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Nature in Goose Island Hide Away

Living With Goose Island Wildlife

Richard Bondi

A Reminder on Living With Goose Island Wildlife

Hello, Fellow Islanders. As Summer progresses and moves towards Fall, I would like to remind us all of some important features of living with Goose Island Wildlife. Much of what I’ll note has been posted, along with further information and some helpful links, on the Nature page of our community website. I commend it to your attention. Two kinds of critters deserve special attention and reminders at this time, especially to those of you who are new to our community and mountain life.

Venomous Snakes 

Goose Island is home to two species of venomous snakes, the Copperhead and the Timber Rattlesnake. Of the two the Timber Rattlesnake is the more dangerous and the less numerous. The Copperhead is less venomous and rather common. Bites from either species should be treated as a medical emergency, and care should be sought as soon as possible. Timber Rattlers can kill humans, and while Copperheads rarely cause fatalities, their bites are quite painful and can leave lasting skin, vascular, and nerve problems. It’s actually been quite a while since Timber Rattlers have been seen (or heard) in Goose Island. Copperheads are sighted multiple times every year. Both of these species, along with the many non-venomous snakes we are blessed with, become more active and wide-ranging in August, September, and October until the first frost. The snakes are particularly on the move at night, looking for mates, and for safe and comfortable places to hole up for winter.

So, some advice:

1) Always go out at dusk, after dark, and at dawn, with a strong, wide beamed flashlight. Always leave some outside lights on if you may be back after dark. These steps will not scare away a snake, but will help you to be more alert and aware of whether you are seeing a branch, a rope, or a venomous snake. Keep a good flashlight in your car (a good idea anyway) in case you come home later than you planned.
2) When walking dogs, keep them on a short leash, especially at night. Dogs are inquisitive and have no natural fear of snakes. Many dogs are bitten on the nose or face just trying to smell the strange creatures.
3) If you hear a rattling sound (you may google rattlesnakes and listen in advance to what they sound like), stop, do not advance, shine your flashlight all around you, and, once you have located the snake, step away and let it move away from you.
4) If you see a copperhead (google to see what you are looking for!), stop, step away, and let it move away from you. Copperheads are more likely to bite than rattlesnakes because they do not rely on a rattle to warn you. They rely on their camouflage, that is, they think you can’t see them, and will give a defensive bite if you continue to advance, and especially if you step on them or extend your hand towards them.
5) During the day, remain alert to your surroundings, don’t reach into weeds or gardens without shaking them with a hoe, and don’t step over a log or stones without banging about a bit with a walking stick.
6) Do not under any circumstances try to pick up a snake or stomp it with your feet. While many snake bites occur accidentally, most occur when people are trying to kill or pick up the snake. You are many times larger than a snake, and you are not its prey. It just wants to get away from you, or, failing that, make you stop hurting it. So stay away, and don’t hurt it.

You have undoubtedly walked unawares near a Copperhead, rarely a Timber Rattlesnake. If you don’t invade its space, it won’t invade yours. Yet snakes are hard-wired to defend themselves against threats, even if we don’t see them and aren’t intending to threaten them. So stack the odds in your favor by being alert, using bright flashlights, and leaving the snakes alone.

One more point. Please use the references on our web page to learn to distinguish venomous from non-venomous snakes. Non-venomous snakes are our best friends against venomous ones, and should never be killed. They can out-compete venomous snakes for prey, and some of them even kill and eat venomous snakes. They also do a great job controlling vermin. If you’d like more information, or some photos I’ve taken of Goose Island snakes, please contact me at any time. Also, I have professional snake tongs, and am willing to remove all non-venomous snakes. I have moved venomous snakes on our lot, and would be happy to give you an evaluation of whether I could move or, if nothing else avails, kill one on yours. If I have any doubts at all, it’s time to call the experts.


Long before humans inhabited North Georgia, Black Bears did, and they continue to do so today. Given our proximity to the Rich Mountain Wildlife Management Area, and the natural corridors of Rock Creek and the Ellijay River, we have a healthy black bear population. Black bears are most active in late spring/early summer, when young bears are establishing new territories, and in the late summer/early fall, when all bears are in hyperphagia, (trying to pack on the pounds before winter), or looking for a mate. Bears are normally crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk) or nocturnal, though especially when disturbed they can be active during the day. Curly the dog and I once encountered a black bear running at high speed down Whispering Pine at 4:00 in the afternoon. (We wisely stopped, I waved my arms, Curly barked, and the bear turned and ran off toward River Road). Black bears are generally not harmful, but are very powerful, and respond defensively to threats. Very few, but some, black bears opportunistically take pets or humans as prey.

So, some advice:

1) Do not create conditions around your cabin which encourage black bears to approach. This means obvious things like: Do not put out garbage on the street unless it is in bear-proof containers. Do not put out salt blocks or cracked corn for deer, as they will likely attract bears as well. I know people do not want to hear this, but deer do not need salt blocks in our area, as the abundance of granite near the surface contains sufficient minerals for them, and cracked corn is nutritionally dangerous for deer (similar to horses getting sick from rich food). Cracked corn is only good for squirrels, chipmunks, crows, jays, raccoons, rats, opossums, wild turkeys, and bears. Its best use for deer is as bait over which to shoot the deer while hunting, which is forbidden in Goose Island. Also, do not put out bird seed between the middle of March and the first hard freeze, unless the seed is served at least 15-20 feet above the ground. Otherwise you are saying, Bears, please come and take over my yard!
2) If bears do not find a food source on your lot, they will go elsewhere. So do not provide a food source. It’s that simple.
3) Bears may still use your lot as a transit, especially between rivers, creeks, and wilder woods. But they will not stop and linger unless you wittingly or unwittingly provide a food, water, or mineral source. So just let them go on by.
4) Bears which hang around your house, or transit your lot frequently, may need some discouragement. Bears can be negatively conditioned not to return to any particular site. Such negative conditioning includes loud noises, bright lights, dogs barking, humans yelling, stones thrown, specially formulated bear spray, anything that safely makes the bear feel unwelcome.

HOWEVER,  this does NOT include the use of firearms. Firing a gun at a bear in your yard is less than useless. It could lead to harm to people or property, non-fatal wounding of the bear, thereby rendering it much more dangerous to you and other people, and punishment from Goose Island, Gilmer County, the Forest Service, and the State of Georgia.

Please note the following:

1) You are fully responsible for any round you send down range. So never fire warning shots at bears (or any animals) or humans. Shoot to kill justifiably, or not at all.
2) Most people do not have the capacity to kill a black bear, especially at night in the woods. Please consult the hunting regulations around bears in Georgia (  Note that nothing less than a .357 Magnum handgun is legal to hunt bears with in Georgia. There’s a reason for that. Bears are very difficult to kill, but easy to wound in such a way as to make them far more dangerous. Most bear hunters would use a high powered rifle, a .41 or .44 Magnum revolver, a 10mm semi-automatic, or a 12 gauge slug. The closer you get to something that would actually kill a bear with one or two shots, the worse damage you do to anything downrange that you hit in error.  The chances of killing a bear with one shot at, say, 4:00 in the morning, are very, very small, compared to the chances of hitting someone or something else, or of wounding a bear and making it more dangerous.
3) It is against the By-Laws of Goose Island to hunt or even discharge a firearm in Goose Island. While there may be self-defense factors mitigating such discharge, that is not Goose Island’s judgement to make. At that point you are at the mercy of county and state officials.
4) It is against the law in the state of Georgia to discharge a firearm without legal justification (scaring off a bear would not count) within 50 yards of a public road.
5) It has occurred in Goose Island that local authorities have given permission to fire non-lethal flash-bang shells to negatively condition bears. This has been rare, if not singular, and did require permission. No resident can take such matters into her or his own hands.

But what if a bear is hanging around my cabin, or what if I am charged by a bear at home or on a walk?  Everything said above still remains in force. The best alternative to firearms, and in the view of the National Park Service a superior alternative, is bear spray. Bear spray is used out West to stop grizzly bears, let alone black bears, and has been shown to be far more effective than firearms. It is non-lethal, but extremely painful, and more than that it causes temporary blindness and a shut down of a bear’s sense of smell. It is the top of the line of adverse conditioning, and quickly teaches a bear to avoid the place where it felt such pain. This is not the mace or pepper spray sold to prevent human attack. This is a much more potent distillation of the hottest red peppers. If you are serious about shutting down an attack from any animal, this is what you want. Note: bear spray is not like bug spray. You don’t spray it around an area to repel bears. You spray it at the face of an identified bear from a distance of 15-20 feet or so. Follow directions closely. Not an endorsement, but here’s what I keep around:

Most of us will never see a venomous snake or a bear. I am not trying to alarm anyone. However, prudence dictates that we respect these animals that were here long before we were, and protect them and ourselves without endangering our neighbors. Please feel free to contact me for any additional questions or information.

Thanks very much, Richard Bondi
(Updated August 21, 2016)