Discover the Largest Bear Ever Caught in California

Written by Volia Schubiger
Updated: April 21, 2023
Share on:


Key Points

  • There may be no animal more synonymous with California than the extinct species of grizzly prominently featured on their state flag.
  • Despite their legendary status, the largest bear ever recorded in California was not one of these famous grizzlies, but rather a common black bear.
  • At the time of its capture, this specimen was also the largest black bear ever discovered, though this record has since been usurped.

The state of California is one of the most popular tourist destinations and for good reason. The state boasts beautiful Pacific coastlines and some of the most amazing hiking trails and national forests. If you’re looking for a great place to explore the great outdoors, then California should definitely be on your bucket list. Since California is home to such amazing forests, that also means that it has some spectacular wildlife. Some of this wildlife is adorable and skittish like deer, while others, like black bears, are more scary than cute. With that in mind, have you ever wondered what the largest bear ever caught in California was?

There are plenty of things you can learn about bears and the biggest hunts of all time if you’ve ever wondered about them. Check out the biggest bear that has ever been caught in California, as well as other fascinating facts about bears in California.

The Largest Bear Ever Caught in California

Black Bear

The largest bear ever hunted in California was a black bear measuring 23 3/16 inches.

17,101 People Couldn't Ace This Quiz

Think You Can?

©Ghost Bear/

The black bear is the largest ever caught in the state of California. It had a skull measurement of 23 3/16″ — making it the current state record. The bear was hunted down by Robert Shuttleworth and occurred in Mendocino County, California. There were a few years when the bear taken by Robert Shuttleworth on a hunt in northern California was the world record black bear. Despite the fact that it has since been surpassed by the biggest bear kill of all time, it is still the biggest black bear that has ever been killed with a bow and the largest black bear that has ever been killed in the Golden State.

So what kind of bears live in California and what exactly do they look like? Let’s find out about the most commonly spotted bears in the state and what they look like!

Where Was the Biggest Bear Caught in California Located on a Map?

The biggest bear ever caught in California was taken down in Mendocino County, home of Mendocino National Forest. The heavily forested county borders the Pacific Ocean and is northwest of the city of Sacramento.

Bears in California: Types and Appearances

Today, when you go trekking through the forests of California, the only bear that you’ll run into is the black bear. Black bears inhabit the state in two subspecies: California black bears (Ursus americana californiensis) and northwestern black bears (Ursus americana altifrontalis). Interestingly enough, the name black bear is actually quite misleading. Black bears can actually come in a variety of colors. Black bears usually have black fur, but their fur can also be brown, and cinnamon, and sometimes they can even have white patches. 

Black Bear Population by State

There are two different subspecies of black bears in California.

©jo Crebbin/

In spite of their appearance, black bears are actually the smallest of the three North American bear species. Still, they’re not exactly what you would define as small. Female adult black bears (also known as a sow) typically weigh 100 – 200 pounds. As for their male counterparts, they weigh anywhere from 150 to 350 pounds, with some reaching 500 pounds in weight. Additionally, black bears do not have a mid-shoulder hump as grizzly bears do. They also have shorter claws and a small narrow head and small ears.

Bear Habitat in California

In California, where do all of these black bears live? As far as habitat is concerned, black bears of different subspecies are actually separated from one another. According to experts, the Klamath Mountains serve as the border between both subspecies. Wooded areas provide bears with a variety of food, water, and shelter for hibernating, so you are most likely to see them there. When food becomes scarce, they move to grasslands and meadows. Once conditions improve, they return to the forest. 

Generally speaking, bears are most likely to be encountered in northern, eastern, and western California. In the south, bears are rare. The state of California has two national parks where bear encounters are possible. It is estimated that hundreds of black bears live in Yosemite National Park, Sequoia National Park, and Kings Canyon National Park.

How Many Bears Are There in California

In the last few decades, the black bear population in California has grown rapidly. According to a 1982 estimate, there were between 10,000 and 15,000 bears roaming the state at any given time, depending on the location. According to conservative estimates, the number of bears in the state is estimated to be between 30,000 and 40,000 at present. Keep in mind, that as we mentioned above, these numbers only account for black bears as there are no longer any grizzly bears in the state. So what happened to the grizzly bear population in California? Let’s find out!

What Happened to the Grizzly Bears in California

Grizzly bear on cliff

Grizzly bears no longer exist in California as they went extinct more than a century ago.

©Dennis W Donohue/

The California grizzly bear was last spotted in the state more than a century ago, despite its appearance on the state flag. A growing number of people started moving to California in the 1700s. As land became more scarce, humans inevitably stepped into animal territories more and more. Many animals fled to safer territories as a result of the clearing of trees and manipulation of water bodies. Those that couldn’t flee died as a result. 

As for the grizzlies, they didn’t move at all. Despite human pressure, they refused to leave their territories. Soon, this led to bear attacks on humans and livestock. The bears were then hunted and killed for sport as well as captured and used for bear and bullfighting. A California grizzly bear was last hunted in Tulare County in August 1922. Finally, the last seen grizzly was in Sequoia National Park in 1924.

It is completely legal to hunt bears in California. In California, bear hunting is one of the most popular big game species. The hunt for bears is a popular activity among thousands of hunters each year. In most of the state, the bear season coincides with the deer hunting season. 

A hunting license will be required in order for you to go hunting for black bears in California. There is a limit of one bear tag per year that may be obtained by hunters with a valid hunting license. The black bear can be found throughout California, as we mentioned earlier. Mountain ranges such as the Sierra Nevada and coastal mountain ranges, as well as the Trinity Alps, are ideal hunting grounds for bears.

What to Do if You Come Across a Bear in California

California has a low number of black bear encounters that result in human injuries, but they can happen. It is common for bears to behave in unpredictable ways, just as it is with most animals. Usually, black bears get defensive when startled or scared, or when protecting their cubs. They usually won’t go out of their way to hurt a human that isn’t bothering them or intruding on their territory. However, it is still always best to stay vigilant and remain aware of your surroundings. 

If you come across a black bear in the wild, what should you do? If you happen to encounter a bear, the first thing you should do is keep a safe distance. Then you should slowly back away. You can make yourself seem bigger by lifting your arms and waving them. In addition, you can also scare them away by yelling, using noisemakers, or by blowing a whistle. You should not attempt to run away or climb a tree as the black bear can easily catch up to you. Instead, start to slowly back away and let the bear have space to leave the area on its own. 

Whenever you’re out in the wilderness, watch for signs of bear activity such as tracks, scats, and stripped bark off trees. Furthermore, learn how to use bear spray and carry bear spray with you.

The photo featured at the top of this post is ©

Share on:
About the Author

Volia Schubiger is a freelance copywriter and content editor with a passion and expertise in content creation, branding, and marketing. She has a background in Broadcast Journalism & Political Science from CUNY Brooklyn College. When she's not writing she loves traveling, perusing used book stores, and hanging out with her other half.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.