Johnny Sinkovic holds a fish he caught on a trip to Alaska. Sinkovic, who will be 86 next month, is going on another black bear hunting trip in August.
The Grey Nuns saw something they liked in that 15-year-old kid from Toledo’s east side, so they put him to work in their hospital. Johnny Sinkovic was making 38 cents an hour scrubbing floors, washing windows and taking out the trash.
“I did whatever they told me to do. The nuns treated me good, and they taught me a lot,” Sinkovic said about the Sisters of Charity of Montreal, who in 1943 started training him for what would be a lifelong role in health care.
This past week, 71 years later, Johnny Sinkovic could still be found at St. Vincent’s. He volunteers there now after retiring as radiology administrator in 1993, following an even half-century employed at the hospital on Cherry Street.
But Sinkovic’s interpretation of retirement differs from most.
He will be 86 next month, and just a couple of weeks after his birthday, Sinkovic will do what most octogenarians consider a huge risk, even for the much younger set. He will be hunting black bear in the rugged wilderness of northern Ontario, and using a bow.
“I don’t understand people who are 55 or 60 and think they are too old to do anything. I enjoy bow hunting, I enjoy the adventure, and it’s something I think I can still do.”
Not many that know him would debate that point. Adventure has come often for Sinkovic.
When he was just 9 years old, he and a couple of friends would march down Elm Street with just some blankets, a jug of water, and a few sandwiches and camp out in a section of nearby woods. They used clothespins to hold up their makeshift tent, and only retreated for home when a big thunderstorm at three in the morning left them soaked.
Another time, Sinkovic and his cohorts rowed out to Guard Island, put up a canvas lean-to, and spent the weekend getting mauled by mosquitoes, and getting sick from drinking lake water. His earliest experience shooting a bow likely came at Michigan’s Camp Silver when he was about 12. Sinkovic recalls another time when he and his friends used the ribs from an old umbrella as arrows, and shot them into the garage door of a neighbor.
“She called the police on us, so that didn’t turn out so well,” he said.
Sinkovic’s exploits with the bow and arrow have been on the right side of the law since then. After a stint in the Marine Corps from 1948-52, he was back at the hospital, continuing to learn under the direction of the Sisters, and searching for adventure when away from the job.
“The nuns taught me everything I should know about film developing and so on, since back then there were no X-ray training schools,” he said. With the knowledge and experience, he passed the state exam and was certified as an X-ray technician.
Sinkovic soon hooked up with the Mudjaw Bowmen, a local archery club, and has been a member for nearly 60 years. He hunted deer in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, initially working strictly from the ground.
“At first, I wasn’t very good at it,” Sinkovic said. “It always seemed like the game saw me before I saw them.”
That changed as Sinkovic honed his skills, started to hunt from tree stands and his adventure map continued to unfold.
He has made numerous trips to Canada, and 10 fishing and hunting trips to Alaska, including a four-month hunting, fishing and kayaking expedition, a 200-mile, 12-day float trip on the Noatak River, and two 100-mile float trips on the Goodnews and the Alagnak rivers. While hunting from the ground on the latter trip, Sinkovic had a grizzly bear step less than 10 feet away, but it snorted and skedaddled before things got messy.
Sinkovic’s closest call came on a wilderness hunt in Canada, in a very remote section of Quebec near Hudson Bay, but not while he was in the woods. He was riding in an outfitter’s van, headed back to camp after harvesting a caribou, when the vehicle slid off an icy road and tumbled down a rocky embankment after dark.
He ended up pinned in the back of the van for more than two hours, with his left femur fractured in five places.
When he was extracted from the crash, Sinkovic was taken to a nearby power plant where a helicopter was located. He was then transported to a small clinic, read his own X-rays, and in his best French finagled a cargo plane to take him back to Toledo so the doctors at St. V’s could put him back together.
The ordeal lasted more than 30 hours, with no pain medication. “I was in pretty bad shape when I got to Toledo,” Sinkovic said.
After a $15,500 bill for the 400-mile chopper flight, an $8,889.10 tab for the six-hour cargo charter back to Toledo, 22 days in the hospital, about 100 grand in medical care, physical therapy and rehab, Sinkovic started planning his next hunting trip.
One year after the accident, he was back in northern Quebec, in the same camp, sleeping in the same bunk.
On one of his Alaska trips, Sinkovic was hiking over irregular, swampy terrain when he tripped and fell on a sharpened stump left by a beaver’s work. He had to hike a half-mile back to the road and, on the flight to the hospital in Anchorage, surmised that he had broken his seventh rib. The emergency room doctor confirmed that, and after Sinkovic was bandaged up, he flew back to the bush and was salmon fishing the next day.
He has also harvested elk in Colorado, kayaked near the Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska, and toured Germany, France, Belgium, Netherlands and Kenya on other trips. When he is back in Ontario in August, Sinkovic will be pursuing his 12th black bear taken with a bow.
The bow he uses in nearly 40 years old, with none of the newfangled pulleys and sights on the market today.
“I don’t think I need all of that. I am an instinctive shooter — I just line it up and shoot it,” he said.
“Besides, if you got as much game as this bow has, you wouldn’t change it either.”
There have been some new parts along the way — a couple of knee replacements and that 16-inch steel rod and screws it took to reassemble his femur — but Sinkovic sees no reason to throttle back on his exploits. His mother lived to 98, and he does not expect this next bear hunt to be his last.
“Some guys have always told me, ‘John, you’re going to get killed doing this’ but I don’t see it that way at all,” he said.
“My original hunting buddies are all gone now, and I’m out there with the second and third generation, still hunting and still enjoying it. I don’t look at these as trips — I consider them adventures — and I think you need a little adventure in your life, no matter how old you are.”
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6068.