I have always liked trucks. I like them with big tires and lots of lights and powerful motors. When I was young and foolish (fortunately I got past the young part), I had a buddy who felt the same way. His name was Jimmy Hill and he and I had a lot in common other than the fact that we were both addicted to trapping. I had a 1976 Bronco and he had a 1978 Blazer.  

We got stuck a lot. In fact at times, we were trying to see what it would take to get stuck by driving through some nasty stuff in places we probably shouldn't have been in the first place. But we would go together and we each had log chains, so we would basically take turns pulling each other out. A couple times we were both stuck, so we would have to walk to a farm and get a farmer to come pull us out with a tractor. I also had a 1972 F-250 pickup which got involved in some of these fiascos. But over time, I settled down and started driving more practical vehicles like most civilized people. But cool trucks always turned my head.  

Over the past couple years, I developed a hankering to get a truck for bear hunting. I wanted one that could take on forest roads and trails without worrying about it getting scratched and nicked, and one that I could push the edges of getting stuck a little harder, if you know what I mean. Of course, this wouldn’t be a new truck because of the way I intended to use it. Most sane people, which describes me most days, won’t take a truck that’s worth as much as a house on a backroads where the branches are going to grind against the sides of it and boulders are going to bang against the bottom. Now that I am guiding bear hunters, I needed something with seating for four and that could pull a trailer with an ATV or two on behind.  

A few months ago, I pulled the trigger on a 2006 Toyota Tacoma with 160,000 miles on it. And I set out to turn it into the perfect bear hunting truck. Below are the basics of what I did to it and why.  

The truck already had a topper on the box, so I could check that off the list right away. A topper is essential for several reasons, most importantly to conceal your stuff. I try not to advertise what I am doing when I am out baiting bears. I like to keep a low profile, so buckets of goodies are kept out of sight most of the time. It also allows me to lock things in the back while I am in the woods hunting, such as extra hunting equipment, gun and bow cases, the things I will use to get the bear out once it’s down, etc. I like the peace of mind that comes from knowing my stuff is locked up when the truck is parked along some back road in the middle of nowhere. 

The truck also had a leveling kit previously installed, which in a Tacoma is basically the same as a two-inch lift. This gives me the ground clearance needed for rough trails and rutted two-tracks, which comprise a large part of the miles I drive each year. I added some tires with aggressive tread for extra backwoods traction. I wanted tire tread not so deep and aggressive that it’s noisy when I am on pavement.  

The next important item was a brush guard on the front to protect the grill and headlights from the branches and things that so often hang over the trail. This guard really moves stuff off to the sides while reducing scratching and getting small limbs and brush stuck in the edges of the hood and trim. It’s quite surprising how much difference this makes.  

I like lights. I like to flip a switch and have the whole road light up in front of me. This is not just for safety (I have hit nearly a dozen deer in my life) but also for being able to see down the trail and be able to slow down for rough spots, ruts, rocks, potholes, and washouts. So I put new headlight bulbs in, the brightest LED bulbs I could find. Then I went online and ordered a couple auxiliary lights to mount to the brush guard in the front. These are super bright and really light things up well out in front of the truck when going down forest roads. I installed a switch in the dash so I can easily flick them on and off as needed. They are just plain cool. But of course, they cannot be used on public roadways where an oncoming vehicle would be blinded by them. 

I also upgraded the fog lights on the truck. These lights help visibility in fog of course, and also help see the lines and edges of the roads during heavy snow or windblown snow. But that’s not the main reason I love them; these close-to-the-ground lights were a tremendous upgrade when traveling forest roads at night. They really put shadows on rocky terrain and potholes and are definitely an improvement for driving back roads while heading back to camp at night.  

I like lights in the back, too. I added a heavy duty bumper with hooks for pulling someone who’s stuck, and this bumper came with auxiliary LED backup lights. This really lights things up behind you! These lights are fantastic for hooking up a trailer, backing a trailer at night, or turning around in tight spots in the backcountry. The Tacoma was equipped with a backup camera, which is so much more useful at night because of the extra lighting.  

I gave some serious thought to adding a winch, but finally decided against it. I have a portable, 12-volt winch in a box which can be attached either to the front or the back of the truck. This seems more practical because it can be transferred to other vehicles when needed. I have even used it to extricate a stuck ATV a couple of times.  

I have used this truck through one bear hunting season and I really like it. It has traveled a lot of miles on back roads and trails, had some blood in the back of it, and toted both ATVs and boats around some pretty rough places. I haven’t really thought of anything else I would add to it yet, but you never know. In some ways, I guess I’m still a kid at heart.