As prospective buyers started bidding on a cache of 49 rifles, shotguns, revolvers, and air guns at Steve Hett’s estate sale Saturday, none knew that there was one gun they had no chance of getting.
Hett, who died in April, had a collection of outdoor gear and taxidermy so vast that it needed its own auctioneer for nearly five hours, while another sold everything else at his farm northwest of Florence.
Philadelphia physician Jason Sagerman wasn’t there, but he registered an open bid for a semiautomatic Browning BAR Mark II Safari 270 rifle. The rifle held sentimental value and was squarely in his sights. After others dropped out when the bid hit $1,000, the rifle was his.
“It’s not about the money; it’s about the memories,” Sagerman said. “He’s been kind and generous, and he’s opened a whole world to people who come to Kansas.”
Sagerman made one of those memories in 2001, on the first of what would become annual hunting trips to Hett’s farm.
Shortly after dark, about two hours after Sagerman and others arrived, Hett spotted headlights and activity in a field below his house. He took Sagerman with him to check things out.
“We get in the car and go tearing off into the field below his property, and he’s turning out the lights,” Sagerman said. “I’m scared. I’m with a serious lunatic, bouncing around, hitting my head on the roof. He looked at me with a twinkle in his eye, ‘This is fun,’ he said. That’s my first night with Steve.”
Sagerman returned year after year, bringing others with him.
In those trips, the Browning rifle figured prominently.
“It’s five or six people I know that their first time in Kansas they used this rifle to shoot a deer,” he said. “This is a gun he used for years and years. It’s his good luck charm.”
A Mossberg S51-M .22-caliber rifle, produced around 1942, unexpectedly became Aaron Hett’s.
“My dad, Bruce, came over from McPherson to bid on that gun,” Hett said. “It was a gun my great uncle Walt (Steve’s father) and my grandfather Tom bought together.”
Hett didn’t bid on the gun until he saw his father drop out.
“I don’t know what made me just go ‘yip,’ but I’m glad I did,” he said. “I’d never even seen the gun before.”
Most of the bidders appeared to have some connection with Steve, Aaron Hett said.
“It was definitely a lot of individuals that just wanted something,” he said. “The guns went really well. I’m really lucky to have gotten the one I did.”
When it came time to sell all manner of stuffed game animals, hides, and dozens of deer skulls with antlers, out-of-town collectors drove bidding sky high.
Pairs of deer skulls went for as much as $40. A pheasant sold for $130. Bobcats went for $170 and up. A mountain lion, shot by Scott O’Dell on a Hett-guided hunting trip, drew $2,600 from an out-of-town collector.
“Some of the people that knew dad, including some guys from Kansas City and Lawrence, were trying to get some of them,” Schafers said. “They just went too high.”
It took three weeks to prepare for the sale, and 25 family members and friends showed up at 4:30 a.m. Saturday to move everything into position. Working with former Marion High School classmate and auctioneer Chuck Maggard made a tough day go easier, Schafers said.
“I never thought I’d be working with him on something like this,” she said. “He prepared me emotionally as well.”
Maggard wasn’t surprised by the large turnout.
“We’re still around a community where people care; it’s not like that in cities,” he said. “It’s an honor to do this. We had a good auction in honor of Steve.”
With two auctioneers selling items quickly throughout the day, Schafers couldn’t begin to keep up with everything.
“I’ll be excited to get the list to show who bought what,” she said. “It will be neat to look through and see if it was somebody I knew or somebody that knew him that bought something.”