No Bears Killed On One-Day Middle GA Hunt

John Trussell | January 31, 2019

Zero bears were harvested in central Georgia during the annual one-day hunt. The middle Georgia bear hunt was held on private properties in Bibb, Twiggs and Houston counties on Jan. 12, but no bears were registered at the Oaky Woods WMA check station. 

A pile of rain fell in December, and the Ocmulgee River flood plain was under water for many days. Flood waters forced many bears to seek higher ground. This probably prevented hunter access to thousands of acres of land and decreased the harvest, along with low hunter participation. Although no bears were killed, several rifle shots were reported by hunters who were seeking deer and wild hogs during the last weekend of the deer season. The one-day hunt is subject to weather conditions, and the harvest has varied in recent years. During the 2018 middle Georgia one-day bear hunt, hunters killed two bears.

Despite the poor hunter harvest, the middle Georgia bear population experienced a record number of 19 bears killed by collision with vehicles during 2018, according to Bobby Bond, WRD wildlife biologist. Road-kills normally have ranged from 10 to 17 in past years. Thus, steel vehicle bumpers have been much deadlier than lead bullets, and the overall loss of bears to the general population has been fairly high for the small population in middle Georgia.

Unfortunately, a giant 564-lb. bear was killed on Dec. 21 near the Bleckley/Twiggs County line. A car was totaled, but no one was hurt.

This 564-lb. middle Georgia bear was killed by car on Dec. 21, 2018. A record 19 middle Georgia bears were killed by vehicles in 2018.

Most road-kills have occurred along Highway 96 at the 87/23 intersection around Tarversville in Twiggs County, which is the heart of the middle Georgia bear population. The area is plagued with heavy vehicle traffic moving toward Robins Air Force base, both very early in the morning and late in the day, which are prime bear movement times. Unlike deer, which have become accustomed to the traffic and sometimes feed along the roadways, bears are very nervous and skittish around traffic. They are sometimes seen dashing across the road, and they won’t stop for cars, so drivers must be very careful to watch for bears. There is no highway fencing along this section of road, so all wildlife can freely wander onto the roadway. In the future, when Highway 96 is expanded to four lanes, plans call for wildlife underpasses to allow for the crossing of bears and other critters, but that plan is probably years away.

Unlike the north Georgia bear population, which is robust and growing, according to Bond, the middle Georgia population may be stagnant or only growing slightly. A research project, under the direction of Mike Hooker of the University of Georgia, hopes to shed more light of the population dynamics of the middle Georgia bear population. Bear sows don’t normally breed until they are 3 to 4 years of age, and they stay with their cubs for two years before breeding again. Recent research has shown that a small percentage of middle Georgia male bears have cryptorchidism, where one or both male testicles fail to descend, which can lead to fertility problems. DNR is considering transporting some bears into the middle Georgia population to try to remedy this issue. Recent population studies have put the population anywhere from 140 to 458, but Bond says the working population is around 300 central Georgia bears.

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