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Thread: Big Brown Bear Judging?

  1. #1

    Default Big Brown Bear Judging?

    Ok gents, to all those experienced in judging the biggest of the biggest bears, please help me out if you may....

    I am heading to Kodiak next month, and at this point, I am still nervous in my capabilities at judging brown bears. I've watched video after video, I've examined picture after picture.....Hell, I've been to Kodiak and hunted em before on a pardners hunt, yet, I still keep coming up with the same problem....

    THEY ALL LOOK HUGE TO ME!!!!

    Yep, they all look like small tanks to me...Sows, Cubs, Boars...they are all big.

    So what do you guys look for? Jake, ninefoot, JWant, any of you other guides that have hunted these bears, what do you guys look for?

    I've heard about the head/neck/length method, what else? Small head proportionately? Distance between the ears? Shape of head?

    I know some of you guys have some strong ideas on bear judging, so lets hear it....Hopefully you may help me, and anybody else going to Kodiak with this peculiar problem.

    Oh yeah, and if anybody has anything to add on strategies, tips, do's, dont's, or anything specific about the Red Lake area, I am all ears, and thanks in advance.....Josh
    Last edited by J in AK; 03-25-2010 at 22:10. Reason: Seeking the Experts

  2. #2
    Member kahahawai's Avatar
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    You will know when you see a big Brown, everytime I see one I don't have the permit for it, or it's too early in the season, and I will admit, I never seen a live "10 footer" in the wild...but I have seen my share of 8 and 9 footers......definently see quite a few when I'm fishin' across the inlet or down south.

  3. #3
    Member ninefoot's Avatar
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    ok i'll bite...theres a few things first: bears in different areas of the state are different. my experience with the big bears in our state include the ak penn, western alaska, a small amount of southeast alaska, the brooks range grizzlies and some interior bears. no kodiak for me. what i've noticed is that theyre all different. our western alaska bears get big but they square wide and short on average. really wide and short sometime. a big nine foot bear out west looks a little different than a nine foot penninsula bear and i think is on average a little older of a bear (this because of the harsh winters and longer denning periods) penninsula bears are long, really long. i dont know about kodiak, but the head into body length formula doesnt seem to work out west or with grizzlies.
    body language gives a bear away. big bears dont move like little bears. they're not jumpy, they move deliberately. when he fishes he catches, and its not a big production like when little bears fish. little bears WATCH for big bears

    a big bears head will look small on his body, but less so with a big short bear.

    when he's facing you there should be LOTS of shoulder sticking out both sides of the outside of his head.

    even out west, even the big ones that measure out really wide, they look LONG compared with other bears. look for length
    his ears should look really small if your close to him and sticking out the side of his head little bears "perk" there ears up
    big bears dont generally look "pretty" pretty bears are usually dinks (but hey they are pretty i've got one of my own) big bears coats are usually duller. (especially in the fall)


    one thing is that to kill big bears you've got to pass up little bears...thats
    the truth of it. theyre not just wandering around out there for the taking...my meaning is that most of the bears you will see on a hunt wont be nine foot boars, they might not be eight foot boars....so if in doubt, he proly aint huge...in my experience really big bears look absolutely really big! i cant ever remember finding an honest nine foot plus brown bear while glassing and thinking: "welllll, i dont know, he looks like he might be ok..." it's more of an imediate "get your @#$ lets go kill THAT bear!"
    best way to get good at judging bears is to look at lots of em. theyre tough to judge at first....look for small head, some length and stature...on the hillside at a distance he needs to looks like two connected black blobs with some space between them. if they just look like a rolly polly blob on the hill theyre normally little rolly polly bears.

    most places i've hunted brown bears a general rule is that light colored bears are sows and little guys...thats not always the case especially in western alaska, but a good thing to remember...i'd still say more big bears are dark than not, even grizzlies.

    big bears dont have "wrists" there big forearm girth runs straight to there toes

    and then theres bears out there that are perfectly proportionate, and they'll fool ya sometimes. old sows in particular (i've seen a few really big girls)

    make no mistake...an "honest" nine foot bear is super impressive. a ten footer is extremely rare anywhere in the state when compared with honest harvest averages...i've hunted all over the state and can only remember six bears i've laid eyes on that i would have bet would have squared ten foot...three on the ak penn, one near yakutat, and two in western alaska. and the one honest ten footer i've guided wasnt one of them, i thought he was a bit under.

    a big ones rear end should be quite larger than the front...they shouldnt look "straight"
    look for a long neck with a little ant head on it when looking at a distance, with the rest of the body looking a great deal bigger than the head and neck.

    big bears are relative...an eight footer on admiralty island is an entirely different bear than an eight footer on the ak penn, kodiak, or even out west.

    these are just some things i look for, and my experiences...jake and joe should have kodiak pinned quite a bit better than i...havent hunted there

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    Supporting Member Amigo Will's Avatar
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    I remember reading that the average brown bear taken in Alaska squares around 7 feet. I have a rug from a bear I shot in Haines that is 78" long and 80" wide and his skull messured 22 1/2".Yep he ain't big but he fit in the house. The first brown bear I shot squared 8 1/2 feet and was to big for my cabin but his skull was just 24".Bears are just like people and big bears can have small heads and little bears big heads. I also have a black bear skull thats 22 1/4" that came from a six footer

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    Wow you know what you are talking about. Another thing to look at is their paw print that is if you get a fresh one, if your tracking it. You can get a good estimate on their size if you just measure it from side to side not length wise, inches usually equalls linerer feet.

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    Member jkb's Avatar
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    http://forums.outdoorsdirectory.com/...ad.php?t=59172

    here is a thread with some great advice guys gave me on this subject
    Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming-----WOW-----what a ride!
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    Member Bighorse's Avatar
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    Default Good info

    Ninefoot, I'd add a rep point but I alread maxed out on giving em to ya.

    Solid info for those looking to down a big bear.

    I also noticed you put a plug in for normal bears with beautiful coats. A 10 bear doesn't fit in your average home easily and considering bears cost per foot for rugging. A beautiful bear of modest proportions costs less and fits.

    My .02

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    Great thread.

    Im headed to Kodiak next week and find the info very useful. Thank you.

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    to add to what ninefoot said,
    i've seen early spring or mid spring bears that were super fat, made them look smaller because it changes the proportions..and i've seen spring bears really skinny, which makes them look long and tall.
    The biggest help i've found when i stare at brown dots is the distance between there front legs and back legs, the trunk and gut so to speak. big bears have long bodies, long legs, long neck and a long torso. heads vary and hide quality can make the heads/neck look different.
    Guided in western ak one spring, saw a big skinny bear, another guide i was workign with saw it to..passed on it cause it was to small, he guessed about 8 foot, i guessed around 9-9.5', i measured his track the next morning and it was an 8" track, estimating him in the mid 9 foot ball park.
    Remember, all bears are different and we base size on proportions, seen master guides blow it big time guessing bear sizes, seen rookies get it right the first time...
    long neck or at least as long as his head, long legs, lotta distance in the torso, and if he looks like he just don't care..probably a good...no a big bear.
    there is a difference between good bears and big bears...i've seen good ones that were smaller and i'm seen big ones that were great.
    Bottom line the number you take home, be it 10', 28" or whatever is just braggin' rights..it don't speak to the expereince or quality of your hunt...
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    Member Mort's Avatar
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    That was an awesome summary by ninefoot. Here's a couple thoughts from personal experience. Disclaimer: I've only shot one brown bear, assisted on one other.

    I drew Kodiak when I was very new to AK. Studied books, videos, photos, and learned some good techniques to try to judge size and hide quality. First day of the hunt, 10 minutes out of camp, we saw a nice bear. Couldn't judge him, so I tried to get in front of him to use some of the techniques. Took a couple hours, but I finally did, and he bedded down in the alders, so I didn't even get to use my newfound talents. Don't regret not shooting him. Passed on another later in the hunt, not sure he was big enough - sort of holding out for the Kodiak "monster." Went home without a bear, no worries. Later, I thought about the issue of fitting a 10-footer in my house - no way, so I had to laugh at passing up a couple nice bears. I have since shot a 9' peninsula bear, that I happily have on my wall. The big lesson in this for me was size is not the only thing, perhaps not even the most important issue in judging quality of bears.

    I have long maintained that the next brown/griz I shoot is going to have to be exceptional, or a DLP. A couple years ago, a friend and I were hunting the AK range and saw two bears together - I believe a sow and 3-year cub, almost same size. Absolutely gorgeous bears, very blond. Smaller bear had chocolate legs, hump, and some facial markings - incredible. We didn't get shots at those two bears, but even if they weren't huge, they were so beautiful they met my "exceptional" criteria.

    So while you probably want a really big bear (who doesn't?), remember you will likely look at this bear on your wall/floor for the rest of your life, and truly, size ain't everything!

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    I am similar in that they all look huge to me also. I will never forget the sight of one bear we saw while deer hunting on Kodiak. It was so dark it looked black and big as a chevy suburban. It disappeared into the thin alders after a few minutes and we never saw it again. But our deer were pulverized every morning and pie plate tracks were everywhere. No doubt it was big.

    I would read Tony Russ Book on bear hunting for hunting techniques and size judging. I have read it but I am handicapped in the area of judging trophies. I recently got a B and C rangefinder which measures antlers and I wonder if I could calibrate it for measuring a bear hide or skull on the hoof? Just thinking....
    I come home with an honestly earned feeling that something good has taken place. It makes no difference whether I got anything, it has to do with how the day was spent. Fred Bear

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    Member ninefoot's Avatar
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    Thumbs up absolutely...

    brwnbr and bighorse are absolutely right. most importantly trophy is always in the eye of the beholder, and big isnt everything, especially considering hide quality is normally better on bears in their prime be they big or small... and when it all comes down to it....i think most of us who hunt bears hunt them for the experience and because theyre dangerous...we're not meat hunting here...go have a blast and shoot a bear YOU think is a cool bear....and this is just my opinion, but i feel the closer you get to em the more experience you'll get out of your hunt. pounding a brownie at fifty yards is an entirely different experience than shooting one at two hundred yards. (dont get me wrong i've done both, but have regretted shooting long distances at them) it's much more exciting up close, and your chances of making solid hits after your initial shot go up the closer you are, in my opinion. have fun man, and good luck. i personally hope you roll a toad of a bear.

  13. #13

    Default Thanks Guys

    Thanks for the insight guys, it has all been very helpful, and has given me a few things to consider as this hunt approaches. I definitely agree with everyone, that the experience is paramount, and what makes the hunt. I've been to Kodiak once. We didn't get a bear, but I was awe inspired by these magnificant bears, and the Emerald Isle itself. It was truly an amazing place, and was has me very excited to go back.

    Honestly, I didn't think I was going to be able to go on this hunt, strictly for financial considerations. But, after a little prodding from a buddy, and the pinching of pennies, at the last minute, I decided to giver er a go. One of the most exciting aspects of this hunt for me, is that I will be hunting Pinnel and Talifson's area. I've read that **** book three times in the last few months, and can't wait to experience what they lived.

    With that said, thanks once again for the help, and keep the ideas and suggestions coming. And if anyone knows a good outfit to rent a raft with reasonable rates, I'd appreciate the advice....

    Thanks again guys, Josh.

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    Member aksheephuntress's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by J in AK View Post
    Thanks for the insight guys, it has all been very helpful, and has given me a few things to consider as this hunt approaches. I definitely agree with everyone, that the experience is paramount, and what makes the hunt. I've been to Kodiak once. We didn't get a bear, but I was awe inspired by these magnificant bears, and the Emerald Isle itself. It was truly an amazing place, and was has me very excited to go back.

    Honestly, I didn't think I was going to be able to go on this hunt, strictly for financial considerations. But, after a little prodding from a buddy, and the pinching of pennies, at the last minute, I decided to giver er a go. One of the most exciting aspects of this hunt for me, is that I will be hunting Pinnel and Talifson's area. I've read that **** book three times in the last few months, and can't wait to experience what they lived.

    With that said, thanks once again for the help, and keep the ideas and suggestions coming. And if anyone knows a good outfit to rent a raft with reasonable rates, I'd appreciate the advice....

    Thanks again guys, Josh.

    ...Lots of important and wonderful advice already given....I don't have any points to add; I can not speak from any experience with Brown Bear hunting-(although I run into them frequently throughout a season...and big ones...here on the Kenai-)
    -just wanted to share a bit of the predominating, majestic presence here in the living room...
    and Josh, what you posted above, highlighted, is exactly what my guy immersed himself in, prior to heading out to Kodiak for his DIY hunt,ten years ago-
    -we still read and re-read those books....they never get old, or lose our interest, or respect!


    TC's Kodiak Brownie:
    -skull 28 4/16
    -beautiful unrubbed hide- (what were the odds of THAT??)
    squared 11' 2" green.....10' 6" tanned
    ..on the pic w/ hide hung, there's a water spot on the pic in the middle...-that's not a rub-
    -and yes, it takes up a lot of room, but it's worth it.........

    ...I agree, size isn't always everything.............
    -but, there's definitely nothing wrong with it, either-


    -go for it!- and wishing you an absolutely awesome, memorable hunt!!



    ....a well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed....

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    Member ninefoot's Avatar
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    Talking nice!

    what a stud. nice pics, great bear...god i'm glad it's spring finally!


    [QUOTE=aksheephuntress;697378]...Lots of important and wonderful advice already given....I don't have any points to add; I can not speak from any experience with Brown Bear hunting-(although I run into them frequently throughout a season...and big ones...here on the Kenai-)
    -just wanted to share a bit of the predominating, majestic presence here in the living room...
    and Josh, what you posted above, highlighted, is exactly what my guy immersed himself in, prior to heading out to Kodiak for his DIY hunt,ten years ago-
    -we still read and re-read those books....they never get old, or lose our interest, or respect!


    TC's Kodiak Brownie:
    -skull 28 4/16
    -beautiful unrubbed hide- (what were the odds of THAT??)
    squared 11' 2" green.....10' 6" tanned
    ..on the pic w/ hide hung, there's a water spot on the pic in the middle...-that's not a rub-
    -and yes, it takes up a lot of room, but it's worth it.........

    ...I agree, size isn't always everything.............
    -but, there's definitely nothing wrong with it, either-


    -go for it!- and wishing you an absolutely awesome, memorable hunt!!

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    webmaster Michael Strahan's Avatar
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    Default Some references-

    Lots of good info here, so I'll keep it simple. It helps if you can look at a few bears, of course. The most accessible resource for you to do that is the ADFG DVD "Take a Closer Look". In addition to size assessment, it will also help you identify sows, which you don't want to shoot (you kill a sow and you kill a lot more than just one bear).

    The Last of the Great Brown Bear Men has been mentioned already. It's Marvin Clark's account of the Pinnell and Talifson outfit on Kodiak Island. These two men pioneered Kodiak brown bear hunting, and it is a great read.

    Finally you might check out Kodiak Island and its Bears, by Harry Dodge. Harry began his career, like many others, working for Bill Pinnell and Morris Talifson on Kodiak Island.

    All of these resources are in our bookstore here on the site.

    Most importantly, if this is a guided hunt and you are with an experienced bear guide, LISTEN TO YOUR GUIDE! These guys get paid to know what they're doing and they don't last long if they're inept. Especially when it comes to bear size and sex determination.

    Hope it helps!

    -Mike
    LOST CREEK COMPANY: Specializing in Alaska hunt consultation and planning for do-it-yourself hunts, fully outfitted hunts, and guided hunts.
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    Quote Originally Posted by J in AK View Post
    Ok gents, to all those experienced in judging the biggest of the biggest bears, please help me out if you may....

    I am heading to Kodiak next month, and at this point, I am still nervous in my capabilities at judging brown bears. I've watched video after video, I've examined picture after picture.....Hell, I've been to Kodiak and hunted em before on a pardners hunt, yet, I still keep coming up with the same problem....

    THEY ALL LOOK HUGE TO ME!!!!

    Yep, they all look like small tanks to me...Sows, Cubs, Boars...they are all big.

    So what do you guys look for? Jake, ninefoot, JWant, any of you other guides that have hunted these bears, what do you guys look for?

    I've heard about the head/neck/length method, what else? Small head proportionately? Distance between the ears? Shape of head?

    I know some of you guys have some strong ideas on bear judging, so lets hear it....Hopefully you may help me, and anybody else going to Kodiak with this peculiar problem.

    Oh yeah, and if anybody has anything to add on strategies, tips, do's, dont's, or anything specific about the Red Lake area, I am all ears, and thanks in advance.....Josh



    If you want to know what a big bear looks like, go to the zoo in anchorage, look at the brownbear, notice what he has and remember. head looks small cause the body is so big, but look at how fat his head is.If your looking for a boone and crockett, then you need to find a bear with age. those are hard to come by, most bears in the wild live at an average 12-15 years, which some live to 30 years old. If you see a bear you will know he is big, but look at his head compared to his body head should look small if he is huge, and if he has white claws, thats age. but if you see a bear that looks like the bear in the zoo in anchorage, shoot him, cause thats a trophy.

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    Member skagdog's Avatar
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    Default oops

    first off, i mis-read the title and expected to see a youtube link to a big brown bear juggling.

    That being said there is already too much good advice on here for me to intelligently contribute.

    Thank you

  19. #19
    Member algonquin's Avatar
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    Default be happy with what you get

    I went down to shoot the biggest bear ever and ended up with a 8 1/2 footer. The hunt was the best I've ever had and the experience was something I'll never forget. The bear was too close to pass and take the chance backing out, so I shot and have never regreted it. I feel that was the bear ment for me and I'm happy. There is so much more to a bear hunt than numbers, my humble advise is go to live the experience and you will never forget it and take what is given to you pass on what doesn't seem right.

  20. #20

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    ninefoot gives excellent advice, he should probably give seminars. I would just like to emphasize his comment about body language. There is no wasted movement with big bears. When they walk they swagger- even when running they look cumbersome. When walking it appears they are carrying their head low- this is emphasized by the height of their shoulders.9' is absolutely right about color big bears are usually dark and are almost always solid colored. There are exceptions but beware of light colored and multicolored bears. If you misjudge (and if you hunt bears long enough you will)- Don't worry about it. Enjoy the hunt- you are hunting the greatest North American trophy of all. Good Luck

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