Overlanding and hunting go together naturally. Many of us take trips each fall, staying in motels or renting a cabin, so we can have a warm home base at night after a long day of chasing roosters or sitting in a treestand. But for some, it’s smarter financially (and during these unprecedented times when social distancing is still a part of everyday life to remain healthy) to turn a truck or SUV into a mobile hunting home. And it doesn’t take loads of cash to make it happen. In fact, you will likely save money in the long run since you won’t have to pay for a room anymore.
Overlanding on its own is a pursuit that has grown in popularity. One of the most well-known events is the Overland Expo, which showcases all the new gear you can buy to outfit your rig each year. And if you don’t know much about overlanding it’s a great resource to get you started.
Overlanding is a niche industry (much like hunting), full of tricked out off-road vehicles that you can spend infinite amounts of money on. But you don’t need tens of thousands of dollars to overland. Hell, you can do it out of the back of your grandma’s station wagon, though that will limit how far off the beaten path you can travel. I have comfortably lived for a month in the back of a rented Chevrolet Traverse in Alaska, but know I can go more places in my Jeep Wrangler Rubicon back at home. It’s just a matter of picking the right vehicle for the destinations you will frequent most.
1. Choosing the Right Vehicle
Overland travel tends to be off-pavement in remote, wild places (like the locations for good hunting), so having a capable four-wheel drive vehicle is essential to getting to and from those venues safely. Part of self-sufficiency means using the right tools for the job, and being prepared to tackle treacherous conditions. You need to choose a vehicle that is capable of handling the terrain you will be hunting in. Typically, that means a 4×4 truck or SUV. Jeeps are some of the most common vehicles used by overlanders. My personal vehicle is the Wrangler Rubicon, and I have found it to be a durable and capable machine.
If you already own a truck, one of the easiest ways to convert it for overland travel is to buy a truck cap (so you have shelter from the elements) and make the truck bed into a small living space (mostly where you will sleep). There are also an array of roof top tent (RTTs) options out there. These can be mounted to the roof of your truck or SUV. Go Fast Campers sells a hybrid truck cap/tent that are very popular among overlanders. Pull-behind trailers—large and small—are also great options.
Traveling to places you are familiar with (to start), and being an experienced outdoorsman (or traveling with one) is a good idea. You should also know how to change a tire (at the very least), and make minor engine fixes. Overland vehicles spend more time in inclement weather and harsh places than your neighbor’s Prius, so they are more susceptible to breakdown, and having an aptitude for vehicle repair is highly beneficial. There are plenty of overland routes on moderate trails that stock 4×4 vehicles can handle, and others that push the limits of vehicles and crew. Knowing the limitations of your truck/SUV is key to staying safe.
2. You Don’t Need a Ton of Gear
A lot of modern-day adventurers gravitate to overlanding because it’s very individual, and an open community. You can have owners of a $5,000 Jeep Cherokee or a $2 million Earthroamer in the same camp. People take pride in their builds, customizing how they want to meet individual needs. You don’t need to invest a lot of money though to get started.
I’ve spent a lot of days living out of a whitewater kayak or a backpack, so I have a good idea of the bare bones essentials it takes to stay warm, dry, and well fed for weeks at a time. Living out of vehicle is much more luxurious because you have so much more room to store gear, and the added advantage of simply starting your truck up and turning on the heater if you get cold. You can also haul all kinds of stuff to mirror the comforts of home: showers, coolers or powered fridges, bottles of wine, fresh meat, large stoves or grills, cots…the list goes on.
And though you can take all of this along, you don’t really need much more than the right clothes to keep you warm/dry (which you would wear anyways as a hunter), food, water, and shelter. YouTube is a great resource to watch videos that tackle the bare necessities to get you through a few days of overlanding in the wilderness. There isn’t much focused purely on overland hunting, but you will benefit from watching. Also, The Hunting Public channel is a must watch. These guys basically hunt out of their trucks and old Chevy Suburbans across America, and you can learn a lot.
3. Start With Small Excursions
The progression of becoming a backcountry backpacker and overlander are largely the same. Start small, with experiences likely to be successful and pleasurable, and grow from there. Just like training a dog to retrieve or your kid to ride a bike, if you rush them into it and they have a bad experience, they won’t want to do it again. Same goes for you. Put yourself in situations you’re likely to enjoy and do again. If you haven’t ever camped before, spend a couple nights in a tent in your backyard. If it’s terrible weather or you’re getting eaten alive by mosquitos, go inside, don’t suffer. Try again when it’s nicer out and you have bought some bug spray or a ThermaCell.
Next, try a local state park with designated campsites. Take advantage of the luxury of toilets, running water and maybe even showers. Bring the family if you dare. Bring easy-to-manage food that doesn’t require much (if any) cooking. If it turns into a nightmare of screaming children and hot tempers, head home.
Think about why it didn’t go well and try again. Do that a few times to smooth out the process. Use those trips to learn about your personal preferences, gear you like to use, or thought you needed but didn’t (and downsize). Start conditioning your mind towards not having a designated campground or the safety net of going home, because eventually it won’t be there.
4. Take Your First Real Trip
The next step is heading out to a National Forest or BLM lands or other public areas that have designated camping areas, but are in primitive locations. Find a place with few or no facilities so the likelihood of running into other hunters is slim (the fewer amenities, the less people you will come across). How remote a place you want to make camp in can vary widely, but I would suggest arriving during the day, because coming in to an unfamiliar spot at night can be a recipe for disaster. This is the stage where you will find out if this is really for you.
5. Focus on Public Land
Now that you know how to comfortably live out of your vehicle for a few days or more, you can decide what species and where to hunt. This will relate to your experience as a hunter, and since this isn’t a hunting how-to, I will assume you have a certain level of skill with a gun or bow. In general, if it can be hunted on public land, that’s a good target species for an overland hunting trip. You can drive somewhere and park and set up camp, or you can bounce around, hunting a day or more at different points along the way.
Luckily, we live in a country with large areas of public land in many states (particularly out west, but also in some select areas east of the Mississippi River), so there’s lots of options. National Forests, BLM, and WMAs have great opportunities for hunting turkey, deer, hogs, bear, and elk. Waterfowl and upland birds can be great for overland adventures, especially if you own a gun dog.
A few of my excursions include: turkey hunting in the Green Mountains of Vermont; deer, hog, and bear hunting tours through Cherokee National Forest in Georgia; and elk and mule deer hunts in the Frank Church Wilderness in Idaho (which is also a great destination for an overland fly fishing adventure).
Mixing long distance travel with hunting regulations can be confusing. Overlanding may send you across state lines, or in and out of different game management units. Make sure what you’re hunting is legal and in season where you are and that the weapon you’re using is also legal. Be mindful of pistols in your vehicles versus bows, shotguns, or rifles as some states have strict regulations on handguns inside public areas (like national parks). Overland adventures lead down some rough roads too, so storing weapons in well-padded hard cases is recommended (always check the zero of your rifle before the hunt).
6. Have a Plan for the Meat
There are no chest freezers in the places you will overland, so you better have a plan when it comes time to butcher an animal afield and get it home without the meat spoiling. Premium rotomolded coolers packed with ice or a powered fridge/freezer are key pieces of overland gear to keep meat fresh. Make sure you have enough storage for your target species, and consider weather conditions, and travel duration. If you’re hunting whitetails or antelope in September, it’s likely going to be warm, and you need to get that meat cooled as soon as you can. In cold temperatures, that’s not as much of a worry.
Be aware of any chronic-wasting disease regulations if you are hunting in an area where deer or elk have been infected with CWD. Many states have strict transport laws to guard against spreading the disease.
Also, take into consideration the size of the game you are hunting. A single 45-quart cooler won’t do you much good to manage all the meat from an elk, but will be plenty for a Spring turkey. It’s best to have all the coolers and ice on hand, so stop at a gas station somewhere along the way before making camp. You don’t want to kill an animal and then go searching for ice.
You will likely want to eat some of that meat in camp, and it’s smart to bring a few cooking amenities along. I keep some olive oil, salt, pepper, and various Hi-Mountain seasonings in a spice kit, and always have a cast iron skillet or small griddle ready to throw on a portable grill or campfire. Plus, a good set of utensils is invaluable.
Take Safety Seriously
Due to COVID-19, make sure you take appropriate precautions during this time to ensure you are not bringing the virus into rural areas and small communities. If you have been in contact or contracted COVID-19 follow the CDC guidelines before you travel. Bring all the supplies you can form home in order to come into contact with as few people as possible.
Overlanding is a fun and enjoyable pursuit, but as you venture further from home, the dangers become more real. Long-distance travel in remote areas means you have to rely on yourself more, and be better prepared than when you drive an hour to the deer lease. Take some survival safety courses and read survival books. You will also need some basic gear for getting the truck unstuck without the help of another vehicle. Buying a winch, tow straps, and/or recovery boards are all good ideas. Before you start buying specialized vehicle and recovery equipment, seek out trained specialists or attend one of the many Overland Expo events where you can register for classes from experts, learn the proper use of equipment, network, and see the latest and greatest in overlanding gear. Find a local club, and surround yourself with safe, knowledgeable people to learn from and your overland lifestyle will be a long and healthy one.