By Alex Comstock
Here's an idea - buy a school bus, completely rebuild it, and then use it as a public land hunting machine to travel the country in. Well it's currently being done by Sam Soholt, and it's pretty awesome. I was fortunate enough to be in Sam's neck of the woods this past summer, and was able to swing by and check out his bus that he converted into a mobile hunting camp, and let me tell you, it's pretty remarkable. Now that he's been using it to travel the country hunting, filming, and photographing hunts, I wanted to get a full synophis on how the bus came to be, and his year so far using it. Enjoy our Q&A below!
Q: At a high level, what was the thought process behind purchasing a school bus for hunting?
Sam: I remember the exact day that I finally decided to buy a bus. I had talked about it for some time, but it was November of 2016, seasons were winding down, and it just hit me that if I didn’t go for it and buy a bus at this point in my life, it may never happen. I’ll be honest, the fear of never having that experience was scarier to me than how daunting the build out on an old school bus might be. From that moment on, I was searching Craigslist daily all over the Midwest looking for the right bus. At one point, I thought I had purchased one in Iowa. I was going to trade an AR-15 and $1500 cash for a 40 foot flat nose but that fell through because it was going to be a couple weeks before I could pick it up.
About a week later, my brother spotted one south of where he lives in Colorado, and I started the negotiation process. The bus was listed for $5500, but I was able to talk him down to $3500. This seemed like a steal since the motor and transmission already had a full rebuild done through the school system. I finally picked the bus up New Years Eve, 2016, and just like that, I was the proud owner of 37 feet of rolling childhood dreams.
Q: When did it first strike you that you should buy a bus? Did it come out of nowhere or was it something that you had wanted to do for a while?
Sam: The first talk of buying a bus happened three years before I finally pulled the trigger. My brother, his business partner, and myself were sitting around talking about how awesome it would be to have a bus as a base camp for turkey season. We figured you could travel around and shoot turkeys for as long as you wanted in a bus. The strut tour. Needless to say, I’m pretty excited for this April/May.
Q: Why a bus, and not a camper for a mobile hunting vehicle? Was there a particular reason for going this route?
Sam: Campers are everywhere. They are amazing, and already completely set up. But where is the fun in that? Why own a camper that someone else designed, and more than likely a thousand or more other people have the exact one? I think the bus idea just felt so unique. Sure, there are plenty of other people that have turned a bus into an RV, but not very many in the hunting space, and certainly not many in the hunting space that have turned it into a marketing tool for something so much bigger.
Q: Can you run me through everything that’s in the bus? I think your setup for how you’ve lived in it is pretty awesome.
Sam: Starting from the back and moving forward, I have a queen bed, then two sets of bunks, then a bathroom, kitchen area with attached desk on the front end, space for the heater, and a couch. But my personal favorite is the 10’x20’ enclosed awning that turns my total camp space into a little over 400 sq/ft. The awning has a jack for a wood stove and that makes even the worst weather pretty dang tolerable.
Q: Where have you taken the bus this past hunting season? Can you run people through the trips you’ve gone on?
Sam: The majority of the fall was spent in Montana and South Dakota. I originally planned to travel a lot further, but realized that I could tell that same public land message without blowing up an engine or spending way too much money on diesel.
I have gone antelope, elk, deer, and duck hunting out of it. A couple of my favorites were an elk hunt in Montana that ended watching two bulls fight and my buddy Andrew Whitney getting an arrow in one of the two, and a limited quota elk hunt in South Dakota with another buddy, Tom Jensen, who was able to shoot his first elk ever.
Q: What has been your favorite trip/moment since buying the bus? What made that moment or trip so special?
Sam: So far, the most special moment with the bus was the evening of August 7th. This was the maiden voyage for the bus after finally getting the build completed. I had spent almost every waking moment working on the bus from the end of May through that very evening. It was definitely a tight build time, and the feeling of finally getting it on the road and starting the really fun part of the whole project was a giant relief.
Q: How have you raised awareness for public lands with the bus? When you look back on this whole experience years from now, what do you hope you will have accomplished?
Sam: At this point, I feel like I have definitely turned a few heads and gotten some more awareness out there, but I really think the whole project is just starting to ramp up. After a few videos surrounding the bus came out through Outdoor Life, it put a whole lot more eyes on the project and moving forward I think I can continue to reach new people and shed light on just what is going on right now.
Q: Lastly, how would you encourage someone to stand up for public lands if they didn’t know how?
Sam: The easiest way for people to get involved, is to join a conservation organization. Groups like Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, RMEF, Mule Deer Foundation, TRCP, etc are the experts in all of these matters and lobby every day for the protection of public land. Becoming a member will help fund the fight, as well as inform the person joining about what is going on and what they can do.
I have been working a lot with BHA because I feel they have a very strong voice that spans beyond just hunting. We are going to need the collective voice of hunters, anglers, and general outdoor recreators if we want to move the needle.
Also, if anyone out there does not feel like joining a group, I can still help. Head on over to publiclandtees.com and buy a shirt. $5 from every shirt goes to BHA to help keep public lands public.
If you want to follow along with Sam's public land adventures, be sure to follow him on Instagram @samsoholt