The Deer Wagon I Traded My Silverado for a Subaru

The Deer Wagon I Traded My Silverado for a Subaru Outdoor Life

The Deer Wagon: Traded My Silverado for a Subaru—and Don’t Regret It

There’s an old joke about people confessing sins in church, where the preacher says, “Tell it all, brother!” This goes well until one man, in the enthusiasm of the moment, shares too much information. The preacher replies, “I wouldn’t have told that, brother!”

I’m about to confess something I might regret: I gave my pickup truck to my teenagers and bought a compact crossover.

I have no regrets. Since buying my new vehicle, I’ve found additional benefits I didn’t expect as I tested it for hunting, fishing, and outdoor trips. I’d make the same choice again. There may be other outdoorsmen like me who have thought about downsizing and could use the encouragement. And I’m here to tell you: Make the switch.

My 2000 Chevrolet Silverado is a great truck. I put 15 years and 205,000 miles on it (with no major problems) before giving it to my son. He has since passed it to his sister, and this year, on her 16th birthday, my daughter will receive it.

That Chevy took me on many outdoor adventures. But when it came time for a new vehicle, I had new priorities: affordability and fuel efficiency. Both help me save money, and I want to reduce my consumption of fossil fuels. You may disagree with me, and that’s fine—these are my personal priorities. We all have them. For many of us, a vehicle is a lifestyle statement. I’m less concerned about signifying my lifestyle to other drivers on the highway than I am about my gas bill.

Pickup trucks keep getting bigger in both size and price. It surprises me how difficult it is these days to find a modest-sized pickup, while it is more common to see ones that are only slightly scaled down from a tractor trailer. The average weight of pickup trucks has increased more than 30 percent since I bought my Chevy in 2000. With that size comes poor fuel economy.

So, I studied compact pickups. While I found some with decent prices, none of them had great fuel economy. Next, I searched compact “crossovers” with two characteristics in mind: great fuel economy and great performance in off-road use. It’s easy to build a sporty vehicle that looks outdoorsy, and many companies have. Building one that performs well on a rough or muddy road is another matter.

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Combining these features, one vehicle kept coming up in my searches: the Subaru Forester. I’m now the owner of a Forester. And I love it. In fact, I made an even better decision than I thought. My hunting buddies raised a few eyebrows at first, but after a weekend in deer camp with me and my new vehicle, one of them christened it “The Deer Wagon.”

I’m not here to talk about brands. There are other crossovers and small vehicles that offer the benefits I want to share. I’m here to testify that choosing such a vehicle to save money and burn less fuel does not mean giving up your “hunting vehicle.” When people ask me why I bought the Deer Wagon, I tell them there are 32 reasons, and all of them are miles per gallon. But beyond the savings, I had concerns about how this crossover would adapt to a hunting lifestyle. Let’s see how those turned out.

Off-Road Warrior

The Forester kept coming up in my search for its symmetrical all-wheel drive. It’s in four-wheel drive all the time. More than that, the Deer Wagon monitors traction in each wheel and, in slick conditions, redirects power to the wheels with the most grip. Whether I’m on a slick, muddy road at the hunting club or a slick, icy road on the way to the Archery Trade Association show, I’m good to go. I’ve tested the Deer Wagon in serious mud, the kinds of holes and ruts where I would have engaged 4-wheel drive in my Silverado. I’ve found the Deer Wagon crawls right on through with no problem. So far, I’m confident it would handle all but the worst mudholes my Silverado could manage—as long as I’m smart about how I navigate the mud and I’m not trying to get stuck. I get the sense that having a much lighter vehicle is a factor here. The Deer Wagon seems to be able to creep lightly where full-size pickups sink and plow. And believe it or not, the Deer Wagon actually has a higher ground clearance than my Silverado does. I bought a set of Falken Wildpeak A/T Trail tires that have performed well off-road without impacting gas mileage or the highway ride.

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Cargo Capacity

Yes, giving up the bed of my pickup was painful. It’s nice to be able to throw bloody, muddy, or bulky objects and gear into the bed of a pickup. To solve this problem, I bought an after-market trailer hitch, installed it myself on the Deer Wagon, and added a bumper rack that easily mounts on the trailer hitch. For travel to hunting camp, I strap coolers, stands, storage boxes, and other bulky gear to the rack. Once I’m at camp, I use the rack to transport deer, fertilizer bags, muddy boots, and other gear around the woods. I also bought after-market rails for my roof rack that support more weight. It takes me about 10 minutes to load my Vibe fishing kayak on the roof and secure it for the road.

The Deer Wagon I Traded My Silverado for a Subaru Outdoor Life

No, I can’t haul a cord of firewood in the cargo area or on the bumper rack, but I can borrow or buy a trailer if I need one. And I could buy a fleet of trailers for the money I saved—and keep saving in gas mileage—by not buying a full-size pickup.

Surprising Stealth

I wasn’t expecting how incredibly quiet the Deer Wagon is when driving along dirt roads to the stand. In fact, my hunting partners and I noticed the Deer Wagon makes less noise than an electric hunting buggy, a vehicle that’s battery-powered for quietness! Though the buggy’s motor is quiet, the rest of the vehicle makes all kinds of squeaks, rattles, and vibrations. Not the Deer Wagon. Its engine is barely audible when it’s moving slowly along woods roads—unlike the pickups my friends and family drive. So, when considering hunting pressure, the Deer Wagon is as low-impact as it gets.

Nimble Turning Radius

My Deer Wagon has a super-short turning radius. It’s even easier to turn around than the electric hunting buggy. I’ve turned it around in narrow forest roads where you could never hope to rotate a full-sized pickup, and certainly not today’s behemoth crew cabs.

And on this note, though not an “outdoor” factor, let me share a special joy I never knew I was missing when I drove an extended-cab pickup: parking! No more heading far out in the Bass Pro Shops parking lot where you have room to maneuver into and out of a space. No more carefully reading height limits on parking decks or sweating through turns around concrete support columns. No more shifting 47 times from Reverse to Drive to Reverse to shuffle your way out from between other trucks that parked too close. Now, I smile every time I whip in and out of a parking space close to the building.

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The Long Haul

The Deer Wagon is great off-road, but it’s also great on the highway. I love the smooth, quiet ride compared to my old pickup. Since my primary hunting areas are a minimum of three hours from home, this makes those drives much more pleasant—and less costly when it comes to fuel. Whether I’m hauling a deer out of the woods or hauling kids to school, I’m enjoying the ride. I never expected that in a vehicle that was also affordable and gets great gas mileage.

The Upshot

Yes, there are disadvantages to giving up my Silverado. For one thing, the Deer Wagon is a little homely. One reviewer of the Subaru Forester described its appearance as “refreshingly dorky.” I won’t be cruising the strip on the weekends, but as a family man, there’s not a vehicle made that can help me there. I’ll wear “refreshingly dorky” and consider it a win, especially since I’m debt-free.

I know there are plenty of hunters who love their pickups and will never drive anything else. I’m not trying to change your mind. I love my pickup too. If they made a decent one that cost what I paid for the Deer Wagon and got 32 mpg, I’d still drive one every day. But if you share my priorities—savings and fuel economy—consider the benefits of compact crossovers I’ve discovered. You can downsize your loan payments and fuel budget significantly and still own a great hunting vehicle.

Also, you’ll get a lot fewer invitations to help your friends move furniture.

Also, you’ll get a lot fewer invitations to help your friends move furniture.