Ultimate Guide to Georgia Bear Hunting [2022]

Photo of a large Georgia bear taken with a crossbow.
Landy Bishop with a beautiful bruin she harvested on Cohutta WMA in 2017.

Looking for information on Georgia bear hunting? You’ve come to the right place! This ultimate guide will cover a little Georgia bear history, the three distinct bear populations in Georgia, and where to focus your efforts if you’re looking to harvest your first bear this season.

Bears have been hunted in Georgia since man first inhabited the Peach State. Over time, unregulated hunting and large-scale logging greatly reduced Georgia’s bear populations to just a few remaining isolated areas. That resulting decline in the bear population led Georgia to close its bear season in the early 1920s, and it didn’t re-open until 1979. 

Since that time, the population has grown, as has the annual bear harvest. Before we dive into Georgia’s bear hunting season dates and regulations, let’s first take a look at the three distinct bear populations in Georgia.

Georgia’s Three Bear Populations

The north Georgia black bear population (NGP) is the largest of three distinct populations of bears within the state and is part of the greater southern Appalachian bear population extending into North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and other southern Appalachian states farther to the north. Although bears may occasionally be seen anywhere in the state, the darker green areas on the map below are considered primary range, or known breeding range. The estimated north Georgia black bear population is around 3,000 animals.

The central Georgia black bear population (CGP) is restricted to the Ocmulgee River drainage, located along the Fall Line where the Piedmont and Upper Coastal Plain meet. CGP is the least abundant and most geographically isolated bear population in Georgia. The core areas for the CGP include Oaky Woods and Ocmulgee WMAs and much of the surrounding private, industrial forestland. In the past few decades, sightings of bears in central Georgia have increased. These sightings may be due to greater bear numbers and/or increased housing developments encroaching on bear habitat. The estimated black bear population in central Georgia is around 300 bears.

The south Georgia black bear population (SGP) is found mostly in and around the Okefenokee Swamp in Ware, Charlton, Clinch, and Brantley counties and along the Florida border in Echols county. An increasing trend in sightings and complaints has been observed along the border from Echols county west to Seminole county. There are occasional scattered sightings, mostly of individual male bears, in counties across the coastal plain. The black bear population in south Georgia is estimated to be around 800 animals.

Map of the three Georgia bear populations and Georgia bear hunting zones.
State of Georgia counties with primary (dark green) and secondary (light green) ranges of the North Georgia Bear Population (NGP), Central Georgia Bear Population (CGP), and South Georgia Bear Population (SGP), and 3 Georgia bear hunting zones-the North Bear Zone (blue), the Central Bear Zone (orange), and the South Bear Zone (turquoise)-in Georgia, USA, 2006-2017. American black bear (Ursus americanus) distribution data from Scheick et al. (2011) and Scheick and McCown (2014).

2022-2023 Georgia Bear Hunting Season

NORTHERN BEAR ZONE

The Northern Bear Zone includes Carroll, Fulton, DeKalb, Gwinnett, Walton, Barrow, Jackson, Madison, Hart, and all counties north.

  • Archery: Sept. 10, 2022 – Jan. 8, 2023
  • Primitive Weapons: Oct. 15-21, 2022
  • Firearms: Oct. 22, 2022 – Jan. 8, 2023

Restrictions: Hunting bears with dogs is prohibited except as specified for Chattahoochee & Chestatee WMAs.

Reporting:

  • Northern Zone bear hunters are required to have a Harvest Record for the current season.
  • Harvested bear (Northern Zone only) must be reported through Georgia Game Check within 24 hours.
  • Bear killed during bonus deer hunts must be reported through Georgia Game Check and are to be taken on day of kill to the check station where agency staff will tag the bear.
  • Within 3 business days, bears (minimum of hide and skull) must be taken to any Game Management Office (except Fitzgerald) for tagging.
  • Harvested bears may also be checked at any WMA check station in the counties listed above that are open for a bear or bonus deer hunt between 8 a.m. – 8 p.m.

CENTRAL BEAR ZONE

  • Firearms: Dec. 17, 2022

Bibb, Bleckley, Houston, and Twiggs Counties.

Restrictions: No hunting bears with dogs. No hunting bears on WMAs.

Reporting: Harvested bears must be checked and tagged at the Oaky Woods WMA check station between noon and 9 p.m. on the day of the hunt.

SOUTHERN BEAR ZONE

  • Firearms: Sept. 22-24, Sept. 29 – Oct. 1, Oct. 6-8, Oct. 13-15, 2022

Brantley, Camden, Charlton, Clinch, Echols, Lanier, Lowndes and Ware counties.

Restrictions: Hunting with dogs is allowed, except in Lanier and Lowndes Counties, where only still hunting is allowed.

Reporting:

Bears (minimum of hide and skull) must be checked and tagged at one of these locations:

  • Fargo Georgia Forestry Commission Office – Thursdays and Fridays 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.; Saturdays noon – 9 p.m., all hunt days
  • Folkston Georgia Forestry Commission Office – Thursdays and Fridays 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.; Saturdays noon – 9 p.m., all hunt days
  • Dixon Memorial WMA – Sept. 29-Oct. 1; 8 a.m. – 8 p.m.
  • After hours, call 1-800-241-4113, or 912-262-3173 on the following business day to report harvested bears and arrange tagging.

Bear Bag Limit:

Two bears per season, however, only one bear may be taken from the Central or Southern Zone.

Statewide Restrictions:

It is unlawful to kill a female bear with cub(s) or bears under 75 pounds. No hunting bears over bait.

Where to Bear Hunt in Georgia

North Georgia Bear Hunting

In North Georgia, bear hunters are fortunate to have plenty of private and public land to hunt. The table below highlights the bear harvest on private lands and national forests outside of Georgia’s WMAs. We’ll cover the WMA harvests in the next section. As you can see, the most recent data we have is from 2020. The Georgia DNR has not released 2021 bear harvest data at the time of this writing, so we’ll look at 2018-2020 to get an idea of which counties and WMAs consistently produce the highest bear harvests.

As you can see, there are a handful of counties that quickly jump out as your top destinations for Georgia bear hunting. Dawson, Gilmer, Lumpkin, Murray, Rabun, Union, and White counties all averaged 25 or more bears per season. Fannin, Habersham, Pickens, and Towns all posted respectable harvest numbers as well.

County2020 Harvest2019 Harvest2018 Harvest3-Year Average
Banks1100.67
Barrow0000
Bartow6012.33
Carroll0000
Catoosa0010.33
Chattooga0000
Cherokee2384.33
Cobb0000
Dade0010.33
Dawson34233831.67
Dekalb0000
Douglas0000
Fannin9101812.33
Floyd0000
Forsyth1010.67
Franklin0000
Fulton0000
Gilmer44373739.33
Gordon3485
Gwinnett0000
Habersham17113721.67
Hall0051.67
Haralson0000
Hart0000
Jackson0000
Lumpkin51265744.67
Madison0000
Murray51192933
Paulding0000
Pickens15162719.33
Polk0000
Rabun18164125
Stephens2042
Towns11112515.67
Union23193726.33
Walker3312.33
Walton0000
White52164537.67
Whitfield0010.33
County SubTotal343215422326.67
Graph of the north Georgia bear harvest from 1979 to 2017.

Central Georgia Bear Hunting

Since 2011, bear hunting in central Georgia is only permitted on private land in the few counties highlighted above. That means unless you have access to private land in the area through permission or a lease, you won’t be able to participate.

The central Georgia bear season lasts just one day in mid-December, and there’s a one bear limit. The average harvest in eight bears, but that has varied from one up to 34.

Graph of the central Georgia bear harvest from 1984 to 2017.

South Georgia Bear Hunting

The south Georgia bear hunting season began in 1981 with a 3-day hunt on Dixon Memorial WMA. Three counties opened for two days of firearms hunting with dogs in 1983. Eventually five counties were opened for six days of hunting. Hunting was discontinued on Dixon Memorial WMA from 1990-1997 due to the number of females in the harvest in previous years.

Hunting opportunity has slowly increased with the addition of counties and hunt days. Current hunting opportunity includes 12 firearms hunt days in late September to early October, with dog hunting allowed in five of the seven open counties; three archery hunt dates, six primitive weapons dates, and three still-hunt-only firearms dates on Dixon Memorial WMA; and 12 archery hunt dates on two WMA/VPA properties.

Since 2013, the bear harvest in south Georgia have averaged between 100 and 150 bears.

Graph of the South Georgia bear harvest since 1981.

Georgia Bear Hunting Licenses and Permits

To legally bear hunt in Georgia, you will need a Georgia hunting license, big game license, and harvest record. So if you have all your credentials for deer hunting, you are legal for bear hunting as well. You can purchase the necessary licenses and permits on Georgia DNR’s website.

Legal Weapons for Georgia Bear Hunting

In Georgia, you can hunt bears using the same weapons legal for deer hunting. You can find that information here: Legal Weapons for Georgia Deer Hunting

Georgia Bear Hunting Podcast Episode

Summary

If Georgia bear hunting is on your bucket list, there’s no better time than now to start planning. There are great opportunities within a reasonable drive no matter where you live in the state. If you don’t have access to private land in the central bear zone, there are plenty of public land opportunities in north Georgia, and a few in south Georgia as well.

If you have a Georgia bear hunting story you’d like to share, whether successful or not, we’d love to hear about it in the comments section below.