Discover the Largest Bear Ever Caught in Kentucky

Written by Kathryn Dueck
Updated: December 23, 2022
© Crossman
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Kentucky is home to thriving populations of black bears, which form an essential part of its ecosystem. With ample opportunities to view and hunt these bulky omnivores, researchers and hunters have captured a few sizable individuals over the years. Read on to discover the largest bear ever caught in Kentucky!

The Largest Bear Ever Caught in Kentucky

black bear
In Kentucky, the largest bear was 480 pounds.


The largest bear ever caught in Kentucky was a 480-pound male black bear. The adult bear became a research animal with its capture in 2008. Its weight was near the top of the scale for sexually mature male black bears, which ranges from 125 to 500 pounds.

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A similar catch in Kentucky’s Letcher County in 2012 broke state records for the largest bear killed in a hunt. The hunter, Doug Adkins, brought down an adult male black bear weighing 410 pounds dressed, which the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources estimated would have been about 450 pounds live. Hunter Neal Perkins held the previous record from 2011 for a 350-pound black bear.

The largest black bear on record came from the Canadian province of New Brunswick. Standing an astonishing 7.9 feet tall on its hind legs, it weighed 1,100 pounds live and 902 pounds dressed. The largest black bear in the United States came from coastal North Carolina in 1998. It was 10 years old and weighed 880 pounds.

Black Bear: Types and Appearance

North America is home to three species of bears: American black bears (Ursus americanus), brown bears (Ursus arctos), and polar bears (Ursus maritimus). Of these species, black bears are the smallest. Though the upper weight of black bear males ranges from 500-880 pounds, females are much smaller, typically within the range of 90-175 pounds. The average length of an adult black bear is 4.6 feet, with an average shoulder height of 3.3-3.9 feet.

Though most black bears are true to their name, a few color variations exist. These include brown, cinnamon, blue-grey, blond, and white. Some black individuals even sport white markings on their chests. In fact, the black bear claims the greatest color diversity of any mammal in North America.

Black Bear Habitat

Black bears are endemic to North America. They range throughout most of the United States and Canada, including Alaska, as well as parts of Mexico.

The black bear’s preferred habitat includes forests, grasslands, shrublands, deserts, inland wetlands, and artificial habitat structures. In areas of true wilderness, the species tend to be diurnal. However, in areas where these bears frequently come into contact with humans, they may revert to a nocturnal lifestyle to avoid contact.

How Many Black Bears Are There in Kentucky?

Black bears
About 1,000 black bears are in Kentucky.


Currently, there are approximately 1,000 black bears in Kentucky. This is almost double the estimated 500 individuals in 2012. Their numbers are increasing despite the resurgence of bear hunting in the state.

Historically, black bears were plentiful in Kentucky. However, overhunting and habitat destruction had extirpated them by the late 1900s. It wasn’t until the 1980s that southeastern Kentucky experienced the unintentional reintroduction of the species. Two distinct core populations in this region appear to be the source of the current statewide population. Although there are three species of bears in North America, the only species inhabiting Kentucky is the black bear.

There are approximately 900,000 black bears across North America. Experts are unsure of their exact numbers in the United States, but they estimate their population to be somewhere in the range of 250,000 to 465,000. The IUCN lists black bears as Least Concern due to their increasing numbers.

It is currently legal to hunt black bears in Kentucky with a license. The practice became illegal and impossible in the early 1900s when the state’s population of black bears disappeared. As it began to re-establish itself later in the century, bear hunting became feasible again. This culminated in the legalization of the practice in Kentucky in 2009. Due to poor weather conditions, hunters were unable to harvest any bears that season. However, in December 2010, a hunter named Danny Smith killed the first black bear since the legalization of the practice. It weighed 265 pounds.

Black bear hunting in Kentucky takes place according to strict regulations, which are currently under review. Hunters operate in two zones, Zone 1 and Zone 2. Regulations permit firearms in both zones at stated periods during the month of December. During certain days in October, hunters may use bows or crossbows. Dog hunts and chase-only periods also take place within restricted periods.

Are Black Bears Dangerous?

Black Bear Showing Teeth
black bears can be dangerous if provoked.

©Jim Cumming/

Despite being the smallest bear species in North America, black bears can be dangerous if provoked. Typically, they prefer to avoid human contact in the wild and will usually flee rather than fight. However, some populations range uncomfortably close to human dwellings. These bears may become habituated to the presence of people. In these cases, they may become bold in their search for food.

Black bear attacks are rare in North America, with a fatality rate of less than 1 person per year. Attacks are usually the result of humans getting too close while feeding or trying to pet a bear. The best way to avoid an unpleasant encounter is to keep your distance. If you find yourself in the wilderness, make plenty of noise. This will alert bears in the area to your presence so you don’t surprise them, which can make them aggressive. Never approach a black bear with cubs.


Though the largest bear ever caught in Kentucky ended up being a research animal, most fall prey to hunters. If you’re planning to catch a glimpse of these creatures or capture one yourself, make sure you’re aware of hunting season regulations.

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About the Author

I am a freelance writer with experience in both fiction and nonfiction. When not putting words on a page, I enjoy reading, hiking in the great outdoors, and playing with my dog.

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