Two skulls sat on his dinner table. They were white and had fangs and each a snout, and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game had clipped a tag through the jaw on each skull.
Standing over the brown bear skulls, 33-year-old Scooter Hackett began to tell the story about how he killed the second largest brown bear entered in the Boone and Crockett Club’s 28th Awards Program.
“It was pretty boring,” Hackett said.
Five straight days of rain and wind in the northwest arctic of Kotzebue had left Hackett and his friend huddled in their tent during their moose hunting expedition. All they had to do was sleep, he said.
“I’ll never forget to bring a deck of cards with me, because we didn’t have anything,” he said.
On the first day of the trip earlier this year, his friend, Will Walton of Kenai, had killed a moose, but during the next nine days they had been unable to take any other moose, he said.
By the last day Hackett was discouraged, he said. About 80 percent of the meat his family of five eats comes from moose and caribou they have killed. He began to think he would go home without anything to show for his 10 days hunting moose in the north, he said.
But then — crawling out of his tent on the last morning to glass the valley — he saw it.
A frost had chased the leaves off the trees the night before and from their camp, he could see the brown bear ambling through the tundra.
Although he was hunting moose, he figured: “Heck, there’s a bear there. I might as well not go home empty handed.”
So he took off his boots to move more quietly, crawled into position 443 yards from the bear — and fired.
Then Hackett returned to his tent and napped for two hours. He had to make sure the bear was dead, he said.
At the time the Kasilof resident shot the brown bear, he said he did not realize it would qualify him for Boone and Crockett Club’s 28th Awards Program.
The same was true for Bob Condon, of Soldotna, though he knew the animal he killed was extraordinarily large, he said. Condon, 74, had taken the Boone and Crockett Club’s 28th Awards Program largest moose in September in the Brooks Range.
Now the two Kenai Peninsula residents will fly to Reno, Nev., for the awards ceremony on July 20.
Justin Spring, assistant director of big game records for the club, said having your trophy selected for the program is a rare opportunity.
Every three years, Boone and Crockett selects less than one percent of the best trophies in the 38 categories considered; it then narrows that down to the top five, he said.
They consider thousands, he said.
There likely will be about 100 people at the event, he said.
Boone and Crockett has received 944 grizzly trophies that have made their records, but Spring said Hackett’s is the top 50 of all time. Condon’s moose, which had a 74-inch spread, is the sixth largest out of 1,000 moose trophies received, Spring said.
Both Hackett’s bear skull and Condon’s moose antlers will go on display at Boone and Crockett’s headquarters in Reno, Nev.
Hackett said it is a novelty for his bear to make the top five, but, still, “it’s just a bear to me.”
While the awards ceremony is “a once in a life time experience,” Hackett said, the recognition does not feed his family.
Neither Hackett nor Condon have ever considered themselves trophy hunters — they just hunt, they said.
“It’s for the adventure, for the love of hunting,” Hackett said. “Some people like to go snowmachining; some people like to cross-country ski; I like to hunt because it’s what I like to do.”
And that is a common quality on the Kenai Peninsula, and the state at large, he said.
“Living in Soldotna — hunting and fishing is a way of life around here,” he said.
“I think in general, a lot of people that are in Alaska are here for a reason — the wildlife and a wild way of living,” Condon said.
Both Hackett and Condon said it is a coincidence that two Peninsula residents were chosen out of the entire state for the awards ceremony.
Condon had not originally intended to take the moose himself; he had been trying to call it for his friend but he had the only opportunity, he said.
And Hackett was not even hunting brown bear when he killed his trophy, he said. He wanted moose meat for his family.
When Hackett’s brown bear skull is hung on display in Boone and Crockett’s headquarters, he wants it to remind people “that sometimes you get lucky.”
“It seems like that’s when it happens, is when you’re not looking for it,” he said, looking down at the large skull on his dinner table.
Dan Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.