Fieldwork: Black Bear in Minnesota

Posted on Sep 6, 2017 in Blog, Fieldwork

This August I also made an unforgettable and mega-incredible research trip to photograph black bear in Minnesota with my long-time and great artist friend Jeff Hoff – check out Jeff’s art at

In addition to exploring Minnesota’s Superior National Forest, we spent 3 days at the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary in Orr, MN. This sanctuary is managed by the American Bear Association, and was formed to promote black bear research. The sanctuary has a nicely designed observation platform which is open to the public and offers some great education and observation experiences.

We had an incredible 3 day on-the-ground photo tour within the sanctuary and up close and personal experience with the wild bear who are free-roaming and come and go through grassy meadows, cool cedar swamps and pine forests at their own will.

Black Bear ranges overlap naturally and when there is a rich biocenter, the overlap can be extreme. As many as 40 or 50 bear use this biocenter’s resources daily and on a regular basis – which means socializing and tolerance – which helped ensure a safe bear -human experience for our small group of four.

Our guide got us in on some big bear and in lens reach of many of the visiting cubs, which took to the safety of the trees much of the time – especially when larger dominant bears came in signaling others to clear out of the way.

Dominance hierarchies were clearly at play and we picked up quickly on the many vocalizations and gestures, which we mostly translated to – move out of the way and show respect.

Bears aren’t as solitary as most of us believe, but spend a fair amount of time with other bears and in situations where resources are plentiful and they gather in numbers, they have to get along. Constant fighting would result in using up the energy that they’ve gathered to get to ensure their survival in the winter months.

They are incredible animals and this was an incredibly memorable trip for me! I’ll be painting more black bear this fall and winter than a hibernating bear has dreams!