Discover the Largest Bear Ever Caught in New Mexico 

New Mexico black bear
© Martha Marks/

Written by Kathryn Dueck

Updated: May 9, 2023

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New Mexico is a southwestern state in the southern Rocky Mountains of America. Its mountainous and forested landscapes provide the ideal habitat for bears. As a result of laws protecting its big game animals, the state is in a position to allow controlled bear hunting within its borders. Read on to discover the largest bear ever caught in New Mexico!

The Largest Bear Ever Caught in New Mexico

The largest bear ever caught in New Mexico is still unconfirmed. One notable potential record comes from hunter Thomas B. Lyne III, who killed a massive black bear in September 2016 with a skull measurement of 23 1/16 inches. If officially confirmed and ranked, this would be the largest black bear kill on record in the state.

However, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish does not mention this record. Instead, its top listing is a Boone & Crockett Club record from 2007. Hunter Robert J. Seeds originally set this record in Rio Arriba County with a black bear skull measurement of 21 15/16 inches. Boone & Crockett lists a higher score on its own website as its official first-place record, which is currently protected by copyright laws.

Largest black bear caught in New Mexico

The largest confirmed black bear caught in New Mexico had a skull measurement of 21 15/16 inches.


New Mexico Bear Types and Appearance

The only bear species currently inhabiting New Mexico is the black bear (Ursus americanus), specifically the New Mexico black bear subspecies (Ursus americanus amblyceps). At one time, grizzly bears were also common in the state’s grasslands and forests. However, their aggressive nature led settlers to hunt them to the point of extirpation. Recognizing their dwindling numbers, the state declared grizzlies a protected species in 1927. Unfortunately, it was too late to prevent their populations from disappearing from New Mexico. In 1931, the last recorded grizzly bear was killed.

An adult male New Mexico black bear typically weighs up to 400 pounds, although a weight of around 250 pounds is more common. Females are significantly smaller, weighing between 150 and 180 pounds. Black bears in the state also come in a range of colors, most commonly cinnamon. However, they also come in black, brown, reddish, and blonde phases.

Cinnamon black bear

Black bears in New Mexico come in a range of colors but are most commonly cinnamon.


Black Bear Habitat

Black bears in New Mexico occupy all forested areas in the state and are especially common in mountainous regions. Males have the largest home ranges, roaming an area between 25 and 50 square miles. Low-quality habitats tend to result in larger ranges. Male ranges typically overlap with those of several different females for breeding purposes. The ranges of females are much smaller, covering only five to seven square miles. Occasionally, black bears in search of food cross into human-populated areas, causing potential conflict.

How Many Black Bears Are There in New Mexico?

Approximately 5,000 to 6,000 black bears currently inhabit New Mexico. Hunters legally kill between 250 and 300 black bears every year, which is currently not enough to threaten their overall numbers. Rather, fragmentation and habitat loss are the biggest threats to black bears in the state. Connected populations allow for greater genetic diversity and therefore healthier future populations.

A cinnamon colored American black bear

Approximately 5,000 to 6,000 black bears currently inhabit New Mexico.


It is legal to hunt black bears in New Mexico with a license. In 1927, the state added black bears to the list of protected big game mammals. In accordance with this law, the state maintains strict hunting regulations to prevent hunters from overharvesting black bears and threatening their populations. At the same time, controlled hunting prevents bear populations from getting out of control.

For more information on bear hunting in the state, including regulations and seasons, see the hunting section of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish website.

Are Black Bears Dangerous?

Black bears are usually shy and elusive, preferring to flee humans rather than engage them. However, the presence of food can cause these predators to be unpredictable and possibly aggressive. It is never a good idea to approach or feed a wild bear. Aside from the immediate danger of engaging with a wild animal in close quarters, it also carries the risk of habituating the bear, removing its natural fear of humans. When this happens, wildlife officials may have no choice but to kill the bear to prevent future aggression.

The best way to prevent bears from encroaching on your property is to remove all accessible sources of food. Black bears have an incredibly keen sense of smell and will track the scent of food to its source from great distances. They also have excellent memories and will return over and over again to a reliable food source.


For more tips on safely coexisting with bears in New Mexico, see this BearWise information sheet from the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.

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About the Author

Kathryn Dueck is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on wildlife, dogs, and geography. Kathryn holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Biblical and Theological Studies, which she earned in 2023. In addition to volunteering at an animal shelter, Kathryn has worked for several months as a trainee dog groomer. A resident of Manitoba, Canada, Kathryn loves playing with her dog, writing fiction, and hiking.

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