How to create your own portable bird hunting base camp
Story and photos by Larry Kruckenberg
It was a perfect end of another fine day of bird hunting. The birds were cleaned, dogs fed, boots off. We sat and watched the sun cast its much-anticipated golden hue across the surrounding landscape.
The only sound was an approaching vehicle driven by an acquaintance, stopping by our camp to visit. Barely out of his truck, he asked about my trailer. I invited him to look inside. Quite astonished, he remarked, “Wow, that’s a nice set up. Got a name?”
I just smiled and said, “That, my friend, is a Mut Hut.”
The Mut Hut’s origins come from years of hunting upland gamebirds and waterfowl across North America, with the lodging choice being cut-and-dried: a dingy motel at 60 bucks a night or the hassle of setting up a tent, often in the dark.
Somewhere along the trail of my epic journeys, the appeal of both options dwindled.
Five years ago, I purchased a utility trailer to haul decoys and hang ducks and geese on our annual venture to Canada. In my first outing I realized there were endless possibilities. The idea of a mobile man cave emerged — a standard utility trailer converted into a functional bird hunting base camp for both man and beast — and I soon made the alterations.
I’ve since traversed some 25,000 miles of the best interstate highways and worst two-tracks in pursuit of sharptails and Huns in eastern Montana, pheasants in both Dakotas, quail in Kansas and waterfowl in Alberta. Some were solo outings, others with comrades, ranging from a few days to weeks of great hunting. The Mut Hut has proven dependable, functional, and an economical alternative to a dingy motel.
Most cargo trailers on the market are aluminum construction atop a steel chassis. There are countless manufacturers, models and options. Most will have electric brakes — a “must have” — and other basic features to be safety compliant with government regulations.
Size is the big consideration. The longer the trailer is, the more expensive. The higher it is, the more expensive. A single axle costs less, tandem axles, more. Tire size also vary. Pay attention to all that.
On average, cost will run $3,500 to $5,000 for trailers in the 12-foot to 14-foot range and $5,000 to $7,000, if 16 to 18 feet, depending upon the manufacturer and options included. Anything shorter or longer and the very premise for converting a cargo trailer for bird hunting purposes starts to get compromised.
Width and height are both important, but the key factor from my perspective is being able to stand and move about comfortably. Most cargo trailers come with a standard side door, but there are differing designs for latch security. Back door options include barn or ramp style. The rear door opening will also vary slightly by manufacturer.
Interior options include plywood or composite siding and flooring. If insulation is desired, it might take extra looking or waiting, or can be done yourself.
Finally, consider the front contour — flat, semi-V nose, or V nose — and the jack and coupler. Look and compare. Some function better than others.
Personal safety and that of the dogs is of paramount importance. In that regard, windows are a “must have” feature. They are essential for ventilation and lighting. If the unit doesn’t already have windows, ask a local RV dealer if they provide that installation service. As for safety precautions while in use, avoid using propane heaters inside and always have a fire extinguisher available.
Armed with this information, I made an informed decision that best fit my needs. I settled on a 7-foot x 14-foot trailer, standard height, a ramp rear door, semi-V front contour, tandem axles and 15-inch wheels. Since the unit I liked didn’t have windows, a very functional pair was installed after purchase for just over $500.
I was now ready to complete the Mut Hut.
The conversion from utility trailer to bird hunting camp can be accomplished with minimal effort or expense, or be more labor intensive and costly. My view is the simpler, the better. Fewer internal modifications maintain the integrity of the trailer for other uses.
But the biggest factor may be this: It should be easy to get everything in place and emptied in a matter of minutes. Make it too complicated and you’re back to something like setting up a tent.
I started my project by constructing a countertop at the front of the trailer where a camp stove or electric frying pan can be used. A peg board panel for hanging dog paraphernalia followed. A few clothes hooks, an LED light, a boot hanger, a gun rack and several small wooden boxes anchored in the corners completed the list.
All the rest of the gear is stored in large covered plastic tubs or duffle bags. Since all the gear and supplies are housed in the trailer, floor hooks and tie-down straps are required to secure everything while in transit. If the number of floor hooks provided is insufficient, you can add more at minimal expense.
A portable generator, positioned outdoors, is used for power. Rather than go through the time and expense of wiring the interior, an extension cord run through the flooring works great.
I use the trailer as a base of operations for fall or fair-weather bird hunting, therefore no insulation is required. It is comfortable to sleep and relax in, even when the temperatures fall into the 20s. A high grade electric heater is available, if necessary, and so, too, is an electric fan for cooling. Since this is dry camping, a water supply is required.
As configured, my Mut Hut comfortably sleeps one adult on a cot, along with three portable dog kennels, coolers, and all the gear, food and drinks needed for an extended stay. A different configuration would allow for one other person, but fewer dogs. Whenever possible, I cook and eat outdoors, but can do so comfortably indoors, as well.
Preferred camping spots include public land such as recreation areas, fishing lakes, county parks, Forest Service or BLM campgrounds, and wildlife management areas that allow camping. Parking alongside or near well-travelled roads is off limits because of the dogs. So, too, is camping on private land without first obtaining permission.
As for maintenance, there isn’t much. Check tire pressure and wear regularly, pack the wheel bearings every other year, make sure lamps and wiring are sound, and apply modest spot chalking if the roof starts to leak.
One remaining attribute, and by far the most popular in my mobile base camp, is the Wall of Fame. As the name implies, an entire wall of framed photographs dedicated to fine hunting dogs and partners I’ve enjoyed over the years. It is always the subject of great interest and conversation, and is cherished by those who are the subjects of this recognition. It is fodder for great memories.
Like anything in life, you get better as you go, and I’ve learned some valuable lessons over the past few years:
Avoid towing in winds of 50 miles per hour or more. Drive the speed limit. Check and double check that the trailer is securely locked in place and safety chains secured. And never attempt to parallel park in a business district. These are some tight spots for sure, but all ended without incident, with my pride intact.
What, if anything, would I change?
I wish I had gone this route years ago! There is something quite satisfying about having a cup of coffee and seeing the sunrise out the door, and minutes later gathering the dogs and heading out from the Mut Hut to start the day’s hunt.
Larry Kruckenberg travels North America’s uplands with his bird dogs and his Mut Hut, which we suspect also serves him well when he is in the doghouse at home.
This story originally appeared in the 2020 Upland Bird Hunting Super Issue of the Pheasants Forever Journal. If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it, join Pheasants Forever at the link below!