Bear identification program

If you plan to hunt bear in any of 12 game management units (GMUs) in Washington state, you must successfully complete the WDFW bear identification test or equivalent test from another state and carry proof of successful completion. Those GMUs include 101, 105, 108, 111, 113, 117, 203, 204, 209, 215, 418, and 426.

Washington is home to both grizzly bears and black bears. Grizzly bears are rare in Washington, but a small population exists in the Selkirk Mountains of northeast Washington, and their presence has been documented in the Okanogan Highlands and the North Cascades.

A web graphic depicting some of the main physical differences between grizzly bears and black bears

Black bears, meanwhile, are abundant in the west, northeast and the Blue Mountains in southeast Washington. Approximately 25,000 black bears are estimated to occur within Washington. They are a game species and are hunted annually. In any given year, approximately 29,000 hunters take about 1,300 black bears.

Grizzly bears are a federally threatened and state-listed endangered species. Killing one, either unintentionally or intentionally, can bring extremely costly fines and penalties. As with other similar-looking game species such as elk, moose, caribou, mule deer, and white-tailed deer, Washington hunters are responsible for being able to tell the difference between black and grizzly bears. This knowledge and skill is especially important in areas where the ranges of these two bear species overlap.

Bear identification: male vs.  female

These videos provide tips on how to identify the difference between male and female black bears.

Bear identification test

The bear identification test has been approved by the Fish and Wildlife Commission and is now available in the WILD system. Hunters must login with their username and password and click the "Mandatory Species Identification Tests" link.

Hunters who purchase their bear license and tag will need to take the test if they choose to hunt in the identified GMUs.

Special thanks to the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) for creating this bear identification program. The IGBC was created in 1983 to lead the effort to recover the grizzly bear in the lower 48 states. Videos

Grizzly Bear – Black Bear Identification

In areas where both black bears and grizzly bears occur, it is critical for black bear hunters to be able to distinguish between black and grizzly bears before shooting. Grizzly bears are an endangered species, and killing one (inadvertently or intentionally) will result in extremely costly fines and penalties. This video, produced by BeBearAware shows how to tell if a bear is a grizzly or a black bear. Hunters are encourage to also take the bear identification course and quiz located above.

Hunting in Bear Country

Produced by the Center for Wildlife Information’s BeBearAware campaign ( , this 12-minute movie gives important advice for all users who recreate in areas where bears may occur. How to tell the difference between the common black bear and the rare grizzly bear, proper food storage techniques near camps, how to recognize bear sign, likely places for bears to occur, and how to avoid encounters are all covered in this production.

More bear identification and information resources