Saturday, December 20, 2014 · 11:45 p.m.

Black bear(s) in Rhea County

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Rhea County's Nick Brown was shocked the first time he reviewed his game camera photos and found pictures of this black bear. This photo, captured Aug. 23, 2013, was the first of several times the bear visited. (Image: Nick Brown)

Tennessee wildlife biologists have known and been telling us for a while now that the black bear population in Tennessee has expanded. That fact became very clear recently for Rhea County's Nick Brown.

Like many hunters, Brown prepares food plots for deer hunting. He also places feeders out during the offseason with a motion-sensitive game camera to monitor the wildlife that visits the site.

"My food plot is pretty remote," Brown said. "It's probably 4 miles from the main road."

Brown estimates that this bear, recently photographed in Rhea County, weighs about 200 pounds. He said based on tracks they think there is a smaller bear in the area, as well. (Image: Nick Brown)

Interestingly, some locals have long-referred to the area near where Brown hunts as Bear Hollow. However, when he reviewed his game camera images not long ago, he was shocked at what he saw staring into the lens—a large black bear helping himself to the corn Brown placed on Evensville Mountain.

"I didn't know what to think, really," Brown said. "The first picture, he had his face right up to the camera; then, I got two more good pictures of him that night."

It wasn't a one-time visit. Brown said the bear returned several times, helping himself to 100 pounds of corn in two weeks. Brown finally removed the expensive feeder, concerned that the bear would damage it, as they've been known to do in other areas where bears are more common.

"We saw some tracks a few months ago," Brown said. "That was a small bear. This one is a lot bigger, but there's probably another one in the area."

Brown estimated that the bear on camera weighs about 200 pounds. He said he will certainly be thinking about that when he is deer hunting in the area this winter.

"I'll have to keep my eyes open, especially if I'm dragging a deer out," Brown said.

Although individuals are certainly free to defend themselves if their life is threatened by any wild animal, it is illegal to hunt bears anywhere except in certain counties where the population is large enough. Still, Brown said he is glad to know there are bears in Rhea County. 

"I think it's a good thing," he said. "It wouldn't hurt my feelings if there were a few around here that we could hunt a little bit."

Brown is not alone. Last year, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency conducted a scientific survey to measure the public's feeling about an expanding population of black bears.

The results of the survey showed there is widespread public support for the presence of black bears in Tennessee. Although public support tends to go down the closer the bears get to people's homes, almost three‐quarters (72 percent) of Tennesseans support the idea of having bears within their county.

Thanks to Brown's game camera photos, it is very clear now that folks in Rhea County have gotten their wish.

Richard Simms is a contributing writer, focusing on outdoor sports.

Well-designed food plots in the right areas attract a wide variety of wildlife. (Image: Nick Brown)
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