Hunting Responsibly with Your ATV
Hunting is a serious pastime in the United States. Statistic Brain notes that 12.5 million people over the age of 16 go hunting each year, approximately 7 percent of the U.S. population actively takes part in the sport and 60 percent of U.S. wildlife areas allow in-season hunting. These days, many hunters are electing to incorporate all-terrain vehicles into their hunting adventures. It makes sense. ATVs give hunters the keys to the backcountry — areas that trucks can’t access and that are challenging to reach on foot. Without an ATV, a hunter must hike in with all of his or her gear; and if it’s a big-game hunt, bringing the kill out of the wilderness can be a major exercise in problem-solving. ATVs that are specifically designed for hunting have a few key features, according to Game & Fish Magazine:
- High ground clearance
- Scabbard to hold shotguns/rifles
- Front/back racks
- Extra storage
That last point is key. You’ll have plenty of space for weapons and ammunition (or fishing/archery gear), food, water, a portable heater, first aid supplies, tools (for maintenance/repairs) and possibly camping gear or supplies to make a hunting blind. And you don’t have to be a hunter to appreciate this type of ATV; if you’re simply out there to hunt for the perfect photo, you’ll have the storage capacity you need for cameras, tripods, binoculars and all the extras.
Ask any photographer who has hiked into the backcountry with a heavy pack — an ATV will be a much-appreciated companion and workhorse. There are a few tips to keep in mind, however. The first major consideration is safety, according to the American Hunting Lease Association (AHLA).
Safety precautions include:
- Be comfortable on your ATV before taking it into the backcountry. In addition to being familiar with the user’s manual and taking the machine on a few test runs in different weather conditions, consider also taking a safety course. (The ATV Safety Institute can help.)
- Have a trip checklist to make sure you have everything you need before departure; in particular, make sure your tires are inflated properly. Anything less than the recommended pressure can be dangerous.
- In addition to wearing hunter orange (unless you’re fishing, bird-watching or pursuing wildlife photography off-season), wear the appropriate safety gear: This includes a helmet certified by the U.S. Department of Transportation and/or the Snell Memorial Foundation, over-the-ankle boots, goggles, gloves, long pants and long sleeves.
- If you have a hunting lease, make sure it allows ATV usage. If you’re planning to hunt on public land, verify that ATVs are allowed. Check on state laws, as well – you can find them on the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website. And never cross private property without permission.
- Stay on designated roads and trails. ATVs can be hard to control on paved roads, and off-roading can damage the environment. In some areas, it may be illegal.
- Do not allow children under the age of 16 to drive adult ATVs, and don’t double up; most ATVs are designed for a single passenger.
Then there are matters of etiquette specific to hunting. There are more than 7 million ATVs in use in the United States being operated by 16 million Americans, according to a 2007 report by the Specialty Vehicle Institute of America. Responsible operation is critical to ensure that future generations of hunters will be able to enjoy this country’s wild areas with their machines.
- According to the AHLA: drive slowly to avoid disturbing others, and don’t hunt from the road or from your ATV.
- When retrieving game, the association recommends taking the route that gets you as close to the animal as possible, then parking and walking the rest of the way.
- The Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) also advises to respect hunters who are stalking game on foot or horseback. Animals are easily scared away when an ATV plows through the area.
- The NDOW reiterates that operators must avoid any practices that are destructive to the environment. For example: improper off-road use of the ATV. It damages valuable habitat for both wildlife and livestock, and being a good conservationist is part of being a good hunter.
- And, as RiderPlanet USA notes, never chase or attempt to corral wildlife with your ATV. It’s irresponsible… and illegal.
For more information and advice regarding ATV use while hunting, turn to governmental websites in your own state. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Idaho Parks & Recreation and Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks, for example, all offer online resources for hunters who are planning to incorporate ATVs into their outdoor lifestyle.
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