How to Identify Bear Tracks in Winter

How to Identify Bear Tracks in Winter

Black and Grizzly Bear Winter Tracking Guide

I always find it interesting how some animals scurry around during the winter, especially bears that people typically think of as a hibernating mammals during the cold months. Black bears still forage for food on warmer days as far north as North Carolina in the southestern U.S. Grizzly bears in the Yellowstone National Forest wait until late December to start their hibernation. Black bears will sleep for long periods of time in the southeastern Appalachian mountain range but will wake up during streches of warmer weather.

Identifying bear tracks is a favorite pastime of mine as long as the bear isn't somewhere nearby. Seeing a fresh snow fall with tracks on it is the best way to tell which animal is which. It is important to note that bears have 5 toes with claws. However, you may not always see the fifth claw when studying their tracks.


Look at any decently sized shallow marks in the snow to see if they are the work of a bear.  This type of animal steps with flat feet which sometimes makes it harder to determine whether or not you are looking at an actual footprint, even in the snow. The shallow groove gives you the chance to further identify the marking as a bear track that you otherwise might have missed.


Find a bear trail while you're out identifying bear tracks. The bear trails tend to have growth over the tops of them and are narrow and may resemble a tunnel made of brush.


Locate four paw prints, appearing in sets, at a 45 degree angle away from where the animal moved. If you see this type of marking in the snow it's the work of a bear.


Note the difference between grizzly and black bear paw prints. Black bears have short claws with spaces between them while a grizzly's claw can grow up to four inches. Toes that appear uniformed are likely that of a grizzly bear.


Study the trees around where you're walking. Both black bears and grizzlies climb trees. Black bears in the southeastern U.S. prefer to hibernate in the deep grooves found in some trees. Bears also use trees to mark their territory. If you come upon a tree with one inch grooves that run down the trunk and stand about six feet high, you are more than likely looking at a bear territory marking. Claw marks on trees indicate that a bear has climbed up the trunk.