May 17, 2023
By Scott Linden
Who doesn't want less competition, bigger deer, more trout, or countless coveys? Our holy grail is high adventure, returning with a story or, better still, photos of the buck of a lifetime or trophy rainbow. Sure, getting there might be half the fun, but getting back in one piece is where the rubber meets the road, literally. It's your truck that will spirit you to magical places where grouse cavort and bass jump in the boat.
Or will it? Trouble can be just around the next bend, your trip of a lifetime dribbling away like coolant from a punctured radiator, unless you're ready.
My rig has been called a four-wheel-drive Swiss Army knife and rolling garage sale. But nine times out of 10, it has the needed repair piece, part or tool, or the ability to yank someone out of a ditch. Wouldn't you rather be "that guy" than the one wringing his hands when your phone has zero bars? Here's gear that gets you home with an epic tale and no insurance claim.
I was headed downstream on slick, icy roads until I saw an ambulance nosed up to a wicked slope. The precipice overlooked rushing current and an overturned car, an EMT struggling with a litter and a young woman strapped inside. We ran my winch cable down, hooked it to the litter and both got a ride to the top. The fish disappointed me later that day, but my first catch was incredible—a keeper. That winch has since pulled trees, tractors, "all-wheel drive" SUVs and my own truck from assorted potential disasters. If you don't have an onboard winch, a sturdy comealong (hand-operated winch) will do.
Other must-haves include: first-aid kit; fire extinguisher; charged mobile phone, charger and spare power source; spare rain gear and warm clothing. A sleeping bag and water should be stored inside the cab in case you're unable to access your pickup bed or trunk. A paper map won't fail when batteries die and cell signals are non-existent. On the road, flares or safety triangles and a high-visibility vest all come in handy when changing a tire. A combination seatbelt cutter/window breaker in each door pocket could save a life.
Late one night enroute to chukar camp, I rounded a corner and hit a mulie buck so hard his antlers broke off and flew over my truck. Limping back to town and a body shop, I had an epiphany: Had I seen that deer sooner, I might have missed it and been on my merry way. Off-road lights were mounted the next week.
Tried-and-true gear riding with me includes a long-handled shovel for digging out (also a lever to nudge a bumper forward or back). A spare tire is best mounted somewhere besides under your vehicle for access when mired axle-deep in mud. A robust bottle jack beats the factory-supplied physics problem under your seat. You'll also want a lug wrench that fits your shiny custom wheels, an extra key for anti-theft lug nuts, two cans of spray-in tire-plugging goop, a plug kit, toolbox and "jerk strap" that is easier to deploy than a winch sometimes.
My spare parts include serpentine belt, hoses, windshield wiper blades, bulbs, fuses and a couple of lug nuts. There's an old-school air compressor-jump starter and beyond-old-school jumper cables. Pack a headlamp and you won't need a shivering, whining passenger to hold your flashlight.
Low fuel haunts many trips, right? I've limped to rural gas stations on fumes, once spent the night in front of pumps waiting for the guy with the keys to show up. Now I mount a jerry can atop my truck canopy with a few extra gallons. Also up there is a high-lift jack ("farmer's jack," also poor man's winch) and my spare, spare tire.
My wife says it's just an excuse to buy more stuff, but a bed-storage system means rods, guns, ammo, tackle, dog gear, waders and such are locked out of sight and out of mind of bad guys. A tarp provides shade, rain protection and something to lie on when poking around under the truck pulling out jackrabbits, assorted branches, roots and brush, and fixing innumerable flat tires.
You probably have your own list that will add richness and texture to your adventures: backpack stove, Boy Scout mess kit, lawn chair. And what better way to end a day afield than a toast to birds, bucks, bass or buddies–or all four? Tippling a wee dram from your "truck bottle" needs a tin cup, because as Trout Madness author Robert Traver wrote, whiskey tastes better when sipped from one.
Many times, you will be bailing someone else out of a fix. In rural America, where we often hunt and fish, the code is stop and pitch in. They would do it for you. Once in a while, that lesson is driven home and your life is indelibly altered forever.
We woke to a boom, the first of dozens of alder trees blown over by gale-force winds. As dawn approached, we witnessed an apocalyptic scene of flattened tents, a truck folded like a taco, monolithic firs blocking the only road out. Inconvenient, but not the end of the world—until that wind sparked the biggest wildfire of the decade, its acrid smoke wafting our way.
Calls to 911 offered little hope; entire towns were on fire. About the time an eerie glow lit the roiling smoke beyond the ridge, an off-duty sheriff's deputy and volunteer fire truck rolled up. The three guys had four chainsaws (I took the last one), and in a few hours 80 happier campers rolled out of the box canyon to safety. You might think there'd be no more room in my truck, but I found a spot for a shiny new chainsaw soon enough when I got home.