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Encounter with an American Black Bear – Ely, Minnesota

See Video at end of Story

This is a story about a common Minnesota American Black Bear and a person originally from Indiana, me, who used to believe if you got this close to a Black Bear you were a goner.  Since I did get very close and I’m still here, my beliefs must have been incorrect.  Mid September, 2015 I was dutifully taking out the compost to the base of the hill behind our home as I do on occasion.  The occasion being when my wife, Betsy, tells me it’s time.  She determined that 5:15 PM was about right this evening.  Looking up the hill at the back, I saw a Black Bear eating green plants on the hill side not the least concerned about my approach or with my being within 30 feet.  The bear just kept slowly moving forward and eating not even looking up.  As I walked to the back, not knowing he was there, I wasn’t trying to be quite upon approach and was surprised when I saw him.  He (I’ll explain later why I believe it to be a male.) on the other hand couldn’t have cared less about my presence.  I took out my ubiquitous smart phone and started taking video.  The video at the bottom of this page starts with a short segment of this cell phone video.  The video below is a 9:00 minute video condensed from about 1.5 hours of video shot on this first and then a second encounter two days later.

Two days after the encounter on the hill behind the house, the bear came in about 11:00 AM to feed on bird seed.  I heard a crash outside and went out to see the bear munching on a pile of bird seed he had dumped out of one feeder.  I’d filled the large bird feeder cylinder the evening before, so it was full, and that is the one he took down.  No damage to the feeder.  He is a very gentle bear.  After hearing the crash I went outside and slowly approached the bear talking softly to him as I approached. I sat down about 10’ away and began filming.  About an hour later I changed positions and sat down for filming about 6’ from the bear at a different angle. After more leisurely feeding he stood up looked around and slowly walked to the other side of the backyard for a drink out of our water fountain.  The fountain isn’t very sturdy, the top is loosely sitting on it’s pedestal and certainly wouldn’t hold his weight.  But, he didn’t knock it over, just stood up lightly balancing with paws on the fountains edge and had a drink.  He then looked up smelling another nearby bird feeder.  He started to reach for it and politely got down when I told him rather firmly…NO! 
He then briefly and nicely posed for some photos and went back to the original feeder to partake of what he had left.  Maybe the pickens weren’t good enough now.  He stood up and slowly moved toward a number of other seed feeders in that same area, stood up on his hind legs and started to take down another feeder.  My response was again NO and then a louder No!, and then….well, you can see the finale in the video, it’s not what I expected!
A few days later he returned late at night, in the dark, and knocked over one of my neighbors bee hives.  That caused an even louder crash.  When I rushed outside to see what could have made such a commotion he was gone. Even though he continued to come into the yard late at night, he didn’t touch the other bee hive.  He continued to come into the yard well into November even after frosts and freezes that I thought would indicate time for hibernation.  I’ve been told that male bears may not den up until early December long after the females are in their dens.  For that reason I’ve called this young polite beautiful Black Bear a he.  Another thing I learned, the hard way, was that Black Bears WILL feed on thistle in thistle feeders.  I thought taking in all the other feeders would be sufficient, but not so.  We have bear teeth prints in what was a new mesh thistle feeder.  And, the bear polished off about 2 lbs. of thistle.  From now on ALL bird feeders will be put up early Fall on Boundary St. in Ely.

2 comments to Encounter with an American Black Bear – Ely, Minnesota

  • Gary hunt

    This was undoubtedly an amazing encounter. However, it was also a dangerous encounter. A black bear that becomes comfortable with the presence of humans, and learns to associate humans with food, is a dangerous animal. Perhaps of greater importance (because you make your own choices about the risks you take) is the fact that such a bear is now at risk. If such habituation continues, the ultimate outcome will be that the bear will become, at a minimum, a serious nuisance, and possibly a danger to others, including cjhildren and pets. Such a bear must be trapped or sedated and then moved, or killed. We are not natural prey of the black bear, but they are incredibly strong, amazingly fast, and are wild animals with primal instincts – food, self defense, etc. Such a bear, in the wrong circumstances, can inflict terrible injuries even if motivated only by fear or a sense of danger.

  • admin

    Thank you for your comments. Your opinions here show a mindset created over the years by persons basically motivated by fear. Most people are probably would agree with you having seen the same fear biased information you have. If you would like an education in the truth about Black Bear behavior the best place to visit, in person, or online, is the North American Bear Center here in Ely, Minnesota. Basically the Black Bear is an amazingly timid animal that has no desire to hurt humans and will work hard to stay away from humans. As you mention habituated bears can be a problem, but it is rarely the bears fault. My recommendation is, if you do not know how to act when in the presence of a Black Bear, don’t. Visit the North American Bear center and learn from the experts what is and what is not good human behavior for human black bear interactions. But, no need to be afraid, just don’t be stupid.

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