Black bears have made a significant comeback in Tennessee after spending the better part of the twentieth century in decline. Due to dedicated conservation efforts, bear hunting has also returned to the state, partly as a way to help control the increasing bear population. Some of the local bears grow to truly impressive sizes. Read on to discover the largest bear ever caught in Tennessee!
The Largest Bear in Tennessee
Although the state of Tennessee does not keep official size records of black bear kills, the largest bear ever caught in Tennessee could well be the one killed by a group of hunters from Woodsviking Outdoors. The bear in question weighed a whopping 735 pounds. The hunters took it in October 2021 near Vonore in Monroe County.
A couple of other massive kills deserve mention. The first was a black bear weighing over 600 pounds that set a state record at the time of its capture. The hunter took it in Carter County. Another group of hunters from the Butler area in Johnson County shot a black bear with an estimated weight of at least 625 pounds. It was so large that they couldn’t remove the whole thing and had to settle for the head, hide, and reproductive organs.
In March 2022, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) relocated a 500-pound black bear from Greeneville’s Tusculum University to Cherokee National Forest. The bear, Big Bruin, suffered no injuries in the process. It had caused some property damage in the area, which precipitated the relocation.
Tennessee Bear Types and Appearance
The American black bear (Ursus americanus) is the only species of bear living in Tennessee. Two other species of bears inhabit North America, the brown bear (Ursus arctos) and the polar bear (Ursus maritimus). Grizzly bears (Ursus arctos horribilis) are a subspecies of brown bear.
Most black bears in Tennessee are black with a tan muzzle. Some individuals may also have white blazes on their chests. Notable phases in other regions of North America include cinnamon, brown, white, and bluish-grey. As some black bears are brown it is possible to mistake them for grizzlies. However, grizzly bears have a hump on their shoulders, whereas black bears do not.
Tennessee black bears grow up to three feet high at the shoulder and six feet long from nose to tail. Adults usually weigh between 125 to 600 pounds with females being somewhat smaller than males. Bears typically achieve their heaviest weight in late summer or early fall as they bulk up for winter.
Black Bear Habitat
Black bears mainly prefer forested areas with dense cover, often in mountainous regions. In Tennessee, there are two main populations. These include the Appalachian Population, which ranges along the Tennessee-North Carolina border, and the Cumberland Population, which ranges along the Tennessee-Kentucky border in the northern Cumberland Plateau.
How Many Black Bears Are There in Tennessee?
A 2020 four-state study found that there were approximately 5,500 to 6,000 black bears in Tennessee. The population continues to rise along with the human population, potentially creating more human-bear interaction. Even recent increases in annual bear harvests have not caused the decline of black bear populations.
As with many other states, Tennessee saw a severe reduction in its black bear population after the initial arrival of Europeans. The settlers hunted bears for meat and fur as well as to prevent them from harming their families and livestock. Unfortunately, unregulated hunting and habitat loss eliminated bears from all areas in Tennessee except 11 mountainous counties. The protected areas within the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and Cherokee National Forest contributed greatly to the survival of the species in Tennessee in the 1930s. However, populations continued to decline through the 1960s.
In the 1970s, serious conservation efforts began to save black bears in the state. This included collaborations with other states who shared some of their black bear populations with Tennessee. One successful conservation strategy involved pushing bear hunting seasons later in the year to prevent the excessive harvest of females. This strategy was based on the fact that female black bears tend to den earlier than males.
As of 2016, the IUCN lists black bears across North America as Least Concern.
Is It Legal to Hunt Bears in Tennessee?
It is legal to hunt black bears in Tennessee with a license. Regulations may permit or prohibit hunting with dogs according to specific seasons and zones. Currently, there are five hunting zones: zones one to four as well as a transitional zone. However, it is illegal to kill cubs under 75 pounds. See the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency for more information on seasons, regulations, and licenses.
Are Black Bears Dangerous?
Black bears are typically shy of humans, preferring to keep to themselves. However, they are also curious by nature, especially regarding food. It is possible for black bears to become habituated to humans through repeated contact or due to the presence of food sources. In these cases, they may become intrusive or aggressive. It is crucial to avoid feeding bears, whether intentionally or unintentionally, to prevent habituation and potential injury or death.
When out in the wild, experts recommend slowly backing away from a nearby bear to avoid a dangerous encounter. If the bear reacts or pursues you, stand your ground and try to frighten it away. If it attacks, do not play dead. Rather, fight back to show it you are not easy prey.
To learn more about bear safety and coexisting with black bears, visit the TWFA’s webpage, Black Bears in Tennessee. You can also check out BearWise for more safety tips regarding black bears in North America.
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