It is your responsibility as a sportsman to care for your bear
properly and use it fully.
Long before harvesting a bear, the hunter must decide how the
meat will be processed and how the hide will be used. Both the meat
and the hide can spoil quickly especially at temperatures above
freezing. A dead bear can be large and cumbersome. Skinning,
processing and transporting a bear is difficult, if not impossible,
alone. Hunters should arrange to have help available for all aspects
of handling a harvested bear and have plans made ahead of time to
ensure that the meat and hide are properly processed.
First-time bear hunters should be aware that field care of a bear
is a lot of work. Certain pieces of equipment, however, will help
make the job easier. The following is a list of items one should
consider packing on a bear hunt.
Displaying the hide as a rug or a full body mount will require
skinning the bear in a particular manner. Furthermore, a bear
mounted as standing on its hind legs may need to be skinned
differently than a bear displayed standing on all four legs. Think
of these questions ahead of time and plan accordingly. Check with a
local taxidermist or browse the Internet for detailed instructions
regarding proper skinning techniques for the type of display you
desire. Your taxidermist may prefer to skin the bear for you. If
this is to be done, plan on getting your bear to the taxidermist
A completed field tag serves as the hunter’s legal possession tag for transporting a bear from the place of kill to an official Bear Checking Station. Hunters must attach a field tag to the bear before moving it from the place of kill. A field tag must include: Hunter’s name, Hunter’s DNRid, Date of kill, Time of kill, and the County of kill. Hunters may create their own field tag or use a Big Game Field Tag provided in the Maryland Guide to Hunting & Trapping.
Regulations require that the entrails of a bear be removed at the
place of kill before the carcass is moved. Evidence of sex must
remain attached to the carcass until the bear is checked at the
Even a young bear can be very heavy. Due to the high quality
habitat in the mid-Appalachian region and their foraging habits,
bears gain weight quickly becoming well muscled and dense. Their
dense nature coupled with the rounded shape of their bodies makes
moving a dead bear difficult. A 150 pound bear is much more
difficult to drag or move than a deer of comparable weight. Plan
accordingly! If you intend to hunt private property, contact the
landowner prior to your hunt and discuss arrangements for accessing
a bear with a vehicle. If you are going to hunt public property,
check with the attending land manager as to regulations regarding
the use of off-road vehicles. A winch and ramp combination will make
loading a bear onto a vehicle much easier. A wheeled cart, like used
for retrieving deer, can be very helpful for use in moving bears.
Though it is recommended that you consult your taxidermist prior
to harvesting a bear, the following method is generally considered
Extend the center cut used for removing the entrails toward the
head to the base of the throat stopping approximately in line with
the ears. Then begin at the wrist of each front paw and cut down the
inside of each leg first toward the elbow and then angling toward
the arm pit until you reach the center incision. Make sure each arm
cut meets at the same place in the center of the chest. For the back
legs, begin at the base of the heel and make your cut down the back
of each leg meeting approximately 3 inches above the vent.
It will be necessary to cut through either the ankle joints or
toe joints of each paw to be able to get the skin off of the body.
Start with the rear paws, then the tail, and work the skin forward
toward the head. Depending on what you intend to do with your bear
hide, you must make a decision regarding the bears pads (bottom of
paws). Generally, unlike mounted specimens, pads are not required
when making bearskin rugs. However, prior consultation and planning
with a taxidermist is recommended.
Continue working the hide toward the head until it is stripped up
to the neck region. It is recommended that at this point you sever
the head from the rest of the body allowing it to remain with the
hide. The head and hide must remain attached to each other until the
bear is checked at an official bear checking station. Furthermore,
since skinning the head properly can be tedious and time consuming,
it is best performed in the comforts of a well-lighted area. Special
attention is needed when skinning the ears and nose. Be sure to
consult a taxidermist for guidance.
Many taxidermists prefer to skin bears they are going to work
since proper skinning is imperative for achieving a quality finished
product. Check with the taxidermist you intend to use and find out
the protocol he or she prefers.
After complete skinning, the hide should be taken to taxidermist
or placed in a refrigerated cooler. Be sure to remove as much fat
and flesh from the hide as possible and salt it heavily. Salting the
hide sets the hair. The average bear takes between 15-20 pounds of
salt. Pour salt on the flesh side of the hide and spread it
especially around the face, lips, nose and ears. The salt should be
about 3/8” deep on the skin. Fold the skin, flesh to flesh, roll it
up and place it in a breathable bag like burlap or muslin. Never
store or transport a bear hide in plastic as this makes the hair
Bears have a tremendous amount of fat and a thick hide that provide great insulation. As a result, it is imperative that the hide be removed as soon as possible to prevent meat spoilage. If you anticipate any delay in getting your bear to a cooler, you should consider quartering it to allow the heavier portions to cool more quickly. Packing bags of ice in the body cavity or around the quarters is advisable in all weather and imperative in temperatures above freezing. Take every precaution to keep your bear meat free from dirt, debris, hair, and blood. Heat, dirt and moisture contribute to game spoilage.
Some hunters may choose to hunt areas that are too rugged for
vehicle access or properties where vehicles are prohibited. In such
instances, hunters may opt to quarter their bear to ease removal.
Remember, regulation requires that the head and hide remain attached
to each other and proof of sex must remain attached to at least one
hindquarter. A bone saw will make the job of quartering much easier.
The front shoulders may be separated from the body by slicing the
muscles and tendons under the armpits. The bone saw is used to
separate the hindquarters from the pelvis and the head from the
spine. The backstraps can be removed with a knife as well.
Protect the meat from flies and other contaminants with muslin
game bags, cheesecloth or old sheets. Do not use plastic bags as
they trap heat and moisture. Keep meat as dry as possible since
moisture encourages spoilage. Black pepper can be sprinkled
liberally over the meat to further discourage flies.
Black bear meat can be a carrier of Trichinella spiralis
and Toxoplasma gondii, the parasites that cause the diseases
trichinosis and toxoplasmosis in humans. Proper cooking techniques
can ensure that your bear meat is safe to eat. Like pork, the proper
cooking time for bear meat is 375 degrees F for 20-25 minutes per
pound. Internal cooking temperature should reach 160 degrees for 3
minutes or more before consumption. Cook until there is no trace of
pink meat or fluid paying close attention to areas around the joints
and close to the bone. Freezing meat does not always kill these
parasites. Connoisseurs of bear meat suggest freezing, canning or
eating it within a week after the kill as the flavor becomes
stronger with age. Trim fat from the meat especially well and, as is
the case with all meat, good wrapping and sealing is recommended.
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