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November 25, 2008

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Chad Love: ATVs in Wilderness

Of all the innovations that have shaped modern big-game hunting in the past 20 years or so, perhaps none have had more of an impact - both literally and figuratively - on the hunting landscape than the rise of the ATV. Judging by the hunting shows on television and the countless quad-hauling trucks we encounter every fall you might think we'd become a nation of knobby-tired centaurs.
However (and there's always a however), there remains a sizeable contingent of hunters who believe hunting should remain a leg-borne activity and if ATVs are to be used then they damn sure need to stick to the roads.

So it comes as no real surprise that "Four-Wheel Driver's Ed" in the December issue of F&S provoked this letter...

"As an avid Idaho mule deer hunter I appreciate true wilderness and untrampled terrain. A pristine environment means a strong eco-system which is great for wildlife,hikers and hunters. As a true outdoorsman you love nature and adopt a leave no trace attitude. When I saw in your December issue on page 52-53 the article,Four-Wheel Driver's Ed, I was furious. ANYONE who gets out into the backcountry has seen for themselves the massive damage done by ATVs. Not all ATV owners are irresponsible, but with great accuracy you can safely lump over 90% of them as over- weight gear heads who do not care about ripping up a meadow, running through spawning beds,  leaving beer cans and cigarette butts and scarring up the terrain. They should be used on existing roads only and not taken off road. Your article instructs them on how to drive over logs, climbing and descending hazardous hills and basically how to drive off road. It is very apparent that you and your magazine are hypocrites and do not support untrampled backcountry where you don't hear or smell vehicles."

Thomas Kehrer

Mr. Kehrer raises some legitimate points. There's no question that ATVs - when mis-used - tear up the environment. The only real question there is whether you fall into the "it's a small minority" camp or the "most of them are ignorant lead-footed jackasses" school of thought.

But there are deeper underlying issues at the heart of the ATV debate as well, issues that - to me, anyway -speak to the core of why we hunt in the first place: Do ATVs cheapen the hunting experience? Do they degrade it? Enhance it? Particularly on public land, do we have a "right" to drive ATVs into the woods? Are ATVs simply a natural progression in the evolution of the modern hunter or are they one more symptom of a culture that places more value on results, ease and convenience than on hard work, sacrifice and the quality of the experience itself? Is the magazine doing its readers, the environment and the hunting tradition a disservice by publishing stories on ATVs or is it simply reflecting the interests and values of a changing demographic?

I have to admit I personally have very little real-world experience with ATVs. I'm a public-land hunter who lives in a state that has banned them on its public hunting areas. I've never hunted with one so I'm in no position to say one way or the other.   

What do you guys think?



IMHO, ATV (aka four-wheelers, quads) are for the infirm, elderly, or lazy. Case in point, my father is approaching sixty years of age, is still in fine condition (for the most part) but doesn't want to walk the hills in VA anymore so he wants to get an ATV. I told him to walk it off. Still another case, guy I hunt with had his spine smashed by, literally, a ton of brick when it fell from scaffolding some years ago - he needs an ATV to get out in the woods even though he can walk. One more case, lazy hillbillies in the mountains where I hunt cruz the old and new backwoods logging/fire trails, the power lines cut-throughs, etc. and do drive-by shootings on wildlife. To me it's no different than spotlighting or road hunting. Keep the ATVs out of the woods, get off your ass and walk.


Same conversation should apply to off road bikes and snowmobiles. Nothing like having a couple of boneheads ruin a hunt by being where they are not supposed to be. Keep 'em on public access and specified trails. I would also love to see quieter electrics - wondering how quiet this new electric snowmobile will be. Access for handicapped needs to be addressed, too.

Mike Diehl

Based on my observation, 90% of ATV riders are caruncle-brained, porcine oafs.


In Montana our ranch ATV was good for leveling the horse paddock, pulling the Chevy S10 out of ditches, and generally getting around where the truck couldn't. ATVs are excellent for utility, and a lot of hunters love them, especially young hunters. They're like a poor man's horse, in a way--half the point of hunting with one is to just be out on it--and it's hard to argue with anything that's bringing more hunters into the field. But I have zero interest in hunting with one myself, and when I hear them in the forest, I wish they'd be banned. It's a conflicting issue--certainly ATVs would be better if they were quieter and cleaner. For now I have to agree with Mr. Kehrer--if you're going to use an ATV, keep it on the road.

Mitch Wilson

If you were to take a survey of my 10 closest friends who hunt with both guns and archery tackle, at least 7 of them would strongly encourage banning the use of ATV's on all public land, with the exception of user-fee funded ATV recreation parks. The three that would oppose banning them are, unfortunately, precisely the types that ruin everybody else's experience. I was bowhunting elk in North Idaho in September with a buddy. We knew that the entire upper end of a drainage was closed off to vehicular access, so we hiked 3 miles in, dropped down about 1000 feet, and the elk were screaming their heads off. Third day of hunting in there, some lazy slobs forced a quad into the drainage on an old logging road, and the elk were gone. ATV restrictions are practically unenforceable, so the best way to go would be ban them completely on public lands.

I'm in school right now

You should never use an ATV unless you need it to haul something. We hunt on land where there is a very steep hill that drops about 200 feet in elevation. We take a lot of big deer down there, and we can't get to them with a pickup due to all the trees. It is very time-saving to go down with the ATV and get it. Using it for anything else should be banned though.
But if you allow one thing like that, someone will try to make an exception or a loophole, so for now i guess we can have just us guys haul it up the hill.



Fortuntely where I live, ATV's are banned on public recreational property, and I'd like to see it stay that way. There are too few responsible ATV riders and the yahoos on wheels do nothing but tear up the environment.

Tom Sorenson

Sounds like I'm with the majority of the others who've commented thus far. I dislike four wheelers and their place in hunting. If they'd stick to the roads where they're supposed to be used, I'd not have a problem with them - it is easy enough for me to hike far enough away from a road where that never becomes an issue. Problems arise when idiots take these things off roads where they are not supposed to go - in fact, not sure how it is elsewhere, but in Idaho it is illegal to take them off roads where they absolutely tear the crud out of the land. Not to mention makes me want to explode when I hear a rig puttering where there ain't supposed to be any puttering goin' on! Keep the rigs on the roads if ya want, but leave them outta the pristine woods.

Mitch Wilson

One of the huge problems here in Minnesota (and I'd venture to say its the same in Michigan and Wisconsin) is that with active forest management, you need to had a road network to get the wood out, and that invites the yahoos to get farther and farther back in. It's borderline impossible to find a place you can hike to on the Chippewa National Forest, where I live, that's more than a 1/4 mile from a passable trail.


There's nothing more frustrating than rising early and hiking your ass off to reach a remote area only to hear the roar of some fat slob approaching on his "quad", replete with winches, coolers, handlebar-mounted GPS, gun boots and every sissified piece of gear imaginable...I laugh, 'cause I know that even on my WORST day, I can out-hunt, out-fish and piss farther than these outdoor channel wanna-be's...

Dr. Ralph

Obviously we are all in agreement... the damn things have ruined the woods. They are the ultimate poaching tool and they take away the true meaning of the hunt. Communing with nature and your environment as it was for many thousands of years. Now "hunters" roll off the couch, into their truck, and onto their ATV's and think they are hunting. Nothing could be further from the truth.


Alberta restricts ATV's during hunting season to before sunrise and after noon but the fools joyriding and 4x4ing have ruined a lot of our wilderness. a good dump of snow shuts down the lazy hunters but this year is not one of them. Its really tough to enforce when they are in areas most sane persons avoid.


i think every one here is smoking crack the ATV is seconed only to the gun and warm clothes. because there is no way im going to get up at 2am and walk 5 miles, when i can get up an 4am and ride 5 miles


I dislike ATV’s. They’re a lazy, suburban person’s “horse” that doesn’t require skill, time or knowledge to wrangle or to ride…nor paddock/pasture. Sorta reflective of our modern USA life.

ATV’s are good for intruding and invading, but of doubtful hunting value.

BTW you can buy a very good horse, saddle, and tack for much less.

WA Mtnhunter

I think most of you boneheads that are cursing the ATV are self righteous jerk offs.

I think that the off road rules should be enforced just like other rules. But beer can littering, fat assed, road hunting, drive-by shooting, slobs tearing up the woods were on the American landscape long before the ATV was invented.

So the root cause is not the ATV. It is the same breed of slob that has caused most public and private land to become gated and/or posted due to damage and litter.


ATV's will be outlawed sooner or later and for good reason.
Hunting has become equated with Lazy / Slob Hunter "Types" and the ATV is just another mechanized tool for those to lazy to get off their ass. Simply shooting something in the woods does not make one a "Hunter".
I hope that those who decry the ATV keep shouting so we can get these things off of what little pristine wild lands we have left to hunt on!.....


ATV's will be outlawed sooner or later and for good reason.
Hunting has become equated with Lazy / Slob Hunter "Types" and the ATV is just another mechanized tool for those to lazy to get off their ass. Simply shooting something in the woods does not make one a "Hunter".
I hope that those who decry the ATV keep shouting so we can get these things off of what little pristine wild lands we have left to hunt on!.....

WA Mtnhunter

I agree that ATV's should not be allowed on certain lands. The slobs will always find new ways to f-up the hunter's image.

Gary Tompkins

Our club in SC is 1500 acreas. We have a rule in place during hunting season that you have to walk to your stand; however,we can use our ATV's to retrieve deer. Everyone knows that you can hear an ATV 1/2 mile away and the deer know that sound and will leave an area or hide out.
Off season, we use them to transport fertilzer, lime, seed and pull planting implements. There is definately room for them in the tools of a hunter.


Well, it seems that there is a good debate. I would also say that many people use them well. For example I use them for hauling out the animals that I shoot. This last year I shot a real nice elk, had to packframe it out 1 mile to the trailhead and then on the quad. I don't think many of you have ever had to pack out six trips of elk on your back (12 miles worth) just to get to the trailhead. The ATV's are tools the same as guns and any other gear, the benefits of them can be ruined by anyone, but it takes us as a group to help enforce the rules for others, so we can maintain the option. I have hunted back east and all over the west and I have seen plenty of careless (litering and impolite) hunters in each state I have been. Don't place the blame on ATV's but the people using them. Sure, let's have some restrictions on usage, but lets be smart about those restriction, otherwise we are just offering for more things to be taken away

matt lenhart

In Colorado where I hunt for Elk, deer and antelope, the DOW has done a good job of enforcing open/closed trails. The ATV is a good tool for getting to the general location of the hunt and hauling your trophy back to camp. They are not a good hunting tool. Nothing can replace walking the terrain. Looking for sign, stalking to the bed and quietly awaiting the moment that you worked so hard for. The other moment of satisfaction is talking about your hunt with other hunters. Where we hunt, we just about know everyone who hunts the area. I will admit, though, that there is the occassional incondsiderate ATV user in the areas where we hunt. We let them know how we hunt the area and let them know that they are being inconsiderate of the other hunters in the area. Maybe we are mellower in Colorado.

Ernie Talpey

I've hunted for over 30 years in the state of Maine as my parents grew up there but I live in Massachusetts. There are millions of acres in northern Maine that are a part of the "Land Share" program whereby outdoor sports are allowed within certain conditions - you don't hunt where men are logging; you keep snowmobiles and ATVs on marked trails, and you drive your vehicles only on the logging roads. Are there gated areas? Yes, from millionaires and conservation groups buying up "kingdoms". This is happening more and more as paper companies look to make a quick buck. Concern is mounting that we'll be shut out completely.

I'm dissappointed by the bulk of the comments here as you are doing to ATV usage what the anti-gunners, environmental extremists, and all of our "opposition" are saying about those of us that go hunting and fishing. The key word here is "go" because we are a dying populace.

Unless we work constructively to get as many people involved in our sport we will see our public land access being reduced to zero. Think back to the 70's when snow machines were getting popular. No trails, no clubs or any enforcement. Today, they are an economic boon to places where accepted and the 5 percent are the problem as within our society as a whole. The ATV community has the same learning curve to head down and I'm proud to say that Maine is tackling the issues head on by supporting the growth of ATV clubs and they manage and enforce the marked trial system.

Lastly, I hunt, fish, shoot skeet, hike, kayak, and enjoy many methods for getting my family and friends (young and old) into the outdoors. That is our key to success for the future of our outdoor sports. How we share these resources we have is up to us. Generalization of a certain populace is an ignorant approach to protecting your idea of how to live. Remember, there are those on the other side saying that of you! Probably not what you want to hear. Constructive use of our time, working with land owners, snowmobile, ATV, 4-wheeler clubs, and environmental, AMC, and other clubs will be the only way that all of us can hand down our fields and streams to the next generation and those that follow.

Mike Diehl

"It is the same breed of slob that has caused most public and private land to become gated and/or posted due to damage and litter."

Yep. And now, thanks to quads, those slobs can make their messes and rip up ground where you never used to see them.

John C.

I once heard it said that while not everyone who plays golf is an "***hole," every "***hole" plays golf. Well, I feel exactly the same way about ATV riders. And yes, I own one that I use to check fences and such.

My father and I have spent at least $10,000 in the last decade repairing damage to the roads, fields and fences on our farm that the local ATV riders have caused.

Then there are the countless deer carcasses we have found that these same ATV riders have spotlighted and shot for the hell of it.

Oh and did I mention how pleasant it is to have these things go by your house at 3:00 in the morning. I am especially found of the guys who feel the need to alter their mufflers so as to make their bikes even more annoying.

Gary Eldreth

When used properly and with care atvs want damage the landscape much. I have one and I only use it for retreaving any game that I can't carry. Other than that it has no place on the hunt. If I were not getting to the age that I can't pull the little two wheel game carts I would use it.

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