October 21, 2020
I’ve been told I have a funny way of doing math.
When I look at the price of something, I don't see the total in terms of dollars and cents. That grande mocha chai latte with extra whip and a side of ridicule? It's not $10—it’s one good broadhead. Those designer sunglasses? Nope, not $250. That’s a non-resident deer tag.
So, when I see the bill for a few nights of lying on a lumpy motel mattress, I can't help but think of all the tags, arrows, boots, treestands and other bowhunting toys that cash could have bought. That’s why I quit. Cold turkey. No more wasting money on a place to sleep. Instead, I did what I usually do. I built my own solution.
Cheap But Comfy
You can call it truck camping or boondocking, but living out of the bed of my truck on overnight hunting trips has helped me overcome a multitude of issues, not the least of which is that I don’t have a bottomless bank account. It also saves me a ton of time traveling between a motel and the place I want to hunt—which is especially helpful since I typically hunt areas that are far from any measure of civilization.
The system I use is basic and can be put together on the cheap. I've got about $300 invested, and the bulk of that is tied up in the fiberglass topper that serves as the critical shelter. I picked it up on Craigslist for $200 and it stands as one of the better bargains I've ever come across.
The "camp" interior is made of basic construction lumber and consists of a sleeping platform on one side of the truck bed with under-bed storage and an additional platform storage system on the other. If you have a modicum of DIY skills, you shouldn't have any problem designing and building a setup that works for your own truck.
A 4-inch memory-foam pad serves as my sleeping mattress and is a heck of a lot more comfortable than most motel beds I've experienced. Under the bed is a pull-out drawer that holds a single-burner butane stove, trash bags, freezer bags for packaging game, zip ties, a couple bars of soap, two hand towels and other small items.
Get creative with the available space. Hooks attached to the ceiling of the topper with epoxy can be used to hang clothing that needs to dry out. LED light strips are inexpensive and simple to install. The ledge of the topper can be customized with plastic tubs for small gear; use double-sided tape to affix them.
In the other storage area, I keep a single pot, a non-stick pan, various utensils and a couple of insulated mugs and tumblers. On the platform a single plastic tote with a tight-fitting lid holds all of my hunting clothing. It’s secured with a rubber strap when travelling to keep it from bouncing around.
My truck is a Ford F-150 crew cab, and since I’m often hunting alone, the large backseat area holds a full-sized cooler that's stocked with whatever food and drink I'll need for the time I'll be afield (and later holds the meat of the giant buck I intend to kill). I can easily fit a pair of lightweight treestands and climbing sticks in the back as well.
A folding camp stool stows under the bed frame for sitting around camp in the evening. Meals are made using either the butane burner or a small charcoal grill. Coffee comes from a small French press using water boiled in the pot on the burner.
Months of Use
Much of fall offers ideal weather conditions, and I stay plenty warm at night as long as the temperature doesn't dip much below freezing. When it's forecast to, I bring along a stout sleeping bag. It’s tempting to use a portable propane-fired heater in the truck bed, but I don't. Even heaters that claim to be safe for indoor use spook me; carbon monoxide isn’t something I mess with. Into most of November, overnight temps are typically warm enough for comfortable truck camping.
If possible, I'll park at a public camping area because those locations typically will have water available and perhaps a shower house. Fees are low, usually about $15 a night. I've also spent many nights in the parking lots of public hunting areas (check regulations to make sure overnight stays are allowed) for no cost at all.
I'm a full-fledged, unapologetic minimalist, so I have plenty of space in my setup for all of my gear. With some careful planning and evaluation of the gear you need versus what you want, you will as well.
Fix (Almost) Anything
My mobile hunting rig should top 300,000 miles in the next month or so, and my goal is to see the odometer hit the half-million-mile mark. I don't expect it to get there without regular maintenance and the occasional semi-serious repair. Of course, gear failures are bound to happen on any DIY hunting adventure, too, so it pays to be prepared.
I can't fix everything that might break on an overnight trip in the sticks, but I can fix a whole lot of things with the help of a well-conceived tool kit and some YouTube videos. Here's what goes with me on every trip.
Ratchet-and-Socket Set: Sockets in the most common metric and standard sizes are a must, and I carry 1/4-, 1/2- and 3/4-inch ratchets. Make double sure you have sockets that will fit the lug nuts on your wheels.
Screwdrivers: I carry four of these—two Phillips heads and two flatheads, a long one and a short one of each.
Allen Wrenches: I can work on my bow, treestands and truck with these. They're cheap, small and critical.
Cordless Impact Wrench: I think I spent about $150 on my 1/2-inch cordless impact wrench at Harbor Freight, and it was one of the best purchases I've ever made. With it I can change a tire in no time, and it'll break free just about any of the rusted bolts on my truck. I've used it countless times to change brake pads, wheel hubs, suspension parts and alternators on the side of the road and in parking lots of automotive parts stores.
Bow Possibles: I also keep a small pouch of bow-specific items in the truck, icnluding D-loop material, a spool of serving, super glue, string wax, a couple spare nocks and fletchings, and an extra release aid.