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Getting There: A Look at Tires for the Backcountry Hunter

Much of life, and hunting, is showing up. If your vehicle can’t get to the trailhead or your hunting spot, your chances of success immediately drop to zero. So much for that hard-won elk tag. Tires are like boots for your truck, buy the wrong ones and you’ll regret it when things get rough. Toyo’s Open Country R/T all season tires are a great choice for the backcountry hunter, with the versatility of off-road traction and on-road performance.

Let’s say you live in the southeast, like I do. True wilderness hunting opportunities are virtually non-existent, and unless you are lucky enough to draw an elk tag in a state like Kentucky, most non-whitetail options require significant travel. I hunt in some portion of the mountain west almost every year, which usually means an airplane ride. Packing all of the gear necessary for a true backcountry hunt into two checked bags and a carry-on isn’t easy and it isn’t cheap. The more I do it, the less fun that it is. Add in the logistics of getting the meat home and driving becomes increasingly attractive. My house sits 1,458 road miles from Denver, Colorado, where the good hunting starts. That’s 22 hours of windshield time—can you imagine making that trip with a set of super-aggressive off-road tires? You’d get the hum out of your ears about the time you were finished packing-out your bull.

On the other hand, once you actually get your vehicle into hunting country, conditions can deteriorate rapidly. Montana is famous for its slick gumbo that can stick just about any vehicle. And the high deserts of Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona have plenty of spots that could require a helo extraction if you take a wrong turn. One year’s hunting destination could be unseasonably wet or snowy while next year’s could be bone dry. So, no, ordinary street tires aren’t going to cut it, either. For success, we need a true all-terrain tire designed to work well in a wide variety of conditions. That is precisely the niche that the Toyo Open Country R/T line was designed to fill.

R/T stands for “Rugged Terrain” which is exactly what hunters can expect to encounter. This hybrid design blends the off-road traction elements of the Open Country M/T with the quieter ride and on-road qualities of the Open Country A/T II. The Open Country R/Ts are constructed from a high turn-up, three-ply polyester material for maximum durability and impact resistance. I’ve spoken to other hunters who have used Toyos for years and, in short, these tires have a reputation for being extremely durable—even more so than the indestructible M/Ts thanks to the less-aggressive tread. The warranty on these tires is 45,000 miles, though I’ve seen plenty of credible reviews that put the effective life at double that.

Toyo’s own subjective ratings give the Open Country R/T series a 4.5 out of 5.0 for off-road traction and a 4.0 for dry handling, wet handling, tread life, and winter handling. The tires get 3.5 points for ride comfort and quiet ride while they score only 2.0 points in terms of fuel economy. Yes, these are ratings provided by the manufacturer but they are a relevant means of comparing the various strengths and weaknesses to other tires, particularly Toyos. A friend of mine calls it the “Mario Cart” analogy: if you beef up performance in one area, you are going to sacrifice it in another, it’s all a compromise. The Open Country R/Ts are a compromise tire, with a slight emphasis toward off-road performance.

These tires come in 46 individual sizes across six wheel diameters ranging from 15 to 22 inches. Approved wheel (I despise the term “rim”) widths range from 7-11 inches. We mounted a set of Open Country R/Ts on a 2015 Toyota Tundra Crew Max TRD 4×4, a pretty standard hunting rig. The LT275/70R18 tires were mounted to the factory 18-inch wheels and balanced. But for the tires, and other than the winch-equipped Warn Ascent bumper, the truck is pretty well stock. In this size, the R/Ts have an E/10-ply load rating, a somewhat-dated scale that has nothing to do with how many layers of material a tire is actually constructed with.

The tread pattern on the Open Country R/T is less-aggressive than dedicated off-road designs, but only by a bit. The sidewall pattern gives the tires some additional grip in mud and sand and the tread pattern is designed to eject mud and stones from the grooves to prevent the tires from effectively becoming slicks. Our initial impression was that these tires were quieter than most off-road designs, and would be perfectly comfortable for a cross-country road trip. We quickly got them muddy and found that their off-road grip matched their on-road performance.

I wouldn’t hesitate to take this truck into a real wilderness area equipped with these tires. I also wouldn’t mind making the two-day drive it would take to get to a good hunting spot, thanks to the on-road performance. I’m not a tire expert, but more of an enthusiastic end-user: like the guy who doesn’t know what bullet weight he’s using but he knows they work, I am confident that these tires will get the job done both on your daily commute and during a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

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