A common misconception is that every hunting enthusiast lives in the middle of nowhere and drives a big diesel truck. Sure, there are plenty of us that do, but many great hunters don’t even own a truck. They use a car for hunting. Hunters are everyday, hard-working Americans, so it’s not surprising that many only have one car.
Can You Go Hunting With a Car?
Can you use a car for hunting? Absolutely. A truck may be easier, but it’s far from your only option.
We’ve seen guys carry an elk on the roof of a Honda Civic (that one was a story to tell) or stuff a deer into the back of a Toyota Corolla Hatchback.
Today’s hunters have figured out all sorts of ways to transport game: in a canoe, on the back of a motorcycle, by boat, with an ATV, and our classic favorite, the whitetail-deer-on-your-back method. Using a car for hunting is practically a breeze compared to those options.
It’s essential to keep in mind that when we talk about going hunting in a car, we’re referring to transporting game you bag. We’re not talking about shooting at wild animals from inside your vehicle, which is illegal in most states and can get you in big trouble — at the very least, losing your hunting license.
Challenges of Hunting Without a Truck
It’s not hard to see why a reliable truck is the go-to option for hunters. Trucks make loading up and transporting deer pretty simple. Before you hop in your car for hunting, you should know about the challenges:
Storage space: It’s not that easy to fit everything you need for hunting in a mid-size vehicle. Even if you mainly go bird hunting, you still have to fit your dog, your shotgun, a blind bag, duck decoys, accessories, gear bags, and hunting knives.
Nasty smells: Carcasses don’t smell great. The scent can permeate trunk fabric or the inside of your car. A tarp can help somewhat.
Limited range: Trucks can go further into the wilderness than most cars, so you won’t need to haul your catch as far. Depending on your car’s clearance and traction, you may have to park and walk a long way.
Scratches: It’s one thing to use an old beater for hunting. It’s another if you’re borrowing your wife’s sedan and strapping game to the top.
Last but not least, keep in mind that some people can get really angry when they see hunters driving around with a catch on the roof or hanging out of an open trunk. You need to be prepared for some flak, depending on what your neighborhood is like.
Options for Transporting Deer and Other Large Game in a Car
The best transport method when using a car for hunting depends on your vehicle. Roof cargo racks are a big plus on a car or SUV for hunting. Check that any equipment is rated for the size of your game. In the case of deer, that’s usually at least 150–200 pounds.
Hitch haulers make loading and unloading fast because of how low the hitch is. Of course, that means choosing a car or SUV with a trailer hitch, plus buying the hauler (about $200–$300).
Discover how to use all of these methods in our hunter’s guide to transporting deer in a car.
Features to Look for in a Vehicle for Hunting and City Life
One of the challenges of hunting without a truck is that you need something that can perform well in the country and the city. What features should you look for in a multipurpose vehicle for commuting and hunting?
Cargo space: This is the most important factor for hunting. The good thing is that having more cargo space is smart for families anyway. It makes soccer practice, grocery shopping, and weekend getaways easier.
Fuel economy: A gas-guzzling truck isn’t feasible when you commute to work most days. Fortunately, today’s hybrid cars and subcompact SUVs get great gas mileage. The 2021 Honda CR-V Hybrid gets 28 mpg city and 34 mpg highway.
4WD or AWD: Getting stuck in mud in a compact car isn’t much fun. Tackling the rugged outdoors or hauling a boat is easier with four-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is versatile for loose gravel, snow, and city streets.
Ground clearance: Some mid-size SUVs offer the same ground clearance as a truck. This helps a ton when driving in the outdoors. Subarus, Jeeps, and Peugeots rock this list.
Compact size: If you work downtown, a massive SUV isn’t the answer either. When fighting for parking spaces, you need something with a smaller footprint.
Our favorites that check all these boxes include the Honda Crosstour, Toyota RAV4, Subaru Outback (no surprise there), Subaru Crosstrek, Jeep Cherokee, and Honda CR-V. The Audi Q7 may feel too luxurious for hunting, but who said executives don’t like to hunt, too?
Tips for Using a Car for Hunting
Preparing ahead can make hunting without a truck much easier. Use these simple tools and pro tips:
Always have a tarp on hand: Tarps are easy to carry around in your trunk, and they’re a lifesaver when hunting any game. They protect the roof of your vehicle or the inside of your trunk. Wrapping game in a tarp also covers the meat while you’re driving down the highway.
Check your local filing requirements: Check with the local hunting commissioner for requirements for presenting your catch. In some places, deer have to be intact when you report them, which means waiting to butcher until after the catch has been filed. The same thing goes for bird hunting. Ducks, pheasants, and geese usually need a wing and head attached and the game tag.
Pack a field dressing kit (and know how to use it): You may have been planning on taking a smaller deer in the trunk of your car, only to bag the gigantic buck of your dreams. You’ll be happy you have your knife set along for the ride.
The bottom line is that using a car for hunting is better than not going hunting, period. A truck would be great, but you can make it work with a car. Smaller SUVs like Jeep Wranglers are a lot of fun in town, and they’re perfect for hunting.