Bear Hunters' Guide to Hunting Black Bears in Maryland

Care of Your Bear

It is your responsibility as a sportsman to care for your bear properly and use it fully.

Pre-hunt Planning

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.

  • Sharp knife and sharpening stone
  • Boning saw
  • Axe or hatchet
  • Game bags, cheesecloth, or even old sheets
  • Large plastic bags
  • Tarp or sheet of plastic
  • Rope
  • Winch or come-along
  • Heavy-duty pulley or block and tackle
  • Wheeled deer cart
  • Half-pound can of black pepper
  • Hide Disposition

    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 quickly.

    Tagging and Reporting

    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.

    Removing the Entrails

    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 check station.


    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 acceptable.

    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.

    Hide Care

    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 slip.

    Meat Care

    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 from the field.  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.