My Friend, Clark Engle
"You're a persistent son of a bitch, aren't ya?"
These were the first words Clark Engle ever spoke to me and the beginning of my apprenticeship under one of Alaska's finest master guides. Over the next four years, he became more than just my employer; he became my mentor and role model. He taught me much of what I know about guiding and fair chase hunting in Alaska. His lessons became the foundation for my career as a guide/outfitter and extended into other areas of my life as well. When the time came, I received my master guide license in honor of this great man. Even though I only knew him for a few years, he left an impact on my life that is still evident today
For those of you who knew Clark, you know he was a practical joker. From sticking your thumb into the butter when he handed you the dish to buzzing his packers; from tearing out the last few pages of your books to spur of the moment mattress fights; he was always having a good time at others expense. Some of you may remember his presentation of the Golden Prop Award offered at the annual APHA banquet or his “Park Rangers Beware” sign when crossing the bridge to Grandview Lodge. But even with his reputation as a jokester, he always found new ways to surprise you.
When Clark would resupply camps, you never knew what you would receive. One time I was coming off the mountain with a successful sheep hunter when I heard him land at our camp and take off. I knew he'd dropped off some food and I was looking forward to a fresh homemade treat after eating freeze dried for five days. Once we arrived at camp and unloaded our packs, I went to the fifty-five gallon drum to see what he had brought. Sitting inside was a delicious looking pie. Cutting into it, I realized this was not one of Audrey's famous mince meat pies, but one full of moose droppings. Clark had gone to all the trouble of having his wife bake a pie filled with crap just to have a laugh. Needless to say, it wasn't much of a treat and we would've been back to eating Mountain House that night if not for the fresh sheep meat.
By the way that he messed with his guides and packers, it was inevitable that he would find himself on the receiving end of a few pranks. One summer we were building a new sauna for the lodge. I was on a ladder working on the sky lights and Clark was below me, working on the in-floor heating. I told a couple of the guys to get a bucket of water, but they were too scared. So I climbed down the ladder, grabbed a bucket, filled it with cold water, and climbed back up. As Clark was bent over, working on the pipes, I dumped the water right onto his back. He jumped up, hollering. Without looking up, he yelled, "I'm gonna kick your ass, Chadd!" I knew he would be good on his word.
It was three nights later. I was in the Bull Shack, laying in my sleeping bag and reading a book when Clark burst through the door. He had a bucket in his hands. I knew instantly I was in trouble as he made a beeline for me. It was going to be a long, cold and wet night. He reached me and tossed the contents of the bucket. Small pieces of ripped paper rained down around me. Through the flurry of paper, he pointed at me and said, "That's one." I knew he could've gotten me back, but instead, this time, he gave me a warning. One of the best pranks we ever played on him was after the first night Audrey and he stayed in the lodge when it was completed. The next morning was their anniversary and we made them breakfast in bed. We decided on pancakes, but added a few special ingredients--little chunks of cardboard and string coiled in them. He never once mentioned anything about the pancakes or the special ingredients, but I'm sure he paid us back in one of his following pranks.
Even with all his joking around, Clark had a major role in the guide industry and helped shape it into what it is today. He was active in the conservation of the resources, the land, and the unique opportunity of hunting in Alaska. This showed in his involvement with multiple organizations, such as APHA and FNAWS, and fighting against the D2 Land Bill. Through all his years, he worked to provide his clients with a once-in-a-lifetime experience of hunting in this vast land. In all he did, he strove to maintain the spirit of fair chase hunting. Although his career was cut short, he impacted many lives through his example of a true sportsman.
This September marked thirty years since Clark's passing, but not a season goes by that I don't remember the man he was or the lessons he taught me. Now, having been involved in the guiding industry myself for thirty-four years, I have dedicated my career to carrying on his legacy of fair chase hunting. This lifestyle has led to twenty-eight years of running my family business that is being passed down to my sons. I will never forget the man that turned my dream of guiding in Alaska into a reality. His memory will always live on through the stories told on the mountain and around the campfire.
Clark Engle was a fair chase guide who lived as he died--honorably.
This article will also appear in the 2018 Convention Issue for APHA Magazine (January 2018). To get the full magazine Click Here!