Mafia Secrets
Bull bars? Moose bumpers? Cow catchers?

By Bryan Martin, contributing writer

Technically, the term is grille guards, but no matter what you call them, they provide your truck with a greatly enhanced degree of front-end protection against deer strikes and obstacles involving other four-legged critters.

One of the first questions we hear is “what does this kind of protection cost?” Like a lot of products that we drivers buy for our trucks, there is good, better and best. The dollar value seems to directly correlate with the level of protection.

A smaller type of grille guard by Luverne looks really nice and does a good job. The most popular version is made of polished stainless steel and costs $800 to $900. If you hit a big dog or bump up against a cone or street sign, it’s likely going to protect your truck, keep you from scraping your paint or taking out a headlight. But if you hit an elk at 60 mph in the dark, it’s probably not going to do the job. You will wanna step up to a big polished aluminum grille guard, many of which are reinforced with structural steel.

Some of the big ones cost upwards of $4,000, but if you run a lot of desolate country where the “deer and antelope play,” that’s the kind of grille guard you are gonna want to keep the front end of your truck from potentially getting busted up.

How much of a hit can a top-level grille guard take? We’ve got customers from southern parts of Canada, Nebraska and Montana and other places; they’ve got some of these high-end grille guards like Herd and BFG (Big Front Grille), and it’s incredible to hear their stories and see their phone pics of the situations they have encountered.

For instance, a full grown deer or elk in most cases is no problem. I would say 90 percent of the time you are not going to lose your radiator and you are going to be able to drive home without the assistance of a tow truck.

Compare that to if you had no protection at all. You could be sitting in the ditch, waiting for a tow truck to pull you out, no engine coolant left, no grille, maybe the front bumper pushed into your steer tire, tire damage, with half your hood gone. Which means weeks in the body shop, a potential loss of customers, an insurance claim to file, and a thousand dollar deductible. In addition, you’ve got downtime and a truck rental to think about. Things add up to big $$$ and spiral out of control real fast.

For years, I was guilty of not appreciating the protection some of these grille guards offer. If I was running a truck today in these regions where deer strikes are commonplace, I’d really consider it, because $2,500 to $4,000 could be a heckuva deal compared with the alternative.

What do these grille guards that can handle a moose hit weigh? The two bigger brands are the polished stainless steel BFG and the premium grille guard Herd, which is polished aluminum and internally reinforced with structural steel. The weight is generally only 300 or 375 pounds or so. That is fairly heavy in a trucker’s world, but for under 400 pounds what you gain is still impressive to me. When you look at the physical size, I’m actually surprised that they don’t weigh more.

Is there any adverse effect of hanging 400 pounds on the front of your truck? Any effects on handling or wear on steer tires? No, but what it does is add the weight. So if you are running a weight-sensitive line of work, you’ll want to possibly consider trimming weight elsewhere.

Of course, like all truckers, you occasionally are going to have to get under the hood. That used to be somewhat inconvenient because you had two large eyebolts that you had to unscrew by hand so you could tip the whole grille guard forward, which allowed you to tip the hood forward to check oil, coolant, etc. But today, with most of the mainstream manufacturers it’s become really user friendly. They’ve got what they call a slam-latch and it’s like a hood release on your car or pickup truck. You simply pull a lever that is somewhat hidden and the guard flips over; it’s as easy as dropping the tailgate on your Dodge pickup. 

And here’s how rugged they are. When you flip that big grille guard over, you can actually stand on the back side of it to tilt your hood. 

So let’s talk about installation. The Luvernes are quick and easy to install. There’s a smaller one, which protects the bumper, and a larger one that protects the whole bumper area and the biggest part of the grille. I’ve seen quite a few folks install these Luvernes in the parking lot. The install time in our shop is a little over an hour.

The Luvernes come with brackets that slide into your factory tow hook receivers. You put your pins in and you’re good to go. Doesn’t get much easier than that!

On the BFGs and the Herds (FYI, the Herd replaces the entire bumper of your truck), they generally use those tow pin receiver mounting points, but they have additional brackets that go down directly to the chassis of your truck for that added strength and support. Install time is around three hours. If you take it somewhere and have it done, you’re going to be in the shop for about a half day. If you do it yourself, you might spend the better part of a Saturday afternoon. But installation really isn’t bad.

What if you have to use the tow pins to be towed?

On the Luvernes you are actually going to be using those tow pin receiver holes. If you ever had to get pulled out of a slick spot and wanted to use your factory tow pin connections, theoretically the grille guard is going to be in the way.

The Herd grille guards come with tow pins of their own designed into the front of the grille guard. With some of the lower-end grille guards, you’d have to quickly remove the grille guard, set it aside and access your factory tow pins.

We get a lot of questions about grille guards and aerodynamics, and my opinion is there is no adverse effect on fuel mileage and I’ll tell you why. Most people are making them out of aluminum or steel pipe. So it’s a radiused product for the most part. The air just rolls right around it at 50, 60, 70 mph. I don’t think mpg is a viable factor when you are deciding whether you get a grille guard or not.

Is this just for animal strikes? The answer is no. There are other obstacles as well, like a truck ahead of you that blows a tire and throws a gator up there at you. It’s for anything coming at you. You see a lot of rollovers or trucks laying over in a ditch due to the driver swerving to avoid hitting the deer or whatever. Once you have a grille guard, you have to gain a mindset that’s different. If an animal or small obstacle is coming at you, rather than swerve or take the ditch you hold your course, which is a far safer move, and let the grille guard do its job!

We’ve talked about Luvernes, BFGs and Herds, but there are plenty of other great manufacturers on the market. There are a lot of nice grille guards made in Canada and in various small shops across the USA. When you saw these things 10-12 years ago they were kind of crude, in your face, hanging out there on the front of your truck.

Nowadays, they’ve gotten pretty stylish. There are all kinds of options like lighting, additional vertical or horizontal bars, driving lights and more that can really jazz these grille guards up. On the right truck they can look pretty cool and give the truck a bold, intimidating look. One thing’s for sure, they’ve come a long way in the last decade. LL