500 Pound Middle Georgia Bear Killed During One-Day Hunt

John Trussell | December 22, 2020

Patience paid off for bear hunters in the annual one-day bear hunt on private lands in Houston, Twiggs and Bibb counties on Dec. 19 as seven bears were brought into the Oaky Woods WMA check station.

The hunters sat on the stand all day, counting squirrels, birds and a few deer, but no bears were seen until the sun started to set. The morning was cold at near 28 degrees, but as the day warmed up, the bears started to move.

The biggest bear taken during the hunt was a 425-lb. male boar that was in excellent health with a bright and shiny black hide. The bear was killed on the Southern Acres Hunting Club in Houston County off Highway 247. The bear was shot at 5:10 p.m. by Donald Wainwright, a building contractor from Live Oak, Fla., as it eased into a clearing. Wainwright was hunting with six other hunters on the property, but he was the only one to see a bear.

Donald Wainwright, of Live Oak, Fla., killed this 425-lb. field-dressed boar with a 50-caliber air-powered rifle.

The boar was field-dressed before it was brought into the check station as Wainwright and his hunting buddy, Trey Peppers, found the huge bear very difficult to move. Live weight on the bear was probably around 500 pounds. The Pennsylvania Game and Fish Commission uses a table that takes the bear’s dressed weight, multiplies it by 1.18% to arrive at the estimated live weight. Based on that formula, this bear probably weighed about 501.5 pounds. Not only was this the biggest bear, but it was also killed with the most unusual weapon.

Wainwright shot the bear with an Airforce brand air rifle in 50 caliber, using a 475-grain lead bullet. These rifles are newly legal in Georgia and are attracting a strong following in the hunting field. The air rifle uses compressed air to propel bullets to lethal velocities. Wainwright has already taken 10 wild hogs with the rifle in 2020, but this was his first bear, which he considers the trophy of a lifetime of hunting. He is considering having a full body mount made of the bear.

Devin Jenkins, of McDonough, checked an item off his bucket list when he dropped a 200-lb. male bear in Twiggs County on the Promised Land Hunting Club off Old Richland Church Road. He shot the bear with a .308 Winchester at 193 yards as it walked down a path into a clover and wheat food plot. Another Twiggs County bear, a 202-lb. female, was taken by Brian Osburn, of Dublin, on 175 acres of family land off Westlake Road.

Devin Jenkins, of McDonough, killed this 200-lb. boar in Twiggs County off the Promised Land Hunting Club.

John McWhorter, of Kathleen, who works at Robins Air Force base, killed a 172-lb. sow on the Oaky Woods Hunting Club in south Houston County with a .300 Weatherby rifle as it came into a clearing in some pines trees. His hunting buddy, Jesse Wynne, helped him get the bear out of the woods.

John McWhorter (right), of Kathleen, killed this 172-lb. sow bear on the Oaky Woods Hunting Club in Houston County. Jesse Wynn (left) helped with the transport.

Brian Gillespie was hunting on the Bear Creek Hunting Club south of Highway 96 near Tarversville when he killed a 174-lb. sow. He was hunting in a stand that looked into a hardwood bottom when the bear walked out at 5:10 pm, and he downed it with a .270 Winchester slug. Three other hunters on the club saw bears that day, one of which was shot but not recovered. Gillespie’s son Camden had seen a big male bear the day before the hunt, but it failed to show up on hunt day.

Brian Gillespie got this 174-lb. sow bear on the Bear Creek Hunting Club in Twiggs County. His son Camden is in the background.

Another bear was taken, but when Georgia DNR Rangers Jason Bennet and Erin McDade questioned the hunter about the circumstances of the kill, it was determined that the bear was taken illegally over bait. The bear was confiscated and delivered to Georgia’s Best Deer Processing in Byron, where it will later be donated to the Hunters for the Hungry Program. The hunter said he was unaware that you could not legally bear hunt within 200 yards of bait. Rangers strictly enforce this regulation, thus if you kill a bear on this hunt, you can be helpful by providing a GPS location of the kill site, and you may be asked to escort rangers to that location.

Georgia DNR Biologist Bobby Bond says that the middle Georgia bear population, estimated to be around 300 bears, is probably the smallest bear population where hunting is allowed in the USA. Prior research has determined that no more than 11 bears sows should be taken from the population in any single year in middle Georgia or the population could decline. This 11-bear sow loss includes all sow losses, whether from hunter harvest, road-kills or other loses.

While this writer was at the Oaky Woods WMA check station for the bear hunt, I told Area Manager Tommy Shover that a rabbit hunting friend, Bill Bethune, of Monroe County, had run across a recently killed bear on Ocmulgee WMA across the river from Oaky Woods. He wanted to know exactly where the dead bear was located, and we were able to provide that information. Shover was later able to locate the carcass. The bear will count in the loses for 2020. Shover guessed that a deer hunter failed to carefully check his target and probably thought it was a wild pig. Realizing his mistake too late, and facing a large fine, the hunter left the bear in the woods. Shover recommends that all hunters carefully identify their targets before they pull the trigger. If you run across a dead bear in middle Georgia, report it to the Fort Valley WRD office at 478.825.6354.

In 2020, there have been 10 road-kills in middle Georgia, and eight of those were males, one female and one of unknown sex. With one road-kill sow and seven taken during the one-day hunt, Bond says the population should be fine for now, but WRD will continue to monitor the bear population.

The one-day middle Georgia hunt has seen changes since it started in 2011. The initial hunt took place in mid November, and 34 bears were killed.

Due to concerns about the high harvest of female bears, the hunt was moved to December. Sow bears are the driving force of the population, especially in a small population, as bears don’t normally breed until they are 3 years old, and a sow will stay with her cubs for two years.

Numbers of dead bears since moving the hunts to colder weeks have been 2012 (14), 2013 (1), 2014 (5), 2015 (12), 2016 (10) 2017 (GON not able to reach WRD when this article was published), 2018 (2), 2019 (0) and 2020 (7).

Check out WRD’s Management Plan For Bears in Georgia that covers north, middle and south Georgia populations. The 2021 middle Georgia bear hunt dates have not yet been set, but it’s expected to be mid to late December 2021.

Brian Osborn, of Dublin, with his 175-lb. sow bear from Twiggs County.

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