One day he told his brother he had never seen a bear in his neck of the woods, Tony Schneider got video of one passing just 50 yards from his Matthews, Ga., home.
“We were on our way back from Magnolia Springs State Park where we were working on an Eagle Scout project and he asked me if we had bears,” Schneider said. “I told him that I had heard of bears on the other end of the county and bears up around Lincolnton, but I had never heard of any around us. The next day I opened up the camera and there it was.”
The camera, he said, is set near a two-man deer stand in the woods just 50 yards from his home. Brushy Creek is less than 100 yards from that stand.
“He came through around 10 a.m. so it was out in the day time, just running down the creek,” Schneider said. “I guess it was just passing through.”
While he regularly gets pictures of deer, squirrels, rabbits and every now and then a bobcat or coyote, he said this was the first sign he has seen of a bear in the area.
The camera recorded 10 seconds of the bear walking into frame, pausing and looking up towards Schneider’s home before loping off into the woods.
“I don’t know how to judge it, but I have a dog that’s around 55 pounds and he’s at least twice the size of that dog,” Schneider said.
IB Parnell, a wildlife biologist with the Department of Natural Resources in Thomson, said that while they aren’t common in the area, it is not uncommon to have young male bears pass through Jefferson County.
Georgia has three breeding populations of bears: in north Georgia reaching down below Gainesville; central Georgia near Macon; and south Georgia near the Okefenokee.
“There may be some bears that transfer between those, but there’s not much evidence to show that,” Parnell said. “The bears we get in Jefferson … that swing through every couple of years, there’s no way to tell where they’re coming from.”
Most of the bears that pass through, often along river or stream corridors, are young males, averaging anywhere from 75 pounds to 160 pounds, are around 2 years old and are pushed out when their mothers produce their next set of cubs.
Parnell said that he has seen older, larger bears in the area, but those are much more rare.
“Sometimes they stay for a while,” he said. “They typically end up going back to where they came from to try to set up a home range that overlaps the home range of a female.”
Hunting bears is not allowed in Jefferson or Glascock counties.
“Where they become problems is when they start getting into human-related food sources, whether that be a deer feeder or a garbage can,” Parnell said. “Out of all the bears I’ve seen come through here in 11 years, none have ever been aggressive.”
Parnell said that in most cases the bears, if left alone, will move on if there is no food source easily available.
“If you see one just chalk it up to a really neat experience,” he said. “They are not looking at you as a meal. Typically, if they see you, they’ll run off. Yard dogs, and I’m not talking about big ones, will send a bear up a tree. Give it its space and a way to get away and they will.”