Jul 01 2015
By Al Raychard
Estimated Population: 5,000-5.100
Bag Limit: 2, but only one may be taken in the Southern and Central Bear Zones
Hunting Area: Northern Bear Zone-29 counties-Banks, Barrow, Bartow, Catoosa, Chattooga, Dade, Dawson, Fannin, Floyd, Forsyth, Franklin, Gilmer, Habersham, Hall, Hart, Jackson, Lumpkin, Madison, Murray, Pickens, Rabun, Stephens, Towns, Union, Walker, White and Whitfield.
Central Bear Zone-Bibb, Houston and Twigs Counties\
Southern Bear Zone: Brantley, Charlton, Clinch, Echols and Ware Counties.
Spring Season: NO
Fall Season: Yes
2014-2015 Season Dates: Northern Zone-Archery-September 13-October 10
Firearms-October 18-December 7
Central Zone- Firearms-December 13
Southern Zone-Firearms-September 25-27
Popular Hunting Methods/Particulars: Still hunting. Hunting with bait is prohibited in all bear zones. Hunting with dogs is prohibited in the Northern and Central Bear Zones; hunting with dogs in the Southern Bear Zone is allowed. Hunting bears on wildlife management areas (WMAs) in the Central Bear Zone is prohibited-private land only. All bears must be check at designated locations after harvest. (Visit the GWRD web site for locations and times). The killing of females with cub(s) or bears under 75 pounds is prohibited in all zones.
License Availability/Cost: By telephone, on-line or from vendors statewide. Visit the GWRD web site for details.
Legal Weapon Types: Rifles, handgun, muzzleloaders, bow and arrow and crossbows.
Contacts: Georgia Wildlife Resources Division, 1-800-366-2661, www.georgiawildlife.com
When most hunters think about hunting black bears northern locations generally come to mind. But bear numbers are increasing in the south. In nearly every case bears had been absent for decades due to loss of habitat by human development and unregulated hunting. The hunting of bears is still prohibited in many, but along the southern Appalachians and westward more states have put bears on the legal hunting list in recent years as bear populations increased. Even in those states numbers continue to rise despite increasing harvest figures. In some states where bears are still protected, game managers are pondering ideas how to control increasing numbers and increasing nuisance and human/bear contact complaints. In a nutshell, throughout much of the south black bears are doing extremely well.
A good case in point is Georgia. Prior to the eighteenth century bears were common and found throughout much of the Peach State. Following the Civil War habitat loss due to development and unregulated hunting saw the population plummet and by the start of the twentieth century only a few hundred remained, primarily in Georgia’s northern mountainous counties. In 1979 the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division (GWRD) started managing the bear harvest through a short, limited hunting season and a number of regulations designed to increase the bear population. In the nearly forty years since then the measures have done just that.
Today, Georgia’s bear population numbers at least 5,000 according to the GWRD, but that number is just an estimate. Although the population is thought to be increasing and bears are extending their range and sighting are becoming more common outside core habitats three distinct regions hold the vast majority of bears.
The largest number, about 4,000, up from about 1,200 in 2009 is known to exist in core habitats in the northern mountain counties along the Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina borders with bears occurring as far south as Hall and Forsyth Counties. Bears have also been seen in suburban Atlanta.
The second principal bear region is in central Georgia along the Ocmulgee River drainage system. The GWRD previously put the population in the region at 300 but a three-year study recently concluded by the University of Georgia School of Forestry and Natural Resources and GWRD south of I-16 put the number at 140, the smallest bear population in the state. The study will now focus on bear numbers north of that highway which may very well put the number close to the 300 mark.
Georgia’s third principal bear range is in the southeast region, primarily in and around the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, the largest, intact freshwater and black water swamp in North America. Population estimates put the number of bears in southeast Georgia at 700 to 800 but recent studies suggest bears are dispersing eastward and southward away from urban centers.
With all said and done bears in Georgia are doing rather well and as a result hunting opportunities have increased in these core areas. For a number of years hunters competed for permits to participate in a quota hunt on the Ocmulgee Wildlife Management Area in Twiggs and Bleckley Counties in the central region. The hunt was eventually moved to December when bears are more active. In 2011, however, the GWRD created a one-day hunt on private property in Bibb, Houston and Twiggs Counties.
The central zone bear hunt is not without controversy. In 2011, 34 bears were killed, 14 in 2012 and just one in 2013, due to heavy rains. Due to the high harvests and considering the central zone is home to the smallest bear population in the state and is facing increasing pressures from development and fragmented habitat the GWRD may restructure the hunt, perhaps back to a quota system .
Georgia’s southeast bear zone now covers five counties and the season takes place over three two day periods starting in late September into October. And the northern bear zone now covers 29 counties and hunters can partake of an archery, muzzleloader or firearms season. In 2011, the limit was also increased to two bears but no more than one may be killed in the southern or central bear zones.
Compared to some northern states Georgia hunters don’t kill a lot of bear each year but the number is on par with several states in the middle and southern Appalachian regions that now have hunting seasons on the books. The record number was 529 in 2011 with 512 killed in 2012. Annual harvests tend to rise or fall due to weather conditions and considering baiting is prohibited the availability of natural foods. The fact bear hunting is also limited to certain counties may also be a factor.
The vast majority of bears annually come from Georgia’s northern bear zone with Rabun, Habersham, Towns, White, Lumpkin, Union, Gilmer, Fannin and Murray Counties typically leading the way. Within these counties are more than 20 wildlife management areas covering over 400,000 acres open to bear hunting. The Cohutta WMA covers 96, 503 acres in Fannin, Gilmer and Murray Counties has been a top producer. Other good public hunting grounds include Cooper’s Creek WMA, Rich Mountain WMA, Blue Ridge WMA, The Chestatee WMA, the Dawson Forest WMA, Swallow Creek WMA and the Chattahoochee WMA in White County. Areas within the 750,000 acre Chattahoochee National Forest not WMAs also offer plenty of room to hunt.
Maps of Georgia’s wildlife management areas will be found on the GWRD web site.