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Truck Camping for Success
Knowing the right ways use your truck while hunting vast tracks of land can be a huge benefit. Nearly all of us hunters own a truck, but are you using it to its full potential? Now, I am not saying to drive around and hope that monster buck or bull steps out. Driving around aimlessly glassing from every pullout will not produce consistent results. Today everyone owns a pair of binos and a scope and can stick them out the window on a dirt road. On the other end of the spectrum, you have hard hunters that will hike mile after mile through country that is devoid of game. You want to be somewhere in the middle – using your truck to learn vast areas, access country and base camp out of, then busting your hump in the right game-rich country. That’s a recipe for success.
The Big Picture
You have to know the layout of the country you will be hunting. You need to have maps of the road systems and mountain ranges. Before you ever leave on your hunt, you should know where all the access points, main roads and closed roads are. You should know the layout of the mountain ranges, ridges and valleys.
Early in my hunting career I would just head up a dirt road, not really knowing what direction or part of the mountain I was on. I would take off hunting not really knowing where I was headed or what features I was going to be looking at. Heck, half the time I would hike hours thinking I am getting away from pressure only to find another road I did not know existed. Nowadays, I know what features I am hunting and know where the roads are. That way when I take off hiking for a couple hours, I know I am getting away from the pressure.
I start with a state gazetteer map showing the whole state and then get the national forest or state lands map. The national forest maps will show which roads are open and which are closed. Then I like to get topo maps of the area to be able to see the big picture of what the land is doing. I go over them in detail before a hunt to get ideas of where I will go. Once I am in an area, I immediately start using my maps as a marking board. I start marking closed roads and start taking notes on anything I see of interest. I will mark good vantage points, water, game sightings; I will even mark hunting pressure. It does not take too long in an area to start to see the big picture of what’s going on.
I do a lot of hunts that are in high-pressure areas. Seems game is always where the hunting pressure is not. Game animals have a knack for finding these spots. But, even in high-pressure areas there are places like that. I look for tracts of land that are void of roads or void of trails. I look for spots that have tough access and you may have to walk for a while to get into. Another tactic I use is to look for a few sections of public land that sits amongst private. These spots are tougher for guys to find and usually hold game.
When you arrive in a new hunting location the first thing to do is get a feel for the area. I will usually scout in the summertime or show up a couple days before the hunt to put eyes on the country. Even if the hunt is already on, it still pays to take a day and scout. Now I will have a few spots circled on my map that I want to check out and I will head to those first. I will use my truck to travel and look from different vantages.
Like I said earlier, everyone can stick a pair of binos out the window, so you need to take it a step further. Have canyons that are hidden from view from the road. Have short hikes that will lead you to a high knob or overlook that gives you a good vantage point. This is where having a good topo map of the area pays off big time. You can see where the roads go and see where the best vantage points are. Take some time here and look at your best bets first and during first light. In the middle of the day you want to check out country, getting a feel for what will be best to look at during prime time. Take note of any animals you see while driving or from your vantage points.
Another technique I use is to glass extreme distances. I will pull off or park where I can see an immense amount of country. The distance varies from a mile to 10 miles. A lot of times it is where no one would stop to glass like a main highway or down off the mountain. I usually choose to pick the hillside apart with my scope, trying to pick up critters. Now you can’t tell how big of buck it is from this distance and sometimes you can’t even tell if it is a buck. What you will see is where populations of game are living and then you can hone in from there.
Where there’s one, there’s more. You very rarely see every animal in an area from one vantage. So if you start to see animals in an area it is a sign there are more. Where I see animals is where I will start to hunt. I will make a push into country and see what’s living in there. I will make hikes showing me more country and different vantage points. I will focus my effort in a location and find out what is in there. Sometimes one hunt is all it will take and sometimes I will hunt a location for five days straight. It just depends on how much game and sign I am seeing.
Good snow is not just for skiers, it also helps us hunters immensely. Animals always move after a storm and are easier to spot with the white background. The biggest advantage is that you can see where critters are hanging out. There is now a record of where every animal has moved through or where animals are feeding. You can glass great distances for tracks and for feed marks. Tracks show up best with good sun so hunting in the middle of the day can be super-productive.
After a big snow storm there is no place I would rather be than behind my glass. I will use my truck to travel around and then take note of everything I see. No matter if I am hunting mulies or elk, I use the snow to see where populations are. I then will focus in on these areas and hike in and hunt them. There is no better tell-all in the woods than a fresh snow.
The biggest advantage a truck gives you is being mobile. It allows you to change areas if where you are hunting is not productive. It allows you to cover country and pick and choose different vantage points with minimal effort. Put your base camp in the right spot and you are set up sweet. Set a base camp in the wrong spot and it will be an anchor. It keeps you from moving locations and keeps you out of game. I am not saying you can’t have a nice camp but be willing to move if the hunting falls off. Be willing to drive and scout other areas and move your camp if necessary.
Most of the time I will run a mobile truck camp, throwing out a pup tent or canvas burrito. I use a piece of canvas and then blow up my air mattress, set up my sleeping bag, then roll up the canvas around me. Every day I wake up before light and pick up my camp and then have it in the truck with me. It allows me to be super mobile and throw out my camp where ever I end up. I make day hikes into different locations and then my truck is my base camp.
Okay, so the very phase “truck hunting” enrages us hardcore hunters. We all have heard the story of the guy driving down some road we know when a monster steps out and he shoots it. The truth is this kind of luck does not produce consistent results. Those guys get their lucky day in the sun and that’s it. What does produce consistent trophies is hunting hard and hunting smart. Doing that using a truck to benefit your hunting is a fine line. Use your truck too much and you are doing what everyone else is doing and it’s hard to get results. Use it too little and you will find yourself hiked in miles deep in the wilderness with no critters for miles. So keep that in mind on your hunt and try to find the middle ground. Use your truck to get around and locate pockets of game, then get in there and bust your butt after the trophy you want.
Also make sure you are doing the little things on your hunt. Do the things most guys don’t and it will pay off. Make sure you are up way before light to put yourself in the best vantage point come first light. Stay out late to see what shows up at last light, then make your way back to your truck after dark. If that hunt does not produce the animals you want to hunt, time to move camp. Be in a different area come next sunrise and see what lives there. It can be tough to find good trophies out West but they are out there. You just have to cover enough country to put yourself into them.
So this season, use your truck to its full potential. The key is to find the perfect mix of using your truck wisely and hunting hard to punch your tag.
Essentials when hunting out of your truck:
1. 10-ply tires with 1-2 spares. If you run the factory 4-ply tires you spend more time fixing flats then hunting.
2. Tow straps, come along, chains, sockets, jumper cables, duct tape. You never know what you are going to be up against.
3. I always bring 10 – 20 gallons of extra fuel. I will use gas cans to ensure I can explore vast tracks of land without having to go back to town for more gas. Oh, and makes sure you have good caps and strap your containers upright. There is nothing worse than going down a bumpy road and turning your hunting clothes into a Molotov cocktail.
4. Bring all the food and water you will need for the trip. Going to town is out of the question and you never know how easy water will be to get.
5. Make sure you have a cool head when making decisions. Watch out for washouts, super-steep drop-offs, mud holes and narrow roads. Be calculated in the risks you take, it can be a long walk back to town.