Hunters got their second chance at middle Georgia bear hunting on Nov. 10 in Houston, Bibb and Twiggs counties. In all, 14 bears, eight of which were females, were brought into the Oaky Woods WMA check station for data collection, according to Raye Jones, Oaky Woods area manager.
This was a private-properties’ hunt, so Oaky Woods and Ocmulgee WMAs were closed for bear hunting during the special one-day hunt. During the first hunt in 2011, 34 bears were taken, all in Twiggs County. This year, 13 bears were killed in Twiggs County and one bear was taken just inside Bibb County. So far, no bears have been harvested in Houston County. WRD Wildlife Biologist Bobby Bond said the bears varied in weight from 71 to 258 pounds.
The minimum legal weight on harvested bears is 75 pounds, said DNR Law Enforcement Sgt. Tony Fox, so one hunter received a ticket for killing an underweight bear. The lesson here is if you are not sure the bear is heavier than 75 pounds, don’t shoot, said Tony.
Also, this is the second year the biggest bear taken to the check station was proven to have been taken over bait. In 2011, the biggest bear taken weighed 436 pounds, and after an investigation it was confiscated. This year the biggest bear weighed 258 pounds, and it, too, was confiscated because the hunter was hunting too close to bait. Tony said DNR regulations prohibited bear hunting when the hunter is less than 200 yards or within sight of bait. There was a concentrated DNR Law Enforcement presence during the bear hunt, and many kill sites were inspected for violations, so Tony encourages all hunters to hunt lawfully and call their local DNR Law Enforcement office if they have any questions prior to hunting.
Bobby said he was pleased with the results of this year’s bear hunt. He is hopeful the new bear study that was started this past summer will help WRD get a better handle on the number of bears in central Georgia, as the current estimate is around 300. Mike Hooker, a wildlife-management PHD candidate at UGA, is working with students Casey Grey and Josh Sylvest to study population dynamics, den/reproduction trends to try and determine how the expansion of Highway 96 through the heart of central Georgia bear country might impact the bear population. Current plans call for fencing and road underpasses for wildlife movement.
One of the lucky hunters was 14-year-old Jacob Mullis, who was hunting family land in Bibb County. His dad, Earl, said they knew the bear was around because they had gotten a few trail-cam pictures of it in recent months. Jacob was hunting a food plot when the bear came rambling in, and Jacob scored with a good shot from his .30-06. Earl said the bear was thin and old with only a few teeth left in its mouth, but it will make a great bear rug.
Another lucky hunter was Christopher Sharon, a JSTARS pilot for the U.S. Air Force stationed at Robins Air Force Base. Christopher was primarily hunting for deer in Twiggs County. Christopher’s hunt got off to a rocky start when he discovered that he was too tall for the climbing stand he was using. So he moved to a nearby tower stand, but the wasps had decided to move in for the winter, so he could not stay there and soon left the stand. Faced with hunting from the ground with not much cover, he decided to be a little uncomfortable and return to the climbing stand. But then he started thinking that all his movement had probably run all the game from the area, so his outlook for the remainder of the afternoon hunt was not good. But sometimes good things happen to those who are patient and stick with the plan.
Late that afternoon, he saw a bear edging though the woods, and he picked out a spot about 2-feet wide where the bear might reappear. He was ready when the bear came through the spot and made the shot. The bear confirmed a good hit when it turned its head to bite the bullet wound on its rib cage, and Christopher then thought that maybe it’s better to be lucky than good. The sow bear weighed 111 pounds, but Christopher considered any legal bear a real trophy and is having the hide tanned and the skull bleached.
The future of middle Georgia bear hunting will be determined after WRD assess ongoing bear research and studies the input from the current 2-year cycle of public hearings on the 2013-2015 hunting regulations.