Patrick Long

Hunting My First North Georgia Black Bear

This year I was fortunate enough to go on a pretty incredible hunt, and tagged my first black bear about 15 minutes from my home. Needless to say, it was a hunt I will never forget. From watching that tank of an animal walk through the woods, to processing it ourselves and eating it, it was like nothing I had ever done before. Now, one bear certainly doesn't make me an expert, so I don't have the secret tips for you to shoot a massive boar, but my experience can at least fill you in on what to expect once you do get on a bear based on what happened to me.

North Georgia Black Bears

hunting a georgia black bear

Just to preface a little, Georgia is not typically the place hunters go for quality bear hunting. Yeah, we have a few bears in a few counties, but there are not many homegrown bear hunters here. I only know one other person that has even killed a bear in north Georgia, and he shot his about a week after I shot mine.

There is a black bear season in 33 states, and around 40,000 to 50,000 black bears are harvested each year. From the state's 2020 harvest records, there were 565 black bears shot in Georgia. Of those, 338 were in the North Zone, five in the Central Zone, and 222 in the South Zone. Out of those bears in the North Zone, 255 of them were killed in just six counties. As for the county that I live in, there were only three bears killed. To say the least, bears are not something we see everyday in this neck of the woods.

As for the property I was hunting on, it is a family-owned spot that plenty of people have hunted for over 30 years. Nowadays it's just me and my dad that hunt over there, but throughout all of those years, not one person has even seen a bear. Dad and I have occasionally seen some bear sign, and even found some hair on a fence some years back. However, the only thing we regularly hunt on that property are ducks and deer. Setting up for bear was going to be a challenge, but I accepted it.

Planning the Hunt

My hunting property is made up of two things—a swamp, and then straight up and down hills. Before the swamp starts, we cleared out a target shooting lane with a sheet of tin to aim at on the far end. Over the years we have shot all sorts of guns in this area, and just weeks before my bear hunt we zeroed in our deer rifles there. My dad has shot a couple of deer in that area, and I remember rabbit hunting there when I was younger, but it was not a great hunting spot for most of the time my family has hunted it. None the less, that is where I sat when I shot my bear. If the spot wasn't all that great, why even sit there? I have another spot where I can see for a long way and I have shot deer there year after year, so why would I switch it up?

Well, the swamp was a little dryer than usual this year, so what is usually the edges of the swamp right next to the target was actually flat woods. It was also more open than average for that property, so my dad decided to hang a trail camera there the weekend before I planned to arrive for the hunt. On the first morning, which was a Saturday, both of us sat in our usual spots. Neither of us saw anything that morning, but we checked the camera on our way out to lunch. When we got to the camera, there were three new scrapes all within 15 yards of it!

When we checked the pictures when we got home, there were deer all over the place. There were plenty of bucks, and lots of deer movement. So we got excited and knew that we needed to go check it out. The funniest part is, I didn't even want to go hunting that Saturday evening; I planned on going back Sunday morning. I love to hunt and get a kick out of writing about it, but I am also a college student. I had plenty of work to get done, but after seeing those pictures, my dad convinced me to go back out that evening.

I was up and ready in my stand at 3:34 in the afternoon. I was in a tiny tree that was just big enough to hold me and my climber, and it was just barely inside the thin tree line. While I was in the stand, I was getting pictures from my cell camera on another property and sending them to my dad through text, saying I "picked the wrong stand lol". Man, was I wrong!

The Action

north georgia bear hunt

Patrick Long

At 6:07 pm on October 29th, I watched a 400-pound sow come out of a thicket and walk within 20 yards of me, with absolutely zero idea I was there. I texted my dad "Bear, not kidding," to which he simply replied "shoot it." I lined up and shot at the bear a total of three times with my bolt action Remington 700. The shots were so fast that my dad thought someone was shooting a semi-automatic rifle nearby. The first shot was perfect, right through the lungs and certainly fatal. Either the second or third shot went right through the spine, and she didn't go anywhere after that. I was not too keen on tracking a massive bear with only a couple hours of daylight left, so I was lucky to wind up with such good post-shot circumstances.

The bear laid there for a few moments, right in front of the trail camera I mentioned earlier. Then it sat up on its two front shoulders and made eye contact with me. By that time I was breathing real hard and trying to grasp the reality of what just happened, so there was nothing quiet or concealed about me. While we were still making eye contact, I shouldered my rifle one more time and made a finishing shot.

The Aftermath

north georgia bear hunt

Patrick Long

By the time the bear stopped moving, it was only about 15 yards from me. Of course, I waited on my dad to get there before I even thought about getting down from that tree. We were both in shock looking at this massive bear, because neither one of us has ever shot something so big or deadly. We circled the bear, ready to shoot it again, but there was no need.

After a quick photo session, we very slowly dragged the huge bear (only about a foot at a time) to the cleared-out shooting lane. Then we gutted it and turned our minds to getting it out of the woods, as we were losing daylight quickly. We eventually ratchet-strapped it to our biggest four-wheeler and eventually got it to the truck and trailer.

Skinning this bear out was a little odd. Their anatomy is nothing like a deer. I can remember cutting its front feet off, as I planned to mount it, and realizing how similar its wrist was to mine. We had a heck of a time hanging and skinning that massive bear, and it filled three coolers that typically fit two big deer in each.

Processing this bear was something else. We cut it into a lot of roasts, and even smoked some of it. The amount of fat on the bear was insane. At some points on the back legs. I estimated there was upwards of five inches of pure fat on it. In case you are wondering, bear meat tastes great. It is a lot like pork, or at least this eastern bear was. I know some people say bear meat is sweet, but I think that is a result of a western bear's diet and certainly wasn't the case for this bear.

I took the hide and skull to the DNR and they pulled a tooth and collected some hair. The tooth will tell them how old the bear is, and they do genetic testing on the hair to see how it relates to other bears, and to see if they can link a gene to any previously-sampled problem bears. I am waiting on my taxidermist, which will take quite a while, but I'm alright with that. It will be well worth it to memorialize my first black bear hunt in Georgia, one that I hope won't be my last!

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