Shooting a Sow w/ Cubs

treillw

Senior Member
Joined
Mar 31, 2017
Messages
1,046
Location
MT
Had an interesting experience yesterday and have some questions about it. Saw a bear at the edge of some trees about 600 yards away. Ran up closer, laid down prone, and just started to watch. I ranged a random opening, just for reference; 375 yards. 4.75 MOA. Head back in the scope. The bear just happens to walk into that opening. I'm on it. Turns broadside. Stretches wide up the hill giving me a bigger vital area. I could have pulled the trigger 10 times, but I didn't. Something just didn't feel right.

The next 30-45 minutes I spent playing cat and mouse, trying to get another shot window, and even a better judgement on how big the bear was. By this point I'm ready to let the bear have it. Finally, I see it again in an opening. It's standing on it's hind legs and then starts climbing this tree. Two thoughts go through my head - I wonder why it's climbing a tree and I'm going to blast this bear out of the tree. My wife is sitting behind me, watching through her binos. "THERE'S BABIES!" she yells. Up at the top of the tree were two adorable cubs playing around on the tree branches like toddlers around a coffer table. One black and one brown. We watched them for another 20 or 30 minutes and then left them alone. Very happy I didn't pull the trigger on momma when I could have.

I'm relatively new to bear hunting (5th year). Brings a few questions to mind:
  • How often does this happen? I would have sworn after watching that bear for 30-45 minutes there were no cubs.
  • What else can you really do, besides watch them for a reasonable amount of time? The other half dozen bears I've seen have been cruising and don't give you much time to get a shot off.
  • How many years do cubs stay with the mom? I believe it is two years for some reason.
    • If you shot the mom of cubs that were just born that spring, would the cubs die?
    • If you shot a mom of cubs that was born the previous spring, would the cubs die?
    • Do other females ever accept "fostercubs"?
  • It has to happen that people accidentally shoot the mom, even after watching for an extended time period. Is there anyway to tell if the female had babies from the carcass, if you don't physically see the babies?
  • Is there anything you can do if you accidentally do shoot a mom?

Thanks for the help. I don't have anybody else to teach me these things. Just figuring it out as I go.
 

tater

Senior Member
Joined
Dec 9, 2012
Messages
335
Location
BC
This is why learning to tell difference between boars and sows is important, and also having the patience and discipline to take the time to do it right. Just because you see a bear doesn't mean that pulling the trigger is the next step.

Cubs stay with sows until the end of their second spring. They will get run off as a sow comes into her estrous cycle end of May.

If you shoot a sow with first year cubs they die. No, sows do not "foster strange cubs" : they eat them (as do boars, cougars, wolves and coyotes).

Females with first year cubs have very obvious teats from lactating, and milk will be present. That is why some jurisdictions want the teats left on hide as proof of sex (it is easy to tell if someone has killed a sow with cubs in their first year). Some jurisdictions expect a self-report filed if a sow with cubs is killed as it is considered an offense.

Second year cubs are going to be fine, but it is still not legal to shoot a sow in the presence of cubs in some areas.

Learning bear behaviour and being able to tell the difference between a sow and a boar will go a long way in helping you to ensure that you won't walk up on a lactating sow with cubs bawling in a tree fifty yards away.
 

Bubblehide

Senior Member
Joined
May 13, 2015
Messages
1,987
A sow will often talk to its Cubs. If you see anything like talking behavior, it likely is talking to cubs.
 

Browtinemt

Senior Member
Joined
Aug 4, 2013
Messages
283
Location
Montana
In Montana it is illegal to shoot a sow with cubs, so if there is any doubt let them walk. This scenario is why baiting is such an effective conservation tool as there is ample time to watch, learn and take dominant boars out. Too bad we have to go to Idaho to do that.
 

tdot

Senior Member
Joined
Aug 18, 2014
Messages
1,551
Location
BC
Lots of good info above. But to answer your question re: how often it happens, I'd say about 1/2 the female's that I've seen with cubs, it took a good while to spot the cubs. The other times they've been glued to mom's hip. But I've never personally seen a cub or black bear in a tree unless there was a Grizzly close by and they were up there for safety. I'd be curious to know if the cubs head up into trees for any other reason.
 

sneaky

Senior Member
Joined
Feb 1, 2014
Messages
7,289
Location
ID
We had a sow with cubs getting into trash cans in town last fall. The sow disappeared and the cubs were hanging around town on their own for several days. This was late October. Fish and Game ended up shooting the cubs and a bunch of people got mad. I asked them what they thought would happen. Send them to a zoo, they'll be fine on their own, were the most common responses. People have no clue. Those cubs would have died after the first snow. Guessing the sow was shot during the elk and deer hunt, would be the most logical theory.

Sent from my SM-G955U using Tapatalk
 

boonez40

Member
Joined
May 8, 2021
Messages
53
This is why learning to tell difference between boars and sows is important, and also having the patience and discipline to take the time to do it right. Just because you see a bear doesn't mean that pulling the trigger is the next step.

Cubs stay with sows until the end of their second spring. They will get run off as a sow comes into her estrous cycle end of May.

If you shoot a sow with first year cubs they die. No, sows do not "foster strange cubs" : they eat them (as do boars, cougars, wolves and coyotes).

Females with first year cubs have very obvious teats from lactating, and milk will be present. That is why some jurisdictions want the teats left on hide as proof of sex (it is easy to tell if someone has killed a sow with cubs in their first year). Some jurisdictions expect a self-report filed if a sow with cubs is killed as it is considered an offense.

Second year cubs are going to be fine, but it is still not legal to shoot a sow in the presence of cubs in some areas.

Learning bear behaviour and being able to tell the difference between a sow and a boar will go a long way in helping you to ensure that you won't walk up on a lactating sow with cubs bawling in a tree fifty yards away.
Not to high jack this thread

So a Sow gets bred, gives birth and has 2 cubs, then those cubs stay with the Sow until the 2nd spring when she comes back into heat.
Does the Sow skip a cycle?
Because in WV while spring Turkey hunting approx 10 or 12 years ago, I saw a momma bear, two older cubs the size of a Chow dog and two cubs the size of a Pomeranian. It was dawn, I was owl hooting when I looked down over the hill 50 yards from me and there stood a Black Chow, very odd I said to myself, what the hell is someone's dog doing way back here.
Then another Black Chow sized animal crawled out of a root hole, I had to do a double take as to what was unfolding in front of me.
I thought to myself, this is either going to get rather interesting or get darn right scary.
I scanned the area with as little movement as possible looking for momma bear and did not see her, then out of the root hole came momma bear along with two cubs that was babies.
Time stood still for 5 good minutes, I had no clue what was going to happen but should she charge me, she was going to eat some #5, 3 1/2 magnum turkey loads and 14 rounds of 45 acp from my P14 or how every many I could get off before I would be killed.
But her and the cubs had no clue I was there and they headed down the ridge for breakfast.
Things really got interesting after that, cause I headed up the hill and I could have sworn I heard a dog sneeze behind me. I stopped and looked around, scanned the brush and saw nothing, so I hiked about 30 more yards to a few big rocks where I could put my back to a rock and have a natural blind where I could watch and see what was coming. 3 flipping yotes had been tracking and circling me.
When the first one came around the big rock, he had no idea I was there and he ate a #5 to the face and dropped like he was hit on the head with a sledge hammer. The wad struck him just below the eye, the shot was very tight and mangled his head something fierce. The other 2 left for town.

Sent from my SM-N960U using Tapatalk
 

Wrench

Senior Member
Joined
Aug 23, 2018
Messages
2,582
Location
WA
Boars try to kill cubs because sows will skip a cycle if they have nursing cubs.

Many years ago I had a bear come strait at me in thick cover. I fed it a 300rum and it piled up.... the thrashing never stopped. The bear was a sow and she had 3 cubs at her dead body. I had to boot every single one of them as i drug their dead mother away. They all cried in anguish. That moment was the one that taught me how important identifying bears is....not that stepping on a sow with cubs would end differently, but I NEVER want to go through that again.
 
OP
treillw

treillw

Senior Member
Joined
Mar 31, 2017
Messages
1,046
Location
MT
How in the world do you tell the difference between a sow and boar?

I have a heck of a hard time even judging how big they are.
 

Larry Bartlett

Senior Member
Rokslide Sponsor
Joined
Feb 13, 2013
Messages
882
Shape of the head and the shoulder hump presence is the first thing to judge. Mature males have a defined shoulder hump and a more squared off or blocky head shape.

It takes a lot of bear sightings to feel comfortable with ID.

BTW, great responses above.
 

JonnyB

Senior Member
Joined
Jan 10, 2018
Messages
294
Location
Fort Bragg, NC
How in the world do you tell the difference between a sow and boar?

I have a heck of a hard time even judging how big they are.

Man, it’s difficult for sure! The ADFG website has some good info on this under their Hunting->Species->bear tab. Head structure, to me, is the easiest way to gauge male/female on younger bears. Just look at tons of pictures online from reputable sources, there are plenty of “quizzes” out there from different fish and game agencies


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 
OP
treillw

treillw

Senior Member
Joined
Mar 31, 2017
Messages
1,046
Location
MT
Does anyone know what the penalty is in Montana if you accidentally shoot a sow with cubs? I know it's illegal. I'm fully not intending to do this, obviously, but I'd like to know how deep the water is before I jump off the bridge. Might not be worth bear hunting.

Sounds like that is part of the reason why they have the check stations to bring the hide into? If they see teats with milk, do you get a fine / license suspension?

I know they tag the hide. Anything else they are checking for?

Thanks for the info.
 

tater

Senior Member
Joined
Dec 9, 2012
Messages
335
Location
BC
Judging Boars versus Sows is a combination of characteristics. Using one method to determine it is often a big risk. I have been fooled more than once by a big old sow that had size and attitude.

Sows versus Boars:

Physical
Sows
  • A sow will have a bigger head/longer snout in proportion to her body
  • Sows have bigger asses than shoulders and tapering front legs with pronounced ankles.
  • A sow will usually show more belly sag
Boars
  • Boars have necks whereas sows look like the head is bolted to the front end.
  • A boar when viewed from the back will show more shoulder width than ass.
  • Boars often appear to have taller legs, broader forelegs and no ankles.
  • Boars have a more square face/shorter snout (in dog terms a boar looks like a rotti whereas a sow will look like a german shepherd).
Behaviour

Sows
  • Sows in early spring (especially with cubs) tend to be in more vertical terrain and do not stray far from escape cover or escape terrain (They will stay close to the edge of avy chutes and cut-blocks).
  • Sows are jumpier and more vigilant. They spook more easily.
  • as mentioned above, they are vocal with their cubs
  • Sows make a more concerted effort to keep their travel with noses in the wind
  • Older sows keep first year cubs closer and are less likely to let them stray. Young sows are more like teen moms at the mall: they often get distracted and then have to regroup with their cub(s).
  • Older sows will sometimes run first year cubs into trees while they feed. It's almost like they need a break and it allows them to concentrate more on feeding. They are NEVER far away from them though.
  • Sows are quicker to tree themselves than boars when frightened.
Boars
  • Boars are more likely to be in less vertical terrain, and are more comfortable with open spaces. Black bears do not have great distance vision, but they can see motion incredibly well at surprising yardage.
  • Boars saunter. They have the attitude of the apex predator, and only become more vigilant if they know a larger boar is present or if rut is on and they have already had an ass-kicking.
  • Boars are more comfortable at times moving with quartering wind or wind at their back if they are feeding aggressively.
  • Boars will even sleep in open terrain if they are the biggest in the valley.

I have about eight seasons of bear video i am trying to edit down to a short 6-7 minutes to demonstrate some of the physical traits/behaviours. I'll post it up once i get it done.
 
OP
treillw

treillw

Senior Member
Joined
Mar 31, 2017
Messages
1,046
Location
MT
Jee and I thought I just had to make sure I wasn't shooting a griz and that there aren't any cubs running around - now I need to get out the caliper to measure snout lengths. 😆
 

sneaky

Senior Member
Joined
Feb 1, 2014
Messages
7,289
Location
ID
How in the world do you tell the difference between a sow and boar?

I have a heck of a hard time even judging how big they are.
Front feet and legs are another good indicator. Sows tend to taper a little more towards the ankles while boars are usually pretty blocky all the way down.

Sent from my SM-G955U using Tapatalk
 

Coveyleader

Senior Member
Joined
Nov 27, 2013
Messages
759
I think in states with quotas, etc, you shoot a sow, you sit out the following year. Way too many sows being shot.
 

yellowbeard

Junior Member
Joined
Nov 3, 2020
Messages
21
How in the world do you tell the difference between a sow and boar?
I was close enough to my bear I could see the penis hanging down. Also saw him pee raising one leg to the side, apparently a pretty good indicator. I've heard that from the rear you can sometimes see the testicles.
 

MokeBerserker

Senior Member
Joined
Feb 26, 2020
Messages
307
We actually have great bear hunting in CA and never fill the quota due to no baiting or dog use regs. You cant shoot a sow with cubs, BUT a cub is defined as under 50lbs. So 2nd year cubs with mom are fair game technically if they are obviously over 50lbs which isnt all that much.

Great thread though, appreciate all the info.
 
OP
treillw

treillw

Senior Member
Joined
Mar 31, 2017
Messages
1,046
Location
MT
I was close enough to my bear I could see the penis hanging down. Also saw him pee raising one leg to the side, apparently a pretty good indicator. I've heard that from the rear you can sometimes see the testicles.
These days that might not mean much though!
 
Top