When my old predator rig, a 2007 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 4×4, hit 175,000 miles, I started looking for another Toyota truck. I thought I wanted a 2016 Tundra TRD PRO and started doing research. Later that month, I went on an Idaho Wolf hunt with a good friend and four-time World Championship Coyote Caller, “Big” Al Morris, who owned a nice lifted Tundra. After one day of hunting, he parked his Tundra and rode with me for the rest of the week. He simply couldn’t follow me in his Tundra. It was too big to fit down most trails. Too heavy for the deep snow, and the ride was too rough for the rugged Idaho terrain. Or at least, that’s what Al told me. The truth or a ploy to keep the scratches and miles off his truck, I’m still unsure, but I’m grateful for that trip. I believe it saved me from making a bad decision. As a result, I quickly started to research new Tacoma’s instead, as the 2016s were just days from starting to ship.
As a professional hunter, the Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road 4×4 was a must and when I finally saw the new Quicksand color in person, it was the obvious choice for me. I quickly sold my 2007 with 187,000 miles now to another friend, predator caller and custom call builder, Kerry “The Wizard” Carver of Carver Predator Calls and began my search for my ‘16. After a few weeks, I realized to get exactly what I wanted, I would have to special order it. I began researching and planning mods immediately after placing my order with Haacke Motors, near my home in Utah. Six weeks later, the new Tacoma finally arrived. Although it was a nice little truck, it was far from becoming the ultimate predator rig or the TAC-TOY (Tactical Toyota) as it was later dubbed by friends and colleagues. There was much to be done.
The first order of business was to add some much-needed ground clearance, and some earth-moving traction to the already capable TRD Off-Road package. In short order, wheels and tires arrived from Discount Tire Company. Level 8 Bully Pro 6 wheels 17×9 inch with Cooper STT Pro tires, size 295/70/17. The only way the new oversized wheel and tire combo would work is with a proper lift. I called the off-road Pro’s at Fat Bob’s Garage and they went to work designing a custom 3-inch lift that wouldn’t hurt the comfortable ride quality I desired. After some research and “trail” and error, we ended up with a true 3-inch Fox Racing adjustable coil-over set-up with adjustable light-racing upper-control arms for the front and an add-a-leaf system for the rear with airbag overloads. The result was better than I had hoped for. On-road or off-road, the truck handled great and the ride quality was exceptional.
Another tool I knew I had to have was an easy sell. A good winch offers more utilitarian benefits than simply getting one, unstuck, which I have fallen prey to on occasion. More often, I employ my Rough Country 9,500-pound electric, remote winch. Such as dragging a downed tree from my path to make way to my favorite calling stand or draping the synthetic winch line over a sturdy branch to serve as a makeshift skinning pole or even pulling the hide off a prime coyote. And don’t forget the most important rule. A winch is only as good as the bumper it’s fastened to and no ordinary bumper will do. I ordered matching set of steel, not aluminum, off-road winch bumpers from Expedition One. These bumpers are designed for hard recovery, and mine aren’t pavement princesses. They also increase the approach and departure angles allowing me to access more callable country than before.
I’ve always been jealous of the Texans with their high-racks and birds-eye view. So, when I envisioned my version of the ultimate predator rig, removable shooting chairs were at the top of the list. A Texas high-rack seemed a bit too much for a daily driver however, so I created my own version instead. I began by reaching out to a local business named SBC Racks in northern Utah. After a brief meet and greet with the owner, we set a date for design, build and final assembly. The rack incorporated several key features for a hunting truck with removable shooting chairs from Idle Back UK as the centerpiece. Idle Back chairs first caught my attention online, when I watched pigeon hunting videos from Great Brittan and thought, these chairs are great for predator hunters. My rack design allows the chairs to be securely fastened to the base in minutes, and removed again in just seconds. Perfect for a predator hunter on the go. With 360-degree silent swivel action, a rifle rest and elbow rest, these chairs are well suited for this kind of work. Other features of the rack included a removable ladder, a Hi-Lift Jack and four removable FOXPRO Truck Pro speakers. After scratching my head for a few hours about how to make the speakers removable, my teenage son mentioned magnets as an option. Why didn’t I think of that? A large magnet fastened to the bottom of each speaker base would allow me to position the speakers any direction on all four corners of the rack and install or remove in seconds when not in use. The FOXPRO Truck Pro digital-game caller unit could then be mounted under the driver seat out of harm’s way. The unit is then operated with a TX1000 remote from anywhere inside, outside or atop the truck.
Last but certainly not least, a variety of Rigid Industries Lights would be incorporated into the rack as well. Red LED deck lights would light the perimeter of the rack to keep everyone safely on top. Super high intensity LED Scene Lights cast white light to either side of the vehicle for game recovery or a late-night skinning party. Dual forward-facing light bars serve two differing functions. The curved 50-inch Midnight series RDS bar spreads 26,000 lumens across a wide 40-degree spectrum allowing the driver more time to spot suicidal deer wandering onto the roadway from the periphery, while the single row Radiance 40-inch puts out over 12,000 raw lumens right smack dab in the middle of the trail. Granted, these lights are designed for off-road use only but when you spend more time off-road than on, it’s easy to justify. To keep all the lighting organized, I turned to the professionals at SPOD 4×4 for their 8 circuit SE Touch screen system. The system is fully programmable and digitally controlled. Each switch is programmable for dimming, strobe, flash, momentary, switch linking as well as on-road/off-road configurations. My favorite feature of the SPOD is the optional Bluetooth module. Wouldn’t it be cool to turn any light on or off, dim or even strobe from a distance of 100+ feet? With the SE Bluetooth module, I can link my iPhone to any light on the SPOD system and manipulate it from a remote location. This comes in super handy when sitting atop the rack. I can turn the red deck lights on until all the shooters are in position, then remotely go black using the iPhone. When we break stand, I can turn the lights back on until everyone is safely on the ground and back in the truck.
To support the weight of the rack, accessories and a couple “wolfers” in full kit, I hit up the topper specialists at ARE and ordered their HD Series Truck Cap. It features an internal skeleton which triples the weight capacity of the cap. Optional aluminum paneled rear window and side windows known as “windoors” also found their way onto my cap as an added benefit. When opened, I can easily access any gear that might be stored on top of the Truck Vault through the windoors. All of which are lockable as well. Gone are the sore knees and elbows as a result of crawling around the bed of the truck. ARE put the final touches on my Cap with LED light strips that illuminate when any of the three doors are opened.
The last piece of the lighting puzzle was also the most important piece for a night stalker like myself. In my opinion, Rigid Industries’ best kept secret is their phenomenal LED IR (Infrared) Light Series. They use a high-powered IR light that produces a beam of energy at 940 nanometers, meaning that it’s virtually invisible to the naked eye. Under Night Vision however, it lights up the terrain like high beam HID headlights if not better. I’ve always wanted the ability to drive into my night calling area completely undetected so I figured, what better way then to use a helmet-mounted night vision device. To accomplish this task, I settled on a single 10-inch IR E-Series Light Bar and two 4-inch D2 IR Driving Lights mounted to the bumper. While wearing my Ops Core Helmet mounted with a TNV/PVS-14 Night Vision Monocular, I can safely drive on the highway at 65 to 70 MPH in total darkness. My IR driving combo creates more light than my high beams do and unless you’re wearing night vision, you can’t see a thing. I’ve snuck up on a variety of unsuspecting game animals and predators using this very set-up. What I really enjoy, is powering up my NODs, (Night Observation Device) kicking on the IR lights and scaring the life out of anyone in the vehicle as I blast down a dirt road in complete darkness.
If you’ve ever worried about someone breaking into your ride and making off with all your precious calling or hunting loot, you’re not alone. I’ve wasted more time shuffling gear from the truck to hotel rooms and back again than I’d care to remember. I’m happy to say that those days are far behind me. Something every serious, responsible gun owner should consider is a Truck Vault. For me, it was the Magnum Series, All-Weather dual drawer Truck Vault that caught my immediate attention. It’s water proof, dust proof, and even fire resistant, but best of all, it’s theft proof. The Vault provides lockable storage for all my expensive hunting paraphernalia. Now I just lock it and forget it.
Everything I need is in my rolling armory. Guns and ammo, optics and camo, thermals and night vision, calls and cameras, its all there, and I never worry about any of it.
For interior organization, I installed a full set of Covers & Camo Tactical seat covers in matching Kryptek Highlander. With more pockets than a troop of kangaroos, there’s always someplace to put gear. Molle webbing allows for expandable storage as well. My favorite feature is the concealed handgun pouch that resides in front on the driver seat to allow quick and easy access to my handgun if needed.
The ARB fridge/freezer is another trick mod for the serious predator or varmint hunter. The 12-volt power source only draws as much amperage as a single headlamp. While the unit works like any refrigerator when needed, it can also be a freezer. One recent hot summer day, my brothers and I celebrated my birthday engaging prairie dogs at impressive distances while perched atop the TAC-TOY, all the while enjoying our favorite ice cream confections from the ARB Fridge. To conveniently access the contents within, I called MSA 4×4 in the Land Down Under. They build a super handy device called the MSA Drop-Slide. Not only does it allow the ARB to slide out of the truck with ease, but to drop down from the top on the Truck Vault and onto the tailgate using hydraulic struts. Once satisfied and ready to stow the fridge/freezer, the struts do all the work and the entire unit is once again lifted onto the Truck Vault and slid into locking position. It’s a fine crafted piece of aluminum that also fetches a fine price. Especially considering the freight from Australia.
The Kryptek Highlander camouflage vinyl by Rapid Wraps has two functions. The first is obviously concealment. I still do my best to hide the ride whenever I make a stand, the only difference is now, I don’t have to try as hard. My once-obvious Tacoma, isn’t so obvious anymore. Often when walking back to the truck after a stand, I’m amazed at just how well it blends into the landscape. The second function of the wrap is far more important to me. Scratch resistance. Most wraps have a lifespan of seven years. After seven years, the wrap can be removed without too much trouble to reveal the vehicles original finish. The paint beneath the wrap is preserved. Whatever condition the paint was in when the wrap was installed, so shall it be when the wrap is removed. Wrap a new truck, hunt out of it for seven years and unwrap it to reveal a seven-year old truck with new paint. It’s a beautiful thing.
I know what you’re thinking. “OVERKILL! Who really needs all that gear to kill coyotes?”
My answer is nobody … but it sure is fun to play with. Plus, it gives me a good excuse to spend more time afield, doing the things that I love. After all, boys never really grow up, they just get bigger toys.