The Best Kept Hunting Secret in Georgia

by Charles Walthour

Charles WalthourWant a change in hunting opportunities and scenery without having to worry about airfare, out-of-state license and trophy fees? Well, it's right here in Georgia...barely!

About 5 years ago, we lost a 9-year trophy managed deer lease to a developer who thought that a neighborhood would be more suitable than undeveloped land. The timing was horrible as we were less than 30 days from the opening day and there was no time to find another club, so I decided to just use the season filming and hunting in some different places and, quite by accident, stumbled upon the best kept hunting secret in the industry, and it was right here in my own home state of Georgia.

Like most avid archers, I love to have a bow in my hands, but most of my time during the season is spent as a free-lance outdoor cinematographer filming other hunters, and editing and producing their videos. Because of my experience, training and education in forestry, hunting, cameras and television, it definitely gives me an edge as well as an opportunity to meet some great people and visit some places with a camera that I would have never found on my own. I have hunted or filmed at some of the best unfenced locations in the lower 48.

My first trip of the season immediately following the loss of our lease found me driving about as far South as you can go in Georgia on I-75 without going into Florida and then East following the state line into Echols, Clinch and Ware counties. The name of the closest town is Council, Georgia, just South of the town of Fargo. The name of the place I was going is Bear Run. The property of Bear Run is part of the enormous Langsdale Lumber Company tract near the Suwannee River. It is run by two of the finest people you'll ever meet. J.T. Steedley has worked for the Langsdale's all of his life and at age 78, he still covers every road every day and knows every marsh, hammock, swamp and hunting spot on over 30,000 acres that he manages for Langsdale. J.T. personally cut every road on the property back in the early 50's so he knows the land as well as the wild game that live there. Jamie Steedley, who is the other half of Bear Run and the son of J.T., can offer you opportunities for anything you want to hunt including deer, hogs, bear, turkey, ducks and gators...all in the trophy class! He is the "hunt designer" and provides everything from the hunt and lodging to the food and even catered barbeques of local cuisine of deer, bear and wild hog for the hunters and guests.

The lodge at Bear Run.
My first year at Bear Run was with a camera over the shoulder of a rifle hunter who took a bear that weighed over 400 pounds. I was impressed as I had been on several bear hunts in other states and had not even seen a bear big enough to shoot much less film. In fact, I thought that all of the bear in Georgia were in the northern areas around Murry, Gilmer, Fannin and Union counties. I never knew that the bear population in South Georgia was so high or that the average size of the bear was so much bigger. [See: Judging Black Bear] But, this first hunt was only the beginning of my education about extreme swamp hunting in South Georgia. Since that time, I've been there a dozen more times and filmed 5 other hunts with trophy black bear and I have come to the conclusion that there is no other place without a fence that can be called a "one-stop" shop for hunting because of the vast variety of game and the sheer numbers of each, and the trophy size of the animals. However, this kind of hunting is not for the average "shooting house hunter" or those who are not willing to get tough in order to score big.

To begin with, it is hard hunting because everything is different in South Georgia. In the article from GON's October 2009 "GON's County-by-County Big Buck Rankings," Ware County has ten bucks listed but Clinch County only has two bucks and Echols only has one. I am convinced that these counties are not in the rankings due entirely to the difficulty of the terrain and the obstacles that you are faced with in the extreme South that you don't have in the Piedmont or northern parts of Georgia. There are no hills to climb, but there is thick underbrush, mud, muck, marsh and water making it difficult to hunt with limited shooting distances. Almost every shot will be less than 75 yards, but it makes a perfect setting for tough bow hunters. The other things that are different are temperature, mosquitoes, black water, gator holes, swamps and hammocks. All of these words suddenly became new to my vocabulary and part of my education for new hunting techniques. To access a good spot, you may have to cross a swamp (which may mean getting wet), deal with the mud of a marsh (with gators) and put up with millions of merciless mosquitoes (wear a ThermaCELL®). Unbelievably, I have only seen one snake, but I am told that snakes are considered "dessert-type" food where there are high populations of hogs and alligators. That is wonderful news to a guy like me who is allergic to venom.

Jamie congradulates Dale on his kill. Jamie and J.T. are great guides to have along on this type of hunt where they manage over 30,000 acres where deer hunting, even with its incredible number of deer, takes third place after bear and hog hunting. In the last 4 years, there have only been about a dozen deer per year taken, so you can only imagine what is out there.

During filming trips for bear and hog, I have seen numerous bucks in the 100 - 130 class with very little effort at all. Last weekend, I filmed a miss on a 120 B&C buck and the very next night, I saw the same buck less than 100 yards from the miss as he crossed the dirt road in front of my truck. During that same trip, I also filmed 3 different flocks of turkeys, 50 plus hogs, and 4 black bear that ranged from 200 to 350 pounds...all on the same small corner of the property.

The reason that the game is so prolific on this 30,000 acre tract is because it is bordered immediately on the East by the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and on the South by the state of Florida. The Okefenokee NWR is 438,000 acres with minimal deer hunting pressure because of restrictions and access and there is no black bear hunting at all. The state of Florida, although it does have deer hunting, hasn't had any black bear hunting in over 20 years and these big guys simply wander unrestricted into Georgia in search of food and less populated areas. That is one reason why this small area has 3 black bear records for the heaviest (574 pounds and 570 pounds) black bears taken in the state of Georgia (2007) and the largest skull (22 3/8” B&C) taken in the 2009 season. The other reason is that the black bear season in South Georgia is only 3 days per week for 3 weeks which translates into a ridiculous total of 9 days of bear hunting in the highest black bear populated area of Georgia, which would explain the high hunter success ratio for trophy black bears.

Jamie and J.T., although unintentionally, have done an excellent job of keeping a low profile and there are several reasons why you have never heard of Bear Run. First of all, Council, Georgia is not one of those towns that you hear a lot about. In fact, not a lot of native Georgians have even heard of it. Secondly, the population is extremely rural and you can drive for miles and never pass a house. Lastly, Georgia Highway 94 is a direct route into Florida from Fargo, Georgia and not too many people leave I-95 or I-75 on their way to Disney.

Personally, I have decided that it’s time to put down the camera and pick up the bow for 2010 to attempt a "Southern Slam." Most folks are familiar with the term "slam" when it relates to turkey hunting, but a "Southern Slam" is a whitetail deer, an eastern turkey, a wild (feral) hog, a black bear and an alligator all taken within the same hunting season. What makes it even more difficult is doing it all in one season and in one state...Georgia. My plans for 2010, is to be issued a gator permit and be able to take an alligator, a whitetail deer, a black bear, a turkey and a hog all in the trophy class and all on one piece of property...Bear Run.

Any hunt at Bear Run is always in combination with a hog hunt along with whatever else is in season, and this is a hunt that anyone can afford. Bear Run has a modest but comfortable southern lodge where some of the best hunting stories ever have been told around some of the best home cooking that you have ever put in your mouth. You can have a hunt on Bear Run with lodging included for less than what you would pay for your round trip air fare to most places out of state. When you look at the cost of travel plus an out-of-state license and a trophy fee for a hunt out of Georgia, you could have had a real hunt right here at home. If you check out the internet for prices on deer hunts and bear hunts, you will be wonderfully pleased with the prices at Bear Run.

If you have never hunted in the swamps of South Georgia, you are in for a hunting experience that you will be bragging about for a while, and if you are like me, it will be the first of many hunts to come at Bear Run because it is truly a Southern hunting adventure.

Whether it's just you or you and your hunting buddy, your wife, your top salesmen or your church group, Bear Run will make your experience enjoyable and memorable, plus it will give your taxidermist something to do in the off-season.

About the author: Charles Walthour has spent his entire life outdoors.  He is a certified arborist and an avid sportsman with decades of experience and an outdoor TV pioneer. Charles was the past Executive Director of Freedom Outdoors and he knows his way around the outdoors with a bow, a gun and especially a camera.  Considered by many as one of the outdoor industry's finest cameramen and cinematographers.


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