Bear Scat
Wikimedia Commons:USDA NRCS

How to Identify Black Bear, Grizzly Scat


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Whether you're a hunter, a hiker or a fisherman, it's wise to know your animal poop, especially bear scat. Having the ability to determine whether or not a bear may be in the area can help you avoid nasty, unwanted encounters with a large bruin. The quicker you can spot it, the better prepared you will be in the event of a run-in. And, fortunately, it's fairly easy to identify. We will also help you differentiate black bear and grizzly scat from other common forms of droppings  found in the woods like mountain lion and coyote scat.

What does black bear scat look like?

Bear Scat

Wikimedia Commons:Cephas

Contrary to the assumptions of many, black bears are actually omnivores with a diet that includes a variety of plants, especially in the spring and early summer seasons. Black bear droppings are usually tubular in shape and can range from 4 to 12 inches in length and usually measure about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Unlike other animal scat, the appearance varies quite a bit depending on the food source the animal was utilizing, but it's almost always black or brown in color.

In the spring when the bears are freshly out of hibernation, they feed extensively on grasses, which results in dark brown or even green scat that's largely uniform in appearance and typically doesn't smell. If you break the droppings apart with a stick, you may find insect parts in there, too, as bruins regularly consume them for a little extra protein. If a bear is feeding on blueberry or other natural wild forage like chokecherry, the berry scat may take on the color of the forage. A bear that has been feeding heavily on berries may also have obvious berry seeds in their poop.

Bear Scat

Wikimedia Commons:Fred Bauder

The example photo above shows the scat from a bear that was feeding on apple trees in Colorado. The droppings take on a light brown or reddish-orange appearance, and you can even see the seeds. While most bear scat produced from a green-heavy diet has no smell, this likely produced a slightly sweet or what some describe as a "fermented smell." Most bear scat only tends to stink once they start eating meat, in which case you'd have to problem spotting bones and hairs that weren't digested in the bear's stomach.

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What does grizzly bear scat look like?

Bear Scat

Wikimedia Commons:USDA NRCS

There's an old joke about the difference between black bear and grizzly bear scat that goes, "Grizzly bear scat smells like pepper and has little bells in it," meaning the grizzly ate the hiker who tried to defend themselves with bear spray. In truth, grizzly bear scat is nearly identical to black bear scat because of the similarities between the two digestive systems. The only real difference is in the size.

For a grizzly bear, the scat may be longer and wider, often between 2 and 2 1/2 inches in diameter. Again, seasonality plays a big factor with the appearance. In the early spring, you're more likely to see a dark-green coloration from consuming grasses, and as the season goes on, you're likely to see more black, brown, or reddish coloration. Color all comes down to the diet.

A bear's diet can also change the consistency of their scat. For instance, a grizzly bear feeding on fish might leave scat that looks watery to the point where it resembles a cow pie. A closer examination should reveal smaller bones, insects, and other tell-tale signs that the animal that left it was not a total vegetarian. In the image above, you can clearly see some hairs from an animal this grizzly ate.

In some places, like Yellowstone National Park, grizzlies have developed unique diets where they feed extensively on moths in the late summer.

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How do you tell bear poop from other types in the woods?

Bear Scat

Wikimedia Commons:NPS Photo

Other animal scat, particularly that of predators, can closely resemble that of a bear. Bobcats and mountain lions are always going to leave scat with hair and bones in it because they are exclusively carnivorous. Look for segmentation, too. If you are looking at something that looks like an oversized version of what your cat leaves in the litter box, odds are it didn't come from a bear.

You can think the same way in regards to wolf and coyote droppings. If you break it apart with a stick, it should be obvious whether or not the animal eats anything green. Wolf and coyote poop often looks like the leavings of a domestic dog and produce a similar smell.

Some confusion can arise with raccoon droppings, as you'll find seeds and other plants, but size and quantity usually serve as easy giveaways. Raccoons use communal sites called latrines to do their business, so if you see a lot of small piles close together, it's probably raccoons. But whatever you do, don't touch it, as raccoon scat carries parasites that can be deadly to humans. That's fortunately not the case with bears.

Bear Scat

Wikimedia Commons:Fred Bauder

For bear poop, just remember that it's going to be large in size and diverse in contents. If you're seeing the exoskeletons of insects, grass, seeds and hair, it's very likely you have bears in the area. By learning to recognize bear scat, you can take extra precautions in your outdoor adventures to enjoy an encounter with a bear safely from a distance!

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For more outdoor content from Travis Smola, be sure to follow him on Twitter and check out his Geocaching and Outdoors with Travis YouTube channels

READ MORE: CAN YOU ID THESE ANIMALS BY THEIR POOP?

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