HELENA — It may not feel like it with the snow, but it is spring and the start of spring black bear hunting season. Even if you’re not a hunter, this is a great time to brush up on your bruin identification.
Montana is home to both black bears and grizzly bears, with only black bears being able to be hunted. But black bears are not always black and grizzlies are not always brown. Both can span the color wheel, which is why it is important to rely on a few other ID factors.
Black bears have a longer and straighter facial profile compared to the grizzly's more scooped snout. And while you’re looking at the head check out their ears. A Grizzly will have smaller rounder ears compared to their cousin’s longer ears.
Next is probably the most visible difference between the two. The Shoulder hump. A distinguishing characteristic on a grizzly because of the big muscles they’ve developed for digging and turning over rocks. On a black bear, this shouldn’t be as prominent.
If you come across bear tracks, take a straight edge and place it in front of the pad on the front foot, just behind the toe. If that line you make does not cross the toe on the opposite side, it’s probably a grizzly track. A good way to remember this is, you shouldn’t Cross the line with a Grizzly. Black bears have more rounded paws and that line you make should cross over the toe.
It’s also very important to know if the bear you are looking at has cubs with her.
“It’s unlawful to take a bear that has cubs and we’re just asking hunters to please take that extra 5-10 minutes of observation to make sure that whatever bear they come across doesn’t have cubs with them," said Laurine Wolf, Fish, Wildlife and Parks Education Bureau Chief. "It’s important for a couple of reasons. One, it’s for the long-term sustainability of this species. And we know that if a cub is orphaned at this time of year, they have a zero percent chance of survival.”
Remember the grizzly is still federally protected so knowing what one looks like if you are hunting black bears, is a must.