The spirit of the hunter is seen across the United States but nowhere is it as strong as Alaska. So why is it that a diminutive woman born and raised in Conway may have a chance to be known as a big wig in those very same Alaskan circles?
Sheri Rea Coker is a finalist in the Prois Hunting & Field Award contest, which selects a winner from those females who recognize that hunting is a passion rather than just a sport. Coker, who has only lived in Alaska for less than a year, has wowed the judges so far, not with her prowess at dealing with big game throughout "the last frontier," but for relaying the lessons she learned in Arkansas.
Coker moved to Fairbanks, Alaska with her husband Robert H. Coker III, who is a research scientist. Coker herself will be beginning work on her Ph.D. next year. Local residents will remember her as a biology and anatomy teacher at Conway High School. Her two children, Kiplin and Quint Taber, are still in Conway. Kiplin recently graduated from the University of Central Arkansas, and Quint will earn his degree from Hendrix College in May.
The journey from Arkansas to Alaska wasn’t without its bumps, however.
"We moved in April, and we camped where we could along the way," Coker said. "Once we got up to Alaska, it was in the single digits. We arrived at the house where we were supposed to live, and there were broken pipes surrounded by glaciers of ice. We had traveled all this way, and we were homeless with four dogs."
In their search for a new home, they caught the eye of a local realtor, who recommended the couple to HGTV for a segment on new Alaska residents.
"It was like those other home-buying shows," she said. "They showed us touring homes, some of them with big animal heads on the wall, some looking like huge lodges. Then we would discuss which ones we liked. Funny thing is, we had already bought our home. This was pretty much for show."
Coker’s celebrity didn’t end there. When she found out about the contest with Prois, she was intrigued.
"It’s basically an essay on your hunting experiences, your hunting skills and your efforts in conservation," Coker said. "I think I may have made an impression because I talked about what I learned from my family while hunting in Arkansas and Texas and other states in the South."
In her essay, Coker spoke of the experiences that made her into the nature enthusiast she is today.
"My first date with my husband was a backpacking hunt," she wrote. "When my bloody feet didn’t deter me, he decided I was a keeper. In lieu of wedding gifts, we asked that guests send donations to Arkansas Game and Fish. We’ve since waded neck deep through bar ditches to surprise geese, belly crawled through muck to sneak up on a pond full of ducks and slashed our way through thick Georgia woods to stick a hog."
Coker was a little intimidated to notice that her competition had been dealing with large animals for years. While she claims no skins on the floor or no heads on the wall, she pointed out that her hunting philosophy has always come down to sustenance: Everything she hunts, she eats.
"I’ve never been on a paid hunt," she said. "I have been involved in a long tradition of hunting for food. You’re not going to see any grip and grin photos of me."
The contest runs until Dec. 31, and although a list of judges will play a part in deciding the winner, Coker also needs public votes from those who read her essay online.
"I just want to have a good showing," she said. "I’m amazed I made it this far."
To vote for Coker, visit proishunting.com/proisaward and cast your vote. Only one vote per person. "It’s not like Kris Allen," she joked.