Unfortunately, there is no simple route to finding the perfect road rig. Ask any bird hunter to describe his or her optimum road-trip vehicle, and you’ll get a complex answer—It must be part highway cruiser, part off-road buggy, part restaurant kitchen, part canine spa, part boarding kennel—and don’t forget the bird cleaning station.
Here are the road rigs from hunters who want it all and can make it happen:
David Kuritzky, owner of Kuritzky Glass, is on the board of directors of the Ruffed Grouse Society. Starting with a one-ton, long-wheelbase, gas-engine GMC Denali, David opted for a chassis-mounted box built by Mountaintop Custom Kennels in Abingdon, Virginia.
David opted for eight insulated holes with louvered vents and insisted that the boxes be located as far forward as possible in case of a rear-end crash. “Tire selection was a consideration in that a lot of time would be spent on the highway getting to hunting areas that would have a lot of dirt—meaning mud – roads. Because of the cold, I chose to not pressurize the water system. I carry a 12-volt pump and hose to have pressurized water on demand,” he explained. He also added a removable winch and a front facing hitch for either front or rear towing.
This truck raises the bar for tailgating. A stainless-steel table doubles as a cooking and serving surface (as well as for dog grooming and first aid). “We mounted a propane bottle on the exterior wall of the body. Hoses run directly from the tank to the griddles and grills I carry for cooking. In addition, there is an inverter to charge collars and run a crockpot while we’re parked.”
Mike Stewart is president of Mississippi-based Wildrose International—arguably the most famous English Labrador kennel in the United States. He refers to his brawny EarthRomer LTS as a “mobile lodge.” Built on an Ford F-550 chassis with Air Ride suspension, the specifications on this EarthRoamer “Stretch” are pretty impressive: 95-gallon fuel capacity, 85-gallon water storage, 27-ply tires, and a self-sufficient, off-road, off-grid reach of 900 to 1000 miles. A unique three-point anchoring system lets the camper swivel and move independent of the truck, so it won’t be top heavy or counter strain on steep grades or rough roads. This is not your granddaddy’s RV.
For Mike, security is paramount. “As an ex-cop, I’m suspicious,” Mike explained. “I’m pulling some amazingly valuable dogs and couldn’t sleep at night in a hotel with the dogs left out in a parking lot. High security is most important to me.” An alarm system and heavy-steel, combination padlocks secure dogs, guns, and gear. LED lights illuminate the area around the rig for nightly dog airing as well as for security. Inside the EarthRoamer are a kitchen, full bath, ample storage, and a king-sized bed.
Mike talked about being in a beautiful place and being able to just stay there—no having to leave the landscape, miss the sunset, hurry back to a hotel, unload at night, or reload in the morning. “My purpose is to be able to go anywhere, anytime, and in any kind of weather conditions.”
Scott Bosard, owner of Firebird Bulk Carriers, in Humble, Texas, uses his customized Ford F-250 LWB to travel from his home in Texas to southern quail hunting destinations and for annual pheasant trips to North Dakota with his wirehaired pointing griffons. Scott said his design started with the fold down doors. “Previously, excited dogs have injured shoulders jumping out of the back of the pickup. We use the fold down doors as an easier exit and entry to the kennels. They also work for inspection, grooming out burrs, washing, and just relaxing at the end of a walk.”
Scott started from scratch but has added modifications bit by bit. “After a couple of uses, we made some changes,” he noted. “Edges on top of the kennels added to available storage; a door assist made it easier to lift the wing doors. Heavier duty brakes, an air bag assist suspension, and extra leaf springs improved our comfort for long trips, reducing stress and fatigue.”
Another dedicated road tripper is Joe Hosmer, former president of Safari Club International Foundation and a current member of the Pheasants Forever/Quail Forever board of directors. Joe chose a Sportsmobile—a company specializing in vehicle conversions—a used, one-ton, four-wheel-drive van and chassis for his aptly named “QM1” (Quail Mobile 1). It was set up to hold two or more crates, a refrigerator, stove, bed, and “some sort of furnace so we wouldn’t freeze if we had to spend the night in a field somewhere.” Sportsmobile also sound-proofed the van, insulated it, and added a water storage system. The top opened up like the old Volkswagen campers with a double bed that dropped up or down.
“After two years I’d run the heck out of QM1 and it was time to upgrade,” Joe said. For QM2, he picked a “cookie-cutter, no-options” Winnebago Revel. Customized and outfitted on a 4×4 Mercedes Sprinter, it has two solar panels, an Espar furnace, dog wash on the back, indoor shower, toilet, and an induction stove. One particularly clever feature is the electric bed on the roof that lowers at night to right above the dog crates. Planning to sleep in a motel and want more dog power for the hunt? Leave the bed up and stack in more crates.
Outdoor writer and photographer Jim McCann built his own hunting rig. Jim, who is an avid ptarmigan and ruffed grouse hunter and has lived in the interior region of Alaska for nearly 50 years, bolted an ARB brand roof-top-tent to Thule racks on top of his 3500 Dodge diesel pickup. With the extra fuel he usually carries, his range is over 500 miles, and it takes him just 15 minutes to set up camp with no worries about mud or rain. “I remove the waterproof cover, extend the integral ladder using it as a fulcrum to open the hinged floor, and the tent is mostly ready for me to climb up inside. A PETT portable toilet has been given two-thumbs up by my daughter, so I know that was the best way to go,” Jim said.
For his Brittanys, Jim uses two kennels—with Arctic Shield insulated covers—strapped to ¾ inch marine grade plywood secured by steel rings to the truck bed corners. “When the tent is open, the floor locked, and the ladder providing additional stability, half the floor sticks out over the back of the tailgate. This means the dog kennels get extra protection, and if it’s raining when I wake up, I come down the ladder through a waterproof vestibule. Then I fire up my Jet Boil stove and boil some water to use in my Mountain House ‘biscuits and gravy’ with a big cup of hot black coffee. And I eat my breakfast staring at the dogs who are busy eating their breakfast right in front of me.”
These road rigs help hunters, who are passionate about their gun dogs and road tripping, maximize the ease and safety of combining the two. Traveling with the knowledge that our dogs are secure—thus feeling less stress ourselves—we can relish the anticipation of each day and top it off with the satisfaction of watching a safe and tired hunting dog contently curl up at night emitting that perfect sigh of fulfillment.
Excerpts from “Road Tripping Bird Dogs” by Nancy Anisfield featured in the Aug/Sept issue of Covey Rise.