She Guides: Meet Tia Shoemaker, Pilot, Conservationist and Educator

Tia Shoemaker is an Alaskan-born and -raised pilot, conservationist and outdoor educator. Brought up by her outfitter parents, she has guiding in her blood, and is ready to take over the family business. 

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I grew up in the Alaskan bush. I’ve never had a TV in my life. I didn’t miss it.

It was very remote. It seems that there’s a stark difference between my upbringing and that of the rest of the country. We were about 100 miles south of a village called King Salmon on the Alaska Peninsula. My parents originally had a guiding operation on the Black River, a tributary of the Porcupine River near the Canadian border. It was a fly-in camp only, and we lived out of tents.

When I was 3 we moved down to the Alaska Peninsula were my parents started guiding. I grew up indoctrinated to the guiding world. We lived out there full-time until I was 11 and my parents thought my brother and I needed to be “socialized” with kids our own age. So then, in the winters, they began taking us north to this small village with a one-room schoolhouse near the Arctic Circle. There were 9 other kids, but only 1 other girl.

I was 10 the first time I got to go out and actually helped in the field.

I was convinced that if I could just go out in the field and guide, my life would be perfect. For some reason, they thought I was too young! Finally, at 10, I was deemed old enough to accompany a guide and client in the field. Being a guide is much different than what you imagine as a child. That first moose hunt was eye-opening, but I absolutely loved it. I realized guiding was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

During my first guided hunt, I remember being so excited that I was finally fulfilling my dream. 

I was 18 and had just gotten my assistant guide’s license. I was super nervous, and wanted to do a good job and make my dad proud. I realized how much I didn’t know. I had that moment of panic, that I didn’t really know what I was doing. Most clients don’t expect an 18-year-old girl as their guide, but in general, they’ve been awesome about it. I stuck with it, and I’ve been guiding ever since. I got my registered guide’s license in 2014.

Tia judging bears from a distance Tia Shoemaker

Tia judging bears from a distance.

Bear is my favorite to guide for. It’s definitely the most exciting and high-energy hunt.

In the area where I guide in the refuge on the Alaska Peninsula, it’s estimated that there are 2 bears per square mile. That’s a lot of bears! You see a lot of bears every day, and you’re going on stalks. Bears are super smart, and they’re savvy. You have very close encounters with them on these hunts. On my last bear hunt of this season, we were 30 yards from a 9-footer, which we passed on. It was right there and coming down the hill toward us. It’s the coolest thing to be that up close and personal with such an incredible animal.

One of the first moose hunters Tia guided. This bull went 69 inches Tia Shoemaker

One of the first moose hunters Tia guided. This bull went 69 inches.

Judging the legality of a moose is an essential skill of a guide. 

The restriction is it must have either 3 brow tines or be 50 inches. As a guide, I have seen a lot of moose. However, I don’t feel like I want to put my entire livelihood on the line on shooting 50-incher, so I pretty much always stick to the brow tine restrictions. You can judge a moose’s age pretty well by its dewlap. A portion of it freezes off every year. Usually the shorter the dewlap, the older the bull.

Weather, bad luck—it’s all straining on you.

Clients come up here to fulfill a lifelong dream, and you want them to have a great experience. When the elements are against you, it can be very frustrating. I had one hunt where we had 17 days of terrible weather. We almost lost a tent because it was blowing 70 mph, pouring rain, and the tent flooded up to our knees. Everything was sopping wet. The client had a great attitude, despite us not seeing many animals. In my opinion it was a great hunt, because at the end of the day it is all about patience and attitude.

We rarely have female clients. 

When I was 17 we had one female hunter, and I helped my dad on the hunt. She was an incredible woman. She had grandkids who were my age, and I thought that was so badass. She could hike, she could shoot—nothing could get her down. She was a real hunter; she would sit there and glass for 13 hours. There was no bringing a book along or sitting around. She was a huge inspiration to me—not as a “female hunter,” but as a hunter. I would love to guide more women.

Tia and her first dall sheep horns taken in the Brooks Range this last August Tia Shoemaker

Tia and her first dall sheep horns taken in the Brooks Range this last August

My best friend from childhood, Luke Tyrrell, is also a guide. We grew up in the industry together. 

He had a cancellation sheep hunt in an absolutely amazing area last August, and invited me to go. It was interesting to learn about the Brooks Range and about sheep hunting, which I knew nothing about. One of the coolest things was experiencing a hunt as a “client.” I felt what they feel, which is mostly, “I don’t know what’s going on, and I don’t want to look like an idiot, so I’m not going to ask.” Seeing the hunt through a client’s eyes, I think, put me much more in tune of what’s going on with my own clients.

As hunters, we should be the biggest conservationists of land and animals. 

I believe we hunt simply because of our love for hunting. But conservation and protecting our public lands and the environment is incredibly crucial to our hunting heritage. That sentiment needs to be passed from generation to generation. Having grown up in a very pristine area, I’ve watched it grow, with more people showing up and having more access. The Pebble Mine project, and drilling in ANWR (the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge), as well as other resource exploration in the state, are incredibly sad for me to see, as they threaten the environment, and in doing so threaten our livelihood, and that which we hold dearest.

Tia taking time to hunt in Kodiak for herself after a long season of guiding. Tia Shoemaker

Tia taking time to hunt in Kodiak for herself after a long season of guiding.

To me, keeping hunting traditions alive is one of the most important issues at hand. 

I am a volunteer hunter education instructor for the state of Alaska. I also run an outdoor education program out of Talkeetna, Alaska. We talk a lot about ecology and hunting in a general sense for outdoor exploration and leadership. We need to pass on the tradition of having respect for the animal, and simply the spark that makes us want to hunt. Just getting kids out there can really inspire and influence the next generation.

I’ll be taking over the family business in a couple of years. 

The way the guide concessions work on federal lands is that you get an area for a certain amount of time. My dad has had his for the last 30 years. Every year my parents take a step further out of the business, and I take a step further in. I’ve had a pilot’s license since I was 19, and recently purchased a Piper PA-12 bush plane.

The 416 Echols Legend Tia carries while guiding Tia Shoemaker

The 416 Echols Legend Tia carries while guiding.


For guiding I use a rifle custom built by D’Arcy Echols & Co. chambered in .416 Remington. It’s my all-time favorite rifle. D’Arcy’s rifles are famous for rugged, unfailing reliability; they are top of the line. I can’t imagine a better rifle for an Alaskan bear guide. For clients, I think 30/06 and .338 are sufficient calibers for most Alaska hunts.

Rifle selection is very important as a guide. I had a rifle jam during a moose hunt as a bear was charging. It was a very hairy situation, and I lost trust in the rifle I was using. This was before I switched to the .416 I use now.

I’m not a believer in rifles that are “made for women.” Frankly, I have little use for those. I’m barely pushing 5’3”. It’s how you hold it, at least for me. Maybe some gals really like them, but the ones I’ve tried are not very comfortable and don’t fit well.

To hunt with Tia Shoemaker or Grizzly Skins of Alaska

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  • About Courtney Nicolson

    Courtney Nicolson is an outdoor writer, hunter, and angler based in Denver, Colo. She is an active member of numerous conservation groups and is passionate about empowering women in the outdoors. Courtney is the senior producer/editor for Outdoor Sportsman Group Networks.


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