Packing for a backcountry adventure used to be simple: Fill the canteen, make sure a pocket knife and compass were handy, and bring a bedroll if you planned to stay overnight. All the gear could fit in a knapsack. Nowadays, the canteen has been replaced by a 12-volt mini-fridge, the pocket knife has become a multitool, the compass has evolved into GPS, and a bedroll is no less than a mummy bag stuffed with high-loft insulating fill. Some of that gear may fit into a backpack, but chances are good it now takes a four-wheel-drive vehicle to haul all the equipment into base camp.
The Dodge Ram HD we call Project Recon is just that sort of vehicle. It's a mobile base camp that's tough enough to get to wherever you want to anchor your operations, and it's outfitted with the gear the modern outdoorsman needs to accomplish his backcountry objectives (as well as conveniences that are just nice to have). Project Recon is more than just a truck; it's an all-encompassing tool to help you be a better hunter.
Size and power were key considerations when it came time to choose the foundation for our rolling base camp. The Dodge Ram 3500 HD Quad Cab dualie fit the bill perfectly. All-new for 2003, Dodge's heavy-duty pickups are among the biggest in the class, with a spacious four-door cabin that easily accommodates six adults and an 8-foot bed to carry cargo. As equipped, our 1-ton Ram offered a payload capacity of 5,210 pounds and a towing capacity of 10,500 pounds.
Dodge offers three engines for the '03 Ram HDs. We picked the newest of the bunch: the 5.7L Hemi Magnum V-8. Descended from a long line of musclecar engines bearing the legendary Hemi badge (named for the trademark cylinder heads with hemispherical combustion chambers), the new Dodge Hemi produces 345 hp and 375 lb-ft of torque, placing this motor at the top of the gas-engine class for fullsize trucks.
Dodge also engineered suspension and steering refinements into its new heavy-duty pickups to make them ride and handle more like their light-duty cousins. But there's nothing light-duty about the chassis; in fact, Dodge chose to retain the truck's solid front axle in 4x4 models to ensure they would be tough enough to handle off-road punishment.
As good as the Ram is straight off the showroom floor, it needed some special equipment to handle the duties we ask of it. So we chose a group of accessories that would improve its four-wheeling prowess and ability to move gear into the backcountry.
Up front is a massive winch bumper and a grilleguard from Reunel Truck Accessories to protect the Ram from off-road hazards and to mount a Warn M15000 winch and a Hi-Lift jack. A second Reunel bumper and a second Warn winch are mounted at the rear. Both Reunel products are home to PIAA auxiliary lights--a pair of foglamps built into the front bumper, a pair of driving lights mounted to the grilleguard, and a pair of flood/backup lights inset in the back bumper. When it's time to hook up a trailer, the Ram's rear receiver channel gets a Self-Coupling Trailer Hitch from Fulkrum.
The Ram, even in stock form, has a fairly tall step-in height, so we added side steps. We chose a pair of Go Rhino! Sumatra 6000 Series steps because of their wheel-to-wheel design, which allows us to use the steps not only to climb into the cab but also to reach into the truck bed. On the roof of the Ram is a Con-Ferr rack, a heavy-duty cargo platform made from tube steel. More PIAA lights are mounted to the front and rear of the rack to make sure anyone using Project Recon can cut through the night's gloom.
Given the kind of special gear the Recon would be carrying--everything from long arms and ammo to electronics--we realized that the Ram's bed would require some upgrades. So after protecting the bed walls and floor with a Line-X spray-on bedliner, we mounted a lockable, aluminum storage box from Highway Products in the bed. Then we covered the strongbox with a Pace-Edwards retractable tonneau cover and ToolTop cross-bed toolbox. As a final touch, we dressed up the Recon's sheetmetal with some Realtree Hardwoods HD camouflage graphics on the hood, grille, roof, rocker panels, and rear fenders. The Reunel bumpers and grilleguard also got the Hardwoods HD camo graphics treatment, as did the truck's hubcaps.
Outfitting the Interior
Comfort and convenience with a high-tech twist were key to the Recon's interior modifications. Assuming that the Recon would live up to its name and travel through uncharted territory, we equipped the truck with a Lowrance GPS system that would work in tandem with a laptop computer loaded with map software from National Geographic.
On the truck's floorboard beneath the Lowrance screen is a charging station for the ultrabright SureFire rechargeable flashlight. (SureFire personal lights are aboard too.) For spotting game, we outfitted the Recon with Nikon binoculars and spotting scopes, plus a laser rangefinder that's dressed, like the truck, in Realtree Hardwoods HD camo. We carried the Realtree theme inside the truck with Marathon camo seat covers. Immersion Graphics also finished pieces of the Ram's interior trim in the Hardwoods HD pattern. Auto Custom Carpets stitched the Recon's logo onto some custom floormats that are almost too nice to get dirty. But we will.
Finally, since all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, we installed an Icon-TV DVD player beneath the driver seat and a flip-down monitor on the ceiling. This roundup just begins to list all the modifications made to our Project Recon, most of which were performed by Central 4 Wheel Drive in Sacramento, California.