By Clay Newcomb

BHM Publisher

    Last week I had the opportunity to officially score one of the most unique bear skulls I’ve ever seen. A bear skull is, in essence, like the “horns” of a whitetail or elk. The skull is the main part of the trophy status of a bear, albeit, other factors play into it as well. Bears are measured by the dried length and width of their skulls. Record keeping organizations choose to use the skull because it’s the one thing on a bear that can be measured consistently. Weight may seem the best bear-to-bear comparator, but it poses many variables, such as, how do you certify scales and should you use dressed or undressed weights. What about animals that are caped and quartered during retrieval? Clearly, skull size is the best way to compare and track bears.

scoring a black bear

This bear was killed with a bow in Arkansas in October 2014 by Chris Hillard and is eligble for entry into the Boone and Crockett Awards with a score of 20 1/16th. Boone and Crockett accepts entries from all types of legal weapons.

    Chris Hillard of Ozark, Arkansas had a bear he knew was big and it needed to be officially scored. As an official Boone and Crockett measurer, I was excited to pull out calipers at the Bear Hunting Magazine office last week. The first thing I noticed is the bear skull was covered in lead pellets. The bear had apparently surprised a squirrel hunter or had been in someone’s trashcan one too many times. The wounds were old, as bone had grown around most of the pellets. One was lodged deep in the eye socket, but, surprisingly, the bear wasn’t blind in that eye according to, Chris.

   The embedded pellets show that bear skulls do continue to grow and ad bone mass throughout their life. This skull had grown around many pellets. A young bear skull is very smooth and sleek. An older bear skull is very textured, has ridges and calcium deposits, resembling the surface of the moon. Not all old bears will necessarily have Boone and Crockett class skulls. Just like Whitetails, genetics play a big part in how big a bear’s head is.

scoring a black bear

The bear had been shot in the face with a shotgun at some point in his life and had broken its lower jaw. Bear human conflict is increasing across North America and it's probably more common to find shot in an older bear than to not. Three of five bears the author killed in 2013-14 had shotgun pellets somewhere in the carcass. 

scoring a black bear

The bear had broken its jaw on the lower left side. 

Bear Hunting Magazine

Chris' bear had a live weight of 638 pounds according to the calculations adding 12% to the dressed weight. The bear scored 20 1/16th qualifying it for the Boone and Crockett Awards minimum. Support the Boone and Crockett Club and conservation by having your trophies measured and entered into the book.

   Secondly, the bear had extensive tooth wear.  All four canines were broke off and the bear was missing numerous molars. The bear was missing as many teeth as he had. Tooth wear isn’t always the best way to gauge age, but it’s clear that this bear was old. We pulled a tooth that we are going to send to a private lab to be cross-sectioned and aged.

   Thirdly, the skull was big, but not the biggest I’ve seen. The assumption with bears is that the bigger the body size, the bigger the skull. The bear weighed in the neighborhood of 638 pounds and is the largest (legitimate) bear I’ve heard of in Arkansas. Chris weighed the dressed bear on official scales and added 12% to come up with the estimated intestinal weight. Myron Means, the bear biologist for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, did the math for him. The bear skull scored 20 1/16th, just qualifying for Boone and Crockett’s Awards minimum, which is 20 inches. The All-Time minimum is 21 inches.

Chris Hillard

Chris Hillard holds his big Ozark Mountain bear skull from Arkansas. A bear skull is both beautiful and intimidating at the same time. This bear is by far the most unique the author has ever scored, it was covered in shotgun pellets, had extreme tooth wear and had a broken jaw. 

   The fourth thing unique about the bear was that he had his lower left jaw broken at some point. The bear most likely sustained the wound in a dominance fight with another big male bear.

   We’ll be sending the tooth off to the lab this winter and will have an exact age on the old bruin. How do old do you think he is? Send us your guess via email to and we’ll give the first person to guess the age a free Bear Horizon DVD.

Email us your name and guess to The first person to guess the age will win a copy of Bear Horizon. We will have the results back this summer, so no immediate gratification on this contest...

Bear Horizon by Bear Hunting Magazine

*If you are looking for a great way to display your bear skull, check out the SkullHooker at 

Skull Hooker