Part of the fun of being in camp is getting acquainted with the other hunters. Most are good guys, and hearing their stories, jokes and ideas not only enlivens the experience but also gives us food for thought after we return home.
Most recently, on an outing with the famed Collingwood Brothers outfit in north-central British Columbia, it was my good fortune to meet up with Junior and Jay, who had come from their hometown of Oroville, Wash., to hunt moose. At first glance they didn’t really look like clients you usually encounter in north-country camps. Jay Lynch is short, wiry, and downright hairy—not Duck Dynasty hairy, but trending that way. His partner, Charles “Junior” Eder, is a big man, up in years, and soon it was evident he has much difficulty walking and getting around. I wondered how he’d do in what invariably is a physically demanding hunt. But when we shook hands and I noted those broad shoulders, I sensed that back in the day Junior had been one rugged hombre.
To access the vast territory, Collingwood’s guides and hunters trek by horseback or run high-country rivers in jet boats. In the quest to fill my mountain goat and caribou tags, I would be doing some of both, whereas Junior and Jay would have to rely on the boat to get them into game. But since there was plenty of moose-rut activity along the riverbanks, Reg Collingwood was convinced they’d be able to find moose and then help Junior out of the boat in time to call a bull in for him.
That plan nearly worked to perfection early on when a young moose splashed across just upstream. Guide Robin Freeman immediately beached the aluminum skiff and not far off they could hear a bull grunting. The men tried steering Junior into position, but the moose came too fast. He was big, possibly a book candidate, and so it was hastily decided that Jay would shoot this one. He did, and bagged himself a trophy of a lifetime.
A couple days later Robin eased Junior out of the boat and walked him up from the river to a calling set-up along a broad meadow. For the older man, it was difficult and painful, but he gritted and made it, and was rewarded for his determination when a bull soon came to Robin’s calls. It was no big trophy like Jay’s, but was a perfect, young meat bull, and Junior was extremely happy with his prize.
All of us back at Collingwood’s Hyland Post base camp were also glad to learn the tough old guy had scored. In the days that followed, more came out about this pair that really made everyone sit up and pay attention. It turned out that Junior formerly had owned one of the biggest cattle-ranching and orchard operations in his area, spanning some 15,000 acres. Both men were hunters for life. Along with hometown deer and bird hunts, Junior had traveled a fair amount, and Jay on occasion had tagged along when his uncle was a professional guide in Alaska.
Then in the mid-1990s, Junior’s hunting got sidetracked. Prostate cancer nailed the big cattleman, a dangerous, life-threatening bout that resulted in prolonged treatments at big-city hospitals. And not long after he had bounced back, another calamity struck. A brush fire spread from a neighboring property, and as Junior worked frantically with his D7 Cat to clear a fireline, the inferno engulfed him. When the ‘dozer stalled, Junior jumped away and tried using a screwdriver to gouge out a hole into which he could burrow under the inferno. That worked at first, but heat become too intense and so he ran for it. But the ground was rough, and he tripped and fell into a bank of flames.
Jay was riding the fire truck that day, and upon seeing the Cat sitting at the partially scraped fireline, he worried that Junior might have been caught in the fire. Thefirefighters found him sitting on a transformer, his hands, arms and legs burnt so badly the skin was starting to slough off. Jay used water and T-shirts to try to hold his neighbor together while the responders rushed him to a clinic several miles away. In transit, they were diverted to a doctor’s office.
Begging for pain medicine, Junior heard someone say, “We’re losing him!” He thought, "Some poor guy here is in even worse shape than me." Then the lights went out and it was as if he was looking down, down at a man lying on a doctor’s table. The man was him. Someone said, “We’re getting him back.” That was followed by a Med-Evac to a Seattle hospital where Junior would remain the next eight weeks fighting to regain the use of his hands and feet.
Eventually Junior did recover and as much as anything he wanted to get back to hunting. Naturally he wanted to hunt again himself, but he also wanted to be around other hunters. And so he opened his land to guests, in particular elderly hunters, disabled hunters and youngsters. Junior’s friends would come to help, and Jay landed the job of skinning the deer (“lots of deer”).
Last November this duo came up with a new arrangement. Jay is now working for Junior, and a part of the job (“a good part!”) is accompanying the older man on hunting trips. That started with a free-range bison hunt in British Columbia.
This year’s program is much more ambitious. Junior actually started by traveling to New Zealand with his two daughters to hunt red deer, tahr and fallow deer. After that successful trip, he and Jay launched a four-legged series including: an Idaho elk hunt (two fine bulls); an alligator hunt in Louisiana (a 9-footer plus others); up to Collingwood’s Spatsizi area for two moose; and finally a scheduled Texas whitetail hunt in November. To avoid the rat race of modern air travel, they are taking their time, either driving or going by train.
After some close calls, Junior now believes hunting is helping to keep him alive. In the week after downing his moose he was walking at a faster clip, and if pulling the trigger of his pre-’64 Winchester M70 .300 H&H is any indication, his hands are working just fine, too.
“At a show last winter, I asked the Collingwoods, ‘What can you do with a man like me?’” said Junior. “And Reg said, ‘Don’t worry, I can take care of you. We’ll get you a moose.’ And he did. He and his crew have bent over backwards to take care of me.”
“I only got so long, and I don’t know when the end will be. I don’t want to be in any rest home,” Junior said. “If I die while I’m out here then that’s okay—I died doing what I want to do.”