ORR (AP) -- Vince Shute, the man who befriended bears in northern Minnesota and whose relationships with them led to the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary, has died at 86.

Shute died Tuesday at a Cook nursing home.

Shute's association with the bears started as self-defense decades ago. They would break into his kitchen and eat their fill, so Shute decided if he couldn't beat them, he'd join them. He shared a bag of doughnuts, and there was no stopping after that.

On summer evenings, the bears would waddle from the woods and surround Shute's trailer, knowing treats would emerge.

''They were like his family,'' said Phil Anshus of Orr, a longtime friend of Shute. Shute had names for them all. There was Brownie, a bear so well-fed ''you could have used him for a pillow,'' Shute once said. Brownie was shot to death a few years ago. There was Duffy, brother to Tuffy and Buffy, killed during bear season of 1998. And there was their mother, Blackie.

''He was a northwoods legend,'' said Tom Rusch, wildlife specialist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. ''It's sad to hear somebody like that passing on. He was known to a lot of people throughout Minnesota, a very colorful person. He was one of the old-time storytellers. They don't make them like that anymore.''

Rusch visited the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary last week and saw only a couple of bears, probably because of the tent caterpillars this year, he said.

When Shute left his place in the woods, he more than likely missed the bears -- but Anshus believes Shute was grateful when the American Bear Association took over in 1995 and the sanctuary was created.

''He spent every dime he had on it,'' Anshus said. ''He was getting crippled up in the end. I think when it came to the (American Bear Association) people latching on to it, he felt relieved. I don't think he could have handled it anymore, healthwise or moneywise.''

Shute had spent his logging earnings to buy food and also picked up leftover food from restaurants and stores.

As recently as a couple of years ago, Shute still visited the sanctuary once a week, bringing sacks of oats and doughnuts and table scraps.

In the beginning he said he tried to keep it quiet that he was feeding the bears -- but word got out and curious visitors came to get a look. Now 20,000 or more people visit the sanctuary each summer.

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