How Hunting ATVs Work

By: Richard Winter
Smiling child and dog in off-road vehicle outdoors.
Two young hunters with their dogs on ATV. Jensen

At first glance, hunters and ATV riders have little in common. One sits quietly in the woods, patiently waiting for his or her moment to act. The other tears around the woods on a loud motorized toy, leaving a trail of exhaust.

Believe it or not, these two can be one and the same when they're united for a common purpose: hauling hunters and gear into the woods. In this article you'll learn about how hunting ATVs work, why hunters use them, how they handle and some of the accessories and types available. But first, let's talk ATV basics.


If you take a look at the range of all-terrain vehicles on the market, you'll notice two kinds: sport models and utility models [source: Tranby].

Sport models are primarily made for fun. They're lighter than the utility models, more maneuverable, and built for speed. Utility models, on the other hand, are bigger, heavier, can handle more cargo and can be customized for particular jobs.

As you might have guessed, hunting ATVs fall into the utility category. ATVs typically are single-rider vehicles that are powered by a gas or electric engine. Engines are described by their size, measured in cubic centimeters. The more ccs, the more power. Adult models typically range from 250 cc to 1,000 cc [source: Tranby].

To handle off-road terrain, ATVs have suspension systems that are either fully independent or­ a combination of front independent suspension with a swing arm on the rear suspension. The swing arm is basically a solid axle that's connected to an arm that moves up and down to absorb some of the shock.

ATVs ride on four heavy-duty tires designed to handle a variety of terrain. Four-wheel drive is the most popular, with two-wheel drive a distant second. There are three-wheeled ATVs out there, but they're no longer manufactured in the United States because of their tendency to flip over. ATVs are continually evolving; Yamaha and Honda now offer power steering on some ATV models.

Read on to find out why hunters like using ATVs.


Why Hunters Use ATVs

Hunters like ATVs because they make hunting easier. Hunting ATVs have high ground clearance, front and/or back racks and a scabbard (the protective holder f­or rifles and shotguns). Hunters typically carry an array of gear, and many models offer extra storage.

ATVs open up remote areas that hunters wouldn't be able to reach on their own or in another vehicle. Much smaller than pickup trucks, sport utility vehicles and 4x4s, ATVs can access trails that large vehicles can't touch. They leave the others in the dust or stuck in a ditch somewhere.


ATVs are like army mules -- they carry heavy-duty gear so soldiers don't have to. If you're a hunter, think about the equipment you use on a hunt. Your list probably includes a weapon, ammunition, food and water, a heater or perhaps even equipment to make a blind. One hunter can transport a 10.5-foot (3.2 meter) platform (complete with a shooting house on top of it and a swivel seat) to his hunting site via his ATV. Imagine transporting all of that gear on foot.

But there's an even bigger advantage to using an ATV. ATVs allow successful hunters to take their kill with them. Without the extra load capacity of an ATV, hunters sometimes would be forced to leave a large kill behind temporarily, or even cut it into sections to get it back to camp. Coyotes or other scavengers are an ever-present threat to the remaining carcass. With an ATV, hunters need little more than a rope to drag their trophy back to their truck or camp.

If you're seriously considering buying an ATV, you might want to know more about the accessories available. Take out your notepad and move onto the next section to learn more.


Hunting ATV Accessories

Walk through­ any sporting goods store and you'll realize that hunters are very serious about their gear. Not too many other people would want to buy deer urine. And there are some amazing accessories available for hunting ATVs. Let's look at some of the options:

  • Camouflage finish
  • Hard-sided cases for bows and firearms
  • Cargo boxes or bags
  • ATV windshields
  • Front and rear shocks to increase ground clearance and traction
  • GPS devices
  • Heated handgrips for the handlebars
  • Covers for protection from the elements
  • Trailers for towing
  • ATV accessories like cultivators, seeders, disk plows and spreaders
  • Open- or closed-face ATV helmets
  • Kits to help protect the underbelly of an ATV, namely the skid plates, A-arms and rear differential
  • Camouflage fender and seat covers

To find out what some ATV users are doing to make their rides quieter, read the next section.


Electric Hunting ATVs

One potential drawback of using ATVs while hunting is that their gas engine noise and exhaust is likely to spook any nearby game. It may also explain the appeal of batte­ry-powered ATVs, which offer hunters the option to travel in relative quiet.

Several electric ATV models on the market, called E-ATVs, offer an alternative to the gas-powered versions. But they're generally slower and have smaller ranges than gas ATVs. The ATEV28 model from manufacturer EVS, for example, is limited to a top speed of 35 mph (57 kilometers per hour) and a maximum range of 25 miles (41 km) [source: Blanco]. (That maximum range is based upon flat surface use -- expect it to be lower on hilly, off-road terrain.)


Because of their lower speed and range capabilities, smaller E-ATVs have been marketed to younger users. For example, X-Treme's XA-750 Electric ATV runs on three heavy-duty 12 volt, 12 amp batteries. It can go up to 20 mph (33 kmph), weighs 150 pounds (60 kilograms), and carries a maximum load of 300 pounds (120 kg) [source: X-treme Scooters].

Batteries are also powering the side-by-side or off-road utility vehicle (UTV) market. Some ATV models can seat two people, but the riders sit astride the bike, motorcycle-style [source: Bad Boy Buggies].

Read on to learn some of the techniques hunters use for handling their ATVs, whether gas-powered or electric.


Handling Hunting ATVs

To pro­perly control and steer an ATV, the driver must learn to shift his or her weight and position on the seat. With an extra load in the front, whether a deer or an elk, the ATV's handling characteristics will change considerably [source: Klancher].

So, hunters need to check the load capacity of their ATVs and consult the owner's manual to determine the best location for the game. The additional load will change the vehicle's center of gravity, decrease stability and increase the risk of a possible rollover [source: Murphy and Harshman].


Hunters should never ride with a loaded firearm. Bows should not be strung, either. All weapons should be safely stowed in a case, separate from the ammunition.

When retrieving game, you should get as close as possible to a road or ATV-approved trail, then hike the rest of the way on foot. Stay on designated roads and trails. As enticing as it may be, don't take the shortest route possible by going cross-country on your ATV. It could anger property owners, lead to more regulation that restricts ATV use or possibly cause physical injury or damage to the ATV [source: Tread Lightly].

Now that you've learned about hunting ATVs, you might have more questions. Check out a dealer near you or on the Internet. Just remember to be safe. If the state in which you are hunting requires hunter orange, wear it. Even if your ATV is decked out in camouflage, it is important for you to be seen by other hunters.

Check out the next page for links to further information.


Lots More Information

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  • ATV Magazine. "How Do You Accessorize Your Hunting Machine?" (Accessed 12/04/08)
  • ­ATV Safety Institute. "Selecting the Right ATV: A Guide for First-Time Purchasers." (Accessed 12/04/08
  • ­Tranby, John. Marketing Manager, Arctic Cat. Conversation 12/05/08.
  • Bad Boy Buggies. (Accessed 12/05/08)
  • Blanco, Sebastian. "EVS23: Meet ATEV, the all-electric ATV from EVS." (Accessed 12/05/08)
  • Klancher, Lee. "The Hunting Rube." ATV Rider Magazine. (Accessed 12/04/08)
  • Murphy, Dennis J. and Harshman, William C. "Safe Use of ATVs in Agriculture." Pennsylvania State University Cooperative Extension. (Accessed 12/05/08)
  • Tread Lightly. "Tips for Responsible Hunting with an ATV." (Accessed 12/04/08)
  • X-Treme Scooters. (Accessed 12/05/08)