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.