Wildlife photographers spend a lot of time searching for that one perfect shot. They can spend years and thousands of dollars looking for the best shot of their careers. It takes a lot of patience and also a lot of luck.
It was a combination of those two things that led photographer Drew Hamilton to an incredible moment with a grizzly bear.
Drew Hamilton was recording a herd of brown bears fishing the rapids in an Alaskan sanctuary. The photographer was camped alongside a section of the McNeil River State Game Sanctuary and Refuge in Alaska when he was shocked out of his focus by a huge brown bear that had come up beside him.
The sanctuary boasts one of the largest congregations of brown bears in the world. This makes it pretty famous for sightings.
It was given protected status as a game refuge in 1967 and then expanded to cover a total of 200 square miles in 1993, with the singular goal of maintaining a healthy, vibrant, and wild brown bear population that is free from human interference.
With the department’s growing success in managing the land within the sanctuary to support a healthy brown bear population, human interest in visiting the area has also increased.
In order to limit human impact on the wildlife within the McNeil Sanctuary and Refuge borders, they have come up with a system to allow a limited number of people to view the bears in person.
Each year, no more than 10 people are picked via a random lottery to be gifted with an access permit to the sanctuary.
Even then, you can only view the bears under strict supervision, and only from predetermined viewing points. Knowing how rare it is just to get to stand within the refuge in the presence of bears makes Hamilton’s experience that much more awe-inspiring.
Currently, Hamilton is an Alaskan wildlife guide for Natural Habitat Adventures & WWF, where he takes paying customers out into the wilderness and leads them to rare and amazing wildlife sitings.
At the time the video was recorded in 2014, Hamilton was a technician for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and so had access to the McNeil River Sanctuary that Spring to photograph Grizzlies as they feasted on salmon.
As he was filming, a giant Grizzly bear strode right into Hamilton’s camp.
Clearly, the bear had just woken from a nap, as he let out a huge yawn as he gazed out over the riverbank.
Hamilton was so enraptured by his view of the bears fishing in the river that he almost didn’t notice he had gained a sleepy companion.
As the dazed bear stares out over the water, he looks toward Hamilton and his camera with complete and utter contentment.
It even almost looks as though the big bear is smiling at one point.
In fact, the intimidating furball was so unperturbed by Hamilton’s presence, he decided to plop himself down right next to Drew’s camp chair, and look him dead in the face.
For anyone else on earth, this very well could have been an utterly terrifying encounter. Hamilton, however, seems to have been carved by experience for moments exactly like this one.
He was born in Anchorage and grew up in Iowa, according to his guide bio, and has spent the last 12 years stalking and photographing Alaskan wildlife.
So, when opportunity stuck him within arm’s length of a giant Grizzly, rather than succumbing to panic, he reached for his camera instead.
After hanging with Hamilton for a few minutes, the bear seemed to realize he had other places to be. Namely, he had a lunch date with his friends in the nearby river.
Hamilton was able to capture footage of his grizzly friend hunting for his morning meal, adding another incredible layer to his experience. This is definitely a moment Hamilton will remember forever!
If you’d like to see Hamilton and the bear, check out the video below!
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