Polar bears, Kodiak bears, grizzly bears, black bears—hunters have taken some giants over the years. Ever wonder where the biggest bears come from? Here’s the lowdown on where the biggest bears are likely to be found. Some of the locations will surprise you.

Bears are some of nature’s most fascinating creatures. I am sure there are many reasons why so many people have more than just a passing interest in them. Who hasn’t been lying in a tent at night when a strange noise suddenly brings the thought of a bear to the front of their consciousness? There are four species of bears in North America, and all of them have killed people; some more than others. That’s just one of the reasons why people get an adrenaline surge when they encounter one.

Most bears, of course, won’t hurt you. But they could, and that’s enough. Black bears are the most common bear by far, and a tiny fraction of encounters with black bears have ended with an injury. Contrast that to the polar bear, most of which live out their entire lives without ever seeing a human. To a polar bear, anything that moves is potential food. Both subspecies of the brown bear, the Kodiak and grizzly, are dangerous creatures, though not so much as the polar bear.

In some areas, these bears get really big—like as-big-as-a-Volkswagen big. That interests hunters who crave the difficulty of taking the premier specimens of any given species, and it interests those who just thing big bears are amazing creatures. We all seem to be fascinated by things that get really big.

The biggest bears have some things going for them. First, they have to live in near-perfect habitat; second, they need to grow old enough to reach peak size; and third, to become a world-record size, they must hit the DNA lottery. They need the right genetic code to grow to outsized proportions. Let’s look at the biggest bears of all four species that have been shot by hunters or found and entered into the Boone and Crockett Records. We can learn some things about where the largest of each of these species can be found.

Boone and Crockett scores bears by measuring the size of the skull, an accurate way of judging a bear’s size. Some bears may weigh more than others, but generally the bears with the biggest heads are the biggest bears. The score is simply the greatest length added to the widest portion measured in sixteenths of inches.

Kodiak bear

Kodiak bears (also known as Alaskan brown bears) are a subspecies of brown bear and are only found on the Kodiak Archipelago in Alaska. The biggest brown bears come from Kodiak Island itself. While bears are found on many islands off Alaska and the Alaskan peninsula, 17 of the top 25 Alaskan brown bears were taken from Kodiak. The world record was bagged by Roy Lindsley in 1952. Its score is 30 12/16. It’s the largest-scoring bear of any speices known. The skull is now owned by the Los Angeles County Museum. The largest specimens of brown bears commonly weigh more than half a ton, which is a predator that will make the knees of the most seasoned hunter shake.

Larry Fitzgerald poses with the largest grizzly bear taken by a hunter. It was bagged in 2013 near the Totatlanika River, Alaska.
Larry Fitzgerald poses with the largest grizzly bear taken by a hunter. It was bagged in 2013 near the Totatlanika River, Alaska.

The second- and third-place bears were also taken on Kodiak. Erling Hansen took one in 1961 that scored 30 11/16 and Fred Henton took one in 1938 that scored 30 9/16. Henton’s bear was the world’s record until Lindsley’s harvest overtook it in 1952. The most recent bear in the top 25 was bagged by Thomas Stago in Uyak Bay, Alaska in 2012.

Grizzly bear

Grizzly bears are another subspecies of brown bear. But while Alaskan brown bears live on the coast, grizzlies live inland and over time have adapted to the the unique environments they live in. These adaptations have led to smaller bears. North American brown bears that aren’t shot in coastal areas are considered grizzlies, and their recorded sizes show it. Seventeen of the top 25 grizzlies were taken in, you guessed it, Alaska. Seven were taken in British Columbia and the remaining one was taken in the Yukon.

The largest Grizzly bear skull on record was not taken by a hunter, but was found dead near Lone Mountain, Alaska by Gordon Scott in 1976. It scored 27 13/16. The largest taken by a hunter, a 27 6/16 giant, was shot by Larry Fitzgerald in 2013 on the Totatlanika River, Alaska. In third place is Rodney Debias’ 27 3/16 bear shot on the Unalakleet River Alaska in 2009.

Big grizzly bears are being shot every year in Alaska and British Columbia, and a new world’s record could show up at any time.

Black bear

Black bear hunting is popular across the United States and Canada. About half of US states offer black bear hunting, and with an expanding population nationwide, five states have added bear hunting seasons in the last decade. There are more to come. Alaska ranks high in producing giant black bears as well, led by the islands in the Pacific Ocean just off the state’s southeastern coast, but the most consistent producer of giant black bears is not what you would think. Twelve of the top 25 black bears in the record book came from Pennsylvania. Wisconsin comes in second. As stated earlier, a big bear is the result of two main aspects: excellent habitat and age. Both states have a mix of farm crops and big woods that create ideal bear habitat.

The melon-headed bear in this picture is the largest black bear taken by a hunter. Robert Christian shot it in Monroe County, Pennsylvania in 2011.
The melon-headed bear in this picture is the largest black bear taken by a hunter. Robert Christian shot it in Monroe County, Pennsylvania in 2011.

Wisconsin and Pennsylvania take a very different approach to their bear hunting, but these approaches seem to lead to the same end. Wisconsin issues a very limited number of bear tags to hunters. It can take a decade to draw a tag in Wisconsin, but the success rates for those with tags is fairly high because both hounds and baiting are allowed.

Contrast that to Pennsylvania, which issues tags for anyone that wants one for a small fee. But because the most successful methods of hunting bears (hounds and baits) are not allowed, most bears in the state are shot incidentally by deer hunters. To some degree, bears are shot when large groups of hunters get together and make large drives through blocks of timber. The success rate normally runs around two percent for bear hunters in Pennsylvania.

Despite all this, the largest black bear skull on record came from a dead bear found in Sanpete County, Utah in 1975. That animal scored 23 10/16. The largest bear killed by a hunter was shot by Robert Christian in Monroe County, Pennsylvania in 2011; it scored 23 9/16. The second-largest found dead was discovered in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania and given to the state Game Commission in 1987. It scored 23 7/16.

Polar bear

The polar bear is the largest land carnivore in the world. A lot of bears have a nasty reputation, but polar bears back it up. More people have been killed and eaten by polar bears than by all other bears combined. The opportunity to hunt a huge polar bear has been turned upside down in the past couple decades. That’s not to say that you can’t shoot a huge polar bear because all adult polar bears are huge by bear standards, but the areas that produce the biggest ones are off-limits except to indigenous Alaskans.

All of the top 25 white bears and more than 90 percent of all Boone and Crockett record book bears have been shot out of coastal Alaska. Most of them have been shot out of Kotzebue, with the Diomede Islands area a distant second place. Only indigenous natives are allowed to hunt these bears. It stands to reason that subsistence hunters are not looking for bears with big skulls, and if they shot one of record-book size, the odds that it would be entered would be low. All of the top 50 in the record book were taken before 1968. The world record, taken by Shelby Longoria, was taken off the coast of Kotzebue in 1963. It scored 29 15/16. Will there ever be a 30-inch polar bear entered in the record books? Not in the foreseeable future.

The world record polar bear was the result of a hunt out of Kotzebue, Alaska in 1963. The bear, shot by Shelby Longoria, weighed more than half a ton and had a skull measurement 1/16 of a inch under 30 inches.
The world record polar bear was the result of a hunt out of Kotzebue, Alaska in 1963. The bear, shot by Shelby Longoria, weighed more than half a ton and had a skull measurement 1/16 of a inch under 30 inches.

There are, however, opportunities to hunt smaller polar bears. In fact, the polar bear population has expanded in the past decade across its range. Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut offer excellent bear hunting, but they rarely reach the Boone and Crockett minimum of 27 inches. There is a catch in this scenario, too: non-Canadian residents are not allowed to take their bears across the border into the United States or any other country. You can hunt a polar bear and take photos (and even have it mounted), but you can’t bring it home. That’s a significant roadblock to many people who have an interest in hunting this bear, which can only be taken in the most harsh and unforgiving conditions imaginable.

There has been significant effort by several parties and organizations to change this odd situation. Time will tell if it ever changes. In the meantime, there are a lot of bears in storage and on display at sporting goods stores, airports, and museums that may someday be allowed out of the country so they can go home to the hunters who bagged them.

Follow Bernie’s bowhunting adventures on his blog, bowhuntingroad.com.

Images courtesy Boone and Crockett Club

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53 thoughts on “The 4 Largest Bears Ever Taken by Hunters

    1. My guess would be magnum rifles with scopes are used. I wouldn’t hunt a half ton man killer with a pop gun. And I would think most smart hunter’s that pay a very good price to hunt bears would use a magnum to put them down fast. Except black bear.

    2. Animals killed with any legal weapon can be entered into the B&C record books. Yes it does state what was used in the records. There are some huge bears killed with bows of all species but the top ones mentioned in this article were all gun kills. In 2006, Michele Leqve was the first woman to kill a polar bear with a bow. It’s on display in a large sporting goods store in Alberta now, and she hopes to be able to bring it home someday soon.

    3. The California grizzly (Ursus arctos californicus) is an extinct subspecies of the grizzly, the very large North American brown bear. “Grizzly” refers to the golden and grey tips of its hair. Genetically, North American grizzlies are closely related; in size and coloring, the California grizzly was much like the grizzly of the southern coast of Alaska. In California, it was particularly admired for its beauty, size, and strength. Many accounts from pioneers describe grizzlies in long, bloody fights with angry longhorn bulls, and often winning. The grizzly became a symbol of the Bear Republic, the name that California had when it was an independent nation. Later this national flag became the state flag, and then California was known as the “Bear State.”[1]

      In 1866, a grizzly weighing 2,200 pounds (1,000 kg) was killed in Valley Center, California, the biggest bear ever found in California,[2] unsurpassed until John Lang shot the world’s biggest bear — 2,320 pounds (1,050 kg) — near his ranch by Canyon Country, in 1873.[3]

  1. There’s a lot of errors in this article. More people are killed by polar bears than all other bears combined? Who fact checks these stories?

  2. The Brown Bear and the Kodiak are subspecies of the grizzly. Not the other way around as the article says. ” Both subspecies of the brown bear, the Kodiak and grizzly”. The Brown Bear isn’t the species. The grizzly is.

    1. Wikipedia disagrees, but hey, why waste 5 seconds on Google when it’s easier to just say things, right?

      “The grizzly bear (Ursus arctos ssp.) is any North American morphological form or subspecies of brown bear…”

      p.s I’d provide a link but apparently the messages are automatically flagged for ‘review’ when you do.

      1. No problem, if I’m wrong which is quite possible than I stand corrected. I read my post and it makes more sense the way you put it.

      2. Well why would you comment saying someone is wrong when you’re not completely sure. You were called out and a little embarrassed so you’re kissing the ass of the person who told you you’re wrong with proof.

      3. Patrick Caraway, you’re judging me by your personal standards…I am not kissing anyone’s ass. If I am mistaken, I recognize it. You’re intellectually depleted and see any admission of error as ass kissing or embarrassment. You couldn’t be more wrong but thanks for giving a piece of your very narrow mind.

      4. Patrick what you need to understand is that Paul Homsy, unlike the Brown Bear or the Kodiak, is a subspecies of the idiot. Not the other way around as the article says. ( lol )

      1. WHO CARES? Most of these people kill these animals for FUN! These “men” feel like a man when they kill magnificent animals. They are just cowards. God did NOT put HIS CREATION on earth so we can kill them for FUN PUNK!

  3. I Live In eastern Nc and we hav killed some of the Biggest Black Bear in the world. Yet we wasn’t mentioned in the article, A 880lb, several over 700 and a Bunch from 300-600. I think we should at least been mentioned once.

    1. You may not understand this but generally speaking, we kill a bear, we eat said bear, we use the hide to make rugs, moccasins, anything from leather, we render the fat and use it for everything from making pie crust to water proofing boots, most of us save the skulls, claws and teeth. Getting the record bear is a bonus when all the other parts are completed. These animals are how I feed my family through the winter, oh and in case you are wondering bear meat is among the most healthy things we can eat in the way of meat. Do some research before you call us ass wipes please.

      1. I’m not against hunting at all, I’ve done some myself when I was younger, But I believe it’s just wrong to hunt any animal that isn’t naturally a prey species. In those cases it’s just a version of trying to claim to be the guy with the largest dick in the room. The ones who participate in it are small,men. Small.

  4. The largest brown bear scull was taken near Cold bay Alaska by Marvin Winters in 1997 it had a 31 2/16″ scull
    it was measured officially by 3 different master scorers who all came up with the 31 2/16″. It is the SCI #1 record. It would have also been the B&C record if it had entered in B&C but a political pissing match stopped that from happening.

    1. Then have him submit it, and would love the full story on this piss ing match. And yes I checked the SCI records and it is there at #1, pimp shit man

    2. Well, I can’t argue with where the NEXT record Brown Bear will be shot, but when the vast majority of the top 25 come from Kodiak Island…safe to say that’s where the biggest come from. Incidentally, the world record black bear(at the time, this was…30 years ago) was shot on my land(now mine, bought it from my Father when he retired) in Northern Wisconsin. 663 LBS. Small town called Glidden. Two noteworthy things have happened in that town of 206 people, one gas station, and 9 bars(literally, 9 all in a quarter mile radius…which is the entirety of the town as well). That Bears was shot there and is on display and my second cousins Husband shot a 10 point,(roughly) that had locked antlers with a second deer, a 17 pointer and had clawed it’s head off. That little adventure also started on family land. Ed Hall, Glidden Wisconsin. Apparently the Dear he shot with a bow and arrow was 250 pounds dressed, but the one that lost the fight and died was substantially bigger…and likely much older.

      Haven’t been up there for about 10-15 years since my Grandparents died other than just to check on the house, but both were still on display last time I saw…and they still haven’t changed the plaque on the Bear. It’s still the world record! I guess if you never changed the plaque, the record never goes away!

  5. Unless you are a subsistence hunter, you are hunting for trophies. I believe the largest species of bear in North America (orangus come overus) can be hunted in its native habitat in and around Trump Tower in mid-town Manhattan. You may have difficulty in obtaining a license to hunt this rare species (reportedly descended from the prehistoric giant bear known as cavebearus domesticus buffoonus pollitici) and (Urus Washintonius Conservatus Evangelicalici)

    But think of how it would look on your trophy room wall!

    Constance Dogood

      1. Uhhh…..are you serious? I mean….are you honestly NOT picking up on what they’re saying? They’re talking about Donald Trump. I would have hinted around it a bit more, but anyone who thinks you can hunt Bear in the middle of NYC probably wouldn’t figure it out.

    1. Your apparent species is SUBCUTANEOUS URANUS CRANIUS which is latin for a human with their cranium buried in their anal passage.

      1. Riiiiiight. Because if you don’t like Trump(which given his RECORD low approval rating, 69 pct of the country does not compared with 48-50 pct when he took office) you MUST be a Commie!

        I wonder how conflicted you are? You seem to hate Commies(I just like saying that…–I I feel like anyone who uses “communist” as a go to insult should be smoking a cigar, or at least chain smoking cigarettes and slapping women on the ass and making unwanted advances that they’re helpless to refuse like in the 1950’s….or Trumps marriage–

        Seriously, do you even know the difference between communism and socialism? Socialism is IN THEORY the perfect economic system. Communism is not something ANY liberal is ever in favor of at all. One is economic based, one is political based. One can have a Democracy, a Republic, a Monarch, basically any type of Government, the other has an oppressive Gov’t generally ruled by one individual. So if ANYONE would be in favor of a communist, it’d be Trump supporters.

        And this country has a lot of socialist aspects. The Military-SOCIALIST. The public education system-Socialist. Medicare-Socialist. Social Security-Socialist. Medicaid-Socialist. The Police and Fire Department….ding…ding…ding…you got it…socialist!

        Of course the free market is what has made this country great….

        But yeah, I just think people who throw out “communist,” as an insult because they’re not a stark raving mad right wing nut job(still supporting Trump means you qualify) are too stupid to get it right. You MEAN to be calling those people SOCIALIST.

        But…uh…yeah, Trump is the worst. Literally. The worst anything. Human. President. Man with a comb over… Fill in whatever title he holds(father for example…he’s openly talked about wanting to have sex with his daughter if she WASN’T his daughter…I mean…WTF says something like that…just sickening). He also walks in on teenage girls changing for beauty pageants(along with the legal age ones) and yelled to a 12 year old at one that in 10 years he was going to be dating her. I’m sure you’re done reading by now given the average Trump supporter needs to sound out every syllable, but you really could go on forever when talking about Trump.

      2. The difference between communism and socialism: Under socialism the government confiscates your money and calls it taxes, under communism they conciscate your business. Both systems are run by elitists who keep telling the people they are taking care of them while they pillage the economy.

      3. Well…I’m not sure what the hell “conciscate” means, but if you truly believe that to be the case…you’re kinda dumb. One is a type of economy and one is a type of Government. One is usually led by fascists and the other is a PART of single 1st world country to varying degrees. Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid..obvious. But Public Education, Workers Comp, hell, even the Military…are all socialist.

        Congrats though. You came up with ridiculously simplistic and inaccurate answer about 2 months after the facts. Kudos.

      4. Hmm..not really. You don’t know what you’re talking about and it’s clear. You didn’t make a point and refused to respond to any of mine.

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