Alaskan Guide Apprenticeship

Getting into the guide business is a lifelong dream for many guys I am sure, but it is not a job that individuals typically find openings for in the classifieds of the Sunday paper. When I first decided to get into the business I did not have clue where to start, so I looked in the back of the hunting magazines, where I remembered the guide schools adds I had seen in the past. I called a couple of places and I talked to one of the guys that had been around forever, and I still remember the guy discouraging me from the idea of guiding in Alaska. After this I decided to try to get the funds to go to one of the western guide schools, and so I headed to the local job service to apply for some JPTA funds, since the school I was looking at was setup to receive such students. The fact is, I thought $3,500 was an astronomical amount of money for what these schools were offering. I would spend 30 days with a western outfit, learning the ropes "so they say" of the guiding business, with a major emphasis on horses, mules and packing. Virtually all of the western outfits focused on this heavily. Well the truth is I had little desire to work with horses day in and day out, especially when Alaska was still in my mind.

At the local job service I met a former resident of Alaska (who claimed to have been a biologist) and he politely told me that I would never be able to become a guide in the great land for one reason or another, but I went through the process of trying to get the funds for the western schools anyway. At the same time I sat down and typed up my resume, and sent it out to several outfits simply looking for some type of work, a foot in the door, so to speak. Well to sum things up, the JPTA funding only applied to schooling in my home state, and the only outfitter that ever responded to my inquiries was long time Master Guide Ed Stevenson of Sheep River Hunting Camps. Ed wrote me a letter and told me that I was welcome to come into camp for the season with no promise of any pay. As he put it, "If things go well, there might be some money...but there is no guarantee!" Ed simply offered me what I had been looking for, that is the opportunity to come into a real hunting camp, and get firsthand experience that would translate into an opportunity to become a guide. On top of this, the offer represented a realistic test of whether this is what I wanted, or not.

My career started with a 40 to 58 mile (58 miles according to Ed's snow machine odometer) hike from the outskirts of Talkeetna into the Sheep River valley. I didn't even get to ride a Super Cub into the bush. For 4 days and 3 nights I followed Ed's youngest son Ben as he tried to run me into the ground, and we virtually drug three horses along with us. After all these years I still think we could have rode those things a few feet, but we didn't. The good thing about the whole ordeal was I didn't have to pay $3,500 for what ended up being 65 days in the bush, and I got real experience, and the recommendation from a Registered or Master Guide that is required before you can be licensed as an assistant guide in Alaska. I had the opportunity to work with a pro, and although I only made a couple hundred dollars in tips for a long stretch in the bush, I feel I learned what the run of the mill "guide school" out west could not teach me at all.

With all of this in mind I decided to start a guide school in 2004, or for lack of a better term, an apprenticeship program. My idea was to simply offer the individuals seriously interested in guiding as a career, or even as hobby, the opportunity to get their feet in the door, in the same fashion I did. As an outfitter, I find it difficult to find individuals that are suited for this business, and the truth is, there are not a lot of guys actually suited to it. A lot of individuals think they would like to be a guide, until they realize it doesn't mean you get to hunt all the time, and you have to keep customers happy and contented all the time, and no one is making Wall Street broker wages in this business. My desire is to find serious individuals, that have the right stuff, and hopefully be able to use them in the future myself, or at least be able to refer them to other outfitters as quality employees. I feel that the school has already been a success, even in the first year of operation, but as with most things in this business there is a learning curve. The first thing I have learned is, we simply don't have the ability to accommodate all the guys wanting to participate in this program. There is some difficulties with having students participate on actual hunts that clients are paying for, and I am currently re-thinking this approach, and leaning toward other ideas.

Part of the problem we are currently experiencing is the result of the state of Alaska requiring assistant guide applicants to have a minimum of 30 (previously 14) days in the field (big game hunting experience) for each of two different years. This 30 day time frame often conflicts with our present scheduling of hunts, which are typically 10 day slots, and students cannot all be under my direct supervision. Along with the 30 day requirement we have returning students from the previous year, so this really limits opportunities for new students. The 30 day requirement is also complicated by the fact that it must be "big game" hunting experience, and this means you either have to purchase a big game tag, or be in a unit where wolf is available, because the harvest of a big game animal is now required also before one can become licensed as an assistant guide. With this in mind I can only give suggestions as to how and where you can spend your thirty days in Alaska at, so be prepared.

At this time the State of Alaska has endorsed two "guide schools" and I do not know the cost or details concerning this program, but it will substitute for some of the requirements mentioned above. All this being said, we are still accepting students at $1,500 and they are responsible for their own lodging expense before and after the hunts; individuals will be required to pay their own way from wherever they live to Anchorage and back. If interested, please submit a resume' and a brief bio, along with the application and liability waiver found by following this link Guide School Application . Everyone doesn't have the freedom to be able to participate in this type of work!

Tony Dingess and Master Guide Ed Stevenson in the old days

Master Guide #62 Ed Stevenson with Tony Dingess back in the packing days!