The Simple Bear Necessities

We are long overdue for a post, we know! Much has changed in our world since our last entry and the older we get, the faster time seems to fly by. There have certainly been many things to distract us from writing and reflecting on the natural world around us, yet the world keeps on spinning.

While we never seem to get out as much as we’d like, we certainly haven’t been devoid of spending time in nature and appreciating firsthand some of the many other beautiful creatures and scenery we have here in Minnesota. We are incredibly blessed to live amidst such beauty; even as I write, the sun is setting over our small lake and we’re able to watch the pair of swans standing together at the edge of the water.

As our passion for wildlife and photography grows, we tend to develop a variety of lists. We think about all the birds and creatures we’ve seen at home, our favorite animals of each season, favorite images, the wildlife we have yet to encounter, the ones we have seen but dream of the perfect shot, favorite spots to look, new places and trails to blaze, and many more.

One animal that had mostly eluded us was the black bear. We always look forward to the possibility of spotting bears in the spring, especially those cute little cubs, but before this year had been limited to a few dark or distant glimpses. This year we have been able to share some incredible moments with black bears, both out on our wildlife adventures as well as our visits to a place known for their wild black bears: the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary in Orr, Minnesota.

A Change of Heart

As the story goes, Vince Shute started a logging company in northern Minnesota to support his family. Providing breakfast for the loggers seemed the best way to lure a logging crew into a mosquito infested woods. All that delicious bacon and syrup attracted many black bears until they became a nuisance to Vince Shute, regularly breaking into his home in search of food. Out of fear, the men would shoot the bears until Vince was determined he had shot the last bear in the state. To his dismay, he came home to three more scrounging in his cabin and Vince began to question his decision to kill the bears.

He realized that the bears weren’t mean, just hungry. Instead, he began putting food out in the meadow to keep them away from the cabins and learned how to peacefully coexist with them. The Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary was established to continue his mission by protecting the wildlife and habitat found within the sanctuary, as well as providing education and understanding on black bears and their environment. We encourage you to learn more about the sanctuary and how to support this incredible cause.

Little Bruno

Within the sanctuary our eyes immediately noticed the cute little cubs that were playfully hanging in the trees swatting at each other. Five little teddies with the same sweet natured personalities hanging around their mama and getting into mischief. One, however, seemed to stand apart from the rest with a bright yellow tag in his ear. We inquired about him and the volunteers shared an interesting story about “Bruno.”

We learned that as a result of logging, a tree had fallen upon his den. Because of this commotion and disruption, the mother ran off in fear and did not return. Poor Bruno was taken in and assessed to be a healthy little cub, and was able to be reintroduced into another bear den where a mother black bear had not yet awoken from her slumber. When the mother bear awoke in early spring, she found five little bears in her den, simply accepting Bruno as her own.

Weighing in each at only a half a pound (or 2 sticks of butter) these tiny creatures will eventually grow into great sizes. On average the number of cubs for a North American Black Bear in Minnesota ranges from 2-3. This mama was raising five and kudos to her! We are excited for the future of little Bruno and how his story highlights the resilience and adaptive nature of black bears.

Learning the Ropes

Another standout bear at the sanctuary was a yearling; only a year and half this young one had been kicked out by his mother. He spends most of his time in the treetops where it feels safe, and sleep tends to be his best friend as he becomes more acquainted with being independent and alone.

One can notice his hesitancy to be down near the ground as he diverts his movement away from the other bears in search of food. Once mealtime is over, back up the same tree he climbs. It’s an important step in him gaining a sense of security, and it’s also an important tactic a mother uses to keep her little ones safe from harm.

For younger cubs still dependent on their mother, a cub left in the tree by the mom will sound out a call that sounds like ‘maaaa.' This cry alerts the mom to return to the tree and near the base the mother will make a gulping sound letting them know it's now safe to come down. At times, younger cubs remain stubborn and do not do as they are told. She'll usually leave them in the tree, heading out for many hours and then coming back to try again. This time the cub will earnestly climb down the tree to reunite with their mother after being left on their own for such a long while. This bond is crucial to keeping them safe and out of harm’s way, and we applaud the careful nature in which a mom is teaching her cubs to be safe and cautious, using trees as a safe haven.

Some of our favorite bears at the sanctuary are the ‘large and in charge’ ones. You can pinpoint the heavy-set, been-here-a-while bears very quickly. One in particular seemed to have a favorite spot picked out to roll around on the ground with his paws outstretched far and wide taking in the cool breeze. He was well-known at the sanctuary, and gave off a ‘top dog’ vibe, scattering bears of all shapes and sizes while he waltzed about (more like a belly swing).

It’s fun to see this hierarchy play out from littlest to biggest. A commotion from one of the large black bears sent a little one scurrying up a nearby tree, separating him from his family. He cried at the top of the tree for a while, then curiosity got the best of him and he cautiously made his way down the trunk, peeking around the edges of the tree watching an adult bear engulfing food at the base. Still frightened, his little paws zoomed straight back up that tree, panting and grunting his fear and frustration.

Again and again he repeated this each time realizing this adult bear would not relent. It seemed that this larger one took notice of the little cub, and took its sweet time eating. After almost an hour, it sauntered off and the young one carefully climbed down to catch up to his mom.

Bear Paradise

All around the sanctuary bears come and go as they please. A creek runs through the acreage and it's a great place for the bears to cool off and have access to water. In the hot summer heat their black fur can be quite a coat, leaving many of the bears panting and breathing heavy sighs. They are always on the lookout for a cool shaded spot.

Because these are all wild and free bears, many of them will also travel to nearby lakes to take a nice dip. Because there are so many that come during the autumn months during hyperphagia to prepare for the long winter ahead, there can be upwards of 150+ bears a day coming to and from the sanctuary to find food.

Understanding how our Minnesota woods plays a crucial role in these bears’ life from sleeping, to eating, to raising young, is something that we as a community are responsible for. It’s a role that we as photographer’s continually take note in how to keep our woods and waterways clean and untouched, so that all wildlife here can stay healthy and thrive.

In our experiences at the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary, the North American Bear Center, and our personal encounters with little cubs and adult black bears, we have come to learn that while black bears are very powerful, attacks on humans are extremely rare.

These are shy and fearful creatures just like we are, they are hungry (just like us) but can learn negative reinforcing behavior to not become what we'd consider a nuisance bear. They are smart, nurturing, cautious, protective of their young, lazy, and carry similar personalities to that of us.

No matter how many wild animals we encounter, we see this pattern of misunderstanding between humans and nature as the only conflict in play. Knowledge is a very valuable tool to have, and in the case with bears, this perceived 'threat' is inaccurate. Instead time and time again we've sensed a mutual understanding and fondness with being face to face with wildlife.  The more we spend with these animals, the more attached we become. And to the bears, how lucky we are to share a world with you.

We hope that as we continue to share our experiences of the wildlife we so greatly care for, your curiosity and appreciation for the creatures of this world grows as well.

Support our Wildlife

For more information on black bears as well as both the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary in Orr, MN and the North American Bear Center in Ely, MN we encourage you to check out their websites and schedule your own visit. 


Bear Center

We also are very thankful that there are organizations set up in our state to take in and rehabilitate wildlife, working hard to get them back out in their natural habitat. We fully support and appreciate the work that the following locations provide our wilderness:


Wild & Free

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