Hunting is one of the preferred activities of the dedicated outdoorsman. There is just something primal and visceral about hunting for one’s own food, and the sense of accomplishment gained through hunting is second to none—a feeling that must be experienced to fully appreciate. There are many different types of hunting, performed in a variety of settings—from the mountains to the forests to the deserts. Some of these settings can present different challenges from a transportation or “getting around” standpoint, which is why it is always wise to check out a topographical map of the area in which you plan to hunt—before even leaving home for your excursion.
In the past, getting to your desired hunting spot—and pursuing your prey—could only be accomplished in one of two ways: by traditional vehicle (car or truck) or by foot. However, what is a hunter to do when the topo map makes it clear you cannot drive your truck too close to your hunting blind; or when your gear is too weight-prohibitive to allow for easy transportation by foot? Enter the era of the ATV.
ATVs, or All-Terrain Vehicles, have changed the hunting game dramatically, making it easy—in some situations—to hunt without being weighed down by a bunch of gear. But despite the many ways in which ATVs have helped hunters over the years, they do come with some drawbacks not typically considered.
In the following article we will discuss, in detail, the wide assortment of advantages and disadvantages of hunting with an ATV, with an explanation accompanying each of these benefits and drawbacks.
Advantages of Hunting with an ATV
There are several advantages to hunting with an ATV, some of which are obvious and some that you may not have considered. Below we will discuss these advantages in more detail, illustrating why using an ATV can be very beneficial in some situations.
Getting to Various Places
There is a good reason why ATVs are called “all-terrain vehicles.” These vehicles, whether they are of the three-wheeled variety or the four-wheeled variety, the latter often referred to as “quads,” can go places where a truck cannot—and where going by foot could be both arduous and dangerous. ATVs can travel long distances on a single tank, saving the hunter from having to walk too far and potentially get worn out. They can climb hills, cross rivers, negotiate sand dunes and weave in and out of trees on a forest trail.
Because of ATVs, hunters are now able to expand their territory and potential hunting grounds. It allows them to track and hunt a wide variety of animal species, from deer, elk and moose, to ducks, geese, quail and doves. When there are instances in which a hunter has to get somewhere quickly, there is no better option than an ATV. Hunting—at least successfully—is often about timing, and ATVs help to ensure that hunters are at the right place at the right time—no more missed opportunities!
ATVs also come in handy in a variety of weather conditions, including very hot days, when trying to traverse a trail can be uncomfortable and downright unhealthy; to snowy mornings, when trying to negotiate a trail by foot is near impossible. Almost anywhere your intended prey can go, so can an ATV, which makes them an invaluable addition to the sport of hunting.
ATVS Open Up Hunting to More People
There are millions of people in the United States alone with some type of disability, including a wide range of physical disabilities. These disabilities limit or totally restrict the mobility of these individuals, affecting their ability to:
- Stand Up—people who are bound to wheelchairs.
- Balance—many people, especially past stroke victims, have an inability to balance when standing upright.
- Walk— Even those who may be able to stand and shoot at their prey, may demonstrate problems with walking.
- Walk Long Distances—Many senior citizens who enjoy hunting experience difficulty when forced to walk long distances.
- Carry Gear—Physical strength tends to wane with age, preventing thousands of would-be hunters from enjoying the sport they love.
Simply put, ATVs allow those who love the sport of hunting to continue with the activity despite their physical limitations or advancing age. ATVs enable disabled hunters to get to the spot in which they plan to hunt, and to track and pursue their prey through rocky and unstable terrain. Instead of having to pack in 50 pounds or more of gear, the ATV becomes a cargo vehicle, affording disabled or senior hunters the opportunity to enjoy the sport in comfort. Even those who are completely wheelchair-bound can benefit from ATVs. Although most states have laws against hunters shooting while seated on an all-terrain vehicle, most states make exceptions for those with disabilities, so as not to illegally exclude any individual or group of people from the sport of hunting simply for their lack of mobility.
ATVs Are Great for Hauling/Transporting Gear
All terrain vehicles are ideal for transporting guns, crossbows, ammunition and other gear during a long hunt. Even the strongest individuals can rapidly get worn out or feel the strain from carrying many pounds of gear for long distances. ATVs, especially those with add-on cargo boxes, help to solve this problem. Moreover, after a successful hunt, especially when the target is large animals such as deer, elk, sheep or moose, the value of having an ATV to pack out the animal is immeasurable. Some foot-bound hunters may have to walk several miles with their kill packed on their back, which is no easy feat.
ATVs also come in handy when you plan to build a new blind or stay for a while during your hunt—situations in which a lot more gear is typically required. With the aid of add-on cargo boxes, gun racks, etc., ATVs can carry equipment such as:
- Extra fuel
- Camping and backpacking equipment
- Building materials
- And more…
As you can see, an ATV can be an indispensable piece of equipment, particularly when large amounts of gear are required. No more are hunters forced to be unreasonably weighed down by the bulk of their gear, but can rather ride in comfort until it’s time to stalk and kill their prey.
ATVs can also keep your gear orderly and accessible at all times, as well as clean and dry during inclement weather.
Saves Time—More Time for Hunting
Hunting is an enjoyable and exciting activity. Hence it only stands to reason that when you do get the opportunity to enjoy a hunting adventure, you would prefer to spend most of your time actually hunting.
Depending on the location in which you plan to hunt, you may be forced to park your truck a ½ mile or more from your blind, because in most cases, hunters are not permitted to drive through certain prime hunting terrain. Fortunately, an ATV can make this distance seem like a breeze, allowing you to arrive at your blind or destination quickly.
If you arrive at your blind only to find that you have forgotten something, an ATV will allow you to get back and forth from your truck rapidly, without missing any prime deer or elk migration times. No eventuality can ruin a morning of hunting quite like having to hike back to the truck for ammunition or a forgotten sight, knowing an elk or deer will soon pass your blind en-route to his morning drink in the nearby stream.
ATVs can also save lots of time when the hunt has been completed. Those who have ever had to pack out a large animal by foot can surely attest to this. ATVs really show off their usefulness and efficiency when hauling your freshly harvested prey back to your truck, campground or home base. Of course, you could always drag it behind you on foot—or even use a pull-behind cart of some kind. However transporting it with your ATV not only saves a lot of time, it keeps the animal clean of mud, undergrowth and gravel, which can badly chew it up.
Disadvantages of Hunting with an ATV
Although the advantages of using an ATV to hunt cannot be denied, hunters need to understand that there are several drawbacks to using these versatile vehicles on their hunt. Below we have covered several potential disadvantages to help you make an informed and educated decision prior to your next hunt.
Hunting with all-terrain vehicles elicits plenty of environmental concerns. According to research, a wide variety of environmental and social impacts have been noted since these vehicles became part of the hunting landscape. Due to the expanding popularity of ATVs, concerns have been brought to light in each of these areas:
- Air Quality. Expert findings tend to show that the emissions from ATVs tend to exceed human health standards.
- Soil and Vegetation. Soil compaction and the shear forces of motorized vehicles create mud holes and gullies that alter hydrologic patterns and intensify erosion.
- Trails. Trail erosion and compaction caused by off-road and all-terrain vehicles reduce the quality of recreational trails and require enhanced management action to develop and maintain safe, usable trails.
- Wildlife. Wildlife is negatively impacted by the presence and noise of ATVs, ORVs, and snowmobiles, although some mammals (deer, for example) may become, over time, habituated to these vehicles. Snow compaction also affects the survival and activities of small mammals.
- Forests. ATV use has been found to widen and rut forest roads, and to increase the sediment load to streams which may threaten fisheries.
Noise Level and Exhaust
Despite the conveniences they offer, ATVs are, well, noisy. Hunters consistently complain that the noise made by all-terrain and off-road vehicles disturb the very peace and quiet they were trying to achieve. They also complain that ATVs that are speeding along the roads and trails threaten the safety of other hunters, and that ATV drivers seem unaware of other hunters trying to enjoy the activity on foot. Obviously, this does not apply to all ATV-bound hunters, but a few reckless riders have given ATVs a rocky reputation, and have, in some cases, caused ATVs to be completely banned in some areas.
The rule of thumb for ATV riders is to shut their vehicle down when approaching other hunters or camping areas, and to walk the vehicle in those areas so as not to bother others who are attempting to enjoy the peaceful atmosphere so near and dear to outdoor enthusiasts.
Some hunters fear that the noise and exhaust smell emitted by ATVs keeps certain animals away. To remedy this problem, many experts suggest that ATV riders should add a second muffler to their vehicle—an addition that can cut the noise level by about 50-60 percent in most cases. This can offer a solution to the issues that other hunters and campers have with the noise.
Traditional hunters also say the exhaust smell can linger along trails and blinds. This odor, they say, stops animals from using their customary trails, which takes them away from their sights.
Changing Animal Behaviors
As we mentioned briefly in the previous section, the noise and exhaust produced by all-terrain and off-road vehicles, including snowmobiles, can often alter the behavior of certain animals. In fact, just the sight of an ATV or ORV can be enough to change the path and behavior of some animals, particularly large mammals and low-lying birds.
To solve this problem—or to attempt to solve this problem—many hunters have begun taking their all-terrain vehicles to their hunting blinds during the off seasons, in an attempt to acclimate certain species of animals to the noise and smell and mere appearance of the vehicles. Some park below tree blinds so animals grow accustomed to the sight, sound and odor of the vehicles prior to the onset of the hunting season.
Another tactic that ATV riders are using to try and solve this problem is to cover their ATVs with a camouflaged tarp when parked. Some even go so far as to use their camouflaged ATV as an actual blind—having it serve dual purposes in the hunting arena.
Unfair Chase Laws
Some states and municipalities—even some pro and anti hunting organizations—have used the unfair chase laws states have adopted as a reason to ban ATV use while hunting. The reason for this seems clear: again, a few disrespectful and irresponsible ATV hunters, those employing unethical and even illegal hunting practices, have made it difficult for the rest of the avid, all-terrain vehicle hunters to use their vehicles in some areas.
Of course, to counter these laws, one could always lease their own hunting land (or get permission from a private land owner) and thus eliminate any worry about disturbing other hunters or campers—and get around the laws made specifically for public hunting areas.
There are other laws that apply to most or all public hunting lands—laws that carry a big fine should individuals choose to ignore them. Hunters are forbidden, in most areas, to chase or track an animal using an ATV or other off-road vehicle. Also, hunters cannot shoot at an animal from a moving all terrain vehicle—or even from a parked vehicle in many states. Failure to comply with this law carries a hefty fine. As we mentioned in the “pro” side of this article, disabled hunters may shoot from an ATV in some states, provided the vehicle is parked and the ignition is off.
The most simple and straightforward rule to follow? Use your ATV for ethical and legal hunting and respect the rights and sensibilities of other people trying to enjoy the same land and trails.
Some Hunting Regions May Be Inaccessible Via ATV
The final—and perhaps most obvious—disadvantage of using an ATV to hunt is that, in some areas, the terrain is such that even an all terrain vehicle is not a practical option.
Very rocky areas, with large boulders and very little to no room between the behemoth rocks, make ATV riding near impossible. This forces hunters, those who are tracking or retrieving their prey, to park their vehicle and walk the rest of the way, leaving their expensive ATV unattended and at risk to thieves or unsavory persons that may come upon it. Hunting in forests can also be problematic on an ATV. In these areas, hunters may be forced to leave their ATV at the blind or at home base—or even worse, still tethered to the truck that was used to haul it.
For all the “good” associated with all terrain vehicles and the sport of hunting, there is predictably some “bad.” To review, ATVs make it very easy to get from point A to point B, such as traveling from the truck to your hunting blind or intended trail where you plan to spot prey. ATVs have opened up the sport of hunting to thousands of people with disabilities and for those with advancing age and mobility issues, making it more inclusive than ever before. When large amounts of gear are required, ATVs can be transformed into convenient cargo vessels, and they make it so much easier to pack an animal out after a successful harvest. ATVs have become incredible time-savers for the sport of hunting, giving individuals more time to actually hunt and requiring less time for travel. Finally, they are amazingly fun to ride.
Conversely, ATVs used for hunting have caused plenty of environmental concerns—concerns about air quality, soil and vegetation, the condition of trails, and the potential damage to forestland, recreation areas and the wildlife that inhabit these hunting grounds. ATVs are noisy—very noisy—so much so that they disturb other hunters and campers; and their noise, exhaust and mere appearance have changed animal behavior in many impactful ways. The vehicles are not practical in certain areas, and a few reckless and unethical riders have led to the creation of many restrictive laws.
The verdict? ATVs have certainly added a lot of positives to the hunting game. However, the future of these vehicles as hunting adjuncts appears to be reliant on those that currently use them. By following the established laws related to all terrain and off road vehicles, and respecting the sanctity of hunting grounds and those that use them, riders can ensure that ATV use can continue to provide the fun and conveniences for which they were originally designed.
image credit: Xalanx/Deposit Photos