RALPH BARTHOLDT: Small rigs are good bets in Idaho’s big places

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I have a friend who drives an early í90s-model Toyota pickup with mud on the doors and downy feathers embedded in the back seat.

The pickup truck was purchased new when it seemed plausible that the two-door extended cab was a necessary payout for a job that required tooling backcountry roads from the Snake River to the fringes of Lolo Pass, north to the Larkins, or to the nose of Montana.

The rig has, over the years, carried in its confines deer and elk, chukar, pheasant, grouse, salmon and two dogs that are going gray.

Itís been a pretty good rig, my friend said. A few of its parts have gone missing over time, have been broken or clanked loose and lost on gravel roads that are slick with mud or snow or the chowder-hungry grind of road dust that in summer, mountain dew canít touch.

Some of the best hunting and fishing rigs are the ones so innoucuous they appear to be push-overs, easy to thumb a nose at, making them stealthy in their approach to things outdoors.

His no-frills beater is among them.

And so is the Subaru Forester with 270,000 miles on the odometer that a guy in Montana drives into the woods each autumn because it is reliable, dingproof, and can hold an elk on the roof in a pinch.

He was fortunate once to kill a bull on the sidehill of a logging road and got the massive animal tied down, up top, with the help of ingenuity. Because a highway through a college town was the fastest route home, he was seen midweek at rush hour, scowling behind the wheel as passersby gave him the thumbs-up for his success, or heckled him through rolled up windows. Their chagrin at his perceived gall for toting a dead wild animal on the top of his rig was too much to hold back and not something his Grateful Dead sticker could ameliorate.

A fishing guide in Dillon used to meet his clients standing outside his outdated minivan with a blue, rubber raft tied to its roof as he brushed away his beard to better sip a Bud Lite from a can.

At all hours.

No one begrudged him the minivan. The beard. The raft on the roof. Or his Bud Lite.

He found fish.

Thatís what mattered.

And he was colorful.

A pal in Livingston has a soccer mom automobile as well. It is silver, two-door, with a slider and has a hitch to trailer the raft he uses to fish the Yellowstone. And because the minivan is spacious, and comes with room to keep the coolers, everyone who rides along remains well hydrated on the river and on the road back to town.

Mode of transportation matters less than the outing, although advertisements would have you believe otherwise, and thatís good too.

But I prefer semi-compact and vintage Asian all-wheel drives with high miles and a lot of rattles when I roll into the hills after deer or elk, or any other endeavor that allows me to simultaneously pack a firearm and binoculars into a lot of quiet.

Those cars usually make room for the dog. They provide traction and are easy to park to allow logging trucks to get by.

They can be pushed or towed in the event they break down, but many of them seem to run forever.

And thatís a good insurance policy to have out there where satellites mix with the stars at night, but they donít give up cell service.

• ē ē

Ralph Bartholdt can be reached at rbartholdt@cdapress.com.

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