Video captures enormous bear in northern Minnesota

For the past seven years, researchers with the Voyageurs Wolf Project have deployed GPS collars and about 200 cameras to document the surprising survival tactics wolves employ to survive the summer in and around Voyageurs National Park.

But those cameras also capture other wildlife in the region — including, on Oct. 7, a giant black bear that waddled across the frame, its belly swinging from side to side, only inches from the ground.

“It kind of looks like a pig with hair,” mused Tom Gable, who heads up the wolf project.

The bear was filmed along a dirt road near a remote lake called Long Lake, south of the park and west of Crane Lake, where there’s several cabins and a network of ATV trails. One of the wolf packs Gable studies uses those trails to get around the lake; so they posted a camera to capture their movements.

Gable said it’s common for their cameras to also capture bears, but he’s never seen a bear even remotely this size. “That’s what makes this video stand out so much,” he said.

“There's no doubt about it. That's a large bear,” concurred Andy Tri, bear project leader for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. He said 700 pounds is a reasonable estimate, but stressed that’s a rough guess, given the darkness of the video.

Tri added its almost certainly a male bear. “They’re more able to pack on the pounds and get super big,” he explained.

Black bears don’t usually get anywhere near that big. But ironically, bears in Minnesota tend to grow larger in years where there are poor supplies of natural foods, like this past year, when most of northern Minnesota was in severe drought.

“And that's just because we allow hunters to use bait,” Tri explained. “And so when they come into those baits hungry, in bad food years, they tend to stay longer.”

Tri also suspects that this bear spent time at the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary in Orr — where wild bears are allowed to come and go, and where food is provided — about 20 miles south of where the bear was captured on video.

“Sometimes bears will come in the fall for a snack, get real fat and then move off of the sanctuary to go den up,” said Tri.

Tri said there once was a bear (Vince Shute named him Duffy) that was killed near the sanctuary boundary in 1993. The giant weighed in at 848 pounds.

But that’s an enormous bear, even for an animal that ate regularly at the sanctuary. He said most mature male bears in Minnesota weigh between 275 and 425 pounds in March. In the fall, when they’ve fattened up, they might weigh 100 pounds more.

The video Gable posted on Facebook — titled simply “Huge fat bear in Northern Minnesota” — received more than 350,000 views within a week.

That’s not uncommon for Voyageurs Wolf Project videos. A couple months ago, a video of a black wolf running through fall foliage garnered a similar amount of attention.

Another recent video of three black bear cubs playing with a trail camera got more than a half-million views.

Gable and his team have published several groundbreaking research papers — documenting how wolves hunt for fish, for example, and lie in wait for hours at a time to ambush beaver — but he said the public outreach aspect of their work has been most surprising, and in some ways, the most gratifying.

“It’s really a joy to be able to share these cool videos with people, and to make people feel like they’re really getting an inside look into what’s going on in the woods up here,” Gable said.

“It’s given people a much greater appreciation for wildlife and how special northern Minnesota is.”

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