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B&C Member Spotlight - Prentiss Gray

By PJ DelHomme 

His adventures started with chasing Columbia blacktails in California, then they spread north to Alaska and beyond. Thankfully for us, Prentiss Gray kept meticulous journals of his travels—all while compiling and editing the Club’s first records book. 


Boone and Crockett Club members are a who’s who in the conservation sphere. Members like Theodore Roosevelt, George Bird Grinnell, Charles Sheldon, and scores of others left a monumental conservation legacy in North America. Prentiss Gray had a rather different calling. 

Gray with his first buck—a Columbia blacktail.

Gray’s business was shipping, and Herbert Hoover called upon his skills to help bring food and humanitarian aid to Belgian refugees trapped behind German lines during World War I. For his contributions, Gray was awarded dozens of medals and honors from European leaders. Once he and his family returned to the United States, Gray compiled a small fortune, which he used to buy time to pursue his passions in the high country alongside his family. 

In addition, Gray was heavily involved in the Club’s early records program. Even though he was a Club member for just four years (1931-1935), he managed to chart a course for the future of the Club’s big game records keeping. 

Outdoor Roots 

Alaska became a U.S. territory in 1884. The same year Prentiss Gray was born in Oakland, California. By all accounts, his family was upper-middle class, and he graduated from public high school. He enrolled at U.C. Berkley, just a mile from his boyhood home, and he soon became a campus standout. A member of the debate and football team, Gray earned good grades and was active in the university’s Cadet Corps. 

As a boy, Gray enjoyed the outdoors and hunting, and he kept meticulous notes on his hunts in numerous journal entries. In addition, his skills behind bulky cameras of the day capture camp life and iconic locales like Yellowstone National Park. Along with a still camera, he also hauled a motion-picture camera created by fellow Boone and Crockett Club member Carl Akeley. The Boone and Crockett Club reprinted those journal entries and photos in a book, From the Peace to the Fraser. Gray recounts three decades of hunting in this compilation—from California to Newfoundland to Alaska. 

Gray shooting footage of wildlife on his Akeley camera near Barbara Lakes in 1928. On this trip Gray and his team documented several geographic features never mapped by Canadian officials.

His entries on deer hunting at the turn of the 20th century described the landscape and characters he encountered with intricate detail and frankness. Gray first tried to kill a deer when he was 12, sitting up all night in a tree over a salt lick. He failed and wrote, “Later I came to learn that waiting at a lick was not sport.” He recounted one adventure in which he and a friend captured two live fawns and attempted to haul them home. They got caught, and his friend pled guilty to “owning both fawns.” In the end, they got to keep the deer. When Gray was 16, he killed a Columbia blacktail, his first. He attempted to haul the deer out whole, with its legs suspended over his shoulder. After a couple of hundred yards of uphill travel, he soon fetched his horse. 

When he was 20 years old, Gray traveled the Stikine River in Alaska. He complained of tourists flocking to the Inside Passage—even in 1904! With his college roommate, Gray headed to Alaska “without fixed purpose or destination.” For a month, the two explored the wildlife and wild country without care—except perhaps for the mosquitoes. Along the way, they met a packer who “swore he saw three mosquitoes carrying off the hind quarter of a mule over the tops of the trees.” On the last day of the trip, the men hiked from Skagway to the top of White Pass, a round trip of 34 miles. It was “the best day’s walking we had done on our entire trip.” 

In 1908, Gray settled into family life but didn’t stop exploring and hunting. He married Laura Sherman, and they spent their honeymoon on the west coast of Central America. Once back home in Marin County, California, they had two kids, and he worked in shipping and real estate. 

Humanitarian Efforts 

The United States officially didn’t enter WW I until 1917, but Gray was recruited to help with humanitarian efforts in Belgium in 1916. Because of a naval blockade, supplies to 10 million people in Belgium and large swaths of northern France were cut off. The area and its residents were stuck behind German lines. The German troops took for themselves any provisions they found. 

At the time, Herbert Hoover (before he became POTUS) was a mining engineer living in London. He was asked by the American Ambassador to Great Britain to organize relief food shipments to Belgium. Hoover then sent recruiters to the U.S. to hire men with experience in shipping. A chance encounter with one of these recruiters on a street car put Gray behind German lines in January 1916. Gray was soon in charge of all the food supplies for Antwerp. 

Because of his shipping background, Gray was enlisted to help distribute rations to starving Belgians trapped behind German lines during WW I.

While in this position, Gray wanted to feel what it was like for those he was helping. He put himself on the same rations they were given. Breakfast was a cup of tea and 50 grams of bread; lunch was 150 grams of bread and soup; and dinner was 100 grams of bread, soup, and half a can of corn. He quickly lost weight, and because his disposition turned sour, his colleagues complained, and he gave up the diet. Hoover heard about the story and pitched it to British and American newspapers to win support for the relief efforts. 

When the U.S. declared war on Germany in April 1917, Gray’s wife and three-year-old daughter were living in Brussels. Hoover asked Gray to stay behind to balance the books while all other American relief personnel were evacuated. In May, the family was escorted through southern Germany to Switzerland. For his efforts, Gray was awarded dozens of honors and medals. Until the end of the war, Gray served as the head of the Marine Transport Division at the request of Hoover, who had become head of the U.S. Food Administration before he became the 31st U.S. president. 

Post-war Early Retirement 

After the war, Gray worked in the private shipping sector and banking. He survived the stock market crash in 1929 and the Great Depression. He actually did quite well. While Gray was making his millions, he was also hunting. 

Gray with a Rocky Mountain goat taken near the Peace River in 1927.

From 1922-1930, he journaled about his adventures across the western U.S. and Newfoundland, which you can read in From the Peace to the Fraser. In 1929, he went to Africa, Kenya, Belgian Congo, and Angola, collecting specimens for the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. He wrote of those journeys in African game-lands: A graphic itinerary in Kenya and along the Livingstone trail in Tanganyika, Belgian Congo, and Angola. At some point, Gray purchased a summer home/ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where he once again captured a couple of young fawns—this time in the name of conservation. 

In search of pictures of African wildlife and specimens of rare animals and birds, representatives of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia went on an expedition into the heart of the wild continent. Prentiss Gray, leader of the party and his wife, are shown in one of the all-steel photographic autos which were being utilized on the expedition.

Prentiss’s son, Sherman, passed away in 2015, and his obituary in the New York Times provided an entertaining account of their attempt to reintroduce pronghorn to the Jackson Hole area in 1934, a year before Prentiss died. “Pronghorn calves were to be brought to the Hole and raised in captivity until old enough to be released into the wild,” read Sherman’s obituary. “The plan hinged on the conversion of the Gray's large Packard sedan to a ‘stock’ car by ripping out the back seats and padding the interior. The two of them collected a small posse of pronghorn calves from a ranchman hours away whom his father had convinced to capture newborns the previous spring. The ride home was chaotic. Ever resourceful, they built a much-needed cage for the back of their car for the second trip. There are now pronghorns in Jackson Hole; however, Mr. Gray did not believe that this is a result of their efforts though the whole enterprise was ‘lots of fun and makes for a good story.’” 

In 1930 Gray traveled to Alaska with his daughter Barbara (16) and son Sherman (12). Barbara is shown here with her first Dall's sheep and her brother with a black bear. In his journal, Gray notes, "I got a greater kick out of watching Sherman kill this bear than I ever got out from a shot I fired."

When Prentiss tragically died in 1935 in a boating accident in the Florida Keys, Sherman was only 16 years old. Upon the death of Prentiss, Sherman wrote that the times he treasured most with his father were those spent outdoors—a pack trip across Wyoming’s Thorofare country, a moose hunt in Quebec, and a hunting trip in Alaska. Sherman killed big game on these trips, qualifying him for Boone and Crockett Club membership. Sherman became a member 32 years after his father died. 

Record Book Contributions 

Sherman wrote that his father’s favorite group was the Boone and Crockett Club, which may help to explain why Prentiss spent his free time working to organize the Club’s records into one book. Even though he has no record-book entries, Gray designed, compiled, and edited the first Records of North American Big Game in 1932. The need for a records book began decades before with the National Collection of Heads and Horns

When William Hornaday and Madison Grant reached out to sportsmen in 1906 to send in their trophies for a display at the Bronx Zoo, hunters responded en masse. As the collection grew exponentially, Gray recognized that some other method of record was needed; housing the physical trophies simply wasn’t feasible. Enter the records book. 

For three years, Gray and his team worked to measure and record 900 trophies from North America. Gray understood that the scoring system was hardly perfect. He knew that some hunters or taxidermists might twist the math or manipulate skull plates, so he insisted the heads be measured by someone with official training—as in the original Official Measurers. Gray also recognized the need for a uniform system of measurement. The original measurements used in the book recorded the length and spread of horns, antlers, or skulls—but it was far from an ideal system. Gray noted, “There is always the question of which measurements or combination of measurements should be regarded as constituting the record…we hope that eventually some fair method of ‘scoring’ a head may be devised which will be acceptable.”  This call for change did not go unheeded. 

Only 500 copies of the first edition of Records of North American Big Game were printed, which limited the reach and message to hunters, who may have had an interest in scoring and comparing their own big game records. In 1934, Remington Arms Company generously underwrote a reprinting of the records in a condensed version along with the measurement charts.

It took two decades, but the Club refined its scoring system thanks to Grancel Fitz and Club members Samuel B. Webb, James L. Clark, Milford Baker, Frederick K. Barbour, and Dr. Harold E. Anthony from the American Museum of Natural History. In 1952, the Club published the third edition of Records of North American Big Game, which is the first edition that lists and ranks trophies according to the new scoring system

Gray contributed his time and expertise to help move the Club forward, particularly in records keeping. While this is a lasting achievement, his journals that chronicled hunting and adventure in the early 20th century provide a window to the past, when Club members were working to save the last remnants of the big game that continues to capture our imaginations today. 

Member Spotlights

Boone and Crockett Club members have come from a cross-section of famous accomplished people whose lives and careers have written and recorded the history of this country since the late 19th Century. They have been naturalists, scientists, explorers and sportsmen, writers and academicians, artists, statesmen and politicians, generals, bankers, financiers, philanthropists, and industrialists. Their diversity of ideas and activities during their careers have made the Boone and Crockett Club rich in its fellowship and achievements. To read more member spotlights, just click here

PJ DelHomme writes and edits content from his home in western Montana. He runs Crazy Canyon Media and Crazy Canyon Journal

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