New to chasing spring or fall black bears? Here are some all-too-common mistakes
#4 DISREGARD SHOT PLACEMENT
Black bears are anatomically different from ungulates, and not understanding that leads to poor shot placement. And if you make a bad shot on a bear, your odds of retrieving it go way down.
A black bear’s skeletal structure is dense, with the front shoulder and top portion of the leg bone more or less covering the heart and front part of the lungs. The heart and lungs are positioned slightly forward from those of a deer, with the very back of the lungs extending just past the midpoint of the body; immediately behind the lungs are the liver and kidney.
Rifle hunters have a bit more leeway when it comes to shot options, but as a rule—especially for bowhunters—it’s best if the bear is broadside or slightly quartering away. With a bow, you should be focusing solely on the heart and lungs. With a firearm, I’m a big proponent of aiming for the back of the middle of the shoulder for a lung shot. If the bear doesn’t collapse on the spot, it likely won’t make it more than 60 metres before it does.
The most deceiving thing about bear physiology is their long hair. If you’ve taken a bear in the past, you know that once the hide is removed, even a big bruin looks rather small. Aside from the head and feet, several inches of what you see when you look at a live bear is just hair, which is normally long and thick, but not always. As a rule, consider at least one to two inches of the body mass to be fat, while three to four inches is hair.
A bear’s long hair not only soaks up blood—sometimes limiting the blood trail after the shot—but it also tends to obscure the exact positioning of the animal’s musculature. When aiming at a deer, you can clearly see the shoulder definition and the crease between the leg and chest, but that’s more difficult with black bears. Even with chocolate, cinnamon and blonde-phase bears, the long hair simply makes it tougher to see where the leg ends and the chest begins.
With a rifle, there’s nothing wrong with a head-on shot, or taking a shot if the bear is slightly quartering toward you—but only if you are completely confident in the accuracy of your rifle, the bullet performance and your own shooting skills. Bears are notorious for standing and facing you, mostly because they’re curious and want a better look. A bear standing on its hind legs facing you may indeed fully expose its vitals and present a great shot opportunity, but that’s a judgment call you have to make given the situation at hand.