HomeOutdoorsNewsThe Largest Grizzly Bears Ever Recorded Were True Giants

The Largest Grizzly Bears Ever Recorded Were True Giants

by Jon D. B.
largest grizzly bear ever
Grizzly bear named Nakina is seen in an enclosure at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, Montana. (Photo by Natalie Behring for the Washington Post)

As U.S. records show, the largest grizzly bear ever documented was a true behemoth. Yet it doesn’t hold a candle to the brown bear record-holder.

First things first: When talking records or anything grizzlies, its important to know what makes a grizzly a grizzly as opposed to another brown bear. As Katmai National Park Ranger Cheryl Spencer explains, “All grizzly bears are brown bears. Grizzlies are simply a sub-species of brown bear. So they’re all Ursa arctos. The difference is basically where the bear lives.”

In short, a proper grizzly is a brown bear that lives in interior lands. “Whether that’s Alaska or other places, ‘grizzlies’ don’t have access to coastal resources. They live inland,” Ranger Spencer cites. Whereas brown bears, like the behemoths of Katmai’s Fat Bear Week, “do have access to these coastal resources.”

All of the above is pertinent information when looking up records online for the largest grizzly bear ever, because many brown bear records are attributed to grizzly bears when they shouldn’t be. Brown bears tend to be larger than inland grizzlies, too. You’ll find record-holding grizzlies and browns separate below as a result, each pulled from reputable documentation only.

The Largest Grizzly Bears Ever Recorded (Ursus arctos horribilis)

In total, there are only six entries to the state of Montana for grizzly bears, as the species has been protected since 1975 (two years after the introduction of the Endangered Species Act). Regardless, Montana provides official historic documentation of their brown bears, which are true inland grizzlies. For these reasons, the state is the most reliable source of record holding grizzly bears.

  • Largest grizzly bear ever recorded in Montana: 25 9/16 skull measurement
    • This grizzly was taken from the Missouri River Breaks in 1890 by E.S. Cameron. The skull of this bear currently resides at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. (source)

As the top record illustrates, grizzly bear records are documented by their skull measurements. These are denoted as points. While this allows for the scoring of older discoveries, it doesn’t provide official measurements for the largest grizzly bears. For this, we look to Montana’s third largest on record, as contenders for second place are disputed:

  • Third largest grizzly bear recorded in Montana: The Lincoln Grizzly
    • Montana’s “Lincoln Grizzly” is on permanent display at the Lincoln Ranger District office. In life, he was a healthy 12-year-old male weighing in at 830 pounds. He would would have stood approximately 8-feet-tall before he was killed by a vehicle on Highway 200 five miles west of Lincoln. (source)

While tall tales of 1,200 pound grizzly giants persist, the weight of the Lincoln Grizzly reveals a more realistic measurement. The brown bear species does reach far larger size, but the majority are coastal brown bears (which, again, are larger than grizzlies).

The Largest Alaska Brown Bear Ever Recorded (Ursos arctos middendorffi)

When it comes to brown bears at large, the biggest ever recorded come from Alaska. There, a unique, titanic bear population has grown through 12,000 years of genetic isolation in the state’s Kodiak region and islands. And as the record holder shows, the brown’s skull holds a whopping 5-inches over Montana’s largest documented grizzly:

  • World’s record Alaska brown bear: 30 12/16 skull measurement
    • This brown bear was taken near Kodiak’s Karluk Lake in late May 1952.
    • “The immense bear was shot by Roy R. Lindsley, who was a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee based in Kodiak. He worked in cooperation with a scientific expedition headed by Melville N. Lincoln, which was sponsored by a habitat group affiliated with the Los Angeles County Museum.” – Boone & Crocket Club

For an indication of overall size, we turn to Robert Steed’s April 2013 record holder. With a skull score of 28 4/16, “its hide squared over 9 feet, and biologists in Alaska estimated this gigantic bruin was more than 20 years old,” cites hunter and naturalist John McAdams of The Big Game Hunt.

In kind, Alaska’s all-time record holder probably stood between 9-and-10-feet on its hind legs in life. That is a true giant, and easily one of the largest bears – brown or grizzly – to ever live.

For an in-depth look at the difference between grizzlies and browns, see our National Parks Journal: Katmai Ranger Cheryl Spencer Explains the Difference Between Brown and Grizzly Bears next.