Deer hunting has already started in many parts of the country or is about to kick off everywhere else, and an ATV can be a useful tool to help make it a successful season. While there are lots of reasons to use an ATV in your hunt, there appear to be just as many arguments against it. Most people with an opinion on the matter fall decisively into one camp or the other.
An ATV gives you access to remote or impassable areas that are not reachable by truck or too far on foot. If you set up miles away from home base or your pickup truck, as opposed to yards, you want to have a quicker means of getting there than on foot.
Using an all-terrain vehicle allows you to haul equipment and supplies to isolated areas with lots of storage space. ATV accessories like an ATV cargo box or specialized carrier like a gun rack work great for keeping your gear clean, dry, secure and organized and are especially nice for transporting heavy or cumbersome items like tree stands.
Four wheelers are invaluable for carrying your deer back to your vehicle or cabin and a much better option than dragging a buck or doe by hand over muddy, rough or steep terrain, or across streams or creeks. However, there are also non-motorized options for this, such as a pull-behind hand cart designed specifically to traverse wooded and grassy areas.
Hunters with disabilities often benefit greatly from the use of an ATV or quad during hunting season. For some, the use of one is the difference between being able to participate in the hunt or not at all and is the only means of getting to their stand.
Most hunters using ATVs make it a point to leave some distance between their ATV and their stand, but others report taking quite the opposite approach. Some sportsmen actually park their ATV in tall grass, top the machine with a camouflage cover and sit behind It like a blind. In some areas, deer populations are already used to the sounds and smells of the local farmers’ machinery, or hunters take the time to make regular, frequent trips with their ATV to their hunting stands in order to get the deer acclimatized to its sound and smell. However, the temperament and tolerance of the herd you are hunting will dictate whether this could be a successful strategy for your area.
First and foremost, you should know the local regulations regarding ATV use or the preference of the landowner where you hunt, since many public lands prohibit the use of ATVs. It would also be a smart strategy to find out your neighbor’s viewpoint on the matter, too, to keep the peace when tensions may run high.
The obvious objections to four-wheelers in the woods during hunting season are the noise, smell and footprint left behind by an ATV when a trail is disrupted or torn up. Fumes from an ATV may carry not just in the area surrounding the machine but also on your clothes, though walking into the woods may help minimize the scent. The noise issue may be improved with an add-on, secondary muffler, which can quiet ATV exhaust noise by up to 50% and without any sacrifice in performance.
Some hunters claim that the use of ATVs in hunting areas (even out of season) keep deer away, spook them or diminish the numbers of mature deer who will occupy your territory. Others, however, have had the opposite experience, and have downed a mature buck within 100 yards of a parked ATV.
For the purists, part of the hunting experience is to get as close to nature as possible; that includes using your legs and all your senses to their fullest to take in every detail possible. Driving past nature doesn’t allow the same experience, and you may miss a lot! Sometimes, the sound of total silence can be the payoff, whether you fill your tag or not.
Reminders for Hunting with Four Wheelers
Should you decide that you want to use an all-terrain vehicle for your hunting endeavors, here a few things to keep in mind:
Learn the local laws in your hunting area regarding the use of ATVs on public land. On private land, find out the landowner’s decree for riding four-wheelers in his kingdom, as well as having at least an awareness of the neighbors’ positions on the matter.
Stay on established trails and roads, and avoid widening that trail by unnecessarily driving around obstacles that can be crossed over.
Steer clear of stands as much as possible, preferably, driving part of the distance, then walking in the last leg on foot.
Limit your ATV driving time to coincide with off-peak activity hours of the deer. Plan ahead to drive in well before sunrise, and wait until after dark to return. The less disruption, the better.
Be safe! This includes driving with unloaded, secured weapons, riding slowly while keeping an eye out for other hunters on foot and wearing the necessary protective gear. Make sure your rig is outfitted properly with tools in the event of a breakdown and a GPS if you are covering unfamiliar territory.
Be aware of how additional weight on your ATV racks or cargo boxes affects the machine’s handling and responsiveness. An overloaded ATV, combined with steep hills, can make a vehicle tippy.
A Happy Medium?
A modified approach seems to work for many. For example, consider using an ATV to retrieve downed game at the hunt’s conclusion or just off-season for utility, recreation and hunting preparations like hanging stands, raking trails or preparing food plots; hoofing it for the initial trek out to your stand creates the least amount of disturbance.
An electric golf cart could also be a possible alternative. While a golf cart won’t have the power or traction of an ATV on certain terrain or in wet or snowy conditions, it doesn’t have the noise or odor, either. Golf cart accessories for the outdoorsman, such as gun carriers or bow holders, also help to make this a more appealing option.
Sometimes getting your ATV to your destination can be half the battle, and the hunting hasn’t even started! Use the right equipment to haul your four-wheeler for a hassle-free and enjoyable outdoor adventure.
If a pickup truck is your mode of transportation, a good set of ATV loading ramps (and not some spindly 2 x 4’s) can’t be beat. Don’t just “make-do” with scraps you have on hand, and take care of your equipment. Otherwise, a hitch-mounted ATV carrier is another option, so that the bed of the truck remains available for all the other gear and equipment you need to take along on your hunt.
For the larger-scale expedition that requires the use of a trailer, trailer ATV ramps let you load your four-wheeler quickly and without blowing out your back. Save the work for climbing into your tree stand.
Have a safe and productive hunt!