RVs on the Hunt

FAMILY TIES The opportunity to spend time with family and friends outdoors is a primary motivation for many hunters.
Family Ties
The opportunity to spend time with family and friends outdoors is a primary motivation for many hunters.
Photos by Jack and Lisa Ballard

A recreational vehicle can serve as an ideal home base for the time-honored outdoor pursuit of hunting

In 2016 researchers at Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences released the results of a study assessing people’s motivation to hunt. The group they surveyed had taken a “nontraditional” path into hunting, meaning those individuals did not grow up in a hunting family but were introduced to the sport from elsewhere. Almost half of the respondents were under the age of 31. As it turns out, most of their motivations to go hunting were strikingly similar to the reasons people are inspired to camp in a tent or RV.

Reasons to Hunt

High on the list was the opportunity to spend time with family. Nineteen out of 20 of those surveyed listed this as a moderately to very important aspect of their hunting. The opportunity to “get close to nature” was also recorded as moderately to very important by 97 percent of those surveyed, and the opportunity to find a temporary escape from everyday problems found similar favor with 83 percent of those surveyed.

The climate-controlled interior of an RV provides protection from heat during warm conditions and warmth during chilly times, for hunters and bird dogs alike.
The climate-controlled interior of an RV provides protection from heat during warm conditions and warmth during chilly times, for hunters and bird dogs alike.

Enjoying time with parents, children and siblings. Getting immersed in the wonders of the natural world. Unplugging, and dodging the stress and drudgery of daily life in the Great Outdoors. If those don’t describe the primary motivations of the average RVer, I don’t know what does.

Of course, one can engage with the natural world in all those ways without hunting. So why stalk a deer or a duck? While visions of old-time “sport” hunters displaying their trophies to the world are still common portrayals of hunting, the attitude of most modern hunters, especially those who have taken up the pursuit as adults, is quite different. The Cornell survey discovered that 95 percent of respondents were favorable toward hunting as a means of obtaining local free-range meat.

Around 87 percent nodded in approval at a motivation that included participation in efforts to contain wildlife populations that are environmentally harmful. For example, when white-tailed deer (the most commonly hunted large mammal in North America) become overabundant, they can consume certain plants and shrubs to the extent that they become locally extinct. Such an intense exploitation of food resources also affects other animals that rely on the same plants for survival. In such places, hunting deer in limited seasons is considered a critical aspect of maintaining an environment capable of nurturing sustainable numbers of deer and other creatures.

With a sensible selection of locations, any standard RV, like this Class C Winnebago Trend, can be used for hunting.
With a sensible selection of locations, any standard RV, like this Class C Winnebago Trend, can be used for hunting.

The Camping Connection

RVs serve as ideal home bases for a host of outdoor activities that go beyond camping. I’ve rubbed shoulders with folks who camp in an RV when rock climbing, windsurfing, horseback riding, dogsledding, beachcombing and stargazing. In addition to casual camping, my family has turned to RVs for comfortable accommodations while hiking, fishing and photographing wildlife. If all these pastimes can be enhanced via the convenience of
an RV, why not hunting?

But as the fine print often reads, “Certain restrictions apply.” Or perhaps more appropriately, “Certain practicalities apply.”

The timing of hunting seasons varies from state to state and different regions of the country. In our home state of Montana, for example, bird hunting opens in early September and extends until the end of December. Antelope hunting occurs from early October until mid-November, while deer and elk seasons open and close two weeks later. RV camping while hunting for elk is certainly feasible during the early part of the season along primary roads in the mountains, but taking such a vehicle up a steep secondary road is flirting with disaster, as snow and extreme cold can descend quickly.

I vividly remember an elk hunting trip when I was in college. My dad, two brothers and a dozen members of our extended family (uncles, cousins and husbands of cousins) were hunting from a traditional tent camp deep in the Snowcrest Range of southwestern Montana. After making camp in delightful, sunny weather, we awoke the next morning to a foot of snow. The blizzard howled all that day and the following night. When it abated, the snow was nearly thigh deep all around the camp. Equipped with 4×4 vehicles and tire changes, we escaped the high country unscathed. On the opposite side of the drainage were several RVs that weren’t able to be retrieved until the following spring.

 Frost-Free Camping Camping in an RV for hunting — or any other activity — with an operational fresh- and waste-water system during periods of known cold weather requires special preparation beyond the scope of this article. A simple solution is to use an RV for shelter with some or all of the water system disabled. This might include using a portable container for drinking water, and draining water from the kitchen sink directly into a bucket. Campgrounds offering indoor toilet and shower facilities make it possible to use the RV for sleeping and protection, while relying on outside sources for water consumption and waste disposal.
Frost-Free Camping
Camping in an RV for hunting — or any other activity — with an operational fresh- and waste-water system during periods of known cold weather requires special preparation beyond the scope of this article. A simple solution is to use an RV for shelter with some or all of the water system disabled. This might include using a portable container for drinking water, and draining water from the kitchen sink directly into a bucket. Campgrounds offering indoor toilet and shower facilities make it possible to use the RV for sleeping and protection, while relying on outside sources for water consumption and waste disposal.

Hunting often occurs in places where “roads” may be RV-friendly in seasonal, dry conditions but can become impassable due to mud and snow in inclement weather. The first practicality of hunting from an RV thus concerns its portability in nasty weather. Fortunately, there is lots of hunting to be enjoyed all across the continent in favorable weather. In more than a few places, an air-conditioned RV represents a pleasant haven from the heat at midday. Such might be the case for bird hunters and their canine companions.

Hunter’s Best Friend

Five short years ago our home welcomed a new arrival. Although I grew up on a ranch hunting large-game animals such as elk and mule deer, I’d only dabbled in bird hunting. My wife Lisa’s hunting experience prior to our relationship consisted only of bird hunting, mostly for pheasants, waterfowl and woodcock in New England. She greatly desired owning a dog with traits making it a capable bird hunter and an amiable family pet. And so it was that when she was out of town I made an impulse purchase on a six-week-old English setter.

Percy immediately endeared himself to his mistress. He’s now a fine hunter of upland birds including pheasants, quail, grouse and par­tridges. As an added bonus, he’s a very competent waterfowl retriever and a supremely pleasant pet. Bird hunting with a dog, I’ve discovered, especially an animal trained by its owner, is infinitely more about observing the incredible instincts and keen senses of the canine than harvesting birds.

The first real outing of Percy’s hunting career came on an early September morning in the farming country of northeastern Montana. We camped out beside a small, undeveloped lake on state land in a Winnebago Trend motorhome, just the right size for a couple and a dog. As it turned out, the outfit proved even more beneficial to Percy than his owners.
Cool, comfortable temperatures for hunting and hiking just after dawn gave way to low 80s under a relentless sun by noon. Though I kept water for the enthusiastic setter in two bottles in my fanny pack, by the time we broke for lunch he was panting profusely, feeling the effects of exertion and heat. Back at the RV, we switched on the air conditioning, giving Percy — and his human companions — some much-appreciated relief.

An RV makes a fine base camp for hunting big game such as these mule deer.
An RV makes a fine base camp for hunting big game such as these mule deer.

Later in the afternoon, the black-and-white dynamo’s dash across the prairie came to an abrupt halt. A front foot lifted slightly as the young hunter’s entire body froze, engulfed in concentration on a telltale odor. “Whoa,” I commanded softly, wondering if he’d scented one of the birds his lineage had been bred to hunt or was simply enthralled with yet another of the field mice he’d loved to pester since puppyhood. Fifteen feet in front of his twitching black nose, a covey of gray partridges exploded from the flaxen grass at my approach. Percy’s obvious elation when he retrieved a downed bird from the
flock seemed to eclipse my own.

RV Home Base

We’ve shared innumerable hunts since then, with many family members and friends enjoying our pet’s prowess as a hunter. Accommodations have ranged from elegant lodges to Percy and me sleeping in an SUV. But from the standpoint of comfort for dog and hunter, and the opportunity to reside in the same natural world as one’s quarry, nothing tops a smartly outfitted RV.

Going Native
RVs and hunting go hand in hand, and some manufacturers make the most of that connection — among them, Winnnebago. The easy-towing Minnie Drop 1790 is offered in Hunter with special-edition Camo graphics and all the comforts of home.

Which raises the question, what makes an RV suitable for hunting? So long as the rig can handle the weather and travel conditions on the hunt, there’s nothing special required. However, attention to details encountered while hunting that might not be common to everyday camping will make the outing more enjoyable.

Most importantly, be mindful of temperatures during fall hunting that are much colder than on summer camping trips. Water systems are of primary concern. A dip of a few degrees below freezing overnight isn’t a reason to panic. Colder snaps or sustained below-freezing temperatures are another matter.

Waste and water in holding tanks is quite susceptible to freezing, as these are typically located on the exterior of the RV. However, water lines that run along the outside of an RV’s shell can also freeze, even with a running, functional heating system. Opening doors to closets and cabinets to allow warm air to reach water lines can be helpful to prevent freezing.

As is the case with RV camping, families who hunt take to the outdoors for a variety of reasons and in a range of seasons. No matter their motivation, an RV makes a superb home base for hunting.


 

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