The Nez Perce Indians have a saying, “Every animal knows far more than you.” Anyone who has ever been hunting knows exactly what they meant, and one of the challenges is matching wits with creatures that are supremely skilled at surviving in their environment. Sometimes it’s fun just to watch the critters we aren’t after, but regardless of whether we bag any game or not, it’s always great to be in the woods. With hunting season here, it’s time to review a few things that can make your season more enjoyable, and possibly more successful.
One of the greatest features about ATVs and Side x Sides is their ability to take you far into the back country, and if you’re lucky enough to bag any game, they can also serve as a modern day pack mule to haul it back. Today it seems every hunting camp in the country has at least one ATV or Side x Side parked in front, and they’re as common as the mandatory “Jackelope” hanging on the cabin wall. Before you get to camp, however, there are a couple things you should check to make sure your machine is ready for hunting season.
You’re almost certainly going to be riding in darkness well before dawn or long after sunset and that’s the wrong time to have a problem. Make sure your ATV is well prepared to get you where you want to go, and can bring you back safely. Terrain is a big factor, and whether you are hunting the side of a rough, rocky hill, along a muddy field, or at the edge of a swamp, the first thing to check is the tires. Use a tire that can stand up to the terrain you are hunting and can get you out. We prefer a tire that has a fairly aggressive tread but is also open enough to clean out well. Don’t go overboard on tire size though which can give your belt and CVT transmission more than it can handle. One size up from stock will usually be fine.
It’s a good idea to include a winch on your quad or Side x Side also since it will likely be your only friend in pulling you out of any sticky situation. When using a winch, leave the motor running since a winch can quickly drain the battery.
The next thing you want to check on your quad is the battery. Cold weather often reduces cranking power and if your battery is more than a couple years old, you might want to replace it. Slower cranking on startup is often the sign of a weak battery, and the last thing you need far from camp on a cold night is a weak or dead battery.
Switching to lighter grade oil for cold conditions can make a difference on startup as well. We’ve switched to synthetic oil because it starts easily, and because it lubricates immediately even on a cold engine. We’ve been running Mobil-1 fully synthetic year round with zero problems. Don’t skimp on cheap oil in an expensive engine.
There are dozens of accessories you can outfit your ATV or Side x Side with made for hunting, but we can narrow it down to a few that can really make a difference.
ATV Hand Guards - Riding in cold, wet weather isn’t exactly a joy, and ATV riders have to contend with the elements a little more than UTV riders. Keeping your hands warm and dry makes it a lot easier. In addition to a good set of gloves, a simple set of hand guards, like a set we have been using from Kolpin, works wonders. Ours even have a small mirror for looking behind, but simply blocking the wind, mud, and the occasional branch makes a HUGE difference on a cold ride. The guards we tried were easy to install and we leave them on year round. For extreme conditions, heated grips take things one step further.
ATV Heated Grips - There are several brands of heated grips that can get the job done, but we prefer the type without a huge ceramic resistor wired in. Installation is fairly easy. Find a convenient location for the switch on the left handlebar or bodywork (left side so you don’t have to take your hand off the throttle), make sure any heating element is well away from anything critical, and use plenty of zip ties when routing the wires to keep them from getting snagged on anything. One trick is to apply silicone rubber to all electrical connections, including those on the back of the switch. You don’t need anything shorting out in the rain, snow, or mud.
Cabs & Windshields - Side x Side riders can have the ultimate in weather protection with full cabs. We installed a full cab from Curtis Cab last year on our Polaris Ranger, and it went on very well. If you don’t prefer a full cab, just adding a windshield makes a huge difference also, and they usually install in minutes.
Storage & Scabbards – Nothing makes hauling your gun easier than a scabbard, and there are plenty to choose from. When using a scabbard, we recommend one with a cloth or padded interior, or a gun sock to prevent scratches and to protect your scope from being banged around. We also want extra storage on either an ATV or side x Side and an accessory storage box provides a sealed, dry location.
Any extra noise will drive you nuts, though, and you don’t want to be sitting in your blind thinking about the 10 point that ran away because of the loose tools you had in the storage box. We often pack a piece of foam or a rag into the bottom to help absorb any noise. Make sure anything fastened to the racks or in the cargo bed is tied down tightly also.
Hunting is an individual sport of self-reliance. There is no team uniform, nobody is going to give you a ring for winning a championship, and there will be no replacement going in for you if you get injured. In fact, should you get injured, lost, or stranded, you’ll be lucky if there is somebody else there to help you off the field, but don’t count on it. You will need to count on your own skills, instincts, and ingenuity, and a huge part of that is planning ahead. For any expedition far away from camp or back in the mountains, you should bring the following:
- A basic first aid kit
- Rope and Tie Downs (Parachute cord works great)
- A lighter or waterproof matches (You can make them waterproof by coating them in nail polish)
- A GPS and map. Be familiar with both!
- Water and a snack
- A flashlight and knife
- Hand wipes for when you’re done cleaning any game
- A tire repair kit
- A small tarp that can double as a shelter in the event of an accident or bad weather
- Fire tinder
- A different pair of boots should yours get wet
- A second pair of socks
- A rain jacket or warmer coat depending on the season and where you are hunting
All of the above items could be a life-saver and will easily pack into a sealed, aftermarket storage box which can be attached either to the ATV’s racks or inside the cargo bed of any Side x Side. Remember, it’s not a successful season if you don’t get back.
We look forward to the opening day of hunting season year round, and as the sun comes up, we’ll definitely be in our stand. While we may not come back with our tag filled on that day, it’s really all about the adventure anyway and we’ll enjoy every minute of it.