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Hunting Black Bear - The Nitty Gritty

Updated: Sep 13, 2023

At Four Element Acres we understand that meat consumption, hunting and the general idea of killing an animal is NOT for everyone. If those topics bother you, please consider this your warning to move on from this post. There are a lot of different beliefs in regards to meat consumption and we believe everyone is afforded the right to choose for themselves and their families what works best for their lifestyle.

A gorgeous black bear in its natural habitat

Why We Hunt Bear

  1. Predator Control: Limited habitat means expansion must be managed. All natural animal populations are designed to grow and expand to perpetuate the species which wouldn't be a problem in a world with unlimited habitat. However, on a continent with vast amounts of urbanization, development, and modern agriculture the natural ecosystem falls out of balance. In the wild, bears do not have a lot of competition to keep their numbers in check and are most often killed off by nature through means of harsh winters and starvation etc. With free access to fields of corn and other agricultural commodities it is very easy for their populations to get out of control. Removing bears via hunting stabilizes black bear populations, thus reducing human/animal conflict. To learn more about the bear population, rehabilitation and management in Alberta, Canada visit:

  2. Hunting is usually more ethical than domestic meat: An animal that was raised in its natural habitat lived its life exactly as it was supposed to. People may argue that hunting is outdated, it’s a thing of the past that no longer has relevance. However, this argument has major holes. The main purpose of hunting is to provide protein for food and you can buy that protein at the grocery store in the form of a chicken breast that was raised in confinement or you can harvest an animal in nature that lived out its entire life in its most natural and stress free environment. I specifically note "usually" here because more and more farms, like ours, are moving more towards ethically raised meat where animals live outdoors with the ability to forage and act out their natural behaviours such as scratching and rooting. Secondly, people hunt not only to protect their livestock against animals that want to harm them but to utilize all parts of the animal such as the hide, fat and of course the meat.

A cow calf attacked by a black bear on a neighbouring farm.
A cow calf attacked by a black bear on a neighbouring farm.

Is Bear Meat Any Good? Putting the Myths to Rest

MYTH #1: Bear Meat Tastes Fishy. Most people don't realize bear meat is flavoured based on diet. The science behind the taste of meat isn't complicated and it expands across ALL animals. The flavour of meat is largely comprised of the flavouring stored within the fat of the carcass. It only takes a few weeks to "alter" the flavour of the fat stored within an animal prior to slaughter. This is the reasoning behind "feed lot" finishing grass fed beef and moving pigs to "finish" on apples, acorns etc.... Their last meals very much effect the final taste of their meat and standardized practices in farming create a consistent and standard flavour for consumers.

When it comes to hunting wild game it is pretty hard to "manage" their feed. This is where geography comes into play! You are what you eat is a very real thing when it comes to bear hunting. Bears are omnivores and can be pretty lazy in terms of their hunting/scavenging efforts. A bear needs 5,000 calories a day on a regular basis and in an effort to prepare for hibernation their caloric needs can jump to as much as 20,000 calories a day so it's easy to see why a bear may not be picky in their meal choices... Bears will scavenge fruit, berries, nuts, honey etc. and the large majority of their diets will come from plants however they do also eat meat. Meat is a more calorie dense food and bears will take advantage of it if it is available in abundance. Coastal bears will have a high fish diet, creating a fishy flavour profile and bears closely located to a dump are opt to literally taste like "garbage". If you are hunting bear for meat, we highly recommend you take in to consideration what their local food sources may be.

Another consideration of bear meat is the time of year you harvest your bear. In my area of Alberta, Canada we are allowed to hunt bear in the Spring from April 01 through June 15 and again in the Fall from September 01 through November 30. A Spring bear will be very lean as it emerges from hibernation and the low fat content of the meat will create a very mild and neutral flavour whereas a Fall bear, preparing for hibernation, will have packed on pounds of fat flavoured based on the area where it lives and eats (think corn fields, wild blueberries etc. YUM).

As much as we love to take advantage of the rendered fat from a beautifully fattened Fall bear (to utilize for cooking all year long), we LOVE the simple taste of a Spring harvested bear.

MYTH #2: Bear Meat Isn't Safe to Eat. A lot of hunters are scared of eating bear meat due to the risk of contracting trichinosis. Trichinosis is a roundworm infection that can be contracted from eating undercooked meat from carnivorous and/or omnivorous animals contaminated with the Trichinella parasite.

Many mammals, including humans, and even some birds and reptiles can be naturally "contaminated" with the Trichinella parasite. Naturally infected animals do not typically show signs of disease, except in rare instances. The Trichinella parasite can lay dormant in the muscle tissue (aka the meat), and when consumed our digestive enzymes can activate the larvae, introducing the parasite into our bodies. This method of contraction means that "carnivorous" or "omnivorous" animals are much more likely to carry the parasite and pose a greater threat to human contraction - this includes meat from bear, cougar, pigs and omnivorous birds such as chickens.

Government regulations have imposed restrictions on modern farming practices that restrict chickens and pigs to vegetarian diets therefore greatly minimizing the risk of trichinosis infected meat. Wild game, such as bear, wild boar or cougar, obviously can not follow the same vegetarian restrictions. Chicken is typically cooked to an internal temperature of 165°F which poses very little risk to humans in terms of parasitic consumption and is therefore not widely associated with the trichinosis parasite. Pork however is more often cooked to a medium rare temperature of 145°F, and was therefore, until recent years, widely associated with the trichinosis infection. As of 1980, in Canada, the cases of trichinosis from domestically raised pork have been almost non existent thanks to government regulating of pork feed but it is important, as a hunter, to remember that wild boar MUST be cooked to a higher temperature than its domestic counterpart. The trichinella parasite is killed at 137°F, but every iota of meat must hit that temperature in order to guarantee the parasite is removed so cooking bear meat to medium-rare isn't a guarantee the meat is safe to consume. The minimum internal temperature recommended to ensure bear meat is safe to consume is 165°F, which will ensure the entire piece of meat reaches a hot enough temperature to kill off any potential parasites.

Two black bears hunted locally on neighbouring farms. The bear on the left is known as a colour phase bear as it has brown fur.

Utilizing the Whole Animal

Utilizing every usable part of the animals that we hunt is something we should all be striving for. Many people mistakenly assume bears are "trophy hunted". I am not going to stand on a soap box here and say this doesn't happen because it does but where we live specifically it is NOT as common as people think. In fact, where we live it is mandated by hunting regulations that:

"It is unlawful to allow the skin of any bear to be wasted, destroyed, spoiled, or abandoned."

We first prioritize the meat, harvesting the bear quickly, in order to prevent spoilage especially in warmer months. Any fat we remove from our cuts is set aside and rendered down to make bear tallow. We utilize our bear tallow for cooking, in place of seed oils, but it can also be utilized for making soaps and balms. Because we prefer to hunt bear in the Spring, which happens to be the busiest of seasons on our farm, we typically roll up the hide and store it in the freezer. We utilize the winter months for fleshing and drying our furs. Furs can be sent to a taxidermist to create mounts or sold at fur auctions but we prefer to keep and utilize them here on our homestead.

I would love to take a minute to add a few details on how we, and many other hunters, utilize various parts of game animals that are less thought about and not always discussed in detail. We are not huge lovers of organ meats but here are some of the things we do consume and how we utilize others we do not:

  • Tongue - we personally consume tongue and it is a family favourite for making tacos

  • Heart - we also enjoy heart meat, because heart is a "tough" muscle from constant use by the body it is best prepared "low and slow"

  • Liver - we personally do not enjoy liver however we save this organ meat for our dogs, when feeding your dogs any meat that may be contaminated with trichinosis do NOT feed it raw, thoroughly cook before sharing

  • Kidney - we personally do not enjoy kidney however we save this organ meat for our dogs, when feeding your dogs any meat that may be contaminated with trichinosis do NOT feed it raw, thoroughly cook before sharing

  • Lung - we personally do not enjoy lung however in the instances the lungs are not damaged in the hunt (ie. trapping) we save this meat for our dogs, when feeding your dogs any meat that may be contaminated with trichinosis do NOT feed it raw, thoroughly cook before sharing

  • Brain - we personally do not utilize the brains from the animals we harvest. However, brain matter CAN be used to tan a hide in order to preserve it. Every animal has enough brain matter to adequately tan its own hide and many hunters take advantage of this amazing natural quality to preserve their furs.

  • Bone - there are some animals we harvest that we utilize to create specialty dishes such as Osso Buco etc. but in general the smaller bones from herbivores (such as rabbits or venison ribs) are fed raw directly to our dogs. Our dogs also thoroughly enjoy venison hooves. Larger bones (such as marrow bones and knuckles) are utilized to make and can bone broth. Two batches of bone broth are made for each group of bones. The first is flavoured and canned and we utilize it for cooking. The second "cook" of broth is created without fragrants such as onion and garlic and is frozen and then utilized for dog treats. After several hours of mineral extraction for broths the bones are smashed, dehydrated and pulverized to create a bone meal that we utilize to feed our roses.

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