Spring Black Bear: Sealing the Deal

Ryan Schuman, Southeast Alaska Representative with a black bear.

It’s nearly April and spring is fast approaching. With that, myself, and many other hunters across Alaska are starting to poke around in their gear closets and get things sorted in anticipation of what will be the first big game hunt of the year for most of us- Spring bear! Whether you’re chasing black bears in the tidal bays of Southeast Alaska or the giant browns on Kodiak, one thing is going to be true: You’ll need to have your bear inspected and sealed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. I have been sealing black bears in the village of Kake for several years now and I’ve got a few tips on how to prepare your bear for the process to make it as easy as possible for you (and your sealing agent).

Skinning a bear is different than an ungulate in that bears are the only game species where you are required by law to harvest the hide, in most hunts. This requirement is so you can present the hide for inspection to a sealing agent. The sealing agent is looking for tattoos, ear tags or other identifying marks to determine if that bear was part of a population study in the area. Sealers are also looking for proof of sex to be attached to the hide, for females this mean the vulva and teats, for males this means the penis sheath and testicles.

Not all bear sealers are required to “square,” the hide for you. Some may, but if you are interested in this, and the bear sealer you use isn’t equipped to do it, it is easily done at home.

One of the most important tips I have for you is to turn your own skull. A bear sealer is going to need an accurate measurement of the skull of the bear, and this cannot be obtained with the hide is on the skull. Luckily bears have no antlers to get in the way and have some very thick skin making them one of the easiest animals to turn the skull on for beginners. If you’re worried about poking holes in the face of the bear with a knife I have a few tips.

  • It’s easiest to skin the rest of the bear first, then separate the skull from the body at the ball joint at the back of the skull.
  • Place the bear with its snout skyward.
  • Begin by separating gum from jaw, working from the snout to the hinge of the jaws.
  • Always orient your blade so the cutting edge it towards bone, to avoid poking holes in your hide if you are intending to have a mount or rug made.
  • Once the skin around the jaws is free, I like to flip the skull and start working from back to front.
  • Take your time and make sure when you get to the ear to cut as close to the skull as you can to avoid cutting the ear canal short.
  • The same is true for the eyes, take your time and cut into the eye socket as needed to ensure you keep the eyelids intact.
  • After you are past the eyes it is fairly easy since you’ve already separated the lips, just keep cutting and gently peeling until the hide is free of the skull.
  • I’d suggest leaving the turning of ears, nose, and lips to your taxidermist if you aren’t experienced in it. Unless the hide will be unfrozen for more than a few days, in which case it may be time to learn those skills to preserve your hide. I’ll not go into that here since I am not authority on that process, but there are great resources online to self-tutor on this.

One of the biggest favors you can do for your bear sealer is to prop the jaws of your bear open with a stick. Ear sealers need to remove a pre-molar from each bear to get the age of the bear. The premolar is the tiny tooth behind the canine. It is small, and the absence won’t be missed if you intend to euro mount your skull. Trying to pry open the jaws of a bear that is in rigor mortis is no fun, and it’s likely the sealer will start having to cut away muscle from the skull to do so, making the whole process take a lot longer.

The next nicest thing you can do for your bear sealer is get the skull to them before things get gross. Most hunters do a good job at preserving a nice hide but give relatively little thought to the skull, since the meat on the skull is neither important to the euro mount, but no sealer wants to handle a skull that has been festering on the back deck of a boat or in a truck bed for a week.

Your sealer will ask you a series of questions about your hunt, and you will be required to have your hunting license, harvest ticket, locking tag (if required) and personal ID with you for the completion of the sealing form. This is NOT the same as your hunt report, you will still need to file your hunt report with ADF&G.

Lastly, be honest with your sealer when they are asking you the required questions about where and when you harvested your bear. They are bound by a signed agreement not to disclose any of your information to anyone else and the information helps biologists make management decisions for the future.


Pre-molar: Top angle


Pre-molar: Side angle


About Ryan Schuman

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