Contrary to popular belief, bears have good eye sight during the day and at night and they see in color. Their hearing is excellent and they beat other animals with their sense of smell, over 2,000 times that of a human and they can detect scent miles away.
Steph Horner knows first hand about bears. She is the director of the American Bear Association, which operates the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary in Orr, Minnesota. Here’s how Steph overcame her fear of bears, how the Sanctuary evolved from a logging camp and the great opportunity it presents to photograph wild black bears up close…
Steph Horner’s Journey With Black Bears
My journey with the Sanctuary began as an intern in 2014, working on the grounds; prepping daily bear food, scooping scat and educating the public about bear behavior, ecology and peaceful coexistence. A lot of my family and friends said things like, “You’re going to get eaten” or “hopefully you’ll come home alive”.
I would be lying if I didn’t say that I also had these fears. Prior to working on the grounds with the bears, I was TERRIFIED of bears! I was that hiker who brought bear bells and bear spray everywhere, while anxiously looking around every bend thinking that a bear was going to jump out and get me. At the time, I didn’t know much about bears, so I didn’t realize how unrealistic these ideas were. Fortunately, I had the privilege of working with the bears, where they taught me that everything I once believed about them was SO wrong!
Yes, black bears are wild animals that need to be respected, however, they’re extremely gentle, trusting of people and each has their own unique personality. I’ve learned so much through observation of the bears’ behaviors and invite you to visit to see for yourself. It is my wish that hundreds of thousands of future visitors will change their mind about bears as I have.
The Bear Man
Vince Shute owned a logging company in the remote north woods of Minnesota with wildlife as his only neighbors. Black bears, attracted by the smells of food preparation and disposal, became a nuisance. Out of fear, the loggers solved this problem from 1940-1970 by shooting the bears, but after three decades, Vince began to question the killing. Having observed the animals he came to the conclusion that “The bears weren’t mean – only hungry.” In the early-seventies, to prevent bears from breaking into the cabins, he put food out in the meadow area to see if that would keep them away. In today’s world, we know it was wrong to start feeding wild bears.
Bears continued to visit the logging camp as a food source during their foraging season. What began as an act of survival slowly evolved into a labor of love. A special relationship developed between Vince and the bears. By the mid-eighties, Vince had become something of a local celebrity and was often referred to as The Bear Man.
A growing number of people learned of Vince and the bears. They came from all over Minnesota and beyond to witness the amazing relationship between Vince and his bears. As the years went by, Vince’s health began to deteriorate and he was concerned about what would happen to the bears after he was gone. To help secure the bears’ future, he donated his interest in the land for the formation of the American Bear Association, which was established as a nonprofit organization in 1995.
Generations of black bears still visit his Vince’s homestead, now designated as the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary. The non-profit organization, the American Bear Association, was formed to manage the Sanctuary and to promote a better understanding of the black bear through education, observation, and experience. The organization’s ultimate goal and Vince Shute’s final wish has become a reality – peaceful coexistence between humans and bears. All of the sanctuary bears are free-roaming; they are NOT CAPTIVE. They come and go at will through clover meadows, cool cedar swamps and pine forest. The bears are habituated to the volunteer staff only while the bears are on the property; outside of this area they revert back to their normally wild and elusive ways, exhibiting their natural fear of humans.
Photograph the Black Bears in July 2018
Join Kathleen Reeder, professional wildlife photographer and instructor, in July 2018 for a unique opportunity to walk among non-captive black bears and capture photos up close if adults and cubs. (During the three-day photo workshop in 2017, there were over 150 bear sightings!) There are 2 three-day workshops, each is limited to 8 participants at a cost of $950/participant. Read more and register for one of the 2018 workshops by clicking the dates below:
Kathleen’s Photo Workshops include:
- 3 full days access to the Sanctuary ground level property, as well as the viewing deck; includes all Sanctuary fees and water throughout the days
- Group and one-on-one guidance on location before each photo session to ensure you get the most out of your camera, including optimal shutter speed, aperture, ISO and exposure compensation settings
- Mid-day conference room demonstrations on post processing wildlife images, how to create/publish an eBook on Amazon and setting up a website on SmugMug (topics based on group consensus)
- Inclement weather options to visit the North American Bear Center and the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minnesota
- Signed copy of Kathleen’s book: Capturing the Moment, The Art & Science of Photographing Wild Animals
- Detailed handout of what to bring, the itinerary, what to expect and more
- An online recorded webinar prior to the workshop that covers wildlife photography composition tips, camera settings and recommended gear to prepare you. You will have access to both the recording and the webinar materials prior to the field sessions.
- American Bear Association informational session on bear safety, bear behavior, history and mission of the organization, and black bear natural history
See more photos from Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary.