There’s a reason that most hunters end up with a bit of ground shrinkage on their first unguided black bears. Except for the very large and the very small, the size of black bears can be difficult to judge, and the dimensions of those in the medium to large size can be especially difficult to determine.

A bear’s body and facial structure usually can be used to determine sex, but putting a size on them can be much more difficult. The best thing you can do to judge the size of a black bear is have some sort of reference of a known size to compare them to. Many people who bait use a certain spot on their barrel or put a stake in the ground to see how high bears are at the shoulders when on all fours. These methods work, but one that takes a lot of the guess work out of sizing is the “limbo pole.”

What I call the limbo pole is just any small dead branch or slender tree. It must be fairly limbless and it must be relatively straight. I tie the pole across a trail that I know the bears will be using at 36 inches off the ground.

The basic rule of thumb is that if a bear stands 36 inches at the shoulders, his hide will square right around 6 feet. What’s nice about the limbo pole is you don’t have to worry about various angles of viewing as you do with a mark on a tree, or a barrel. When a bear walks under the pole, if its back doesn’t touch, it’s a small bear. If its back does touch the pole, it’s right around 6 feet. If the bear really has to hunch to get under the pole, it’s definitely a shooter.

The tendency for the adrenaline to get pumping when a bear comes in has gotten the best of plenty of hunters, and just keeping in mind how easily they get under the pole is a very good quick reference for how big that bear is. It can also work great if you are just setting scouting cameras on game trails to see what kind of bears are in the area.

If multiple trails lead to your hunting area, set up limbo poles on all the approaches, but make sure they’re all the same 36 inches off the ground.

There are obviously many more tricks than this one, but for those who haven’t tried it, it’s definitely one way to eliminate ground shrinkage. What are some of your favorite methods to judge the size of a bear or other game animals?