Gun Digest

Hunting Truck: Outfitting The Ultimate Rig

Tackling America's wild places requires the right gear. Find out how to outfit the ultimate hunting truck with this gear.

What Gear Do You Need For Your Hunting Truck:

Recovery Gear

Navigation & Communication

Meat Care

I don't know when or why the idea struck me. But somehow, a DIY mule deer hunt in Montana suddenly seemed like a good idea. Like many hunters, I focused all my attention on the rifle, optics, and ammo — the fun stuff. This reaction is natural. After all, these things play prominently when the moment of truth comes, and you have game in your sights. It's the moment that captures your daydreams and compels you to expend time, energy, and money planning the massive undertaking of western hunting.

Sako sent me a Finnlight II in .270 Win. and Swarovski provided a Z8i 1-8x24mm scope for the rifle. With high-end tools such as these, it didn't take long to find a tack-accurate load, and I soon had my dope to 400 yards scribbled on a napkin and committed firmly to memory (see my full review in the Gun Digest 2022 annual book).

But this is where the real adventure begins. For as I would come to learn, the rifle turned out to be the least of my worries for this western adventure. What kept me up at night was whether I adequately prepared myself to deal with Montana's extreme weather and desolate environs. The state's “gumbo” roads have claimed many a flatlander victim. These roads — a term that seems generous — can turn from solid gravel to clay-grease-from-hell so fast it'll make your head spin. Some men fear going bald; me, I fear sliding off thousand-foot rocky cliffs and dying in a fireball of mangled steel. Thus, outfitting my hunting truck demanded most of my time leading into the fall season.

If you think about it, your hunting truck is as critical as an accurate rifle: It can mean the difference between being at the right time and place to get a shot or getting mired in a muck hole and wasting your precious vacation days trying to get unstuck. That's especially true when much of the American West is beyond cell phone service, and you can drive all day and not happen upon one good Samaritan, let alone see a human. The last thing you want is to get stuck, lost, or stranded on some lonely backcountry trail. While all shooters and hunters have their favorite truck brands and models, here's why the Gun Digest team took a 2018 Toyota Tundra SR5 Off-road for a spin on the slick two tracks of Eastern Montana in pursuit of the mule deer, aka the gray ghost.

‘Yota Tundra Basics

The Tundra's 5.7L V-8 engine cranks 381 HP (401 lb-ft torque @ 3,600 rpm), and its 4.30 gear ratio puts serious power to the wheels, particularly when you turn off traction control and activate tow/haul mode.

The Tundra's sizeable 38-gallon fuel tank carries you farther, a bonus when the nearest gas station is hundreds of miles away. Toyota's legendary reliability made good sense to us when venturing into the unknown wilds. And it sports one of the tightest turning radiuses in the industry — 22 ft. — essential for such a massive trail rig.

While we didn't go overboard on overland upgrades, here's a snapshot of the additions that gave us the confidence to take the Tundra far off the road. Note: This is all stuff we trust and have purchased. None of it, not even the hunting truck, were provided to us for review.

Recovery Equipment

No matter how well a truck performs off-road, there is always a limit, and you should plan on eventually getting stuck. Some basic recovery gear can prove to be money well-spent and will provide peace of mind when you're deep in the backcountry.

MaxTrax: Traction boards (technically “Vehicle Recovery Devices”) are indestructible polymer boards with studded traction features. You place them under the tires of your hunting truck if you get caught in snow, mud, or sand. MaxTrax is the best. Don't mess around; buy it.

The 48-inch Hi-Lift Jack enables you to jack your hunting truck on uneven and rutted-up two-track roads, plus it doubles as a simple machine: You can winch your rig out with it! The author recommends the Step 22 Gear Jack Cover to keep grime from the Hi-Lift's mechanism and accessories such as the ORB Off Road Base, HK-B Black Handle-Keeper, and LM-100 Lift-Mate. The jack attaches to the Tundra's bed rails using the Rago Fabrication Hi-Lift Mount.

Hi-Lift Jack: The 48-inch Hi-Lift jack is not like the little “car jack” stowed under the rear seat of your hunting truck: This thing is long enough to jack your vehicle on the most uneven of ground, and you can even use it as a manual winch if you're really in a bind. Be sure to get the ORB Off-Road Base, HK-B Black Handle-Keeper (so the handle doesn't rattle around when you're dodging cows), and the LM-100 Lift-Mate.

Rago Fabrication Mounts: We attached the MaxTrax and Hi-Lift Jack securely to the Toyota's Bed Rail System with Rago Fabrication mounts. Installation was simple, and performance off-road was solid, with no wiggle and no noises. Serious off-roaders use this stuff, and you should too.

Step 22 Gear Jack Cover for Hi-Lift Jack: You need to keep dust and road grit from clogging up the works on your Hi-Lift jack. I like the Step 22 Gear cover, custom-designed for the Hi-Lift.

MaxTrax recovery boards are essential gear when traveling in the backcountry. You wedge them under your tires when you get stuck in snow or mud, and it's instant traction.

Big Red Torin Steel Jack Stands: These 3-Ton jack stands are critical to keeping your rig up in the air for tire changes or when you need to crawl under your rig to dislodge a pine tree jammed into your transfer case.

Bond Fiberglass Round Point Shovel: It's a shovel. To dig yourself out when your big plans blow up in your face. The Bond model, popular with off-roaders, is short at 42 inches and fits perfectly along the back of the truck's bed. We used End of the Road's Original Quick Fist Clamp to mount it to a Rago Fab plate.

Glacier V-Bar Snow Tire Chains with Cam Tighteners: Tire chains are required kit in most of the West, and the Glacier V-Bars are some heavy-duty chains. They feature welded v-bars, spikes that dig into the worst snow and ice.

RotopaX Gas Canister: While we liked the Tundra's voluminous 38-gal. gas tank, a 2-gal. RotopaX canister mounted to the Bed Rail made it 40 gallons for an extra measure of comfort. The RotopaX is the industry standard in off-road fuel carrying; be sure you practice with it before the season. It uses a locking cap mechanism to dispense the fuel. Don't wait to figure this out when you're on E in the middle of nowhere. RotopaX sells a mount for the Toyota Bed Rail System.

Hunting Truck Navigation & Comms

Long gone are the days when you held a compass and gazed at the stars, tracing lines across a parchment map. Today's GPS satellites might keep conspiracy theorists up late at night, but they also make navigation much simpler. Here's a look at our setup.

Simple, effective navigation. A Samsung Tab S7 5G tablet loaded with OnX and Gaia GPS mapping apps. You preload the tablet with detailed area maps before leaving on your trip, and then, setting the device to Airplane mode, disable the Internet. The unit's internal GPS tracks you in real-time, providing you with super-detailed topographic and forest service maps, even trails! The author powers the tablet via a Dewalt 140w Power Inverter, which plugs into the cigarette lighter and converts 12V DC to 120V AC, giving you a power outlet and two 3.1A USB ports.

Samsung Tab S7 5G Tablet: The new Samsung tablet has enough juice to power all the nav apps you'll need, and by default, it stays on when running said apps (it doesn't annoyingly power down every few minutes). Most importantly, it has an internal GPS for use with the nav apps (below). We mounted it to the dash using the Ram Mounts Ram X-Grip, and 3M two-sided automotive-strength tape.

OnX Hunt and OnX Off-road: The OnX app gives you instant landowner map data and boundary lines and is feature-rich with overlays ideal for hunters seeking access to hunting areas. You can switch it into Airplane mode (Internet off), and it will use your phone or tablet's GPS to track you in real-time. Requires subscription.

Gaia GPS: Gaia Maps is another app that features almost limitless nav possibilities. It shows roads and trails and features route-creation tools that make planning a day trip into an unknown wilderness area a snap. Like OnX, you turn off the Internet, and it uses the tablet's internal GPS to track you in real-time. Requires subscription, well worth the cost.

Onboard amateur radio provides local, regional, and global communications where cell phones can't reach. The Yeasu FTM line of dual-band FM/C4FM transceivers covers VHF/UHF on analog and digital plus APRS (Automated Packet Reporting System), which uses the transceiver’s internal GPS to transmit your location and data beacons to monitoring stations on 144.390 MHz. Not only that, you get access to NOAA Weather Radio anywhere in the country for real-time weather updates. Requires a Technician-class amateur radio license from the FCC.

Yaesu FTM-100DR Transceiver: When your cell phone's bars disappear, and you must reach someone for help, nothing beats ham radio. I mounted a Yaesu FTM-100DR dual-band FM/C4FM transceiver in the Tundra, with an external dual-band antenna from Diamond. The 50-watt transceiver handles two-way comms in analog and digital modes on the UHF (70cm) and VHF (2m) bands.

If I have any elevation at all, a 50-mile radius range is easy, and several hundred miles are possible depending on your height and atmospheric propagation. Using its digital capability, I can access the worldwide System Fusion radio over the Internet and talk with my friends in Germany or Okinawa with crystal clear audio. I should be capable of calling for a tow truck.

And I can get real-time NOAA weather radio updates anywhere in the country. (Yaesu discontinued the FTM-100DR and has since replaced it with the FTM-300.) To operate, you’ll need a Technician-class amateur radio license from the FCC.

Meat Care

RTIC Hard Cooler 65 QT.: After you've poured all your work and effort into taking game, you need some way to keep your meat cool. That's even true when hunting in a cold place like Montana, where the daytime highs can hit 60 degrees in mid-November.

We gave the RTIC 65 Cooler a test run, and it was as good as any other high-end brand we've tried — at two-thirds the cost. Freeze water in a few orange juice bottles for ice during the off-season, and this bank-vault-tight cooler will stay cold for two weeks, at least.

Needs Improvement

What didn't we like about the 2018 Toyota Tundra? Not much. It performed way above expectations. Our complaints mirror those you'll hear coming from many off-roaders, namely the Tundra's previously mentioned lack of locking rear diff and crawl control features, which are standard fare on the Tacoma TRD Off-road and 4Runner models and peculiarly absent on the Tundra.

The “Off-road” Tundra models could also use more aggressive tires with Kevlar-reinforced sidewalls. Toyota has been teasing a Tundra redesign for its 2022 year, so time will tell if the tight-lipped automaker listens to its core off-road users and corrects these injustices.

Hunting Truck Lessons

No truck project is ever complete, and hindsight is 20/20. If I could do it again, I'd bring a backup rifle (I had no issues with the Sako, it's just good practice) and have a more organized gun storage solution to securely lock rifle and ammo in the hunting truck while we are hunting or scouting.

One intriguing solution is the new Pelican Cargo line, which Pelican developed for the overlanding market. The Pelican BX85S Case is 51.7 inches long, and you can attach it above your bedsides via the Toyota's bed rail system — and of course, it is lockable. It would be ideal for a padded gun case and to hold an extra rifle.

Also, check out the Pelican BX80 Cargo Case at 20.75 x 12.25 x 13.25-inch interior size, which would be the ticket to keep tire chains, jacks, and recovery gear organized in the bed. It, too, attaches to the bed rail system of the Toyota line. Organization and consistency are keys to happiness.

To upgrade my extraction options, the Yankum Rope is the thing to have so passersby can yank you out of a tough spot. The Yankum Ropes Rattler Series (1 inch by 30 feet) handles a static 18,500 lbs. The Yankum is not a “tow strap.” Yankum designed it to stretch, to take momentum, allowing smaller vehicles to extract much larger ones by getting a running start.

Lastly, one trick all off-roaders use to improve traction is to air down tires. If you don't have bead lockers, you can safely air down to 20-25 psi, which will dramatically improve traction on mud and snow. It won't turn your SUV into a rock crawler, but it will improve handling and control on rocks and smoothen your ride. An excellent portable solution is the ARB 12V High-Performance Portable Air Compressor and ARB E-Z Deflator Kit 10-60 PSI. You can keep these in the bed of your truck, air down with the ARB E-Z Deflator when you hit the trail, and air back up with the ARB compressor when you reach the highway.

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