March 15, 2012
The New Mexico prairie sky is endless. The blue horizon and the cactus-clad ground meet somewhere well beyond the end of my attention span.
Yards turn to miles in this country, so good luck chasing down its four-legged game in August without suffering the long, hot trip that's kicked many a salty cowboy's ass.
But on this hunt, that was exactly the task. Our hunting crew of outdoor writers and other industry folks were facing New Mexico's three-day antelope firearm season, which boasts the biggest heart-horned goats in the Western U.S. and some of the longest hauls any hunter can imagine.
We had free roam on a 60,000-acre ranch owned by Sam Britt, an 81-year-old cattleman who can be described as the aforementioned salty cowboy, save the ass kickings. Britt's got that just-rolled-out-of-the-saddle look going all day long, and he's tackled this Comanche and Apache country since he was a kid. His quote on the upcoming hunt: "The big ones aren't stupid. You've got to work, drive all damn day long to get 'em."
He knew that on this trip, spot-and-stalk was a relative term. Most of the time drive-and-spot or drive-spot-crawl-hunker-and-walk fit the bill about as good as the common antelope hunting tactic. Fact is, it's no secret that a pronghorn affair out West is often simply a road hunt. Dusty ranch roads are gateways to, well, a lot of flatness, save a few far-off canyons and the towering shadows of ancient volcanos that watch you roll through, kicking up dust.
These twisting, gnarly roads cut through the prairie in all directions, and you never know when the sagebrush might yield an 80-inch pronghorn. So, when Ram Trucks decided to let me roll out with the newest and possibly most off-road capable truck in their lineup — the Ram Power Wagon — I was confident that those speedy little bastards didn't stand a chance.
Steve Jones' Backcountry Hunts had us set up in a traditional prairie camp, including teepees, cast iron skillets, cowboy stylings and a surly, baritone camp cook with a chihuahua named Munchie. The Power Wagon didn't quite fit this scene with its top-of-the-line looks and Hemi roar, but nobody complained.
This go anywhere, crush anything four-wheel-drive behemoth was built to tackle rough terrain. It's kind of like the Jeep Rubicon on steroids.
The engineers at Ram made this truck for guys that take great displeasure in anything involving pavement. When you get your first look around the Ram 2500 Crew Cab Power Wagon it's patently clear that heavy duty is not a relative term. Its dominating profile includes everything a red-blooded power junkie dreams about, including a 383-horsepower 5.7-liter Hemi V8 with a six-speed automatic transmission, 32-inch all-terrain tires and manual transfer case.
What's this mean for the hunter? Confidence.
As we rolled through the prairie, both on trail and off, there was not one reason to worry about anything other than glassing for a nice buck. Clearance was never a problem with skid plates on the fuel tank and transfer case, a two-inch lift and 4.56 rear axle ratio, and I didn't once worry about the truck not handling the sharp lava rocks and mounds of cactus that dotted our path.
If we did happen to get stuck or turn sideways, the heavy-duty Warn winch behind the truck's front bumper would crank us back on course with the help of electronically locking front and rear differentials, traction's best friend.
It was only after two days of Ram cat-and-mouse with some over 16-inch antelope that we finally stumbled into the perfect situation. In our first round of glassing on the third day we spotted a nice buck silhouetted against the blue sky not far from the range of my Winchester Model 70 Extreme SS in .30-06.
I don't remember making the decision to shoot him, but the next thing I knew the truck was parked and, with my guide at my back, I was sneaking across the prairie. It felt like we went a mile, as we moved like smoke toward the grazing pronghorn. Finally, I heard the right words: "He's out there at about 276 yards."
I tossed my pack on the ground and let him have it. I heard the customary bullet-to-meat thud right away. The black-horned buck took off running for a brief moment before bucking to a halt and collapsing about 20 yards from where he had stood.
When the dust had settled, post high-fives, and we were sure the buck was down for good, I turned to look back at the truck. We were only about 50 steps from the black and crimson Ram. Note to self: prairie depth perception way off.
I guess the road hunt prediction was just about right, but there was no better way to test the Power Wagon's off-road capabilities. We had spent nearly three days tracking up and down miles of ranch roads and cattle paths, and the truck took every challenge with ease.
But while we were busy running over prairie obstacles with the Power Wagon, I didn't take time to check the dominating features on the inside. Not until I had downed my pronghorn did I put down my Brunton Epoch binoculars and explore the interior.
The first thing I always look for in a truck is space. How many of my buddies can I fit in this crew cab and still comfortably stash our rifles, gear and coolers?
The Power Wagon's smaller cousin, the Ram Outdoorsman (reviewed last year in "Wheels Afield"), has two "Ram boxes" on the side of the truck's bed specifically designed as rifle carriers and/or coolers to help save space elsewhere. But the 2500 crew cab shuns such features in favor of a more straightforward approach.
The full-length center floor console and front and rear split-bench seats couple with other features to provide not just leg room, but gear room and rifle room. We fit four guys, two rifles and packs in the Power Wagon easily and still had the entire 6-foot, 4-inch bed to load up our kills.
The Power Wagon also sports what amounts to an onboard entertainment center. Our test truck came with GPS navigation, a 30 GB hard drive, voice command, satellite radio and an audio input jack. Not to mention heated and ventilated front seats that can be individually controlled and a heated steering wheel. (This, I thought, might be taking comfort too far.)
Overall, though, it seems that Ram has brought the whole package to market with this truck. From the New Mexico prairie to the Eastern hardwoods, hunters need rugged powerâ€¦and chicks dig a Hemi. Case closed.