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Minnesota Black Bears and Wildlife Connection 2017 Trip Report

Black bears. Photo by Kathleen Reeder

Minnesota is the most northern state outside of Alaska, and has 90,000 miles of shoreline, more than California, Florida and Hawaii combined. There are an estimated 12,000-15,000 black bears in Minnesota. Photographing the North American Black Bear was the purpose of this 3-day photo workshop and it was wildly successful with over 150 sightings. Check out the photos below to see a sampling of the bears my group photographed and how close we were on the ground to these free-roaming animals. In addition, we had a half-day excursion at the Minnesota Wildlife Connection to photograph other beautiful animals indigenous to Minnesota, including wolves, red foxes, mountain lion cubs, porcupines and raccoons. Check out those photos below as well. Overall, it was an incredible experience for everyone!

Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary (VSWS)

black bear photo by Kathleen Reeder

Black bear photo by Kathleen Reeder

Adult black bears at VSWS

The Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary is 500+ acres of North Woods habitat in Minnesota, ideal for black bears and other wildlife.  Vince Shute habituated generations of bears frequenting the Sanctuary unintentionally, as he tried to find a way to peacefully coexist with his forest neighbors.  Vince fed the bear for more than 25 years.  The feeding continues today as a means of preserving the extraordinary opportunities this unique situation provides.  It allows the American Bear Association to educate the visiting public about the natural history of the American black bear and all natural resources.  In addition, it allows the Association to offer us the chance to photograph this normally shy and reclusive animal. The public views the bears from an elevated platform, but my group was on the ground walking among the bears!

black bear photo by Kathleen Reeder

Black bear cub chilling out in a tree at VSWS

This was a parked vehicle. The cubs were following Mom through the parking lot at VSWS.

Black bears are 4 to 7 feet nose to tail, average smaller than grizzly bears and come in more colors than other North American mammal. Bears see in color, have excellent hearing and smelling ability, and are very intelligent. So how close were we to these bear? …closer than you can probably imagine. We were careful to maintain a 10 foot distance. The bears are habituated to the volunteer staff only while the bears are on the Vince Shute property; otherwise, the bears are 100% wild.

Photo by Kathleen Reeder Photo by Kathleen Reeder Photo by Kathleen Reeder  Photo by Kathleen Reeder Photo by Kathleen Reeder Photo by Kathleen Reeder Photo by Kathleen Reeder


photo by Kathleen Reeder

Workshop participants stepping aside to allow a bear to pass at VSWS

There were a number of important safety tips we followed, including:

  • Never let your guard down
  • Never coax a bear to come close to you
  • Always remain in a higher position that the bear(s) you are observing
  • Do not carry food or liquid (carrying water was acceptable)
  • If a bear approaches you, do not stand still. Stay calm. Do not run.
  • Never get between bears
  • Do not feed the bears
  • Respect the bears at all times
  • Do not leave your camera gear or bag unattended

black bear photo by Kathleen Reeder

Beautiful brown-colored black bear at VSWS

black bear photo by Kathleen Reeder

We ALWAYS gave the bears the right of way and maintained a 10 feet distance at VSWS

black bear photo by Kathleen Reeder

There is a small creek on the VSWS property and we photographed this bear cooling off in the water at VSWS

black bear photo by Kathleen Reeder

This bear took a rest, sat back, relaxed, scratched himself and enjoyed the view at VSWS.

black bear photo by Kathleen Reeder

Just hangin’ out in a tree at VSWS. From the platform on the property, we were able to photograph bears in trees at eye level.

black bear photo by Kathleen Reeder

This cabin is on the VSWS property and there always seemed to be a bear relaxing on the step. Need a weekend getaway? 😉

I will be leading two photo workshops at Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary in 2018, along with another trip to Minnesota Wildlife Connection. My workshop is limited to 8 participants and includes:

  • Before the workshop:
    • 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.
    • Detailed handout of what to bring, the itinerary, what to expect and more
    • American Bear Association introductory session on bear safety, bear behavior, history and mission of the organization, black bear natural history
  • During the workshop:
    • 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
    • Sharing a sample of your portfolio with the group
    • 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)
    • Lots of iPhone photos of you photographing the bears!
    • 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
  • After the workshop:
    • Group gallery for sharing people pictures

Minnesota Wildlife Connection

Minnesota Wildlife Connection is about 3 hours south of Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary, so it made for a great excursion to spend some time photographing their beautiful animals. The half-day session was split between a late afternoon photo shoot and early morning photo shoot. Included in the half-day session was the opportunity to photograph wolves (3 pups plus an adult), red fox (3 kits plus an adult) and porcupine (one adult and one baby).

wolf photo by Kathleen Reeder

A special moment with a Minnesota wolf at Minnesota Wildlife Connection

Red fox kit photo by Kathleen Reeder

Red fox kit photographed in beautiful light and water reflections at Minnesota Wildlife Connection

Porcupines photo by Kathleen Reeder

Porcupine with her cute little baby at Minnesota Wildlife Connection

Minnesota Wildlife Connection Optional Sessions

In addition to the scheduled photo sessions at Minnesota Wildlife Connection, participants chose to photograph mountain lion cubs, a bobcat kitten and raccoons for an additional rate. There were more choices but we had limited time before our Vince Shute visit. During each optional session, I continued to provide guidance to the photographers on camera settings.

bobcat photo by Kathleen Reeder

Adorable bobcat kitten at Minnesota Wildlife Connection

raccoons photo by Kathleen Reeder

Raccoon kits playing in and around the water at Minnesota Wildlife Connection

mountain lion cub photo by Kathleen Reeder

4 week old mountain lion cub, born at Minnesota Wildlife Connection

Photo Workshop Group

Thanks to everyone who attended. You were awesome! And thanks to Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary and Minnesota Wildlife Connection for making it a special experience for everyone.

group photo by Kathleen Reeder

Photo by Kathleen Reeder

Group Photo – Front L to R: Carol Budrow, Kelly Grysho, Laura Voit, Bill Walkowiak, Edie Parker, Gail Vandewalker and Kathleen Reeder

Join me in 2018 for another crazy cool opportunity to photograph black bears up close!

North American Black Bears Photo Workshop: July 21-23, 2018

North American Black Bears Photo Workshop: July 28-30, 2018

Join me in 2018 at Minnesota Wildlife Connection for a full 3-day Photo Workshop on July 24-27, 2018. Details coming soon!

Follow my latest photo workshop photos on Facebook!

4 thoughts on “Minnesota Black Bears and Wildlife Connection 2017 Trip Report”

  1. A great learning experience, no lack of black bears to photograph, and a week shared with a fun group of participants. Once again, Kathleen, thank you for your leadership on my continuing journey toward photo excellence! With your help, I hope to reach that goal some day! CAB

  2. Thanks Kathleen, This was a great workshop.There were lots of bears at Vince Shute and many animals to chose from at The Wildlife Connection. It was well organized and fun for all!

  3. An experience I will never forget. Walking among the bears and photographing them in their environment was incredible. The group was friendly and fun, and I learned so much about the bears and wildlife photography! Thank you for hosting this wonderful workshop Kathleen!

  4. I really enjoyed the workshop. Even though I had been there twice before, there is nothing like being on the ground with so many bears. Wonderful workshop Kathleen. Thank you.