Mike: Thanks for taking interest in this story. The history of this camp and this man is the subject of a book I am currently working on. I hope you and others enjoy the tale as much as I have enjoyed being part of it.– Cody Voermans
In my life I’ve met some fine and successful hunters. Most of them have accolades of huge trophies and wild adventures, but none that can match the dedication and pure love of the sport that my 94-year old Grandfather Pat McVay has.
For the last 50 straight years, at the start of the Montana deer season, my grandfather has pitched his old canvas wall tent behind the earthen dike of a small reservoir overlooking the Missouri River Breaks. From a distance the camp looks like any other deer camp, but up close, the signs of a lifetime of deer hunting are plainly evident.
Some of the rocks along the dike are strangely out of place for the area. They include fossils, large chunks of quartz and obsidian. Most are rounded by weather and each holds a story behind its placement, commemorating a successful hunt or adventure on the prairie. The old cottonwood tree that leans over the dike shows countless rope scars on the larger branches where literally hundreds of deer, elk and antelope have hung waiting a trip home in the truck.
Even the campsite itself shows signs of Granddad’s history. The ridge pole of the old tent is always aligned with the North Star behind the center section of the dike, and pieces of oat straw, used as bedding in the early years, are still embedded in the prairie clay.
Grandpa named the camp “The Prairie Dog Motel,” and it’s always been open to visitors or fellow hunters that may stop by during the hunt. Grandpa even hosts a tent party during the hunt that draws as many as 30 or 40 landowners, hunters and friends some 50 miles down a gravel road for a night of old-time fiddle and guitar music as well as a few drinks. Camp guests have traveled from as far as California, Wisconsin and even Texas just for the tent party.
I often think how strange it must look to passersby seeing a wall tent in the middle of nowhere lit up by Coleman lanterns and ringing with the strum of guitars and continuous laughter.
As I said, this past November marked the 50-year anniversary of The Prairie Dog Motel. While Grandpa is 94, he was still able to roll his sleeping bag out on a cot in the old tent. This year’s hunt was made even more special by the attendance of two of his great grandsons, both age 7. Each evening all four generations of our family got to share a space in the tent motel, and that was a rare gift to all of us.
Let’s not forget the hunt. What would a deer camp be without deer? The same for us I suspect, but Grandpa always seems to find a buck. This year on the first evening of the hunt we found this nice 3-point bedded in a shallow coulee below a juniper. While I will never know what made that buck willingly give us the time we needed to get Grandpa a shot, he surely did and Grandpa notched another deer tag. He just smiled and patted his old Winchester Model 70 that he bought new in 1938. The old rifle has never let him down.
This buck isn’t the largest Grandpa has ever taken, not by a long shot. Standing over the deer he calmly told my young son, “Some of the finest trophies a man ever takes may have the smallest horns.” Someday I hope my son will understand the meaning of those words.
I don’t care how you shake it, from his leather boots to his old hunting cap, my grandfather is all man. As my son and I helped him tag and gut this buck, Grandpa told us that he shot his first deer in 1928, and over the 86 hunting seasons between that day and this, he’s never had a deer tag go unfilled.
That is, except for the two years he spent in the South Pacific during WWII. According to Grandpa, “We probably could have let the Japanese have a few of those God forsaken Islands. There aren’t any mule deer on them anyway.” To be clear that was a joke that made him crack a good smile. He wouldn’t have given an inch during the war, deer or no deer.
I’m sure that someday my son will look back on these photos and think, “My great granddad was an amazing man.” He would be right. He has some very large boots to fill.– Cody Voermans
Stories like this are why we hunt, and why I do this blog. Thanks for sharing Cody, and best of luck with the book.
Ditto, ditto,ditto. Goosebumps everywhere. God Bless our Grandfathers. Mine were both hunters-one mostly geese and some elk, the other hunted epic mule-also in the MO breaks sometimes. One has since passed, the other is 95. Greatest Generation indeed. Thanks for sharing. Thanks so
Speechless! What a great story. My Dad is 83 and still chasing whitetails with me, though not as far as he used to. To be hunting the same camp for 50 years and still dropping horns at 94……I tip my hat to you sir. I am no spring chicken, but you have given me a new goal. Thanks for that and the story…..that is a big part of why we all hunt. For those with that situation, how truly special it is. Enjoy it, it is quite a blessing from the man upstairs.
These are the kind of stories we need, what hunting is really all about…great
eph: You are so correct this is what hunting is meant to be. What seems to have been lost is the quality of the trip with family and friends. The game should come second an the size of the antlers should be way down on the list of importance. Too often today we watch TV shows on deer hunting where some personality grew a couple big bucks on land they keep everyone else off of an got themselves a camera as the bone inches grew so did their “fame” as they gain sponsors with more $$ to tie up even larger pieces of ground for the few .
I’d like to think I raised my son the way my father raised me. Sure I have some wonderful trophies on the wall but I’d give them up any day to hunt a doe with my family.
Well done! I know EXACTLY how you feel. My father handed me the keys to his old deer cabin the day before he passed on telling me, ” I built that place for you and me but hoped you’d have a son to share it with us some day. You did and we started him off right in that old shack.” We sure did Dad and the 50 years we shared in that smokey rough cut cabin will be with me till I hand those keys to your great grandson some day.
Big Daddy, That is awesome. I spent so much time with my Dad, and my three brothers, growing up rabbit hunting. I cherish all those Sat. mornings spent with my brothers, Dad, and sometimes my Uncle too. My Uncle lived in different cities over the years, but he was my Godfather too. Looking back, it was a family affair. We didn’t have a cabin, or stay overnight anywhere, but by God we did it, together as a unit. Ironically, my oldest brother, David texted me earlier tonight and wants to go bunny hunting’ on Sat. morning. Funny how it all comes full circle. Spending any amount of time with your family is well worth it; throw in a great outdoor activity along with it and BOOM…it’s what life is all about. (I’m currently enjoying a Dos Equis, so I raise my bottle to all the Grandpas, Dads, Uncles, Brothers, Cousins…you get the picture. God Bless all Outdoors Folks.
“We probably could have let the Japanese have a few of those God forsaken Islands. There aren’t any mule deer on them anyway.”
As a deer hunter and U.S. History teacher that was one of the best quotes I have ever heard in my life. God Bless your Granddad, Cody. Not only for such a heart warming story, but for being a bona fide member of “The Greatest Generation”. His kind are a very rare “species” indeed. Thanks for sharing that with us.
Also, that picture is worth a zillion words.