Alaska is a long way from Texas: 3,036 miles to be exact, if you’re traveling from Dallas to Anchorage. And while many Texans probably couldn’t imagine living anywhere but the Lone Star State, Alaskan hunting guide Burr Henriksen never thought he would end up here.
“If someone would have told me I’d be living in Texas, I would have never believed it,” Henriksen says. If you were to browse through his website, alaskansafari.com, you’d see someone who fits the profile of a hunter: a brawny, bearded fellow, clad in camouflage and coveralls. But for a man who tracks down Alaskan wildlife for a living - bears, moose, wolves - he blends in with the crowd of a local Stephenville diner quite effectively.
“I’m not a Texan. I’m not a cowboy. I don’t even like the Dallas Cowboys,” he reveals with a grin. So how did he end up in Texas? It wasn’t exactly the plan he had as a college student.
When Henriksen attended North Carolina State as a chemical engineering major, hunting and fishing were just hobbies. But something as seemingly carefree and fun as a trip with friends quickly turned a pastime into a career. “I just went up to Alaska just for the summer and I ended up getting on one of the top commercial fishing boats in the state,” Henriksen remembers. “I commercial fished for close to 14 years and did the guide thing on the side. And then with the Exxon Valdez spill, the fisheries changing and the Japanese economy crashing, I branched out into just doing the hunting.”
Most people would probably be startled to see true Alaskan wildlife up close, but the animals might not be the most surprising thing you would find on one of Henriksen’s hunts. While he might not have personally booked them, he’s been involved in hunting and fishing outings alongside some pretty famous names, such as Mel Gibson, Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Cash, General Norman Schwarzkopf and George Bush, Sr.
“They’re all just regular guys, though, once they get out there,” he says.
Not all of us can be so lucky as to make a living in something that started out of a summer fling, but Henriksen took an expensive hobby and turned it into a career. “For me to do what I do, if I wasn’t doing it as a career, I couldn’t afford it,” Henriksen explains. “It’s a sport of the wealthy.”
He also confesses that, for him, hunting isn’t about the actual kill. It’s about the people he meets, the friends he makes, and the adventure he finds. “My favorite part of the hunting business isn’t about pulling the trigger, nailing it to the wall, and bragging about it…it’s not about the kill, it’s about the chase,” he insists.
Henriksen’s travels have taken him deep into the bush of wilderness, face to face with countless creatures of carnage and propelled him far into the vast oceans of the Pacific. But he’s never really felt that fear has been an obstacle. “My philosophy is if it doesn’t have a gun to shoot back at you, it’s not that dangerous,” Henriksen says with a smile. He estimates that he’s taken more than 1,000 people out to sea or into the heart of Alaska and has never lost a single person, never had any serious accidents and has never really considered his job to be one of danger.
Part of that might be as simple as smart decision making, and part of it could be finding the right people to work with. Last year, Henriksen’s pilot was recruited by National Geographic to fly them around Alaska for sixty days. “They interviewed over a hundred different aircrafts,” he explains, “and they picked my guy…so I must to be doing something right.”
Henriksen’s a man of several trades. He’s still a resident of Alaska, but when he takes a break from hunting or fishing he publishes rare and out of print books on the subject he knows best. He also publishes and edits his very own newsletter, “Alaska Guide Report.”
“I started it basically because I got tired of reading the same old hunting magazines,” Henriksen explains. “I also saw how the big boys were doing it and what I was paying to run ads, so I figured ‘why not?’”
Even though his main focus over the last twenty years has been Alaskan wildlife, Henriksen has been all over the world and traveled to places like Germany, Austria, Iceland and Greenland. He’s even done cold weather testing and other work for the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense.
But for a man like Henriksen, who seems to have seen it all, his most unforgettable outings might be simpler than you would think. “Probably taking my little boy out duck hunting is one of the most memorable trips I’ve ever had, right here in Stephenville,” he says, “and going hunting with my uncles as a kid…those are the trips that stand out.”
Family has always been at the top of the priority list for Henriksen, and family is actually why he finally ended up in Texas. “My wife’s family is from around here, and after 9/11, she just wanted to be closer to home…and for the kids,” he adds. “Stephenville actually has the second best school system in the state, behind Highland Park.”
Alaska is, indeed, a long way from Texas. But no matter where Henriksen finds himself wandering in the world - whether it’s deep in the Alaskan wilderness or fishing the cold waters of the Bering Sea - he knows what’s important.
“If I’m not up in Alaska or out in west Texas conducting some kind of hunt, I’m just playing with the kids,” he says.
For Henriksen, sometimes coming home can be the biggest adventure of them all.
Nick Svacek is a student at Tarleton State University.