What Size Is A Real Trophy Bear?
By Dave Samuel (Field Editor)

Bear Hunting Magazine January/February 2007

Successful Bear HuntOver the years I have come to the conclusion that size does not matter to me when I am bear hunting. A lot of the pictures printed in magazines and videos shown on sports channels seem to depict the trophy bear as a huge animal and only worthy of being taken if it is 300 pounds, or so it seems to me. I have watched them harvest smaller bear and make comments like it was a good bear for the last day and the real trophy got away earlier in the hunt because they did not have a good shot.

About two years ago I decided to set up a new set of rules under which I would guide. What I would promise them is a high quality hunt with a great time and the chance to watch our dogs work. If they asked about the size of the trophy they could expect to harvest, I simply told them the average bear is about 125 to 150 pounds and that is what to expect. If the opportunity came for something bigger we would try for it, but that bears of the 300 pound class are rare and we do not harvest many of them in our hunting area.

It concerned me that by being so direct that I may not get many hunters that would want to book a hunt. I probably did lose a couple of hunters to that issue, but the new ones we gained made it a lot more fun.

What we gained outweighs the losses I am sure. After making that change in philosophy we had a great season and really enjoyed ourselves. We harvested a number of average bear, a couple better than average and had a bunch of hunters who had a great time. Many of the hunters said it was the most enjoyable hunt they had ever had. The adrenaline rush of taking a bear on the ground while being bayed by the dogs made it a hunt of a lifetime they would always remember.

Every year we run into those 125 to 150 pound average bears that do not want to tree. They stay on the ground and bay up, giving the dogs and us fits. These bear can ruin young dogs in a hurry if you are not careful and can cause some vet bills in older dogs if they get too brave or act too stupid. Please do not misunderstand me, all sizes of bear can cause damage if they bay up and want to battle on the ground. It does not have to be a 300 pound bear to hurt the dogs. A 75 pound bear will do as much, if not more, damage when bayed. The dogs seem to have more respect for the animals that clearly are bigger than they are versus the smaller bear. Smaller bear are extremely quick and agile and can catch a dog off guard.

Bear hunting with hounds is a huge guessing game all the time. When we put the dogs out we never know what the run will bring. Sometimes there are short, quick races and the bear trees in 20 minutes or less and other times we can have long, hard races where the bear runs for hours on end and never seems to tire and you never do get them treed. You can also run into the bear mentioned above that do not run and do not want to tree.

For myself as a hound hunter, I do not care for that kind of bear during training season. Come harvest season, I have gotten to the point that I enjoy these kinds of bear for our clients.

Imagine following along and being involved in a race and getting to a 300 pound bear perched up in the tree. Great dog work and a great time. The harvest can be anti-climactic at that point, most hunters will tell you that. There is a lot of excitement and admiration for the bear, but the real enjoyment comes from the pursuit portion of the hunt, not from the harvest.

Imagine another scenario where the dogs are running a bear and catch it on the ground. The dogs are baying it and you walk into the center of all this activity. The dogs are baying so close to the bear that you cannot get a clear shot. You have to move closer and closer to try to get the shot without hitting one of the dogs. The noise is tremendous and the action does not stop. You do not even think about breathing, it is so intense. The bear is snapping its jaws and swinging at the dogs as they continue to snap and bay, trying to persuade it to tree.

Harvesting the bear under either circumstance is great fun. The adrenaline rush of being within mere feet of the action on the ground gives the hunt a new dimension, which is the experience I have been trying to give to my hunters and it has worked out well. Most of the hunters that have taken bear that way have said it is the hunt of a lifetime.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with harvesting a bear out of a tree. I will do the same thing if the circumstances are right. My personal preference is to walk into a bayed bear and shoot a 150 pounder than walk into a tree and shoot a 300 pound specimen.

I had gotten so wrapped up in the weight of the bear that I lost sight of why I was hunting. It is the dog work, not the harvest, that makes us hound hunters. Your trophy should be determined by how hard you worked for it and how much fun you had, not by how much it weighed.