Know the Difference

Despite apparent differences in size and color, black bears and grizzly bears are often difficult to tell apart. Why is this important? Every year, black bear hunters kill several grizzly bears by mistake, which can have dire consequences for local grizzly bear populations.

It is also extremely important to know which species is which when you can encounter a bear in your community or in the backcountry.

Black bears can be black, blue-black, dark brown, brown, cinnamon and even white. Grizzlies, likewise, may range in color, from black to blond. Although grizzly bears are, on average, significantly larger than black bears, size is not a good indicator of which species is which. 

The best indicators are the size of the shoulders, the profile of the face and the length of the claws. The grizzly bear has a pronounced shoulder hump, which the black bear lacks. It also has a concave or “dished” facial profile, smaller ears and much larger claws than the black bear. Black bears have a flatter, “Roman-nose” profile, larger ears, no visible shoulder hump and smaller claws.