Justin Sapp, of Cochran, is one patient bear hunter. Two previous years, he was on the stand many hours but never saw a bear. His luck changed Dec. 14. He was hunting his family property in Twiggs County, arriving well before daylight and prepared to spend the day on the stand. The morning was slow. He saw a couple of deer, but no bear.
Just before noon, he ate his sandwich and was texting his wife about Christmas presents when he saw a bear crossing a shooting lane at about 175 yards. Justin knew he only had a few seconds to get his rifle into position, but he got it done just before the bear reached the safety of the thick woods. It wasn’t long before Justin was at the Oaky Woods WMA check station to check in the bear.
It was the only bear killed on the third year of the middle Georgia one-day bear hunt on private land in Bibb, Twiggs and Houston counties. The harvest was down significantly, primarily due to a 100 percent chance of rain that hit hard about mid-afternoon. The first hunt in 2011 produced 34 bears, and the 2012 hunt saw 14 bears at the check station. The first seasons, this one-day hunt was held in November, but this year’s hunt was moved to December to help protect bear sows which comprised 50 percent of the previous harvest. Since sows do not reach sexual maturity until 3 years of age, a high harvest of bear sows is not advisable, says Bobby Bond, senior wildlife biologist.
At the Oaky Woods check station, UGA researchers pulled a tooth and determined that the 146-lb. live-weight bear was 2 years old. An ongoing bear study is expected to last two more years, but researchers say preliminary data shows that the current middle Georgia population is about 180 to 200 bears. Previous studies had the population at around 300 bears. After the data from the bear study is analyzed, WRD will make recommendations on the future of middle Georgia bear hunting, and the public will be given the opportunity for input. Next year’s one-day hunt is scheduled for Dec. 14.