Tuesday, October 30, 2007


I hate ATV's. I'll say that right up front so that there isn't any question of bias. No question, there's bias. I say this as a person who admires the ability to travel bad road, to know where your wheels are and ease over rough spots while dodging rocks and avoiding high-center. I admire that ability in outdoorsfolk so long as those bad spots consist of roads. Damned 4-wheelers, though, that is, the ATV variety, don't stick to roads. I recognize the usefulness that 4-wheelers provide for folks who work outdoors and have haul stuff to out of the way locations. My dislike springs from the fact that, regardless of the restrictions placed by the Forest Service or BLM on off-road vehicle travel, I frequently find ATV's or signs of ATV's well off roads or well down closed roads. I guess the temptation to ride rather than walk is just too much for most folks.

If you think that the motorized travel actually ended 100 yards from this sign, you're sadly mistaken. Nearly every one of these signs I saw last week had similar tracks around them.

Most amazing to me is the number of bow hunters I see driving ATV's. I've encountered bow hunters putt-putting along open meadows, bow in hand, presumably vehicle hunting. Maybe vehicle hunting with a bow works, as I've also seen guys riding along with an arrow knocked as they stand in the back of a pickup.
This fall, while looking for grouse I walked down a steep timber ridge, across a saddle, then up another ridge of broken timber to some meadows on the east edge of that ridge. From the saddle on up I found the well trodden tracks where a bow hunter had gone up there on his ATV at least three or four times, parking to overlook the meadow. I fancy he would have had a much better chance at success if he had left the smelly machine down in the saddle (already well off a road) and hiked up quietly. Later, in the meadow photographed from the top which you can see few posts down, I found where another bow hunter had run his ATV along one tree line to the top, parked, and eaten a candy bar. Snickers, by the way. Of course, my tracking skills are not so marvelous but neither Leatherstocking-like ability nor Holmesian deduction was required when the wrapper was right where he'd tossed it. I had to wonder, given that he was carrying a weapon with a fifty-yard range (being generous) what success he hoped for sitting on his machine overlooking about 10,000 square yards of open meadow full of knee high grass. How do I know these guys were bowhunters? I don't, for sure. However, bow season was the only thing open at the time, apart from grouse, dove, and squirrel. The areas were wrong for dove and squirrel and sitting in one place while grouse hunting is neither the usual practice nor a recipe for success.

I wonder, too, at the hunters I see heading up into the mountains every fall with trailers crowded with their ATVs. Where do they put other necessaries? I see and hear them buzzing up and down the forest roads in the dark, heading to their hunting spots. While an ATV might use less gas for such chores, my pickup is far more comfortable and will get me to anywhere I need to start walking. For that matter, an ice chest, shovel, rope, and a bunch of other stuff travels along in the truck.

I know you can drive up on game. We've all done it. I wonder about ATV's well off-road, though. I recall a hunt hears ago where I was sitting and watching a hillside opposite a good size draw. A dozen deer browsed as the evening progressed. Suddenly, the deer stuck their heads up, looking at the top of their hill. They broke into a trot and made their various ways off down the draw, the last disappearing just as I could make out the putt-putt-putt of a slowly firing four-wheeler that shortly crested the ridge. I was a good ways off any road, though in the driver's defense, there weren't any restrictions on off-road travel in that area at that time. Given that he turned and putt-ed down the ridge, moving any game along the route I planned on hunting out, he managed to confirm a convert to the school of "no off road travel". Every year I hunt big game it seems I see at least a couple of guys who've just made some horrible amazing hike away off somewhere in my binos and I stop a second and admire their effort. I'm not saying everyone should do that, but I do wish the ATV yahoos would keep their stinky, noisy, annoying machines on the roads and leave the rest of the country to those of us who will take shank's mare.


Henry Chappell said...

I'm with you. More and more houndsmen, cur and feist folks, and bird hunters are roaring along on ATVs behind their dogs. It's getting so that the ATV is considered an essential piece of hunting equipment.

A few years ago, I was on a 2000 acre quail lease in West Texas. Fairly gentle terrain, easy walking. One of the other guys on the lease had an extra ATV, so he called me to see if I'd be interested in buying it. "How do you plan to get around?" he asked I told him I planned to walk. He was shocked. I think he wrote me off as a complete idiot.

LabRat said...

I really don't get it at all myself. ATVs seem so damned CUMBERSOME- if you really can't walk that far, you need an all-terrain vehicle, and something that can carry more than you do, why not use a horse? It smells less, will spook less game, and can go more places than the ATV can. Sure, it's more upkeep, but if it's that damn essential...

Anonymous said...

I agree with you 100% on the use of atvs. Have you seen the Backcountry Hunting website. We need more hunters like these. I enjoy your blog, hope you keep it up.

mdmnm said...

Henry, I've yet to see and this is the first I've heard about bird hunters following the dogs on their ATV's, though I'm well aware of those specialized south Texas quail rigs. I have to say, that's just wrong! I can just picture a nice little 20 ga. side by side in one of those handlebar racks- talk about juxtaposition!

Labrat- I've only been on one hunt with horses, which was interesting. Horses are a whole 'nother world of work and learning. I could see getting competent enough to get really hurt by an ATV in a couple of months, with horses it would take a few years to get competent and I'd probably get hurt right away. On the other hand, you're right, you can get right up to game. I ran into a really interesting guy who hunted grouse from horseback one time when I was up in the Pecos.

Dan- good to hear from you! How's the ptarmigan hunting going? I haven't seen the backcountry hunting site, I'll check it out.

LabRat said...

I've been thrown by enough horses to agree that it's much easier to hurt yourself on them before you get really, really good, it's a priority thing. I was acting on the assumption of "Okay, assume not being fit enough or strong enough to handle everything walking is a capital-p problem." In which anything that ruins the hunt for everyone else (like scaring all the game in a mile radius or consistently abusing rules until fed-up owners or agencies remove access for all hunters), is at the bottom of any list of acceptable solutions.

Anonymous said...

The ptarmigan and grouse hunting is great this year. Both my dogs are at my feet now licking their paws after a full day out.
The website for backcountry hunters can be found at www.backcountryhunters.org it seems like a worthwhile group. If there was a chapter in Canada I would definitely contribute. Maybe I will join anyway they seem to have the right idea. I didn't draw a licence for moose or caribou this year so I am doing a great deal of bird hunting. It really gets to me to see guys on atv's following bird dogs here. Its illegal but I see it all the time.I hate the things
Take care

Matt Mullenix said...

I have to admit now that I've flown my hawks from my truck. I'm not proud of it, but there's a branch of suburban falconry that makes sport possible in parking lots---starling hawking. For some, that's the best they can do to get out regularly.

But somehow, hunting of any kind in an industrial park or mall parkin glot seems fair game. I object to the use of motorized foot-substitutes in more pastorial environments.

We have yet (I think...Every year I wait to be proved wrong) to see falconers hunting from ATVs. But I wonder how some could have passed up this opportunity. It would be hard to look at, but, it would probably work.

At least I would feel justified in ridiculing such a person. And safe, considering falconers rarely carry firearms! :-)

The older I get the more simply I want to operate. If I could hunt on foot from my back door, I would. But as it happens I have to drive to the field. From there, the dog and hawk and I set off on foot.

mdmnm said...

Dan- Glad to hear your having a good year with the birds!

Matt- I agree with respect to context changing the appropriateness of hunting methods. For that matter, when I was little and we had access to a very large chunk of country, we used to hunt desert quail by cruising the roads until a covey flushed or was spotted and then chasing them on foot from there. I don't feel bad about that at all.

I'll bet you come across a falconer on an ATV, or at least hear about one, before long. Henry and Dan both recount bird hunters following their dogs on the machines from wildly different corners of the continent, so that must be the next step. I'll admit, that's where aesthetics come into it for me. Following a dog on the buggy, or flying a hawk from one, just sounds wrong. At least flying from the truck there's a bit more opportunism to it- you have the truck anyway, you're taking an opportunity. At ATV is an expensive machine that probably 90% of the hunters have for no other reason to hunt.

Steve Bodio said...

Agree, agree, with everybody.

I used to think that bowhunters were more serious than many rifle hunters, but these days I think a lot are yahoos who just want an early season. This year the warden gave us an elk confiscated from a "drive hunter" (good for us because I got no deer!)-- it had two healed- over cysts, one containing a broadhead, one a 50 caliber ball. I think we are getting a lot oof "hunters" that do not know the capabilities of their tools. That and behavior like that of the wildfowlers above is going to hurt us. ( have seen Shovellers simply dumped near there as well).

Matt- I have seen one good falconer use an RV to hunt with a bird. Les Boyd takes out his German Gos and Jack Russell on his own wheat farm near Moscow ID after hares and bunnies. The terrier rides in front and signals them, as well as the occasional "Hun".