Field Judging Bears 101
By Tracy Breen
Bear season is upon us. Soon hunters will be heading into the woods hoping to shoot a big bruin. For many hunters, knowing what a big bruin truly looks like can be a challenge. My dad was a full-time taxidermist my entire childhood. Most hunters who dropped off a bear to be mounted swore that when they shot the bear it was 400 pounds only to be in complete shock to find out when they walked up on their bear that it was only 125 pounds. This type of scenario happens all the time because judging the size and age of a bear while hunting is extremely difficult.
Bernie Barringer is a full-time outdoor writer based in Minnesota and the bowhunting columnist for Bear Hunting Magazine. Over the years, he has killed over two dozen bears. He believes the bear is the most difficult game animal in the woods to size up. “Deer have horns on their head; other animals have distinctive features that a hunter can use to estimate the size and age of an animal. A black bear, on the other hand, often just looks like a large black blob and if a person hasn’t hunted them much, the first one they look at will look huge.” Many bear hunters shoot the first bear they see. This can be a huge mistake. Below Barringer will provide a few tips to help bear hunters field judge black bears.
One of the easiest ways to determine the size of a bear is by looking at the bear next to a bait barrel. Most most barrels have a ring around the middle of the barrel. You can use this ring as a size estimator. “If a bear walks next to a barrel and it only measures up to the middle ring on the barrel, it is a small bear,” Barringer said. “If the bear walks by and it is as high as the top ring or higher as it walks by, it is a big bear. If a person really wants to shoot a big bear, this is a great way to determine their size.”
The size of a bear’s head is another thing to look at when judging the size of a bear. “A small bear often appears to have large ears and a smaller head. A large boar will often have a large blocky head and smaller ears. A sow, on the other hand, typically has a long narrow face.”
According to Barringer, a big boar will also have large blocky shoulders. “A big male will have a large chest and shoulders. A sow usually is shaped more like a pear. She will have a smaller, narrow chest and a large back end. Sows can be big, but if a hunter is really looking for something special, they should hold out for a large boar.”
One great way to determine the height of a bear is by putting a Wyndscent vaporizing unit five or six feet above the ground in a tree near the bait when hunting. The vaporized Donut Shop scent will draw bears in and when they smell the scent up in the tree, they will likely stand on their hind legs to see if they can reach the unit. When they stand up, you will be able to easily judge their height.
According to Barringer, if you want to kill a big bear you must be patient. “The more bears you see in the wild, the better you get at accurately judging their size. I tell people they should visit a zoo and look at a few bears up close before they leave on a hunt. This will allow them to study the size of the animal when their heart isn’t racing.”
The average size of the bears my dad mounted over the years probably averaged 175-225 pounds. If you want to kill one larger than that, plan on being patient and using the tricks above to field judge the bears that visit your bait site.