These expert tips will help you field judge black bears

Judging bruins

Pay close attention to both behaviour and physical characteristics

Black bears are arguably the most difficult of our big-game animals to judge. Not only is it challenging to differentiate a large boar from a smaller one, it can be equally troublesome to tell a sow from a boar. Here are some pointers to help you determine a bear’s sex, and its level of physical maturity.

SEX

When you see a bear accompanied by small cubs, you know it’s a sow. If you see two fairly large bears together, however, it’s more difficult to tell if one is female. If the larger bear is leading, it’s most likely a sow and an older cub; if the larger bear is trailing, it’s probably a boar following a sow.

Also, look at the bear’s face—a sow’s is typically shorter, with a shorter snout. Then there’s the overall body shape to consider. A boar will have a long body with a wide gap between its front and rear legs, while a sow will have a shorter-looking body. Boars will also be more heavily muscled in the shoulders and neck.

Mature, dominant bears may mark territory by standing

MATURITY

To determine whether a boar is mature, start by observing its behaviour. If he marks his territory by standing on his hind legs and breaking saplings, you know he’s a dominant boar. The biggest boars also control the best food sources in any given area, so if a bear appears nervous, glancing around between bites of food, it’s probably a smaller bear afraid there’s a nearby, larger boar. Mature boars also have some swagger about them, like bullies.

Judging solely on the bear’s appearance can fool you. Start by looking at its head—the ears of a large, mature boar appear to be on the side of the head, not the top. A mature boar will also have a deep, wide snout. Excessive scarring on the face is another sign of an old boar. Finally, watch how the bear walks, as an old male will often appear stiff and sore.

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