Ursa Major Outfitters is owned and operated by Sali and Shan Cunningham, both licensed hunting and fishing guides in Nova Scotia, Canada. While they guide for all types of fishing and hunting, they specialize in black bear hunting, hosting clients each year from all over the world.
They both have strong conservation ethics and closely monitor and intensively manage bear numbers in the areas they hunt to ensure a healthy bear population for many years to come.
Salli and Shan recently shared their best-kept secrets for maximizing the bountiful resources of a bear harvest.
“Once a bear is shot, we firmly believe in utilizing every usable part of the animal. The only unusable parts of a bear are the stomach, lungs, and intestines. Everything else has value.
The most important part to remember after killing a bear is to get that meat cooled as quickly as possible. Because of a bear’s natural insulation and makeup of the meat, it needs to wind up in a cooler as soon as possible.
When the bear is field dressed, always save the heart and liver. These are two of my favorite parts and the first part of the bear I cook. My favorite way to prepare the heart is to bake it, let it cool, and then thinly slice it for sandwiches. The liver best is sliced thin as well and then fried in butter with onions.
Nova Scotia is one of the few places in the world that allows a bear’s gall bladder to be kept, which has many uses in traditional Chinese culture and is valued for various purposes worldwide. Nova Scotia has a special process in place that involves registering and tagging bears in compliance with a system that allows for the legal and regulated sale of bear galls, so we keep those here.
After prioritizing the meat, our focus turns to the fur as the bear is skinned immediately after getting it out of the woods. From there, the hide is either sent to the taxidermist for a mount or rug or is fleshed, dried, and sent to the fur auction to be sold.
We first boil our bear skulls, flesh them out, and then bleach and de-grease the skull before allowing the trophy to dry. We even use the head meat, tongue, and brains and mince them into dog food after the boiling process.
The most versatile part of a bear is the fat, which is cut off the carcass immediately after skinning to allow the meat to cool. This fat is then frozen before being rendered down to make bear oil and tallow. This rendered tallow has multiple uses. Sali utilizes this by making her own signature soaps, lip balm, beard balm, and cooking. She also uses bear claws to make custom jewelry.
We only hang the meat in a cooler for about 24-48hrs and then it is butchered with the cuts similar to a pig. Bear meat has a very similar texture to pork but a flavor more in line with beef. My favorite cuts of bear meat are roasts, chops, and burgers.
While the ground bear meat can be used as a substitute in any dish you would use ground beef in, we love doing even more with it. We make numerous types of sausages, along with pepperoni, egg roll stuffing, and donairs – a quintessential Nova Scotian dish made of meatloaves mixed with spices, and then baked, sliced, fried, and served on pita bread with onions and a sweet, sticky sauce.
The only difference in cooking with bear meat is to make sure that you get it up to a minimum internal temperature of at least 165° to eliminate any potential risk for trichinella. As long as you use common sense when cooking, this shouldn’t be an issue.
Utilizing every usable part of the animals that we hunt is something we should all be striving for. Trying different recipes with bear meat and using the fat for practical crafts has been the best way for both Sali and me to maximize each bear we’re lucky enough to harvest”.
For more information on Ursa Major Outfitters, check out their website. Reach out for details on a hunt, questions about their favorite bear recipes, or shop for your own bars of bear soap.