the rare, the Ungava grizzly that I have
Among the varieties of the black bear, the glacier or blue bear (Ursus americanus emmonsi) is probably the rarest North American big-game trophy that can be
legally hunted. It was first identified as a separate species in 1895, before the new taxonomy specified the identifying criterion for a species
(individuals capable of producing fertile offspring). It is identical to the common black bear in all respects, including its cranial characteristics,
except for its color variation, so it is now taxonomically classified as a subspecies of the black bear.
The glacier bear looks like any other black bear except for its hair, which is blessed with a bluish-gray under fur, along with part of the guard hairs being
whitish. Long-time glacier-bear guide Jim Keeline says, about this rare subspecies, "The claws are typically gray and the under fur light
gray. They are small for their age but have large heads. They look leggy."
The glacier bear is certainly nothing more than a color phase of the black bear, with the color passed-on by recessive genes. In other words, it
takes two bears, each with the blue gene, to make a glacier bear. Both parents could actually be black, with the blue gene. All manner of
color combinations of sows and cubs are possible and are seen in the wild.
One report quotes outfitter Branham as saying that blue bears run smaller than blacks, with most being killed in the 5?foot class. Branham has
long been a top glacier-bear guide. He says that hunters have about a ten-percent chance of scoring. One of his clients hunted them six
times before he was able to collect a hide. The largest this outfitter claims measured six feet, nine inches squared. I have seen photographs
of a large number of these unusual trophies, and the finest pelts have a lot of white hair.
Almost all blue bears are killed in the area between Yakutat and the Alsek River, sixty miles to the east. It doesn't sound like much territory, but
after guiding for one of the outfitters in that area, I discovered that much of this country is close to being virgin because of its poor
accessibility. Glacier bears have been killed in other locations as well. I know of two being shot near Haines, Alaska, which is east of Yakutat
about a hundred fifty miles. Years ago, another hide was seen that was killed in the Seward area. One of the best skins that I have seen used to
sit in a sporting-goods store in Juneau. Many years ago, I saw a fantastically fine pelt of a bear from the Ketchikan area that was killed by a game
Jack Atcheson, Jr, of Butte, Montana, killed a glacier bear a few years back that lacked the white hair. It does show the basic blue color, and it made
a beautiful life-size mount.
International bear expert Charles Jonkel of Missoula, Montana, told me of a live-trapped Montana black that showed the grayish-blue hair color. I found
his story interesting but was really impressed last fall when Ted McIntyre killed a Montana black bear with part of its hairs very light gray. This was a
small bear, and its unusual coloring was not apparent until it was dead on the ground.
Probably fewer than forty blue bears have been taken by modern hunters. The Fish and Game regulations require that all bears be inspected in
Alaska. Blue bears are tallied separately from the normal black bear.
Jim Keeline, who has for many years either been guiding or working for Fish and Game around Yakutat, is an expert on the glacier bear. He reported that
he saw three glacier bears at once near the Yakutat dump. Being a pilot, Jim did a lot of census work around Yakutat. When asked about this rare
bear, he claims that he has seen none on the Canadian side of the Alsek ?but seldom flew the area. He noted that he and his friend Tom Knutson once saw in
the Juneau area a black sow accompanied by a black cub and a blue cub. By the spring of 1985, Keeline's clients had killed five glacier
bears. Three were in the five-foot class, and two were over six feet. I saw the last one ?it was huge by glacier-bear standards, measuring
over 6?feet square. It had a beautiful pelt.
The Branhams are considered the top glacier-bear guides. Besides the Branhams and Jim Keeline, two other guides of note are Ken Fanning and Dick
Cox. Arnie Israelson's area is also worth considering.
It seems that few hunters actively pursue the blue bear as a primary trophy. Hunts for them are expensive at between six thousand and ten thousand
dollars, so the average hunter would much prefer to hunt the giant coastal brown bear. The blue bear is hunted like any other black bear in the
area. In the spring, it feeds on the low alder-studded, grassy mountain slopes. The hunter glasses these slopes from a distance. This
is snow country, so a hunter doesn't have to look very high up before he can see nothing but snow.
Yakutat is hard to get to ?it is accessible only by air. Once he's there, the hunter still has to get to blue-bear country. Local weather
is horrible. During the fall of 1987, over eight feet of rain fell in sixty days. The bears' habitat itself is huntable only in the spring,
until the alders start to leaf-out. After that, forget hunting. The time between when bears emerge from their dens and the alders' leaf-out
can be very short. Guides there feel that a hunter's chance of scoring run between ten and twenty percent. Most springs, at least one blue
bear is taken ?and the number has run as high as four. Several hunters have gone after the blue bear on their own. A couple of them claimed
that they saw blue bear, but neither man had killed one.
Guides there report that maybe two to ten percent of the Yakutat black bear show some blue coloration. The percentage estimate varies, depending upon
whom you talk to. In any event, considering the weather, the adverse terrain, and their low numbers, the blue bear is a very difficult trophy to
For many years, the San Diego Zoo owned a glacier bear. The Denver Museum Of Natural History has a very fine diorama of glacier bears.
To the south of the glacier bear lives the Kermode bear (Ursus americanus kermodei), the rarest of all the black bears. It is the all-white color phase
of the black bear, but it isn't an albino. All specimens within the subspecies have the same cranial and dental characteristics by which the subspecies is
described. In other words, not all Kermode bears are white. Most reports say that the cream color runs at least three fourths of the hair
length. Most also note that the subspecies has reddish-brown feet.
Harold Yocum described a Kermode bear's color in a 1961 article in Frontiers: "Except for a few scattered black and partly black hairs, the pelage is white next
to the skin, darkening to a creamy shade towards the outer tips." He also believes that only twenty-one have ever been killed, with only eight being collected since
This bear is to be found only around Terrace on the Skeena River, around Douglas Channel south of Kitimat, and on Princess Royal and Gribble Islands ?within a
radius of only seventy-five miles.
The Kermode bear was first described by Hornaday during the early 1900s. He thought that he had discovered a brand-new species of bear, based on a
handful of all-white ?but not albino ?skins that he was able to collect. This bear gets its name from Francis Kermode, who was director of the British
Columbia Provincial Museum at the time. He helped Hornaday collect more of their white pelts. As soon as they described the species, other
authorities of the era criticized their claims, for they could not accept the Kermode bear as a separate species. Finally, in 1928, one expert successfully
challenged the classification, and today the animal is properly considered a subspecies.
Two black adults can breed and produce white offspring. The white phase has received nearly all the public attention, but other colors also
occur. Serge Houde's article "White Bears Of The West Coast" says about their color "In the Kermode bear range not only are blacks, browns and
whites found, but on rare occasions, individuals of chestnut red, gold, orange, bright yellow, blue gray and even pintos."
The Denver Museum of Natural History has an impressive diorama of life-size Kermode bears.
When Lewis and Clark made their way across the plains of Montana during the first decade of the last century, they encountered several plains grizzly
bears. Many were quite aggressive, and life-or-death situations were common. Their first encounter was near the confluence of the
Yellowstone and the Missouri Rivers. With its aggressive nature, the grizzly of the open lands was immediately vulnerable to man's hatred and
rifle ball. He was doomed. The retreat of the plains grizzly corresponds with patterns of human settlement. The last of the
Canadian plains grizzlies were exterminated from the Peace River District in the 1930s. And so ended the plains grizzly ?or did it?
In many areas, grizzly bears have been driven from the plains to the most remote
mountain country on the continent.
The plains grizzly of Montana, under the impact of the rifle, was driven to the high habitats were man seldom goes. Pressures against the Montana
grizzly have diminished during the last several years, and its range appears to be extending back onto the plains. Grizzlies are often found thirty miles
or more from the protection of timber. Pressure is against the bear from some stockmen, but for now, the bear has won the current round in the fight for
the return of the grizzly.
Maybe a remnant of the true plains grizzly is still with us. In central Saskatchewan lie the wild Pasquia Hills. Grizzly hides were
commonly traded in the area until World War One. Even though the grizzly has been officially considered gone from the province for many years, reports
continue to filter-in. In 1960, a highly reputable observer saw a grizzly from a helicopter. In 1964, he found tracks of a bear that were
determined to belong to a grizzly. Two 1939 photos show a dead bear what was claimed to be a grizzly and certainly appears to have been a
grizzly. Many people believe that a few plains grizzlies still roam the Pasquia Hills.
Some experts believe that the grizzlies of Alberta's Swan Hills are remaining specimens of the plains grizzly. The Swan Hills are heavily forested and
difficult to hunt.
For those who want to romanticize, all is not lost ?there lives across the northern barrens of Alaska and Canada a first cousin of the plains grizzly: the
barren-ground grizzly. This grizzly (Ursus arctos richardsoni), first described by Samuel Hearne in 1771, travels across the almost endless harsh treeless
environment of the "Far North," a landscape where survival is difficult. Early North American literature frequently mentioned the grizzly of the
barrens. The writings of other north-country travelers don't even mention this secretive bear ?mute testimony to its rarity.
What is the barren-ground grizzly and where does it live? The subspecies dwells in the harshest of environments, the barrens of northern Alaska, eastward across
northern Canada almost to the western shores of the Hudson Bay. Some experts feel that the animal is extending its range to the southeast. In
Alaska, its numbers appear to depend upon the caribou, while in the Northwest Territories, its every existence, according to one expert, appears to depend on the
ground squirrel. The grizzly's eastward extension may be limited by the range of the ground squirrel.
Nowhere is the barren-ground grizzly numerous. Reynold, in his studies in the eastern Brooks Range, concluded that this bear lived in densities varying
from as many as one bear per fifty-nine square miles to as few as one per hundred square miles. To the west, thanks to an abundance of caribou, the density
of the barren-ground grizzly's numbers increases to one per seventeen square miles. Another biologist has estimated that the central Brooks Range has a
grizzly population of one bear per hundred ten square miles. Still another biologist has stated there was no population estimate for the barren-ground
grizzly of Canada. All the authorities seem to agree on the low reproductive potential of the barren-ground grizzly. Many sows do not have
their first litters until they are eleven or twelve years old, an age when they could be considered "old ladies."
MacPherson, in the January, 1965, issue of Canadian Audubon Magazine, published "The Barren Ground Grizzly Bear and Its Survival In Northern Canada." He
feared that protection would be removed from this rare bear. He felt that the population numbered some five hundred to a thousand bears, with only about a
hundred breeding sows. With a kill of more than thirty-five, their numbers would probably decline. As is the case for any bear, most of their diet
consists of roots, grasses, sedges, horsetail, and carrion. In many areas, ground squirrels are an important part of their diet before they den-up.
There are now few opportunities to collect this rare bear. In Alaska's management unit 26, which covers all the treeless "north slope," nonresidents must
draw for a very few tags. In the east Brooks Range, from east of the Canning River to the Canadian border, an area including the seven-million-acre Arctic
Wildlife Range, the quota is five permits ?two in the spring and three in the fall. Residents can hunt without limit but may kill only one bear each four
In the Gates of the Arctic National Park, only twenty permits are issued each year. In the Northwest Territories, the mountain-grizzly season is open to
residents only, with a quota of only one bear per lifetime. The barren-ground-grizzly season recently opened again in the northwestern part of the province,
The Mexican grizzly (Ursus arctos nelsoni) is almost as mysterious as the rarest of all, the Ungava grizzly, but the Mexican grizzly has at least been seen by men
who are alive today. Officially, the Mexican grizzly is considered extinct ?but with so much positive evidence, including recent findings by the leader of
the Border Grizzly Project (Chuck Jonkel), one should say that there are at least a few individuals remaining. Unfortunately, many experts doubt the
validity of sightings by any other observer unless that other observer has a PhD degree in bear biology.
This rare subspecies lived (or lives) in much of northern Mexico, including the states of Baja, Sonora, Chihuahua, Durango, and Sinoloa. To the south,
the habitat is unsuitable for bears ?the vegetation there is too tropical.
This subspecies is considered to be a smaller bear than most of its northern cousins. Its maximum weight is thought to be about seven hundred
pounds. Like all grizzlies, it has considerable color variation, with the darker colors predominant.
Jonkel, discussing the Mexican grizzly some time ago, said, "You know, Mexicans are different from Americans. Here, if a man gets a day off, he is
likely to head to the high country for a bit of relaxation. In Mexico, nobody goes into the mountains unless he has to. It is impossible for
a man like me to conduct a proper search of the Mexican grizzly habitat. Not only are there a lot of bandits, but they grow narcotics in those hills and
don't take kindly to strangers. Maybe the only way to really look that country over would be to pose as a drug buyer." Jonkel wrote, in Mexican
Grizzlies: 1977-79 Studies ?Status, Habitat, Recommendations, Final Report Border Grizzly Project #58, "Kofford reviewed the literature, conducted extensive
interviews and spent three months in the field. He concluded (not decisively) that the grizzly was extinct by the mid-1960s. Despite these
excellent efforts by Kofford, the possibility of grizzlies in Chihuahua was still recognized through the late 1970's. Aubrey Johnson (Arizona), a
representative for the Defenders Of Wildlife, surveyed the Sierra del Nido area in 1975, but found no new evidence. Both Kofford and Leopold, however,
reported accounts of grizzlies in western Chihuahua along the Sonora. Leopold and Dr Bernardo Villa (Jonkel et al 1977) also reported fairly reliable
records of two to eight grizzlies being killed in the Sierra del Nido as late as 1973-74, but these are not yet fully verified."
No grizzly kill has been verified in Mexico since 1955. A review of the pertinent literature available leads to the conclusion that fair numbers of these
grizzlies remained until about 1960, when conditions there drove them to prey on cattle. Ranchers responded by using the highly toxic compound 1080 to
reduce their numbers. After this period, this grizzly all but vanished. The few that are apparently alive today may be a nonreproducing few
scattered individuals. Who knows for sure? Its numbers may be much higher than we Americans are aware of.
Any adult bear is a fine trophy for any hunter. Any of these rare bears would be a trophy among trophies.