The discussion of properly outfitting your hunting vehicle is not as glamorous or fun as talking about rifles, bow setups or custom fletched arrows. Realistically, though, your vehicle can make or break your hunt. Most of us have a limited amount of time to spend in the wild chasing animals. Why take undue chances with that precious time? Something as simple as getting stuck, a dead battery or bad tires could severely limit or even ruin a hunting trip.
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There are only two kinds of hunters, ones that have had vehicle issues on a hunt, and those that will. You can’t eliminate every scenario, but you can take steps to insure you will spend the maximum time hunting. Personally, I do a lot of my hunting solo. My vehicle preparations are even more paramount.
Tires – Lets start with tires. They are vital on rough backcountry roads. Your hunting vehicle will likely end up in places you didn’t plan for it to go. Even during early bow season, you can end up with extreme rain, mud and snow. On a hunt I did in Colorado, we woke up in basecamp to more than a foot of snow. Our tents were collapsed, and we were virtually stranded until it melted. Back then, we did not have our vehicles ready for anything. Don’t underestimate backcountry roads, rocks and weather. They will ruin normal tires in a hurry.
This year, I had to cut a major scouting trip short because of damaged sidewalls. I was planning to replace them before the season, but neglected to do it early enough. I was forced to pack up and head home early. I was 60 miles in on a rough gravel dead end road, had only seen one vehicle in three days, and had no cell service, not to mention the sheer cost of getting someone back there if I did have cell service. I made the decision that I could not continue with no spare. I’m not a tire expert, but I would highly recommend a good set of 10ply off road tires. They will cost a bit more, ride a little rougher, but they are bomb proof.
General Maintenance – This is not something you pack, but needs to be done. Have your battery tested, brakes checked and the general maintenance done before the season begins. This is really simple but easily neglected. If you don’t do it and something happens, you will be kicking yourself.
Does your vehicle have a way to turn off your interior lights? If it does, I would recommend turning it off. It is much safer to use your headlight. I actually removed the overhead light fuse to reduce the chance of leaving them on and returning to a dead battery. Dead batteries always seems to happen at night at the end of a mountain road.
The Vehicle Supply Box – I keep all my vehicle specific gear in a heavy-duty fold top storage box. This makes it easy to grab and go. This box will get really heavy really quickly so it needs to be very robust.
Tire Chains – I can’t image hunting in the backcountry without at least one pair/set of V-Bar tire chains. I’ve only had to use mine a couple of times, but during those times they were critical. It came down to being stuck or getting home. The piece of mind is worth having them in my box all the time. This year, some friends and I managed to get onto an extremely muddy Montana road. It was worse than any snow I’ve ever seen. We ended up driving over 250 miles just to get back to basecamp. We could not risk returning on that same road.
Bow Saw – During that same scouting trip mentioned above. I was coming out and found a large tree had fallen across the road since I had driven in. There was no moving it, and no way around it. I would have been in real trouble if not for the bow saw. I would have rather had a chain saw, but the bow saw got me out with a bit of work. I also carry heavy-duty pruners. Those two items serve dual purpose and are great when it comes to getting firewood for a basecamp.
Jumper Cables & Jump Starter – Jumper cables are great and you should always have them in your kit. This obviously requires another vehicle to wonder by. Like I said, I do a lot of solo hunting in some pretty remote areas. I’m going to start carrying one of the newer compact Heavy Duty Lithium-Ion Jump Starters. They can also be used to charge just about anything you need. There are several models available, but I’m looking at the Antigravity AG-XP-10 Multi-Function Power Supply and Jump Starter. It gets very good reviews on Amazon.
General Tools – You should always carry a basic set of tools. I pack a decent socket set, large and small pliers, wire cutters, phillips and flat screwdrivers, metric and standard allen wrenches, hammer and a multi-tool at the bare minimum. I always have electrical tape as well.
First Aid & Related – You may or may not need a first aid kit if you always carry one in your pack. I think it is still is a good idea to have an expanded kit in your box. Other items you might consider are a water filter or water purification system and emergency supplies. These are items you may already have in your pack, but still consider them.
Trash Bags, Duct Tape & Zip Ties – These items are almost indispensable and are must haves. You can also replenish your kill kit with these items if needed.
Tow Strap and Come-Along Winch – I never go anywhere without these two items. You have either been stuck while hunting or you will be.
Large Mag Light – I carry an LED version with fresh batteries. This is great to have around basecamp.
Shovel – I carry the foldable Gerber type shovel so it fits well in the box.
Hatchet – This might be an optional item, but I throw one in. I have used a hatchet many times.
Moving Blanket – They are cheap and they work pretty darn well in a pinch.
Utility Knife – More than likely you will have your hunting knife, but I would still pack a utility knife. They come in handy for a lot of things.
Extra 550 Paracord – You can never have enough of this type of cord. You can use this supply to replenish your pack as needed as well.
Toilet Paper & Wet Wipes – Does toilet paper need any justification. Just pack it. Wet wipes can make your life a bit more comfortable in a bad situation. They can make all the difference.
Extra Gas Can – This can be a pain and I hate the smell. On most trips I do carry an extra gas can though. I have needed it more than I care to admit.
Food – More than likely you will have food ready or in your pack, but a few extra items that will last a very long time are worth it. I carry a few cans of pull top type soup in my box. You can eat hot or cold in a pinch and they will last the whole season for sure.
Delorme InReach or Spot – I realize this is an expensive ad on, but it could come down to saving your life. We all love to hunt and be in remote places where cell phone service is very limited. This year, I started carrying a Delorme InReach in my pack. It gives me, and most importantly my wife, some piece of mind. It has the ability to send and receive basic text message. My wife loves that. Hint: This could end up adding a few more days to your hunting trips as well.
There are so many other things we prefer to think about when getting ready for a hunt. But, getting your hunting vehicle ready is one of those things you don’t want to overlook. If you take the right steps, it will be there when you need it, and though we take it for granted, we all desperately need it.