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Ready to roll into hunting season

Post Independent/Kelley Cox
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To some hunters, it’s the ultimate beast of burden, more reliable and easier to tame than a horse. To others, it’s just a burden.

The all-terrain vehicle is quickly becoming a popular hunting accessory. Hunters don’t have to beat up full-size pickup trucks on four-wheel-drive roads and can use the handy four-wheeler to haul out their kill. But there’s also a small minority of rule-breakers that can ruin the sport, either by scaring off that prized elk or tearing apart the natural environment.

Troy Sweet is a hunter who lives in Grand Junction and hunts all over Colorado. He uses an ATV for easier access in tough terrain and to quickly haul out animals he’s bagged. But the key is keeping the ATV a good distance from the prey. And he says all too often someone will drive in on an ATV and scare away all the wildlife ” and any hope for a kill.



“I don’t know very many hunters that haven’t had that happen to them,” Sweet said. “It’s detrimental to hunting in the area when they take the ATVs off-road.” The offender can be either someone riding an ATV for kicks or a fellow hunter trying to get in too close.

The ATV has come a long way over the years, evolving from three-wheeled joyrides common on farms and a few trails to accessorized, four-wheel drive machines.



There are dozens of models from several companies. Some are designed exclusively for sport, while others clearly cater to hunters. Camouflage is common on many new models.

Dennis Davis, owner of Mountain Powersports in Glenwood Springs, said there are even dozens of accessories for hunters. Trailers for hauling a kill, winches to get out of the mud and gun cases are among the most popular. Colorado law requires all guns to be in a hard case on an ATV, so cases that fit on the vehicles are a hot commodity.

Davis estimates that about 50 percent of his customers are hunters looking to make life easier. While it does make it easier to haul out an elk or mule deer, he says the main reason people buy ATVs is for easy access to rough terrain. Especially for hunters that are getting older.

“They can’t get up the hill anymore,” Davis said.

They’re also advantageous for hunters on their own private ranches.

“On private grounds, you drive right to it, and that makes it extremely useful,” Sweet said.

Kyle Costanzo, owner of Rifle Performance Motorsports, said only about 5 percent of his customers buy an ATV exclusively for hunting. But the vast majority are multi-purpose users, and often hunting is just one activity the ATV will be used for. The main selling point? It’s easier than hiking in on a rocky trail.

“It’s mainly just a quicker mode of transportation,” Costanzo said.

Although the ATV adds convenience to the sport, it still takes plenty of patience and skill to walk away with a successful hunt.

“Mainly we use the ATVs to get from the cabin or base camp,” Sweet said. “You have got to get off the road to be successful.” And that means getting off the ATV, too.

Colorado Division of Wildlife Spokesman Randy Hampton said most animals avoid roads and trails for a distance of a quarter-mile to a half-mile. Even off-road, animals are likely to somehow notice the presence of an ATV.

“They’re in a heightened state of alert” and more aware of their surroundings when animals see or hear an ATV, eliminating the element of surprise, Hampton said.

Nonetheless, Sweet doesn’t have a problem with responsible use of ATVs. Hunters have to be far from roads and trails to be successful anyway, so there shouldn’t be a problem if people just follow the rules.

“We’re all paying for the land, and if we’re using it responsibly, we should be able to enjoy it.”

Although the majority of ATV riders follow the rules and stay on designated trails, the few violators can have a big impact on fellow hunters and the environment.

White River National Forest Recreation Program Manager Rich Doak said only about 5 percent of riders go off-road. But that 5 percent can have significant impacts, especially during hunting season.

Doak said the Little Grand Mesa area, the Southern Flat Tops, and the Sheephorn area near Vail get heavy ATV traffic during hunting seasons. Doak explained that hunters are “secondary users” using the ATV as a means to better hunting access. “Primary users” are looking to get their direct fun from riding ATVs on trails and roads, and have different expectations than hunters and other secondary users.

It’s those secondary users ” often times hunters ” that cause more problems. Generally speaking, that’s because hunters are more isolated, Doak said.

“For some reason they’re less-inclined to have a more global view,” he said.

The Division of Wildlife’s most common complaints are ATV-related, Hampton said. Although the DOW doesn’t regulate ATVs, that’s still the most common complaint.

“Somebody steamed up on an ATV and scared everything off” is what people usually call about, Hampton said.

Going off-trail most often ruins other people’s experiences, especially hunters, Doak said. Plus, violators might create “rogue roads” that other ATVers may unknowingly use, causing more damage to the environment. Finally, wetlands, vegetation and wildlife habitats are most commonly damaged ” and agencies like the forest service don’t always have the budget to fix the damage.

Doak also said that when just a few ATV riders ruin terrain, it tends to turn the public sentiment against ATVs altogether.

“That is a real problem,” Doak said.

Outfitters often complain to the forest service about ATVs scaring off animals during a hunt. Hunting trips can be costly, and it hurts business when there are dissatisfied customers. Although several Colorado outfitters did not return messages asking for comment, Doak said it’s a complaint he hears frequently.

“For those outfitters,” Doak said, “it’s actually an economic problem.”

– On slick trails, moderate the throttle and use the clutch to gain maximum traction with minimum tailspin.

– On switchbacks, avoid roosting around the apex of the turn when climbing or brake-sliding during descent, both of which gouge trails.

– Cross streams only at designated fording points or where the trail crosses the stream.

– Avoid riding in marshy areas and meadows.

– Don’t create unnecessary noise by removing parts from the ATV.

– Make sure to have a map of where you’re going, and know about any trail closures and restrictions.

– For more tips, visit http://www.treadlightly.org.


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