Black Bear Photography – VSWS Photography Policy

General Public

The general public may photograph and the bears from the viewing platform at the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary during our hours of operation. It is a wonderful way to enjoy your visit and relive the experience later. Tripods are not allowed during public hours on deck, as they may impede the viewing experience of other visitors. Monopods are acceptable. The Sanctuary is open to the public each Tuesday through Saturday, from 5PM until dusk, between Memorial Day and Labor Day. We are closed on Sundays and Mondays, other than Holiday weekends, in which we are open Sundays.

Private and Professional Photo Sessions

What to expect: There are 80+ individual wild black bears that visit the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary throughout the summer season. They range from females with spring cubs to large males to newly dispersed yearlings and everything in between. They vary in color from the deepest black to all shades of brown. They exhibit natural behaviors that even seasoned researchers rarely, if ever get to witness including scent marking, mating, play, dispersal, nursing, and dominance struggles. Some have called the Sanctuary “the best place in North America to photograph wild black bears in their natural habitat”.

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If a professional photographer, videographer, moviemaker or any individual wants to film or view the bears during non-public hours, a fee will be required. The fee for still photographers, Tuesdays through Saturdays, is $275 per person, per day. 
The Sanctuary is closed to visitors on Sunday and Mondays. Photographers wishing to shoot at the Sanctuary on a Sunday or Monday will be charged a fee of $350 per person. Sunday’s and Monday’s must be approved, please call our office for more information. All individuals attending a photo session are required to pay the fee even if they are not taking photos, no exceptions. Videographers are considered on a case-by-case basis and are required to contact the ABA directly for approval and registration. Please call (218-757-0172) or email ( our office if you wish to register for a videography slot. Film crews will be assessed a fee of $1000 per day. An additional $200 per day will be charged if the staff or volunteers of The American Bear Association are required to perform setups. Setups are restricted and reviewed on a case-by-case basis. No film crew should assume that any setups would be performed. The purpose of the shoot may change the rate upon the approval of the  ABA President. 

The Sanctuary is closed to visitors on Sundays and Mondays. Photographers wishing to shoot at the Sanctuary on a Sunday or Monday will be charged a fee of $350 per person. The number of private photographers on the ground may not exceed 4 people.  Photographers not making reservations will not be assured the opportunity to shoot unless the maximum number of registered photographers has not been met for that day and staff is available for supervision.


A 100% deposit is required for all photographers when you make your reservation. If you cancel 60 days prior to the photography date you can receive a full refund (note: if using PayPal as a payment method, a small % will NOT be returned to due PayPal fees) Cancellations after this time will forfeit deposit. You may photograph only after the liability waiver is signed and bear safety rules are reviewed and understood. We require you to show up the day before you are scheduled to photograph during regular business hours to complete these forms 5PM-7PM. If you cannot make these arrangements, please call or email the office prior to your arrival to make other arrangements to dispatch your forms. If photographing on a TUESDAY, we are CLOSED ON SUNDAY AND MONDAY so prior arrangements must be made with the office to fill out the bear safety forms. Payments can be made via credit card, PayPal or check (reservations will not be finalized until check is processed).

Rules and Regulations

Please read before making a reservation.

  1. These are an addendum to the general bear safety rules that are required of the staff of The American Bear Association and volunteers of the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary, a copy of which will be provided and discussed with you prior to photographing. You will be responsible for following all the general rules as well as the following:
  2. Photographers will be permitted to photograph in the open meadow. The start time varies, but is typically between 7-8 AM until 5PM on Tuesdays through Sundays.
  3. Photographers will NOT be allowed to follow the bears into the woods or beyond the creek at the north end of the meadow area. However, the bears frequently climb trees or stand near the edge of the meadow for good “in-the-forest” photos. This is done for your safety as well as the bears.
  4. Beginning promptly at 5PM, when we open to the general public, photographers are welcome to remain and continue photographing. However, all shooting MUST be restricted to the area directly below the viewing platform for the duration of our visiting hours, so as to remain out of sight of the visitors. The presence of humans often interferes with the viewing experience of our visitors as well as our education programs.
    Do not feed the bears. This is dangerous for you and the bear. All designated feeders are experienced and distribute food from the buckets only, never by hand.
  5. Please maintain a safe distance at all times! We maintain a 10-foot distance between the bears and ourselves; we expect that you do the same. Back away slowly should a bear or cub approach you.
  6. Always remain in a higher position than bear(s) you are observing. Sitting down anywhere in the magic circle is prohibited. When you are in a lower position, you are vulnerable. In addition, when bears are higher than you, they sometimes seem more confident. Instead of retreating, they may reach out and slap. A person crouching in a low position may also resemble prey or suggest a confrontational posture. While we accept that photographers may need to crouch to get a particular photograph, we ask that you go down on 1 knee only, going down on 2 knees or sitting/lying down is prohibited.
  7. Please remember the bears at the Sanctuary are wild, not trained animals. Please do not expect them behave in any other manner. We ask that you please not yell or jump to get their attention, as this is disruptive and can be perceived as a threat. Please respect the bears’ space and wildness. We ask that you be patient and allow them to act naturally.
  8. Photographers must be 18 years old. No person under 18 years old will be allowed to photograph as a private photographer or attend a photography workshop.

TERMINATION of your visit could result for any infraction(s) of these rules and regulations.You will be asked to leave without refund of any fees paid.


The American Bear Association is not responsible for any damage that may occur to vehicles, photography equipment or personal effects. Space will be provided to store your gear and precautions to protect your vehicle will be suggested.

  • When your dates are confirmed, you will receive instruction on how to enter the Sanctuary (the gate remains locked during closed hours), where to park when you enter, and the procedures you need to follow once you arrive.
  • Since the consumption of food or drink outside of buildings is strictly prohibited, photographers are welcome to use our Cook Shack facility for meals. Alternatively, a grocery store and restaurants are available in the nearby town of Orr (14 miles).
  • We ask that you please remember we are a nonprofit organization. All of the funds and donations you contribute help the bears at the Sanctuary.

The opportunity to view black bears at the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary is extraordinary. We believe it can be a special experience for everyone. However, please remember, we are here for the bears and all decisions we make come with the bears’ well being in mind. Thank you for your understanding and good luck with your photographic endeavors!


All inquiries regarding photographic reservations must be made in advance by contacting The American Bear Association (ABA) office in Orr at 218- 757-0172 or by writing to The American Bear Association, PO Box 77, Orr, MN 55771. Our e-mail address is: A calendar will be maintained to schedule dates for photographing on a first come – first served basis. A reservation will not imply sole use of the area. However, the number of photographers will be limited in order to reduce the impact on the bears. Participants will be required to sign a liability waiver and review bear safety rules prior to any photographic sessions.