Jeff Mitchell had taken lots of game animals over the years, but when a black bear stepped out into the food plot at 6:05 p.m. on Jan. 13, it was something very special. He said he felt a quickened pulse and a nervousness in his fingers that he had not felt for several years of hunting, hoping the opportunity would not slip away.
The unsuspecting bear eased through the food plot and gave Jeff the chance to center his scope on the bear’s chest. When he sent the .270 Winchester slug on its way, the bear quickly dropped but popped back up, trying to escape. But a second anchoring shot finished the story. Jeff had his first-ever bear, and he was pretty excited.
After a round of photos, the bear was taken to the Oaky Woods WMA check station so that Georgia WRD staff could gather important biological information. The bear was a 140-lb. female and was taken in Twiggs County on the Bear Creek Hunting Club.
The majority of bears taken on the one-day central Georgia bear hunt have come from Twiggs County, with a few from Houston County and only one from Bibb County since the hunts started in 2011.
Jeff is from Atlanta and owns Mitchell Metals, where he specializes in custom awnings and coverings for schools and businesses.
The 2018 middle Georgia bear hunt was held on Saturday, Jan. 13, and just two bears were killed by lucky hunters. That one day, black bears are allowed to harvested on private properties in Twiggs, Houston and Bibb counties. The limit per hunter is one bear heavier than 75 pounds, and bears with cubs are protected. No bear hunting is allowed on Oaky Woods or Ocmulgee WMAs, thus these areas act as a refuge for the bears.
The other bear was taken by Jay Bonney in the western part of Twiggs County on private land near Adams Park Road. Jay got invited to hunt on a lease and was expecting a wild pig to show itself but was aware of the chance for a bear and was ready for the opportunity.
He had only been on the stand for 30 minutes when the bear eased into the small green food plot. The bear was big enough, and he slowly pulled the trigger of his .30-06 and sent the 150-grain Remington Core-Lokt bullet on its mission. The bear quickly dropped, and Jay had harvested his first bear, and he was one very happy hunter. The bear meat was processed, and the hide was taken to a local taxidermist, so it could be converted into a rug.
Jay works at Mercer University in Macon, where he deals with Student IDs and security systems.
Jay and Jeff are a growing group of Georgia hunters who have been successful in pursuing home-grown Georgia bears. The north Georgia bear population is robust with a limit of two bears per season, while the bear population in south Georgia near the Okefenokee Swamp is stable with multiple days of hunting and a limit of one bear.
The middle Georgia bear hunt is held with the state’s smallest population, with a limit of one bear during a one-day hunt. The current estimated bear population is 458 bears across 217,770 acres in central Georgia. The middle Georgia population estimate has varied in recent years.
In 2015, after three years of study, University of Georgia’s Warnell School of Forest Resources estimated the bear population was only 140 bears. However, researchers later re-analyzed the same data, using different mathematical models, and estimated 240 bears. The latest estimate, using a more liberal statistical model and a larger geographical area, estimates the population at 458 bears. However, the population may be down a bit from previous years, according to Kevin Kramer with WRD, who says that bear nuisance complaints are down, which usually indicates less bears roaming around into human populated areas.
The one-day middle Georgia hunt has seen changes since it started in 2011. The initial hunt took place in mid November, and 34 bears were killed.
Due to concerns about the high harvest of female bears, the hunt was moved to December. Sow bears are the driving force of the population, especially in a small population, as bears don’t normally breed until they are 3 years old, and a sow will stay with her cubs for two years, according to Kramer.
Although this year’s harvest was low with only two bears, there were other losses to the population that are of concern. In 2017, a total of 17 bears were reported as road-kill, and one was mistaken for a wild pig. This number is defined as a significant yearly loss, according to Bobby Bond, WRD biologist.
The annual one-day hunt was moved to January this season, so that more sow bears might be denning. However, the number of dead bears on these hunts is still highly dependent on weather conditions, said Kramer.
Saturday, Jan. 13 was a cold, windy day, which probably limited bear activity in the morning, but some bears were moving in the afternoon, which was when both bears were taken.
With all the acorns gone in January, hunting green food plots is a good strategy. The bears will feed in these areas when food sources are limited.
The next middle Georgia bear hunt is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019.
The middle Georgia Bear hunt is a unique opportunity to harvest a special game animal, so start making plans.