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    Field judging black bears

    Judging the size of bears can be a difficult task for even the seasoned bear hunter.

    First, let me ask, “What is a big black bear”? As always “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.

    Having said that. A big bear could be anything you want it to be. I have been bear guiding for over 25 years and have never had a hunter say “I want to shoot a small bear”. They all want to shoot a big bear and they say that in various ways. A Pope and Young bear, a Boone and Crocket bear, a record book bear, a trophy bear, a monster bear or even just a huge bear. Record book associations have minimum standards before “trophy” qualifies. So these give you some guidelines to shoot for otherwise your dreams are hopefully open to whatever your hunt brings.

    There are just too many variables to say that a bear must meet this criteria before I will shoot.

    A novice bear hunter will likelly shoot the first bear to approach the bait site if thats where your hunt is. Most bears look big when you first see them approaching unless you are a seasoned veteran. Hunting from a distance or from a tree stand can make bears look larger than they really are.

    What do you want in a tropy black bear?


    While Manitoba has some of the “biggest” black bears in the world, this is usually judged by weight. The heaviest is approaching 900 pounds. A sow with cubs is off limits. A cub that is not

    with its mother any longer can be harvested but may not be over 120 pounds. Not a desirable trophy. I always say that whatever gets your heart pumping could be a good trophy for you, but being careful. I will add that most hunters get excited with any bear at first. Experience tells me that if the color is black 200 pounds is a good start. If the color is a phase of brown then a 140 pound bear may not see tomorrow. Spring and fall weights differ by up to 35%. Example: A bear weighing 400 pounds in the fall will come out of hibernation having lost about 130 pounds.

    So a spring bear at 200 pounds is still a nice bear. Start with this and you can go for better next year.

    Head : Big game records associations such as Pope and Young, (there are several others), record skull measurements as a way of classifying trophys. Adding the length with the width of a dried skull will determine its position in the record books.

    Following is a breakdown on how black bears harvested in Manitoba with a bow rate in the Manitoba Bowhunters records. These are Pope and Poung minimum starting at 18 inches, then moving up. (numbers may vary by a few).

    There are 240 bears killed at 18 inches plus .
    220 at 19 inches plus.
    99 at 20 inches plus.
    31 at 21 inches plus.
    And 6 at 22 inches plus. (truly moster bears).
    World record black bear is 23 3/16

    The Boone and Crocket results are not available at this time but are substantially more.

    Remember. Big heads don’t necessarily mean big bears.


    A trophy can also be rated by its hide measurement. A 5 foot bear is OK. A 6 foot bear is a very good trophy. A 7 foot bear is an absolute monster. Our largest killed was 7 ft. 6 “

    The measurement is taken from the tip of the nose to the tip of the tail. (as a length) Then a second measurement from the outstretched front legs tip of claws to tip of claws out sideways (as a width). Add the two measurements and divide by 2. This is the “squared “ hide size.


    Before we start I’ll remind you that the first bear you see on your hunt may exite you enough to shoot. Settle down. Watch it for a while making sure it has no cubs. Assess the bear. Maybe taking photos first to calm yourself down. Is it too small? Is it big enough? Will I get another chance if I pass this one up? These are questions that will go through your mind. If you are lucky enough to have “Mr. Big” walk in , you will know right away with no question and the only thought you may have is “holy crap he’s big”. Then “shoot”.

    We use 55 gallon drums for our bait. I lay them down in some cases to keep rain out. The drums are 35 inches if standing up. Having 3 rings about 12 inches apart, is a good indicater to judge height. If the bear’s back is between the second ring and the top or over, its a shooter.

    Over time bears have been seen as huge monsters that eat kids and stand 12 feet high. (well , not really). These are embelished stories possibly referring to grizzlies. The truth is black bears are not that big at all.

    A mature black bear may not get much over 3 feet high at its back. I’m 5 foot 10 inches which makes my belt at the height of the top of the barrel. I would have to bend over to rest my elbows on its back. So what am I trying to tell you ? It has happened many times that hunters passed up a really good bear not realizing how big it really was.

    Forget about your buddies telling you not to shoot the first bear you see. That may be the one you came for.

    If the drum is laying down, then it is 23 inches high. Bears 6 inches above this walking by are a great bear. Female bears don’t get much over 5 feet long so a 3 foot barrel laying down can help you decide. The rings on the barrel are 1 foot apart. Remember that hunting from a treestand changes your perspective on heights.

    A big boar will likelly just walk in like a huge wrestler with no neck. He fears nothing. He has a crease in his forehead running to the top of his head. His ears will look small pointing sideways on his head and being between 10 -14 inches apart. He will have stout , short looking possibly bowlegged front legs that don’t taper off at the wrist. He will have muscular shoulders and eyes that look too small for his head. His belly will not be far from the ground .

    Still confused? Look at people around you. Some are tall. Some short. Some fat and some skinny. Some are big with small heads. Some are small with big heads. I know this didn’t help much but my point is, not all bears are the same, just like people. But usually a big bear has a big head. Its not cut and dried . The best way to measure a trophy bear is ; Does it excite you ? Does it look nice ? Did you say to yourself “ Oooo ! I like that one. Then thats the bear for you.

    I’ve had hunters that killed a very small bear that I don’t advertise but he liked it and thats all that matters to me. While I consider my camp a trophy camp , its ultimatelly up to you what your trophy will be. Big or small. Black or color phase. We have them all. And if you are successfull and happy, thats all I any outfitter can ask for.

    We take pride in our high quality area with lots of bears (a 100 % opportunity is realistic) and good color phase potential of 25% and up.

    We hope Bluerim Outdoors will be your choice for a trophy Manitoba black bear hunt.