Of all the things Gene Bradshaw thought he would find on his front porch, a 150-pound black bear was at the bottom of the list.
“He was just wandering along, sniffing at the plants,” said Bradshaw, a resident of Dawsonville Apartments.
“I walked toward him, clapping my hands, trying to get him to go on,” he said. “That thing turned around and looked at me like I was crazy.”
Residents of the downtown apartment complex, who reported the incident to officials June 25, weren’t the only ones to notice bears in the area.
Over the past month, the animals have been spotted peering inside birdhouses, crossing parking lots and rummaging through garbage cans in and around the city limits.
Krista West-Bearden was working at the Dawson County Senior Center two weeks ago when she saw “something that looked like a great big dog” strutting through the parking lot next to the basketball courts.
Upon closer inspection, she realized the animal’s true identity. “I said, ‘Oh my, it’s a bear!’”
She ran back inside the senior center to get her camera.
“I started walking toward him, clicking my camera as fast as I could,” West-Bearden said. “It didn’t run when it saw me. It just moseyed on down.”
West-Bearden described the bear as being “bigger than a cub, but smaller than an adult.” The incident was reported to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
David Shattuck, a wildlife technician with Georgia DNR, said bear sightings this time of year are not uncommon. Shattuck responded to the complaint at Dawsonville Apartments on June 25.
“Bears are going into breeding season right now, and the mother bears are running the older cubs off,” Shattuck said. “The cubs end up bouncing around the area and often end up in town.”
The potential for food increases the chances of seeing bears in more populated areas, Shattuck said.
“People tend to leave food out for them, whether it’s directly or indirectly,” he said. “Bird feeders, trash, anything like that, they’ll eat it. Flipping over a garbage can or tearing up a bird feeder, it’s a smorgasbord for them.
“They operate off their stomach. If you remove the food source, the bear will go somewhere else.”
Shattuck said that it is illegal to purposely feed bears.
“Some people don’t mean to do it,” he said. “They just have something on their property that’s attracting them.”
Burt’s Crossing resident Dianne Johnson spotted a 6-foot-tall black bear in her backyard last month. The animal was after her bluebird house.
“He was looking inside there, trying to figure it out,” Johnson said. “I pounded on the window, and he sat down and looked at me.”
Johnson managed to spook the big visitor away from the birdhouse. The animal instead stripped her peach trees of fruit.
“I hope that bear gets a bellyache,” Johnson said.
Since the encounter, Johnson has begun bringing her bird feeders inside every night.
“It was kind of neat to see him, because I’m an outdoor person, and it was kind of interesting,” Johnson said. “I really don’t want him in my backyard though.”
Johnson was able to measure the height of the bear by its proximity to the birdhouse.
“My birdhouse is 6 feet tall,” she said. “That bear’s nose was even with it.”
The incident left Johnson a little wary of outdoor work.
“When I go and pull weeds out back I’m a little more cautious than I used to be,” she said. “I don’t sit with my back to the woods anymore.”
Scott Frazier, a wildlife biologist with DNR, said bear sightings are “to be expected and pretty easily handled if people keep their wits about them.”
Frazier said that people who encounter a bear should maintain eye contact with it “for a couple of reasons.”
“For one, it presents a certain awareness to the bear instead of inducing predatory behavior in the animal,” he said. “And two, it lets people know where the bear is. You don’t want to lose sight of it.”
Frazier said a person should then back away slowly from the bear.
“If you’re too close, the bear will let you know by popping or clicking its jaws together or it will woof at you, sort of like a dog trying to bark,” he said.
Shattuck said there have been no bear attacks in the area.
“We’ve been fortunate on that,” he said. “We have a lot of bears and a lot of people.”