Mrs. Camo Man's day with a bear skull

Steve West, right, and Jason Erdmann talk hunting at Martin Archery.

Steve West, right, and Jason Erdmann talk hunting at Martin Archery.

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I was recently in the lobby of the Martin Archery factory west of Walla Walla, surrounded by wild animals.

On the walls, not like ready to attack me.

There was the badger lounging on a fake rock, 3-inch claws casually displayed. As in, “Come a little closer, Honey, so I can ... tickle you.”

And a black bear that was decidedly blond, a Spanish goat, javelina, kudu, Western rattlesnake, Merino sheep, gemsbok.

So many animals, some I’ve never thought about before. And hunting bows, naturally, more than you could shake an arrow at.

This gig is going to make Camo Man jealous, I thought to myself and laughed wickedly, but not out loud because that would have caused staring.

I was here this day to potentially see a world record be broken.

It all began with an email from Steve West, creator of “Steve’s Outdoor Adventures,” which is both a TV show on the Outdoor Channel and Steve’s hunting consultation business.

The guy is involved in all kinds of stuff of which I have very little understanding, to Camo Man’s chagrin.

Nevertheless, I was invited there to watch Martin Archery founder Gail Martin measure a grizzly skull.

“It should be certified as the new muzzleloader world record,” Steve wrote of the bear he bagged. “No print media has been invited but a few have inquired ... do you want to be there? We will have video and photographers there.”

Wouldn’t it be cool if Steve contacted me because of my journalistic skill? Because I’m a good storyteller? Because I recently married a hunter?

None of the above. Steve asked me because I live next door to his mom. A timeless recipe for making connections.

Whatever the reason, I was excited to be a tiny sliver of hunting history. Cooler in hand, Steve arrived, followed by a videographer. He greeted Martin, who is legendary in the world of archery and a gentleman everywhere.

“I appreciate you measuring the bear for us,” Steve told Gail. “I only wish now I’d shot it with a bow.”

(Neophyte’s note: I will just admit, here and now, I was expecting to see a whole bear. Like on a forklift. Turns out, the animal’s skull is measured for size. Doh.)

Gail has been a Boone and Crockett Club scorer for 35 years, meaning he is trained and certified as an official measurer for the wildlife conservation organization.

Which, if you’re me, you also know nothing about. A call to Boone and Crockett’s marketing director, Keith Balfourd, changed that.

The agency was founded by Theodore Roosevelt and others in 1887 to ensure good game management habits and healthy wildlife populations for future generations, Balfourd said. It’s America’s oldest hunter conservation program and most widely known for maintaining the record book of hunter-taken North American big game trophy animals.

The record book dates back to 1830, which is serious historical currency.

Getting a bear the size of a storage shed, such as Steve did in Terrace, British Columbia, is testimony to good wildlife management, according to Balfourd. When an animal grows that large, it’s lived a long time and contributed to the genetic pool of its species.

“The existence of mature males is an indicator we are doing things properly,” he explained. “The animals would not get that large if way too many hunters were taking game.”

I was catching on that getting in the Boone and Crockett book is a big deal. The fact that Steve will almost surely land the world record via muzzleloader (a gun loaded with from the front of the barrel, in case this isn’t obvious) even more so, Balfourd noted. “You have to get fairly close with a much more limited-range, one-shot weapon.”

It turned out this would not be the day to declare the record. Steve did not realize the skull had to be completely cleaned and in normal environmental conditions for 60 days before official Boone and Crockett scoring, he said. “This is my first shot at a pending record, I didn’t know about the rules and regulations.”

Instead, Steve told a rapt audience in the room, he had kept the skull frozen for 61 days, and whole instead of unhinged at the jaw.

Any real shrinkage of the animal’s skull — which is immeasurable to the human eye, Balfourd assured me — will happen in that 60 days in typical room conditions.

Thus this head would be “sent to the beetles” and left to air for another two months. This ensures a true record of size, Balfourd said.

“Beetle cleaning is a highly effective method. They go in every nook and cranny, they eat everything that is there. The skull comes out white and polished.”

Ick.

Neither Gail or Steve seemed dismayed at not getting an official score on this day. After the hunter situated the grizzly skull on the measuring device, the scorer peered closely at the numbers. Both men grinned.

At 26.0625 inches long in what is called a “green score,” this bear was 3 three inches larger than the previous record of 23.125 inches from a bear shot in Alaska in 1990.

Steve’s smile is not just for the cameras — this moment will appear in an episode of Steve’s Outdoor Adventures aired sometime next month — but that of a new world record holder.

“I knew it when I pulled the trigger that I had No. 1,” he said.

I left Martin’s Archery feeling like I was emerging from a parallel universe. As I put my keys into the ignition, I inventoried the animal heads at my own house, courtesy of marrying an avid hunter. I suppose having the stuffed Oregon state record big-horned sheep staring at me as I work out isn’t so bad, in retrospect.

It’s not a world-record naked bear head, now is it?

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