Bruin Destinations

Georgia's Peach Tree Bruins

When it comes to hunting black bears, states in the Rocky Mountain West, the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, a handful in the upper Midwest, the Northeast, and Canada typically get most of the media attention. Statistically it makes sense. Black bears are found, are doing quite well, and are hunted in other regions and states but comparatively the populations are smaller and the hunting more highly regulated. This does not mean to say hunting them is not worth the time or effort.      

            A good case in point is Georgia. Prior to the eighteenth century, bears were common and found throughout much of the Peach State. Following the Civil War, habitat loss due to development and unregulated hunting saw the population plummet. By the start of the twentieth century only a few hundred remained, primarily in Georgia’s northern mountainous counties. In the early 1920s, the bear season was closed and remained closed for the next half century. During that period, bear numbers in Georgia increased. Finally, under a set of new regulations  and guided by modern management practices designed to increase the bear population, the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division (GWRD) opened a short, limited hunting season in 1979. 

            Today, Georgia’s bear population numbers are between 4,100 and 5,100 according to the GWRD, but that number is just an estimate. The population is thought to be increasing, bears are extending their range, and sightings are becoming more common outside core habitats.

Presently, three distinct regions (or bear zones) hold the vast majority of bears. Hunting bears is allowed in each of these zones but under different seasons, bag limits, types of hunting, and allowed weapon regulations. The largest zone with the largest number of bears is the northern mountain counties along and south of the Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina borders, with bears occurring as far south as Hall and Forsyth Counties. The bag limit is two bears, but hunting with hounds is prohibited except under special regulations on the Chattahoochee and Chestatee WMAs. The zone offers the largest amount of public land, largely in the form of the Chattahoochee National Forest. Bear hunting is allowed in most northern counties, but in recent years Dawson, Gilmer, Lumpkin, Murray, Rabun, Union, and White Counties produce a large portion of bears. Fannin, Habersham, Pickens, and Towns also produce their share.   

The second principal bear zone is in central Georgia along the Ocmulgee River drainage system in Bibbs, Bleckley, Houston, and Twiggs Counties. Since 2011, bear hunting is allowed only on private land, the season is limited to one day with firearms, the limit is one bear, and hunting bears on WMAs is prohibited. A second hunt may be set if a certain quota is not met. 

Georgia’s third principal bear range is in the southeast region, primarily in and near the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, the largest, intact, freshwater black water swamp in North America. The zone includes Brantley, Camden, Charlton, Clinch, Echols, Lowndes, and Ware Counties. The firearms season typically takes place over several days in September and October. The limit is one bear. Hunting with hounds is allowed except in Lanier and Lowndes Counties. 

Compared to some northern states, Georgia hunters don’t kill a lot of bears each year but the number is on par with several states in the middle and southern Appalachian regions that now have hunting seasons on the books. The record legal number was 690 in 2011. The take in 2018 was 638, but only 511 in 2019. In 2020, the latest year in which numbers are available, was 565. As they do just about everywhere, annual harvest numbers tend to rise or fall due to weather conditions, food availability, and other factors.  



Estimated Population: 4,100-5,100 +/-

Bag Limit: 2 statewide, but only one may be taken in the Southern and Central Bear Zones.

Hunting Area: Only in Northern, Central, and Southern Bear Zones. 

Spring Season: No

Fall Season: Yes

2023 Season Dates: Northern Zone-Archery-September 9-October 13
                                     Primitive-October 14-20
                                     Firearms-October 21-January 14
                                     Central Zone- Firearms-December 16
                                     Southern Zone-Firearms-September 21-23 and 28-30, October 5-7 and 12-14

Popular Hunting Methods/Particulars: Still hunting and hunting natural food areas. Baiting is prohibited in all bear zones. Hunting with dogs is legal in the Northern Bear Zone on the Chattahoochee and Chestatee WMAs under special regulation and in the Southern Bear Zones except Lanier and Lowndes Counties. Hunting with hounds is prohibited in the Central Bear Zone. Hunting bears on wildlife management areas (WMAs) in the Central Bear Zone is prohibited (private land only). All bears must be checked at designated locations after harvest—visit the GWRD website for locations and times. The killing of females with cub(s) or bears under 75 pounds is prohibited in all zones.

License Availability/Cost: By telephone, online, or from vendors statewide. Visit the GWRD web site for details.

Legal Weapon Types: Rifles, handguns, muzzleloaders, bow and arrows, and crossbows.

Contacts: Georgia Wildlife Resources Division, 1-800-366-2661,