When my art director at the Missouri Department of Conservation asked me several years ago if I ever have a chance to photograph black bears in Missouri, please do so. I told myself, “what a one-in-a million chance that would be”
Black bears had been considered a rare or extirpated species in Missouri in the past. However, due to the reintroduction in Arkansas years ago, sightings of black bears have become quite regular especially around the Ozark area.
About a month ago I was informed of a family of black bears in the southwest Missouri area. According to the landowner, a sow weights between 300-350 pounds and her three yearlings have been wondering around in his property in the past year. I was excited about the news, but I wasn’t that optimistic, considering that I’ve never seen one in Missouri and considering how shy black bears usually are.
I set up my photo blind in a place where the landowner spotted the bears often. I’ve never photographed bears from a blind before (where there is nothing to block between the bear and me) – so it was quite frightening.
I could only imagine what would happen if the bear decided to “investigate” this plastic structure.
In short, for the following weeks I’ve spent much of my time photographing this bear family.
I have had few incidents that made me feel nervous. For instance, one morning after feeding on a field of berry, the sow decided to come little too closer to my photo blind.
And of course, being a photographer, I was just focusing on capturing her images until I realized that her face was starting to fill my viewfinder. You can imagine how frighting that moment must have been.
I grabbed my pepper spray and was getting ready to pick up my tripod to defend myself. Fortunately, she decided to stop walking towards me and turned back to the woods with her cubs.
I’ve never dreamed of photographing a black bear in Missouri, let alone spending weeks with a family of bear. The sow definitely weighted 350 pounds or more. Having photographed big bears in the west and Canada, I know a 300-350 pounds bear is considered quite big and healthy.
So, yes, we have black bears in Missouri.
How many? No one knows for sure, but black bear sightings are increasing every year. Missouri Dept. of Conservation is planning to study black bears and hope to have a real estimate number soon.