Mg, the only effective p-type dopant for nitrides, is well studied in thin films due to the important role of the impurity in light-emitting diodes and high-power electronics. However, there are few reports of Mg in thick free-standing GaN substrates. Here, we demonstrate successful incorporation of Mg into GaN grown by hydride vapor-phase epitaxy (HVPE) using metallic Mg as the doping source. The concentration of Mg obtained from four separate growth runs ranged between 1016 cm−3 and 1019 cm−3. Raman spectroscopy and x-ray diffraction revealed that Mg did not induce stress or perturb the crystalline quality of the HVPE GaN substrates. Photoluminescence (PL) and electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) spectroscopies were performed to investigate the types of point defects in the crystals. The near-band-edge excitonic and shallow donor–shallow acceptor radiative recombination processes involving shallow Mg acceptors were prominent in the PL spectrum of a sample doped to 3 × 1018 cm−3, while the EPR signal was also thought to represent a shallow Mg acceptor. Detection of this signal reflects minimization of nonuniform strain obtained in the thick free-standing HVPE GaN compared with heteroepitaxial thin films.