Richard "Dick" Zander of Uniontown has a bear in his basement. Any visitor entering the Zanders "Bear Room" unprepared to confront a thousand-pound grizzly would probably do a speedy exit.
The male grizzly is the centerpiece of a display the Zanders have created in their basement. He was bagged by Zander on a recent hunting trip to Kodiak Island in Alaska. The grizzly is a mount, of course, but such a lifelike one that he appears to have just snatched the salmon in his clawsfrom nearby water.
The hunting trip that resulted in this impressive catch was almost a disaster. The season for grizzly on Kodiak ends May 22, and on May 21, Zander still was without a bear to show for his efforts.
"The way we hunted," Zander relates, "was to stay along the shore of Uyak bay and watch with binoculars for bears on the mountainside above. This is known as 'glassing.' It's easy to see the grizzlies as they roam about on the snow fields, but hard to get to them before they move on."
He said Kodiak Island has a bear population of about 2,500 in an area of 3,600 square miles, or, as he puts it, "a bear to every1-plus square miles." Hunting is by permit only and the number of permits issued is strictly limited.
Once a hunter has taken a bear on Kodiak, he may not take another for five years.
But having a permit and bagging a bear appeared to be two different things for Dick Zander. Three times previously he and his native Aleut guide, Herman Malutin, had sighted bears, only to have the animals disappear by the time they reached the spot.
"When the bears are just out of hibernation, they roam . . . they're unpredictable," the 65-year-old Zander explains.
At first it appeared the final day of the season was going to be a repetition of previous disappointments: After finally sighting a bear against the snow field and making the two-hour climb, the bear was no where in sight.
Zander and his guide decided to waiton the mountainside in hopes the bear would return. Luck was with them -- partially with them, that is. The bear did reappear, but when felled by a bullet from Dick's 30.06, it tumbled into a steep ravine. Had it not been for an alder tree that finally halted its descent, the huge grizzly would have gone crashing another hundred feet or so into a stream at the bottom.
As it was, the terrain was too steep and the bear too heavy for the men to handle the difficult task of skinning. To compound the problem, the weather had turned nasty with combined sleet and snow making the footing trickier.
The guide radioedto the base camp for ropes and additional help. By anchoring the bear to the tree, the men managed with great difficulty to skin out the carcass.
The hide was shipped to a taxidermist in Seattle for mounting. But Dick Zander and his wife, Beulah, wanted a very special mount, one that would re-create the atmosphere of Kodiak Island, an areawhere they have spent a number of delightful vacations.
Returningto Alaska in their motor home during the summer, they caught pink salmon and Dolly Varden trout which they shipped to the taxidermist to be added to the mount along with native moss, goose grass, driftwood and rocks. The result is a museum-quality display with the bear in a natural-appearing setting, a salmon in his claws, other fish swimmingin a simulated stream beside him.
But even after the mount arrived in December, Zander's problems with his bear were not yet over. Themount was delivered to a freight station in a huge shipping crate. After Zander transported it by trailer to his house, he had to get it into the basement room he had designed to display it.
With the help of several neighbors, one of whom supplied a tractor with a front-end loader, the crate was unloaded. A garage door frame had to be removed to get the massive mounting into the basement. Fortunately, Zander had the foresight to leave one wall of the basement den unfinished,so transferring the grizzly to its new home was accomplished withoutmajor structural changes to his house.
Now complete, the Zanders'"Bear Room" displays not only the grizzly, but numerous other mementos of their Alaskan adventures, including many dramatic photographs. For visitors to the Zander's home, it is an awesome experience to view the bear displayed in his natural habitat. And -- for most -- it is as close to a grizzly as they will ever come . . . or care to.