Nestled at the end of a long, dirt driveway in a valley south of Lambert is the country home of Gary Cayer, owner of one of the most extensive gun collections in the area.
Cayer, 76, won’t say exactly how many guns he owns, but everywhere you look there’s a rifle. Most are Winchester or Savage rifles he’s picked up at various gun shows over the years, but his collection also includes several Remingtons and a few revolvers.
Whitetail deer and pronghorn heads are mounted on the walls of just about every room in his home, a testament to Cayer’s aptitude as a hunter. “I used to hunt elk all the time, and I hunt deer and antelope, turkeys and prairie chickens, what they call grouse, and coyotes, cougars, whatever there’s available I hunt,” he said.
Fifteen yards from his home is his old house, which he and his wife, Phyllis, moved out of just before Christmas. Cayer still keeps his self made ammunition in the basement of the old home, along with every issue of Gun Digest since 1944, when the publication began. If hunting is Cayer’s first love, reading isn’t far behind. Often the two overlap. On a bookshelf in his living room, he displays his collection of hunting books by Theodore Roosevelt, including “African Game Trails” and “Outdoor Pastimes of an American Hunter.”
Cayer enjoys reading about the history of the West. “I like historical novels and true stories,” he said. “Not much on mystery or fiction. I like some substance.” He recently finished reading a book called “Comes the Morning,” written by his friend Roane Deckert from Richey, who recently passed away. The book describes Deckert’s family’s emigration from Russia to the United States.
Cayer grew up in northern Dawson County, less than a mile from his current home. His mother came to the area from Marion, S.D., in 1909. His father was born in Frenchtown but settled in the Three Buttes area near Lambert when he was young. A professional bucking horse rider, Cayer’s father traveled across the United States and Canada riding in rodeos in New York and Calgary, Alberta, among other places. Cayer rode bucking horses himself, but chose not to pursue it.
When he was 5 years old, Cayer was given his first gun, a single-shot .22-caliber rifle from his father, which he used to hunt small critters near his home. “I’d go out and shoot gophers and shoot magpies,” Cayer said. “They had a 10-cent bounty on magpie legs back then, and so I’d shoot magpies until I ran out of shells, then I’d take the feet into Glendive with my dad when he went to the hardware store. They’d give me dimes, and I’d buy another box of bullets and a candy bar.”
At 11 years old, Cayer shot his first whitetail deer. The next morning, his neighbor, Roy Brokaw, stopped by for coffee and noticed the deer in the barn. “Who shot that nice whitetail buck in the barn,” Brokaw asked. Cayer’s father pointed at him, prompting Brokaw to muss up Cayer’s hair and say, “By gosh kid you’re gonna make a hunter yet.”
Brokaw turned out to be right. Years later Cayer was chatting with a game warden in Sidney when the warden said, “I’ve heard stories about you and your hunting. How many deer have you shot in your life?” Cayer smiles as he tells the story. “I said I’ll put it to you this way. I’ve forgotten and you don’t want to know.”
Cayer once took down a pronghorn from 1,500 yards away, hitting the animal on his third shot with his .264-caliber Winchester Magnum hunting rifle.
Cayer received a Winchester 1894 .30-30 from his father when he graduated from high school, with which he says has shot a “jillion” animals. His father saw it on a punchboard at Carter’s Bar in Lambert, and purchased the entire board to ensure he got the winning ticket.
After high school, Cayer worked a variety of jobs. He spent one summer cutting timber in the mountains and also did a lot of custom combining for area farmers. He met Phyllis in a cafe while working as a crop harvester. When he showed up at her house to take her out on their first date, Phyllis’ mother answered the door. “She said there’s some hillbilly hick out here that wants to talk to you,” Cayer said. “I guess I didn’t leave a very nice impression. I had an 11-inch handlebar mustache and a hat.”
After marrying and having the first of three children, Cayer left custom combining for a more stable job at the sugar processing factory in Sidney. He later went into the ranching business with his brother, while continuing to hunt and collect rifles. His favorite gun is his Winchester 1895 .38-72. His oldest is an 11.2-caliber Remington Rolling Block, which was manufactured in 1868. Every year he travels to gun shows across Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming, where he displays his collection and looks to purchase rare caliber rifles. A month ago, he bought two guns at a show in Williston, N.D., making his collection nearly complete. “I’m still looking for one more Winchester and then I’m done specifically,” he said.
“Until you want another one,” Phyllis added.