HELENA — The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP) is now providing their Bear Identification Test online only.
"It has gotten to be challenging for us to deliver a hard copy version. There's a really low demand for those, and then we have to grade it and get it into the system. So, like a lot of our licensing functionality, it's just better customer service for us to be able to offer that online," said Greg Lemon, the Administrator of FWP's Communication and Education Division.
The test consists of 15 multiple-choice questions, and you must get 12 right to pass. Those who take it and fail can retake it as many times as they need.
Black bear hunters only need to pass the test once, but when buying their license every year, they need proof that they have passed the test and know the difference.
Grizzly bears have dish-shaped faces with a distinct forehead and nose, while black bears have sloped faces with a singular line from the forehead to the nose. Black bears have a flat back, but grizzly bears have a hump near their neck.
Contrary to popular belief, color, and size are not adequate identifiers.
Lemon said, "I've seen a blonde-black bear that was almost yellow in color, so they can be all sorts of different colors. They can have a little silver to them, so they look like a grizzly bear, just from a color standpoint, so color is not a good distinguishing feature, and neither is size. There can be some really big black bears, and there can be some small grizzly bears."
According to the Montana legislature, if a black bear hunter kills a grizzly bear, they could be fined no less than $500 and no more than $2,000, as well as facing possible jail time.
While FWP is offering the test online only, they will still make some exceptions for people without internet access.
"If people have issues and need to take the test and can't get internet access and can't get to a computer, give us a call, and we'll help them figure it out," said Lemon.
Spring black bear hunting runs from April 15 to June 15.
FWP offers a refresher course on its website for those who have already taken the test and plan on hunting black bears this spring.