I had the opportunity to spend the day on the grounds of the Vince Shute Bear Sanctuary operated by the American Bear Association in northern Minnesota. I quickly realized how little I knew about black bears. 

The sanctuary is just that, a sanctuary where wild bears can go and wander the grounds freely since there are no fences.

For people it’s one of the best places to see, photograph, understand and learn about wild bears in their natural habitat. The sanctuary has a viewing deck where visitors can learn about black bears by watching them while volunteers walk around explaining the behavior or sharing stories about the visiting bears.

I always had the impression that these were ferocious wild beasts that attacked for no reason at all. While in fact, there are two things that drive bear behavior: food and fear. Black bears are nervous creatures and easily frightened, so not surprising or startling them is important.

Prior to my visit, I had some basic training on what not to do:

  • Don’t look them in the eye
  • Don’t run (that might trigger a chase response by the bear
  • Make sure they know you are there
  • Talk to them in a calm voice
  • Give them space
  • Don’t crowd them
  • Step off the path so they can walk by you
  • Don’t have food on you
  • Show your hands are empty by holding them up
  • Don’t kneel (the most difficult one for me because I like to take a knee to get a good photo)

The most important point: if a bear chomps its jaws, lunges or slaps the ground or brush with the paw, it feels threatened, so slowly back away and give the bear space.

And, you can use these same points if you encounter a black bear during your travels.

Okay, I was all set!

We arrived early in the morning and there were bears all over. Large bears, mid-sized bears and yearlings (no longer a cub and not quite an adult). Most of the yearlings were up in the trees watching the larger bears, which I understand is quite common since they are at the bottom of the pecking order. Bears came and went at their leisure throughout the day, including two moms who brought their cubs. One had three cubs, the other four.

What a fantastic trip learning about these gentle, curious creatures.

Enjoy these photos below and be sure to visit the new "Black bears" tab in the Gallery here.


Me holding up my hands to let the bear know I didn't have anything in my hands. The bears were very curious about my camera bag, which I ended up ditching because it kept attracting all the bears to me.


Kristin watching one of the larger bears, while one comes up behind her.

This bear went up the stairs because another, larger bear came into the area. The other bear ended up cornering this bear on the stairs and he hurled himself over the side to get away from the larger bear.


I noticed a pileated woodpecker under some thick brush working on a log. I tried to sneak up to it to get a photo and was only able to get a quick, blurry one since I heard something behind me... a yearling snuck up behind me, but when I turned a little too quick he ran up the tree.


A yearling in a tree.

Peanut going to get some food while her four cubs look on.

And, we have a new addition to our mantle family. Below is Peanut. We named her after the mother bear we saw who had four cubs.