In a Sow’s Ear: The difference between grizzlies, black bears and cowboys
The Mainland grizzly (Ursus arctos horribilis), the Mainland black bear (Ursus arctos) and the Mainland cowboy (Whoopis cowboyupus) are creatures often found in wilderness areas of the Rocky Mountain West.
Hikers, campers, horseback riders and confused souls need to be able to identify these beasts by certain attributes in order to determine whether to run, use pepper spray or recite their last prayers.
Grizzly hair color: Varies from blond to black. Coarse texture, long staple. If dead, can become a rug.
Black bear hair color: Black, brown, reddish. Frequently become rugs.
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Cowboy hair color: May be black, blond, red, brown or none (on the cranium). Not made into a rug; not enough fur.
Grizzly: Walks on all fours unless challenged, in which case a standing Ursus arctos horribilis becomes tall enough to join a basketball team.
Black bear: Walks on all fours, sometimes into your kitchen.
Cowboy: Walks on all fours only occasionally but can often be found in the kitchen on baking day.
Grizzly: Distinctive shoulder hump.
Black bear: No shoulder hump, but you should still run.
Cowboy: Distinctive shoulders holding up a neck holding up a head bearing a badly stained, broad-brimmed, crumpled, western ten gallon or a feed store cap.
Grizzly: Rear quarters rump is lower than shoulder hump.
Black Bear: Rump is higher than shoulders.
Cowboy: Rump is south of shoulders, rear pocket showing outline of Copenhagen can.
Grizzly: Profile is dished-in between eyes and snout.
Black Bear: Profile is straight between eyes and snout.
Cowboy: Profile is dished, straight, hawk-nosed, snub-nosed or broken-nosed between eyes and snout. Upper lip often adorned with a mustache.
Grizzly: Ears are short and round.
Black Bear: Ears are tall and pointed.
Cowboy: Ears are round, tall, cauliflower, bat-winged and in a bad winter, frozen.
Grizzly: Front claws are 2-4 inches long, slightly curved. Claw marks usually visible in a track.
Black Bear: Front claws are less than 2 inches long, slightly curved and generally not visible in a track. It’s still a good idea to run.
Cowboy: Front claws are thick-muscled digits, slightly curved when holding bridle reins or lariat, and usually visible at lower end of wrists. No need to run.
Grizzly: Wears his fur coat all year.
Black bear: Wears his fur coat all year.
Cowboy: Wears his Wranglers all year.
Grizzly: Likes to eat bugs, deer and humans.
Black bear: Eats whatever is in your kitchen or cooler.
Cowboy: Eats steak, beans and beer.
What does it mean if you see a grizzly? You’re too close.
What does it mean if you see a black bear? Don’t go any closer.
What does it mean if you see a cowboy? Smile. Maybe he’ll let you ride his horse. ❖
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