Black bear are both the smallest and most common species of bear in North America. However, that doesn’t mean they are little animals. As you’ll see, some of the biggest black bear kills currently entered in the record books rival the average grizzly bear in size. One look at some of these bears and you’ll never want to enter the woods without a bear defense gun again!
While several of these bears had very large bodies and really tipped the scales, the major conservation organizations do not use body weight to rank the biggest bears. Instead, they score bears by measuring the size of their clean, dry skull.
With one slight difference, the three major record books assess the size of a bear skull the same way: measure the length of the skull at its longest point, measure the width of the skull at its widest point, then add the two measurements together for the total score. The Boone & Crockett and Pope & Young Clubs measure the size of the skull without the lower jaw, but Safari Club International measures the skull with the lower jaw.
In addition to meeting the other requirements mandated by each organization, a black bear must score at least 18″ to make the Pope & Young record book, 18″ (for inland bears) or 19″ (for coastal bears) to make the SCI record book, and 20″ to make the Boone & Crockett record book. Additionally, though SCI and the Boone & Crockett Club both accept entries of “picked-up” skulls, this list only covers the biggest black bears actually killed by hunters.
When: September 2016
Where: Jicarilla Apache Reservation Rio Arriba County, New Mexico
Score: 23 1/16″
New Mexico probably doesn’t come to mind as a destination for hunting big black bears, but this massive bruin taken by Thomas Lyne in 2016 proves there are some really big bears in that state. This is the current New Mexico record black bear and ranks as #5 all-time among the biggest bears killed by hunters in the record books.
When: November 2005
Where: Fayette County, Pennsylvania
Score: 23 3/16″
Wildlife officials in Pennsylvania estimated that this bear was 15 years old and weighed over 700 pounds when Andrew Seman shot it in 2005. At the time, it was the Pennsylvania state record black bear and came within a whisker of being the biggest black bear ever killed by a hunter.
Where: Clark County, Wisconsin
Score: 23 3/16″
With a score of 23 3/16″, this massive boar taken by Kruk Mackrill in 2011 is the biggest black bear ever killed by a hunter in the state of Wisconsin. The only Wisconsin bear larger than this one was a skull picked up by Wade Brockman in 2010 that was 2/16″ bigger.
When: September 1993
Where: Mendocino County, California
Score: 23 4/16″
Robert Shuttleworth’s bear taken on a hunt in northern California was the world record black bear for many years. Even though it has since been surpassed as the biggest bear kill of all-time, it’s still the biggest black bear ever killed with a bow and is the largest black bear ever killed in the Golden State
When: November 2011
Where: Monroe County, Pennsylvania
Score: 23 9/16″
I don’t know what was going on in 2011, but that year saw hunters take two of the top 5 biggest black bears of all-time: Kurk Mackrill’s bear in Wisconsin and Robert Christian’s incredible bear in Pennsylvania. Biologists in Pennsylvania estimated that this gigantic bear weighed over 700 pounds and was at least 10 years old. Not only is it the biggest black bear ever killed by a hunter, but it fell just 1/16″ short of the current world record black bear: a skull found in Utah decades ago that measured 23 10/16″.