Middle Georgia Bear Hunt Nets Only One

John Trussell | January 19, 2020

The family leaves for a quick trip to Disney World and you can’t go because of work. How about slipping away for a few hours to bear hunt on a Saturday?

That was the situation that Quent Floyd found himself in on Dec. 21, 2019 when Houston, Twiggs and Bibb counties held their annual one-day private-lands bear hunt. The middle Georgia limit was one bear heavier than 75 pounds and no sows with cubs could be taken. Also, Oaky Woods and Ocmulgee WMAs were closed to bear hunting and act like a refuge for the bears.

Quent, 52, who is the principal of the Bleckley County Primary School, had never taken a bear but had seen a few on his Shellstone Creek Hunting Club located in Bleckley and Twiggs counties. Bleckley County is closed to bear hunting, but a section of the club is located in Twiggs County, and that’s where Quent parked himself in his box stand on the morning of the hunt.

About 10 a.m., he saw a nice bear easing through the bushes. When the bear got about 30 yards away, Quent decided to take the shot. He said the bear seemed to sense something was amiss and started to walk away. He whistled at the bear and then was able to take a neck shot, which dropped the bear cleanly with his Remington .308 rifle loaded with 150-grain soft-point bullets.

Quent Floyd, of Cochran, harvested this nice 214-lb. male bear in Twiggs County on Dec. 21 on the one-day bear hunt.

Now with the 214-lb. bear lying on the ground, Quent began to think about how he was going to get the large animal on his truck by himself. Fortunately, Quent was able to call up a couple of friends who helped him drag out the bear and get it to the Oaky Woods check station for weighing and registration.

It was his first bear, and he feels very lucky to have gotten the opportunity to bear hunt in middle Georgia. This was the only bear taken on the one-day middle Georgia bear season, a day that had threatening thunderstorms approaching, which may have deterred hunters from being in the woods that day.

Quent said he met with several Conservation Officers at the check station, who were very polite and professional, and he shared with them the GPS location of the kill site. As you can expect with any middle Georgia legal bear kill, the DNR Officers will closely inspect the kill site and general area to determine if the bear was legally killed and not near supplemental feed.

Unfortunately, several of the largest bears killed on past hunts in middle Georgia were confiscated and tickets written for hunting too close to bait. In the 2019-20 Georgia DNR Hunting Regulations booklet, it states on page 28, “It is unlawful for any person to hunt any game animal (except as noted for deer and feral hogs) or game bird upon, over, around or near bait.” You probably wonder what is too close to bait?

Georgia code 27-3-27 (updated 2018) says that it is “unlawful to use any type of bait to concentrate the bear population in an area or to lure them to any location which gives the hunter an unnatural advantage when hunting bear. Any person violating the provisions of this law is guilty of a high and aggravated misdemeanor and upon conviction, may be punished by a fine of not less than $500 and not more than $5,000 or confinement for a term not to exceed 12 months or both.”

The law is not specific to the distance the bait must be from the bear hunter, meaning that any distance can be considered illegal, says DNR Conservation officer Bo Kelly. This applies to both bear and turkey hunting on a statewide basis. He says that as a practical matter, Georgia DNR rangers use officer discretion and enforce a 200-yard from bait as a general guideline for bear hunters. That was a distance provided under the old deer-baiting law and is still in the minds of many hunters. This is not a hard issue to overcome for bear hunters, even though they are now allowed to legally hunt close to feed for deer and wild pigs. If you have feed in the woods and you’re not sure about the legality, call your local DNR law enforcement office and talk to your local game warden to make sure your bear-hunting stand location is legal in relation to any feeding stations on your property.

Just prior to the middle Georgia bear hunt, a bear was killed illegally that brings up another an important point to remember when hunting in central Georgia. While you are hunting for wild hogs, make sure you carefully identify your target so that you do not shoot a bear by mistake! Here’s a recent case to consider.

According to DNR Conservation Ranger Jason Bennett, he was on routine patrol on Dec. 10, 2019 in Twiggs and Bleckley counties when he noticed a bunch of buzzards hovering over a site, so he went to investigate. There he found a giant, 550-lb. dead bear that had been pulled into the woods and left for the scavengers. Using local sources and investigative procedures, Bennett tracked down two hunters who had been night hunting using night vision scopes for wild pigs in the area. The hunters told Officer Bennett that they fired at a dark blob that turned out to be a large black bear on Dec. 7. Rather than reporting the illegal kill, they dragged to bear into the woods and left it. It is illegal to hunt a bear out of season and illegal to kill one at night. The hunters were both written tickets for the illegally killed bear and await court disposition.

The lesson learned is to carefully identify your target before you pull the trigger! Hunters in middle Georgia will sometimes run across pigs and black bears on the same hunt and need to understand that if the animal is solid black with shiny fur, it’s probably a bear. Pigs come in an assortment of colors and are usually smaller. Not sure? Don’t shoot!

How is the middle Georgia bear population doing? After being nearly wiped out in Georgia’s pioneer days, the population is low but fairly stable, says Bobby Bond, a WRD biologist in the Fort Valley office. DNR Biologist Jenkins (1953) was the first to report on the population of middle Georgia bears and estimated it to be less than 40 bears. Later, Ken Grahl (1985) reported an estimate of 64 bears. Sanderlin (2009) derived seasonal estimates ranging from 106 to 213. Using data from 2012-13, Mike Hooker (2015) derived an abundance estimate of around 240 bears (140 females and 100 males) within a 250,000-plus-acre area. Using data from 2012-16, a re-analysis estimating the annual population size ranged from 309-439 bears. Given the range of estimates from the two separate analyses, DNR biologists believe that the actual population is between 240 and 368 and likely around 300 bears. Direct comparisons between these estimates are difficult because of different estimation methods used and various methods by which study areas were delineated.

Hunters sometimes report seeing a good number of bears in a location in central Georgia, which is good, but remember that feed can concentrate bears in an area and may not represent actual bear distribution in the larger general area.

Legal harvest in the three counties where bear hunting is allowed for the one-day hunt has averaged eight bears per season.

In 2018, 19 bears were road-kills in central Georgia, prompting this writer to request that the Georgia DOT put out bear crossing signs. Many people are unaware of the bears in central Georgia, and signs can only help the situation so travelers can be on the lookout for the bears dashing across roadways. The Georgia DOT had the signs out in early 2019.

Are the signs helping? In 2019, 12 bears were road-killed, a significant reduction from 19 in the previous year. My hats off to the Georgia DOT for their quick action! I would much rather see harvested bears turned into bear burger and a fine mounted bear on a hunter’s wall than end up as road-kill and hauled to the landfill.

In other bear matters, the Georgia DOT has plans to install bear/wildlife under-road travel corridors along Highway 96 from the Ocmulgee River to the Tarversville Highway 87 crossing, but that project is currently stalled. Currently about 8,000 cars travel Highway 96 per day, so it’s like Russian roulette for a bear trying to cross the road. Funds for the project were included in the regional transportation SPLOST that was voted down in 2108, so the project is in limbo but will probably be funded sometime in the future.

In summary, the growth rates of the central Georgia bear population may be lower than other populations and may fluctuate greatly from year to year. It’s a small, isolated population with no natural corridors to other populations, low genetic diversity relative to other populations and observed genetic defects (e.g., 7.5% of males from 2012-14 showing some form of cryptorchidism, a failure of one or both testicles to fully descend into the scrotum). This can make the male bear sterile.

These concerns, in combination with observed male-biased litters (17 males to nine females) and a slightly skewed female-biased historical harvest (1984-2017; 44 males: 55 females), justifies a conservative management approach for central Georgia bears, according to Georgia DNR. The transport of bears from north or south Georgia to the middle Georgia population was recommended by biologists to increase genetic diversity, but no action has been taken on the proposal.

The information explained here can be  found in greater detail in the report “Strategic Management for Georgia Black Bears 2018-2027.” It is written by Georgia’s most knowledgeable bear biologists, including Greg Balkcom, Adam Hammond, Greg Nelms, Bobby Bond, Kara Day, Scott Frazier, Drew Larson and Drew Zellner. It also covers the north and south Georgia populations and is well worth your time to read over if you are a Georgia bear hunter.

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