WARNER ROBINS -- A warm December may have contributed to a high number of black bears being killed this past Saturday.
That's when the annual one-day bear hunt in Middle Georgia was held, and 12 bears were killed. Only six were taken from hunts during the previous two years combined.
After extensive research on the bear population, the state estimates about 240 bears live in Middle Georgia.
The hunt is timed to coincide with when the bears are slowing down to prepare for hibernation, so as to reduce the number taken from the small population.
Bobby Bond, senior wildlife biologist for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, said the warm weather likely caused the number of kills to go up this year.
"This is the craziest December weather ever," he said.
He considers it an aberration, but if the number of kills is high again next year, the state may want to make changes to the hunt, he said.
The bears killed Saturday were taken to the check station at the Oaky Woods Wildlife Management Area.
Nine of the bears killed were females. The sizes ranged from 81 pounds to 223 pounds. Bond said he would prefer it if more males had been taken than females, but there is no good way for hunters to know a bear's gender until the kill is made.
John Trussell, a local advocate for protecting the bears, said he has concerns about the number of bears taken this year, but he supports the continuation of the hunt. He does advocate, as he has since the hunt started, that the state put a quota on the number of hunters allowed to participate.
"I've always encouraged caution with this small population," he said. "I want to see these bears around a long time."
Trussell said he also has concerns about hunters illegally using bait.
Robert Stillwell, a DNR game warden, said five people were ticketed Saturday for baiting. None of those were related to any of the kills. Wardens had spotted signs of baiting and staked out the locations, then wrote tickets when the hunters appeared.
The hunt began in 2011 with 34 bears taken. That raised some concerns about the pressure being put on the population. The next year 14 were taken.
Then in 2013 the state moved the hunt from November to December, closer to hibernation time. That resulted in only one bear being taken, with rainy weather that day also considered to be a contributing factor. Last year just five bears were taken.
Bond said bears seem to be more active this year as the state has been getting more complaints, particularly about the bears eating crops.
At one time the Middle Georgia bear population was roughly estimated at 300.
About a year ago a three-year survey of the population conducted by the University of Georgia put the number at 140, but that was later revised to 240 after further review of the data.
To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.