Black bears are the most common bear species in North America, where they currently thrive despite historical setbacks. In Georgia, the practice of hunting these bulky mammals is alive and well. In fact, hunters in the Peach State have set some truly remarkable records in recent years. Read on to discover the largest bear ever caught in Georgia!
The Largest Bear Ever Caught in Georgia
The largest bear ever caught in Georgia was an adult male black bear weighing 673 pounds. Hunter Tim Watson shot it with a crossbow in Rabun County on September 30, 2017. Wildlife Technician Ryan Watts estimated the bear to be about 10-15 years of age based on the condition of its teeth.
Hunter Tyler Wood held the previous state record. He killed a bear in Clinch County in 2011 weighing exactly 600 pounds. Another hunter, Leta Carter, appeared to have broken this record in 2016 with her first kill, a black bear that initially registered as 601 pounds. However, when they weighed it on a different scale, it registered as 599 pounds.
Black Bear Types and Appearance
Georgia has one only species of bear, the American black bear (Ursus americanus). Individuals belonging to a black bear subspecies, the Florida black bear (Ursus americanus floridanus), occasionally wander into Georgia. Although there are two other species of bears in North America, the brown bear (Ursus arctos) and the polar bear (Ursus maritimus), they do not venture that far south. The grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis), a subspecies of brown bears, lives in the northern United States, Canada, and Alaska.
In Georgia, black bears are typically black, though some may have white markings on their chests. Uncommon phases (colors) include brown, cinnamon, and blond. These phases may lead observers to mistake black bears for grizzlies. The glacier bear (Ursus americanus emmonsii) is a rare subspecies of black bear with a bluish-grey pelt. Similarly, the spirit bear or Kermode bear (Ursus americanus kermodei) sports distinctive white fur.
Black bears in Georgia are four to six feet long on average with a shoulder height of approximately three feet. Adult male bears can weigh over 600 pounds; adult females are significantly smaller with a maximum weight of 300 pounds.
Black Bear Habitat
In Georgia, black bears inhabit three main regions: the North Georgia mountains, the state’s central Ocmulgee River drainage system, and the southeast Okefenokee Swamp. However, they may roam well outside these areas when searching for food. Their preferred habitat is mature mixed pine stands and other forests as well as swamps, though they are versatile enough as a species to survive in other habitats like scrublands and grasslands.
Black bears are common across North America, including the United States, Canada, and Mexico. In the US, they inhabit 40 different states such as Alaska, which has approximately 100,000 individuals.
How Many Black Bears Are There in Georgia?
Georgia currently has over 5,000 black bears. Before the 18th century, black bears were common throughout the state. Subsequent human development forced bear populations into decline as humans encroached on their natural habitats and hunted them to the point of near extirpation. Careful wildlife management has enabled black bears to thrive once more in Georgia. Today, North America has around 900,000 black bears, making them the most numerous bear species on the continent.
The IUCN lists black bears as Least Concern as of 2016. This reflects their increasing populations across North America.
Is It Legal to Hunt Black Bears in Georgia?
It is legal to hunt black bears in Georgia with a license. The state has three bear hunting zones: the Northern Zone, Central Zone, and Southern Zone. Hunters may take two bears per season except in the Central and Southern Zones, where they may take only one. Females with cubs and bears under 75 pounds are off-limits. See this hunting guide for regulations, seasons, and to buy a license.
Are Black Bears Dangerous?
Black bears kill less than one person across North America each year. In Georgia, bear attacks are so rare that the first one ever documented occurred in 2011. A wounded black bear attacked hunter Mitch Canaday, almost severing his right hand. However, Canaday escaped with his life and later noted that black bears are not typically interested in attacking humans. They usually do so when driven by hunger or directly provoked.
The best way to prevent a confrontation with a black bear is to keep your distance. Make noise while hiking in wilderness areas to avoid surprising unseen bears. Around the house, secure garbage cans and keep food well out of reach. Black bears can smell food from over a mile away and prefer human food as it is more calorie-dense. It may take a few days or even weeks after you remove food sources for a habituated black bear to stop coming to the area.
Because black bears are increasing in both size and number, conflicts with expanding human populations sometimes occur. For more information on black bears in Georgia and how to coexist with them, see this guide from Georgia Wildlife Resources Division.
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- GON Communities, Available here: https://gon.com/hunting/record-class-bear-from-south-georgia
- Vacation Wildlife, Available here: https://vacationwildlife.com/georgia-bears
- Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Available here: https://georgiawildlife.com
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- IUCN Red List, Available here: https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/41687/114251609
- Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Available here: https://georgiawildlife.com/bear-info
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