How Much Did That Bear Weigh Again???
Contrary to popular belief, the 400-pound black bear does not live on Facebook. There’s no doubt that bears can be one of the toughest animals in all of North America to put a size on. Just telling a boar from a sow alone can be a very difficult task, particularly at a distance through a spotting scope. The actual weight of a bear is another tough measurement to estimate. How many times do you see folks on the Internet or Facebook post up a photo of a young spring bear with a claim it weighed an incredible 400 POUNDS!!! Um, yeah, I’m calling BS on a majority of those claims, and here is why.
First off, spring bears just are not the heavyweights that you see in the fall. A spring bear can increase its size considerably by the time the fall comes around. A good long summer and fall of high protein nutrition can easily increase a bear’s body weight by more than 40% by the time fall rolls around. This means a good heavy 200-pound bear will weigh in at almost 300 pounds or more by the time October hits. And this in turn means, that the mysterious 400-pound spring bear would tip the scale at almost 600 pounds by fall, very unlikely indeed. Only about less than 1% of the boars in North America will EVER tip the scale at anywhere near the 600-pound mark in their lifetimes, and this would only happen at a very old age, probably a 20-year-old bear or better.
Secondly, a bear that weighs in at 400 pounds would have a girth circumference of around 55-inches. That is absolutely huge for a bear. Put it this way, if you saw a photo of a bear with a 55-inch girth it would be hard to see the hunter sitting behind the bear. To put this in perspective, a 55-gallon drum has a circumference of around 70 inches. From the brisket to the top of the back of a bear of that caliber would be around two feet when the bear was propped up on the ground. According to very detailed bear sampling data, bears seem to grow in proportion throughout their lives. This means there is a mathematical formula that will give us a bear’s actual live weight given a single measurement. This critical measurement has been found to be the girth of the bear around his chest. If you take your tape measure and measure the bear’s circumference around his chest, behind his front legs you can easily calculate the bear’s live weight with over 90% accuracy. See the spring 2013 issue of Eastmans’ Bowhunting Journal for the actual formula that will give you this weight calculation.
And lastly, most big spring black bear boars are in the 220-260 pound category, with the true monsters usually weighing around the golden 300-pound mark. A good friend of mine, an outfitter did in fact have a hunter kill a bear in BC that tipped the scales at an incredible 394-pounds. It took six guys to get the bear into the back of the truck whole, so it could be taken to camp and weighed on the scale. The bear was a true once-in-a-lifetime type bear with a massive skull that was almost 22-inches B&C. But that bear was an extremely rare case.
This very same friend has kept very detailed records of his hunter’s bears, with this bear being the largest in the sample. His data shows us that most of the biggest of the big spring boars are in the 250-300 pound category. As a general rule of thumb, a 220-pound boar will have a head in the 18-inch category with a six foot square hide, while the 250-pound spring bear will be in the 19-inch class and have a six and half foot square hide, while the 20 and 21-inch bears will be in that massive category at or around the 300 pound mark with a seven to seven and half foot hide on the square. Keep in mind, there are exceptions to almost every rule, and this is no different. There are some bears that have huge heads and malnourished bodies, while some have huge bodies and tiny heads.
As a caveat to this, like I mentioned earlier, the 400-pound spring bear does exist in very, very rare instances. And some of the eastern and midwestern bears can be extremely large because of their diet, but for the most part, don’t let the Internet or Facebook ruin your bear hunting expectations – any boar over that 200-pound mark is a very good bear in any state or province. We will be running a spring bear-hunting article in an upcoming issue of EBJ where we will explore some of the finer details of identifying the sex, and trophy judging spring black bears, as well as the bear girth formula for calculating the live weight of a spring black bear.
Good luck on your bear hunts and let me know if you have any additional questions regarding bear weight and size correlations.