November 29, 2022

Using ATVs For Hunting

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ATVs are a target for many people and sometimes justifiably so. Used irresponsibly they can be a royal pain but efforts to ban the use of ATVs outright is pretty much a waste of time.

Back in the 1960s, snowmobiles were becoming popular. People enjoyed the freedom the machine would give them especially during the long cold winter months. People could bundle up and have an outing where as before they might have just spent the day staring at the TV and putting another log on the fire.

But snowmobile use and ownership wasn’t all peachy keen. Landowners got mad because of irresponsible riders destroying their property, harassing their livestock and making noise at night. We heard all the stories of trespassing and keeping neighbors awake while riders were out all hours of the night riding through back yards. It even got to the point where snowmobilers were cutting trees without permission for trails.

I was in high school in Bethel, Maine in the late sixties. I was a member of the high school cross-country ski team. Back then we didn’t groom our trails. They were narrow and took us over rocks, trees and brooks. Behind the school, we got permission to cut ski trails to use for training and races. Some of those trails went onto private land and we had gotten permission to make them.

Once we had our trails open, snowmobile users began using them as well. This was not a good situation. We worked hard to pack and set a track in the snow only to come back the next day and find it erased by snow machines. War broke out! It wasn’t until both sides were willing to sit down and find a responsible way for both of us to use the area, that a truce was called.

Over the next several years, riders got organized, designated trails were made, riders got better educated and with all this came more responsibility, a reduction in complaints and a viable business and recreation that benefited many. That isn’t to say there isn’t any poor riders and cases of abuse and irresponsibility. There is but not nearly what it used to be.

Once even those who found no use for the noisy machines realized that they weren’t going to go away, efforts were being made to control where they would be used. This was the real basis of the development of club sponsored and state designated riding trails. With this evolution, it got the most of the machines out of people’s back yards and farm fields and onto marked, groomed and designated riding trails. For the most part the war was over and we can see the strides that have been made in the industry.

Now that the snowmobile history lesson is over, we can ask how this relates to ATVs? Actually, very much the same way. I see a repeat of history here. ATVs aren’t going to go away but they do need better organization and control. One good thing about ATV use is we don’t have to write the book on it. It’s been done before and the growth toward responsible riding and designated trail riding is progressing at light speed compared to forty years ago.

The sooner we can get ATVs onto well engineered, designated riding trails, the better off we will all be and much of the war between the riders and anti-riders will be over. But this will only take care of a pretty good chunk of the riders and the uses of the machine.

It is no secret that ATVs are brutal on terrain. The design of the machine and structure of the tires, will turn up the soil and destroy vegetation which can and does lead to erosion. This is why we need the well designed trails to reduce this and to keep it in designated areas.

ATVs also are used for “bushwhacking” and mud driving. Doing this can be harmful to the environment but can also cause some real bad feelings if it is being done on private land without permission. As you can see, there is potentially still some sticky situations.

Hunting and ATV use

Let’s address hunting and the use of ATVs. Depending on where you hunt, ATVs in places are used so readily it is causing some real problems. This needs to change in my opinion.

First let me explain that over the past few years, when I go to hunting camp, I have had access to an ATV. For me it has been a real gift because I have a bad back and at times it is difficult for me to get around. I use one to get to areas where I can drastically reduce my walking distance. No one in our hunting camp uses an ATV to hunt from. In Maine it is illegal to shoot from an ATV unless you have a handicap persons permit. Other than using them to reduce our walking distances, we do use them for getting deer out of the woods.

Last fall, one of our hunting partners shot a big buck on top of the mountain behind camp. It was 8 p.m that night before we got the deer out of the woods. Without the ATV, I don’t know what time we would have gotten out. Some may say that if we didn’t have the ATV we would never have gone that deep into the woods to hunt. I can honestly say that is not true. Long before ATVs were around, we hunted these same areas knowing full well the consequences of shooting a deer high on a mountain top in late afternoon.

We have permission from all the landowners where we use the ATV. They understand how we use them and have a relative amount of faith that we will not abuse our privilege. They have also let us know that any abuse from anyone, not just us, and they will yank the gift away from everyone.

ATVs have a role in use for hunting. It should not be used to hunt from, they should not be used for driving deer and they should not be used off designated trails unless they have explicit permission from the land owner. I am reading more and more in states where some are demanding that ATVs and all motorized sports be banned from public lands. Personally I think this is the wrong approach. Public lands are paid for with public money, even ATV and snowmobile riders. I feel strongly though that specific designated trails for ATV use on public lands is a must and penalties for riding off those trails should be harsh.

Many feel that using an ATV encroaches on hunting ethics. It does, although ethics is mostly in the eye of the beholder. Reasonable and responsible use should be considered when using ATVs for hunting purposes. If not, the regulations will begin to fall and the restrictions on their use will anger a lot of people. Consider that before jumping in the driver’s seat and heading off to your favorite hunting grounds.

Tom Remington