John M. Lee’s idea of a game room has nothing to do with billiards, a poker table or wet bar.
When Lee wants to entertain visitors, he escorts them into his Menoher Heights living room that is filled with a wide range of game trophies that any outdoorsman would envy.
Lee, 61, a mining and construction executive, has the means and desire to hunt not only elk, mule deer, antelope and moose, but also one of the most dangerous mammals on the planet, the grizzly bear.
The grizzly bear also is known as the silvertip bear, Kodiak or the North American brown bear.
Lee explained that bears that live within 80 miles of a coastline are called brown bears. Those that range beyond the
80-mile boundary are called grizzlies.
Either way, they are big. When a grizzly stands up on its hind legs, it can be as tall as 12 feet. Brown bears have been clocked at speeds up to 40 mph.
Lee has two giant brown bears that he harvested on the famed Kodiak Island in Alaska during two separate hunts.
Like many youngsters growing up in the 1960s, Lee was a fan of watching the likes of Curt Gowdy and Grits Gresham pursue hunting trophies worldwide on television’s “The American Sportsman.”
He was most impressed with watching legendary archery hunter Fred Bear’s exploits.
Lee remembers seeing Bear crouch behind a giant boulder as a brown bear prowled a shoreline in Alaska and walked within several yards of him.
Little did Lee know that more than 40 years later, he would have a similar adventure.
Lee killed his first Kodiak bear in 2007 when he traveled to the Karluk River region of Kodiak Island.
“The Karluk Lake region has the largest concentration of salmon in the world and that’s what draws the bears,” Lee said.
The Karluk River is world famous for its heavy runs of salmon. It has runs of king, sockeye and silver salmon. It’s a region that also attracts hunters who pursue bears as big game trophies.
“They are not an endangered species,” Lee said.
The native Eskimos have strict rules as far as conservation practices when it comes to the bears.
“The Eskimos are a great people and truly know and appreciate the value of the resource,” Lee said.
A bear hunt is 10 days in duration. The
natives use spot-and-stalk techniques on Kodiak Island.
A hunter and a guide are seated in a boat as they cruise the coastline in search of a trophy.
“There are no guarantees when booking this type of fair chase hunt,” Lee said. “We cruise a couple of hundred yards off shore until a prospective bear is spotted.”
Get too close and the bear will spook and head for dense cover.
“We sometimes went one-half mile away from the bear before we went to shore to begin a stalk,” Lee said.
Lee said he had no fear in pursuing an animal that could kill him with one swipe of a paw.
But just in case, he chose to use a caliber designed to dispatch dangerous game.
“I use a 375 H&H magnum with hand-loaded 300-grain Nosler partition bullets,” Lee said.
Lee’s first bear was harvested in October 2007. He found the hunt to be everything he thought it would be and couldn’t wait to return.
However, regulations state that any successful bear hunter must wait five years before obtaining another license.
Where Lee hunts, there are only two bear hunts in the spring and two in the fall.
“It’s an area about the size of Cambria County,” he said.
Both of his bears were over 9 feet in length. His first trophy was approximately 800 pounds. His second in November was about the same size but weighed over 900 pounds and was estimated to be more than 20 years old.
Lee and his wife, Claudia, are the parents of three adult children and grandparents to four. He wants to instill the love of hunting in his grandsons.
“Each of the three boys received a
30.06 rifle on the day they were born,” Lee said.
However, it will be a while before the
4-year-old twins and their 3-year-old cousin will be able to use them.
Lee grew up in Old Conemaugh Borough and remembers shooting a .22 rifle when he was 5 years old, even though his father was not a hunter.
As a youngster, Lee’s mother, Stella, would drive him to the woods in the morning during hunting season and would return at dark to pick him up.
Lee’s two sons, Shane and Butch, often accompany their father to Wyoming and Colorado on elk hunts.
“I have bagged 26 bull elk, mostly in Colorado, where I like to stay at the Walz Ranch near Craig,” he said. “I have hunted there with three generations of the Walz family.”
Among the two brown bears and numerous black bear rugs on the floor in Lee’s home is a Boone and Crockett scored 6x6, 700 pound elk with silvertip antlers.
Some hunts are more memorable than others and Lee is quick to point to the trophy moose with a 69-inch antler spread that graces the foyer of his home.
Lee traveled to Canada’s remote Northwest Territory and set up camp 50 miles south of the Arctic circle.
“It took me nine flights from Pittsburgh to finally get there,” Lee said. “Midway though the hunt, the 1,800 pound moose appeared.”
Once he bagged the moose, it was so large that Lee had to arrange for a helicopter to extract the animal.
“They put the moose in a sling and got it back to the village where the meat was given to the villagers.”
In Edmonton, Alberta, a special crate was constructed to hold the antlers and cape for shipment home by truck.
Hunting is physically demanding and Lee makes it a practice to work out six days a week at Johnstown’s YMCA.
“I concentrate on cardio, Nautilus and a lot of pull work to strengthen the arms,” he said.
When not hunting, Lee makes sure his wife enjoys family vacations at Virginia Beach.
But Lee’s favorite hunt is pursuing Pennsylvania whitetail deer with his boys not far from his home.
“It’s the best,” he said.
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