Since the first time man attached the wheel onto an axle, I would wager he was already thinking about how this invention could help him travel faster and farther while carrying a bigger payload. Fast forward some 5,000 years, and not much about that thought process has really changed.
Turkey hunters have been doing it for years. Strap on a headlight, jump on a mountain bike, and ride deep into the woods where the road hunters never hear that ol’ tom hammering off the roost tree.
These days, new treads and trends in mountain-biking have more hunters strapping their guns and bows to them as they silently trek up the mountainside for elk in the backcountry. Added value — great cardio workout!
For outback treks, fat is where it’s at, and the Mongoose Juneau is a fat bike — a human-powered all-terrain vehicle built to take hunters and anglers far into the backcountry quickly and quietly with little to no impact on habitat. Its fat tires add traction in all-terrain conditions and float better on softer surfaces compared to traditional-width tires. Adding a bow/gun rack accessory is a big bonus for the long haul.
Unless you’re living under a rock, you know that the invasion of the electric vehicle has made its way into deer camps and quail plantations. What started out as hopped-up golf carts, hauling hunters and shotguns down the groomed trails of gentlemen hunt clubs, have turned into serious off-road vehicles capable of covering rugged terrain while packing out an elk in its cargo box.
Silent, scent-free, and easy to maintain have been key attributes to the sale of two-, three- and four-wheel EVs. Battery technology has vastly improved over the years, with some units being able to cover up to 50 miles on a single charge. Just make sure you pay attention to this unless you have a very long extension cord!
Designed by a couple of hunters to help them cover more ground during elk season, the Addmotor MOTAN is not your average scooter. It’s a portable, Lithium battery-powered all-terrain vehicle with models capable of handling up to 310 pounds of rider and gear. Great for backcountry fishing or hunting farms, this might be the ticket to stealth. Just remember, this might not be for the balance impaired! The starting price is around $1,999.
The steel horse
Ever since man strapped a motor onto a bicycle, the road and horse trails have never been the same. It probably wasn’t too much later that sportsmen figured out a way to mount their favorite rifle or fishing pole across the handlebars or fender and journey deeper into the great unknown on their quest for a new hunting spot or fishing hole.
Today, not much has changed in that respect. Some purpose-built motorcycles can take you to regions that no other vehicles could ever think of going. Dual-purpose motorcycles are street-legal and are capable of transporting you and your gear from the highways to remote mountain regions with the twist of the throttle.
Accessories tailored specifically for these bikes allow you to pack in your tent, food, and even your bow or firearm. And if the hunting gods smile down on you, packing your game off the mountain is made much easier.
The world’s original and longest-producing manufacturer of all-wheel-drive motorcycles, Rokons have taken riders to places where no other vehicle can for more than 50 years. Rugged and lightweight, with wide tires and high ground clearance, Rokons deliver sure-footed traction and plenty of pulling power.
A wide range of accessories completes the Rokon’s unmatched versatility for work or recreational activities. Prices start at about $7,500.
Probably one of the most versatile and capable motorcycles built today, the Kawasaki KLR 650 has not changed much in nearly 20 years, and for good reasons. The road-worthiness of this bulletproof ride is only trumped by its off-road prowess.
If you have a knack for two wheels, this gas-sipping 650cc workhorse leaves over 200 miles of pavement or dirt behind you for 20 bucks. Think of how many trail cameras you’ll be able to check! MSRP $7,999.
The evolution from the ATV (All-Terrain Vehicle) to the UTV (Utility Task or Terrain Vehicle) began when Kawasaki introduced the MULE in 1988.
Engineered as a more versatile utility ATV, this category has risen in popularity across the nation. SXS (side-by-side) models have been designed to handle heavy payloads for tending cattle on the farm or ranch to maximizing seating capacity for transporting friends and family to their outdoor adventures. The evolution continues.
UTVs for all of your off-road needs
The part of my job where I test drive off-road vehicles on hunting trips is a rough duty, but someone has to do it. I’ve had some truly great hunts in the fastest-growing segment of all-terrain vehicles: side-by-sides.
Sometimes called UTVs (utility all-terrain vehicles), these machines get there in style and comfort because of the seating arrangement where a passenger is in the seat beside the driver. They can go more places right out of the box than most highly modified and much more expensive trucks and SUVs.
Whether I’m driving them at a press event, where the manufacturers love to show off their capabilities, or I’m putting them to the test out here on the desert, deep woods, and dunes, these machines get my passenger and me there and back.
But it’s not just a matter of where they will go, it’s also about how you get there and back. A suspension that takes the harshness out of rough terrain is a high priority — so is who you take with you. It’s what gear you can take, it’s how many supplies and tools you can carry to do food plot work or how much game or camp firewood you can haul.
Game retrieval capabilities are a big plus for these all-terrain vehicles. Most can carry your biggest buck whole. More often than not, a buck or bull gets the last laugh by going down as far away from the road as possible. How nice it is to drive a machine right to him or at least get close enough to get a winch line on him. Any time I can avoid the arduous job of picking an animal out on foot makes the celebration that much sweeter.
Lean and mean
Compared to pickups, these machines simply fit down more trails. Where I hunt, Mother Nature is continually trying to take back our logging roads. Brush and small trees quickly encroach, so roads that fit logging trucks a few years earlier become a tight squeeze for much smaller vehicles.
With less interest by forest managers in maintaining minor spur roads, this tendency will continue to grow, and wedging in with smaller vehicles will be needed even more.
Throughout the country, tight roads and trails originally intended for horse traffic put small vehicles for hunting at a premium. Because these machines are dedicated off-road vehicles, the finishes hold up well to brush scrapes, and even if they get a bit scratched up, who cares?
That’s why you have them. In addition to the standard side-by-side sizes, which is around 60 inches wide, there are several models designed specifically to fit on trails intended for 48-inch wide quads. These 50-inch wide side-by-sides also fit in more truck beds and on trailers with ease.
While most of us don’t care about a few brush scrapes on our side-by-sides, we’re not so carefree with our expensive pickup trucks. I’m more likely to take my wife on a date in my truck than take it down a brushed-in road and scratch up the sides on a hunting trip.
Brush duty is for my ATM, which is the best tip I have for keeping your truck looking great. It’s not just the paint that the side-by-sides save. Mud, sand, ruts, and deep water can wreak havoc on the suspension, drivetrain, and electronics of daily drivers.
Plenty of our logging roads have hidden obstacles such as rocks and chunks of wood in that strip of vegetation that grows between the tire tracks. Running into one of these hidden dangers can ruin your whole day if it breaks a differential housing or bends a tie rod.
Most side-by-sides have excellent ground clearance and are well-protected underneath with full-length skid plates. Another bonus to saving your truck is saving your money. You no longer need to lift the suspension, spring for expensive taller wheels and tires, buy off-road shocks, or equip your truck with brush guards or winches.
Stock capabilities of side-by-sides are excellent, and upgrades are less expensive than for your truck. Save your truck, ride a UTV.
Not only can you save your truck, but you can also save the turf of your forests, fields, or hunt club property. I was impressed by the ground saving properties of side-by-sides a few years ago when hunting the Mississippi Delta in December. My guide, who is also a rice and soy-bean framer, told me we would be in for some very long hikes if not for the side-by-side we were using.
The soft turf conditions created by the winter rains made driving the dikes and fields in a pickup truck
impossible. The heavier weight of a truck soon has it sunk to the axles in these conditions. Even if the truck can get you there in these conditions, it will create ruts that will not be fun at all to maneuver when things dry out.
This can be particularly important when you are looking to renew a hunting lease. Tearing up roads, fences, and terrain is a good way to lose hunting privileges. Putting power to more wheels and spreading traction duties around can help save turf as well as pre-vent wheel spin. Side-by-sides have quick and easy controls over how the power is delivered.
Not only can the driver choose between 2WD and 4WD, but several models also offer diff locks and even turf saver mode where power is transferred to one wheel only for tight turns on sensitive turf areas.
With plenty of models accommodating four hunters and some with capacities of up to six, side-by-sides can be useful for distributing a group of hunters to their stands or to get the whole crew and their tools out to the food plot or trail improvement project.
If you want to stay with a shorter wheelbase with front row seating only, opt for a bench seat, which can provide seating for three.
Often the decision to buy a new truck is based on business as well as recreational considerations. Side-by-sides can be the same. They can be a great addition to the manufacturing facility, job site, ranch, farm, oil field, or mining operation.
All of the things that make these small vehicles good for hunting — small, light, nimble, sure-footed — can also make them a good fit for work. If one of these working machines finds its way out in the field for hunting, all the better, right?
If you’re looking for a side-by-side for food plot work, make sure it is a utility-grade vehicle rather than sport. Four-wheel drive with locking front diff for added traction can be helpful. Get the largest machine that will fit your trails and make the turns in your plot space.
Take your time before buying a small vehicle
Take your time when deciding which small vehicle to buy. I can tell you with confidence that all of the major brands are built with comparable quality, so what you are looking for is features that fit your hunting situation and, of course, that fit your hunting budget.
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