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.
2022-2023 Georgia Bear Hunting Season
Bear Bag Limit:
Two bears per season, however, only one bear may be taken from the Central or Southern Zone.
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.
|County||2020 Harvest||2019 Harvest||2018 Harvest||3-Year Average|
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.
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.
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
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.