You can surf the web and find countless hunters writing about their success stories. What most people don’t realize is that, the people who are out their creating content to write about spend an extreme amount of time roaming the wildernesses in America looking for their target species. I recently read about a guy that packs and plans being in the backcountry 10-12 days on each hunt to maximize his chance at success. He packs his backpack with enough supplies for 5 days. If in those 5 days he is unsuccessful, he hikes back to the truck where he resupplies his pack and heads back out. Until you plan a backcountry hunt and see the amount of research and planning that is involved, it is really hard to appreciate the work and content that is being done. That is why I wish I could find countless articles of the hunts that were not good and were downright miserable instead of seeing the end product of a successful hunt. Sure, it makes for more notoriety and bragging rights. But if it was not for all the days of being miserable and contemplating if you know as much as you think you do, the success stories would never happen. Everything that is learned in life including hunting comes from other’s failures or your own. Even if someone gives you a great spot to go to and you’re successful with no issues, the guy that gave you the location or the one before him had to learn it the hard way. In my opinion, a lot of hunters today do others a disservice by not really sharing all they learned on a botched hunt. This is where my story begins.
I recently made it a goal of mine to put at least one black bear in my freezer at least every other year. I have eaten bear before and don’t tell anyone, but I like it just as good if not better than venison. The only downside to bear meat is that it has to be cooked to well done due to parasites and worms that use bears as hosts. So, after I set that goal for myself I started planning. I downloaded the OnX app and started looking at public land in North Georgia. To my surprise, there was a lot more public hunting land here in Georgia than I was expecting(an overwhelming amount actually). Seeing as there was more land than I could feasibly research in a timely manner, I narrowed my search to one northeastern county and went from there. After selecting the place where I would park and camp, I started getting all the gear and supplies together. I planned on camping mainly because I was unfamiliar with the area and was not sure of commute time between a hotel and where I wanted to hunt. After that, I called up a buddy and loaded up the truck and off we went.
It was late November before I was able to make the trip. I intended to go opening day of gun season which was mid-late October but due to work, I was forced to wait a month later. That was the first mistake and probably the most determining factor of our success. In all my knowledge and wisdom, which isn’t much, I assumed hunting would be easier as all the leaves had fallen which gives easier visibility, colder weather, and dwindling food sources which could concentrate animals such as bears. I won’t say it but we all know what they say about assuming.. was very much true in my case. On the first day as we were going down the forest service road to set up camp, we saw a coyote, which for whatever reason got my hopes up. Any time I go hunting anywhere and see game, my mind automatically assumes I am in a game-rich environment. It’s like going to the movie theatre and seeing the popcorn machine, you know or at least assume your in the right place. It was pitch black dark in the mountains by the time we made it to the end of the road so we decided to just sleep in the truck. That was another mistake made. I brought a tent and a sleeping bag which would have made for a better night’s rest. We even contemplated laying in the bed of the truck or even under the truck to be able to stretch out and get some rest. Regardless, we pushed through the first night.
The next morning I cooked a campfire breakfast and made coffee. We packed our bags with water, lunch, and a few snacks and started down the trailhead at daylight. It was a cool crisp morning which made for good walking weather. We were able to knock out a mile fairly quickly despite the terrain we were in. My game plan was simple, find bear signs or at the very least a food source. About 3 hours in we found what looked like old acorns that were starting to decay. No bear sign. The acorns really puzzled me on how this year’s acorns could already be decaying. Later on, I discovered that acorns in North Georgia drop much earlier than where I deer hunt primarily in Central Georgia. Seeing the acorns completely rotten took the wind right out of my sails. The first day I don’t remember seeing any living creature, not even a bird. One big misconception with large tracts of public land here in Georgia or out West is that remote areas are full of wildlife. It is truly an awesome and eerie feeling being miles away from civilization and the woods being completely silent. We pushed further and further in. We came upon a saddle that had several white oaks on it and we saw what appeared to be old bear sign although we couldn’t be for sure. After seeing the predicament I had got myself into I decided it was time for a new game plan.
Cell service was spotty but we got on a ridge that I had enough service to look at some more maps on my phone. I noticed there was what appeared to be a secluded farm a few miles away. I figured with dwindling food sources a bear may stay closer to agriculture. We started heading in the direction of the farm and the terrain changed drastically. We went from beautiful mountain scenery into mountain laurel valleys that were so thick you couldn’t see 3 feet in front of you. When we made it out of the laurel thicket we looked up at what appeared to be Mount Everest. We realized there was no way we could make it within a mile of that farm before it got dark. We hung our heads in defeat and returned to the truck.
Once we were back at the truck, we cooked supper, took a mountain bath(baby wipes), and looked at more maps. I noticed there was a Wildlife Management Area that was open for bear hunting about 20 miles away, so the next morning we loaded up and moved onto the WMA. After arriving it seemed to have good potential, so we again went out in search of a food source. To save you from the story of walking more miles through the mountains, I will just say, we found none. The rest of the trip was basically walking and pondering if I was as good of a hunter as I thought I was. On the last day as we were leaving the WMA, we noticed a man walking down the road with a trekking pole wearing safety orange. As we rode past him my buddy says, “I believe that was a game warden”. In my youth, those words would have made me nervous and uncomfortable but when I heard those words I quickly slammed on my brakes and asked him if he was a game warden. He replied, “I’m a wildlife tech with Fish and Game”. I replied, “Perfect”. The next half hour or so was purely me bombarding him with questions. Thankfully, he was a super nice guy and was willing to help and give me helpful information for the next time I come. I noticed he started every sentence with, “The next time you come..”, so I asked him about my current chances of getting a bear and the look he made with his face did not give me a vote of confidence. Apparently, we were way too late in the season, bears roam less and less and even stop feeding as much deeper into the winter. They do not hibernate, but they go into a state that I just simply call being lazy. After I soaked up as much knowledge as I could, we headed to the nearest town to get some food then came home.
So here is a recap of my lessons learned. Go earlier in the year due season changes in North Georgia happen sooner than the rest of the state. Drive-up in late summer to scout(I did drive up and scout the spot the previous summer with my girlfriend but going late in the winter negated all that work). Bring a climber and be prepared for all-day sits. Bring a book. Get a hotel(there is a lot to be said about a good night’s rest). I have no problem sleeping in a tent but it is just not necessary on this type of hunt with the proper planning. Then simply, enjoy being outdoors. I really don’t think most people in Georgia realize the massive amount of land at their disposal for hunting, fishing, and recreation. I will be going back this year and hopefully, I can meet my quota of one bear every other year. Stay tuned!
Last modified: March 10, 2020