Ideal Hunting Vehicles, Part 2: Pickup Truck

By Chuck Hawks

Chevrolet pickup
Chevrolet crew cab pickup. Illustration courtesy of General Motors Corporation.

Probably no vehicle is more American in concept than the pickup truck. This form of light truck has been around almost as long as the automobile itself. For a long time considered a simple working vehicle, during the last couple of decades this farmer's friend has somehow become a status vehicle.

Modern pickups often glisten with chrome, gleam with custom paint, and rock with expensive stereo systems. They may be powered by high output, high performance motors similar to those found in a Mustang Cobra or a Corvette. Sometimes their interiors bear more superficial resemblance to a luxury car or SUV than a farm vehicle. Some of these deluxe pickups also cost as much as a luxury car or a fine sports car, a situation that I frankly find puzzling--sort of like designer jeans, another non sequitur.

In any event, the pickups with which this article is concerned are working vehicles. They have a practical application, a job to do. Chrome, fancy paint, and deluxe interiors are of little or no value in the field, and may be less durable (and thus less desirable) than standard equipment. Ditto for high output performance motors.

A regular two-wheel drive pickup can get pretty far down a bad road, but for a modern hunting vehicle, four-wheel drive (4x4) is probably the way to go. In deep mud or snow, four wheel drive can be a lifesaver. So all of the hunting trucks we will consider must have four wheel drive.

A hunting truck should ideally seat at least four people in reasonable comfort, since that is a practical number for a hunting party. That means a "crew cab" configuration with front and back seats. Four doors are a big plus.

A reasonable amount of lockable storage is another requirement, since guns, gear, and other valuables will, of necessity, have to remain in the vehicle unattended at times. Guns and supplies must also be protected from the weather and road grime, so tossing them into the open bed of the truck is not an option. A watertight, locking shell canopy or bed cover (tonneau cover) is a practical necessity for a well-equipped hunting truck. These are usually purchased after market and will also improve the vehicles gas mileage and thus range.

Shell canopies are most commonly made of fiberglass or aluminum. The principle advantage over a hard tonneau cover is the increased storage space and easier access if you have to crawl forward to retrieve something from the front of the bed. You can also camp back there in a pinch. However, they restrict the view rearward and can make backing up more difficult and more hazardous.

One drawback to the crew cab pickup is its length. The longer the vehicle is the more unwieldy it becomes on narrow, unimproved roads. Unless you like to back out of tight places, shorter is better. A crew cab version of a mid-size pickup is superior in this regard to a full size model.

Stick with a standard length bed (usually 6 feet) for your hunting truck. It should provide plenty of storage space, particularly if covered by a canopy, and conserves wheelbase compared to a long bed.

Standard pickup truck wheels are usually 15" to 17" in diameter. "Performance" wheels may be 17" to 20". Since you will probably have to buy mud/snow tires and chains for a hunting vehicle, the larger the wheels the more expensive such things will be. Standard size wheels are more practical as well as less expensive. They will provide adequate ground clearance for dirt, gravel, and unimproved roads. And performance wheels often come with low profile performance tires that sacrifice the advantage that otherwise might have been gained by the larger diameter wheels.

We are not off-roading for recreation, we are hunters. So leaving the road and tearing up the habitat is not an option. God made feet for use off the road.

A six cylinder motor (V-6's are nice!) should provide all of the horsepower and torque needed in the field. A high performance motor is not only unnecessary, in some circumstances where traction is poor it is a liability.

Most trucks have the option of a manual or automatic transmission. Being from the old school I tend to favor manual transmissions, but I have seen some decent hunting vehicles with automatics and they seemed to perform adequately. Whichever type of transmission you prefer will probably be fine.

Depending on where you intend to hunt, a heavy duty cooling system, if available, may be desirable. Out in the Mojave Desert, where at one time I did a lot of hunting, they were de rigueur.

A heavy duty suspension may be a good investment, if available, depending on the individual vehicle and its intended purpose. (Some 4x4 trucks come with a heavy duty suspension.) It will usually provide a stiffer, less comfortable highway ride, so if you need to travel long distances to get to your hunting area the standard suspension might be better. On the other hand, a mid-size truck carrying four adults, their gear, and a field dressed elk is probably pretty far into its springs. Throw in a rough road and the heavy duty suspension comes into its own. Everything is a trade off.

Vinyl seats are probably more durable, and certainly more stain resistant and easier to clean, than cloth seats. Comfort and convenience options are just that, optional. If you feel the need for an upgraded stereo or extra cup holders, fine. They will do no harm except to your wallet.

Personally, I don't care about those particular options, but I have come to appreciate air conditioning, electric door locks, and electric windows. The comfort and convenience package (when available) is usually the best way to get these accessories. I have never had a vehicle equipped with a GPS unit, but I can see where it might be useful.

Our hunting pickup is coming into focus. It should ideally be a mid-size, four door, 4x4, short bed pickup with a cab height canopy or locking (hard) tonneau cover. It should provide comfortable seating for four adults. Durability and practicality should take precedence over show and go.

The world is lousy with pickups these days, far too many mention them all here. But typical of the basic truck we have described are the Chevrolet Colorado 1LS1 Crew Cab 4x4 (wheelbase 126.0"), Dodge Dakota Quad Cab ST / 4x4 (wheelbase 131.3"), Nissan Frontier Crew Cab SE 4x4 (wheelbase 125.9"), and Toyota Tacoma Double Cab PreRunner 4x4 Shortbed (wheelbase 127.8"). All of these models can be investigated in detail on their manufacturers' web sites.

Regardless of brand and model, the color of a serious hunting vehicle matters, and it should be bright. If the worst comes to pass and you get into a jam four wheel drive can't get you out of and need to be rescued, a color that can be spotted from the air with relative ease is desirable. I vote for red, orange or yellow if available. Least desirable are earth tones that will blend into the scenery; thus greens, tans, grays, and browns are best avoided. Black blends too easily into shadows. White can be difficult to spot in snow. One alternative, if bright colors are not available from the factory, would be to paint the top of the canopy international orange or bright red.

The big advantage of the pickup over the SUV is that after you have bagged your game, the field dressed carcass can be consigned to the bed rather than transported externally or behind the seats in the passenger compartment. The pickup allows convenient transportation even of very large game like a dressed and quartered elk or moose. That is a big advantage and makes a pickup the odds-on choice for the big game hunter.

On the other hand, the mid-size SUV is probably more comfortable, more manuverable, has a shorter wheelbase, and allows easy access to the gear stored behind the second row of seats. It is probably the best choice for the fisherman, small game and wildfowl hunter. See the companion article, "Ideal Hunting Vehicles, Part 1: SUV" for more on that subject.

All life is compromise. Hunting vehicles are expensive, so choose wisely. Good Hunting!

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Copyright 2005, 2016 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.