judge bearIt’s Black Bear Week on Big Deer! Out West and up into Canada, hunters are watching baits, floating rivers or spot-and-stalking for bruins. The hunting will continue into June in some areas; here are some tips if you go.

Is that fur ball in your binoculars big enough to take a shot at? For deer hunters, a black bear can be tough to size up.

If you only have a few seconds to make your decision remember 2 things:

A mature shooter bear has big, thick shoulders and a roly-poly belly that sags low to the ground; the belly drags, or appears to. If you can see a lot of clean air between the bottom of the belly and the ground, he’s likely a young animal.

–Look at the head. Big, wide, thick noggin with small ears indicates shooter!

If you have more time—say a bear is gorging on pastries or beaver meat in front of you, or feeding easily on a greening snow-slide 150 yards away, look and study closer and use these tips from the Boone and Crockett Club.

Body Shape: Bigger bears are older bears…they tend to look “heavy” and out of shape. They monopolize the best feed and habitat, and therefore exert less energy to live.

Head Shape: A big boar will have a deeper, wider and longer snout than a smaller bear or a female bear. His ears will appear to be wide apart and small. If he is aware of you and looking your way, his ears won’t stand up on top of his head like a dog’s ears, they’ll seem to be aimed out to the side of his head. A big bear will have well-developed “bulging like Arnold” biting muscles on the top of his head.

Legs: A big bear will have massively developed front shoulders. His shoulders will look big and burly. A sow’s wrist will pinch in directly above the foot. Not so with a boar. The lower forearm, wrist and the foot on a big boar are all the same width. A big bear often appears to have shorter legs because the body is so much thicker, but keep in mind that the best-scoring bears for the records book are often the lankier looking, longer-bodied bears.

Attitude: Big bears are the toughest, meanest sons-of-a-guns in the valley and they act it. Watch a bully walk down the street–he walks with a swagger and an attitude. A big bear walks the same way. He doesn’t fit and start at every sound like a small bear will. A big bear doesn’t have to; he believes he’s got nothing to fear. Use attitude to sex a bear too. A big, old sow will have almost all of the physical characteristics of a big, old boar. She’ll have the nasty-looking face, the potbelly and the sway back. But the one thing she won’t have, except in exceptional cases, is the “I’m the biggest and baddest son of a gun in the valley.” In other words, a thick, mean-looking and acting bear is almost always a boar.