Bear season is coming. One of the biggest struggles hunters face when bear hunting is judging the size of bears. My father was a taxidermist and mounted dozens of bears over the years. I was always amazed at how small the bears were that he mounted. I heard the same repeatedly from hunters. They all thought the bear they shot was enormous until they walked up on it after the shot. At that point, hunters are often shocked at how small their bear actually is.
A black bear is not like a deer. It doesn’t have a large rack and it isn’t like a turkey where you can easily see the beard from a great distance away. Black bears are covered in long black hair and don’t have many noticeable features that you can easily help you identify the size of a bear. When a black bear approaches the average hunter, all the hunter notices is long black hair. The long hair can make a 125-pound bear look like a 300-pound bear.
If you don’t want to find yourself carrying a small black bear out of the woods this spring, read the following tips. I recently interviewed my good friend, Clay Newcomb from Bear Hunting Magazine. Clay has seen his fair share of black bears over the years and knows how to field judge them.
JUDGE MORE THAN THE HEAD AND EARS
One mistake Newcomb thinks many hunters make is going by the size of a bears’ head and ears. “A lot of hunters believe big bears always have a big head and small ears. That is not always the case. I have seen big bears with large ears and small bears with smaller ears,” Newcomb explained. Many hunters who go strictly by the size of a bears’ head and ears may be disappointed when they approach their bear after the shot.
NOT ALL BIG BEARS ARE FAT
Another thing most hunters think is that all big bears are fat. “Some really big bears are long and lean, but weigh a lot. Not all big bears are fat. When I am field judging a bear, I look at the legs and feet of the bear. A big bear will likely have large feet and thick legs. I always look for a bear with large feet. A sow has narrower ankles and smaller feet,” Newcomb added.
THE 55 GALLON DRUM TEST
One way to determine if a bear is large is to look closely at them when they are standing next to a bait barrel. “A 55-gallon drum is 36 inches tall. Any bear that is that tall is a shooter almost anywhere in North America.”
Watching Youtube videos and hunting shows is another way to become familiar with judging bears. I am always amazed at how large a small bear looks when he first approaches the bait. When a big bear comes and stands near it, I quickly realize how I misjudged the first bear. Perspective is everything. Watching videos that show many different bears can really help you field judge bears more effectively.
PUT BAIT OUT OF REACH
Putting bait up in a tree just out of reach of a bear is another option. Measure 6 or 7 feet up a tree and hang bait or a scent attractant. When a bear stands on its hind legs to get at the bait, you will have a good idea of how long the bear is.
Bear hunting is fun, inexpensive and the success rate is often extremely high so make sure you put a black bear hunt on your bucket list if you have never shot one.