Welcome to black bear season! If you’re joining us this spring for the managed black bear hunt, it is essential that you know how to differentiate between black and grizzly bears. While hunting black bears is permitted during this season, hunting grizzlies is always illegal, so knowing the difference can ensure you have a successful experience.
When identifying the type of bear, you should not rely solely on the color or size of the bear. Using tracks and other physical characteristics can be much more accurate markers to help you determine if an animal is a black or a grizzly bear.
The best indicators of the species of bear include the size and shape of the shoulders, the profile of the face, and the size and shape of the tracks.
The most distinguishable feature on a grizzly bear is its shoulder hump, which can be clearly seen from a distance. From the shoulders, the grizzly’s back slopes downward, resulting in hind legs that are lower than the front. Black bears have smaller, more level shoulders, and their back rises slightly as it reaches the back legs.
Grizzlies also have a concave or contoured face as the nose curves up slightly, whereas a black bear’s face is straight from the forehead to the nose. Where grizzlies have short, round ears that are close to the head, black bears have longer, more oval ears that are much more prominent.
If you are trying to identify a bear based on its tracks, a grizzly bear’s tracks will show their signature long claws, ranging between two and four inches in length.
Their toes are also closer together and form a nearly straight line. A black bear’s tracks may or may not show their claws, as they are shorter and much more curved. If you see claw marks, they will be very close to the paw print, and the toes will be clearly arched over the top of the foot pad.
Knowing how to tell the difference between these two types of bears can make the difference between a successful hunt and trouble with game wardens. Before going out into the field, always brush up on your bear identification skills to ensure your aim is true.