The Myths of Motorized HuntingNeil and Catherine Thagard


ATV’s, off highway vehicles, side-by-sides, quads - whatever you call them - have become synonymous with hunting.    Pick up almost any sportsmen's magazine, or spend even a little time watching "outdoor television", and you will be inundated with advertising for all types of off-road and all terrain vehicles. Recently, when I expressed my support of roadless areas on our Western public lands, a genuinely confused colleague turned to me and asked “but, aren’t you a hunter?” ATV use has become so prevalent in the hunting community that not only have we convinced the non-hunting public that we can’t pursue our passions without them, we have convinced ourselves. As a lifelong hunter, I strongly disagree with that notion. 

Here are what I believe to be the six biggest myths of motorized hunting.

Myth #1 – Every hunter uses ATV’s and/or supports ATV use
Hunters are a splintered demographic, but not necessarily along choice of weapon or game preference lines as one might expect.  One of the most divisive issues today is motorized vs. non-motorized access on public land.  Many believe their ATV is as much an essential part of their hunt as a bullet in the chamber, or an arrow on the string.  Others passionately advocate that a quality hunt can only be found using “the quads they were born with”. 

Myth #2 – Roadless areas and restricting motorized access shuts hunters out of public lands
These areas are accessible by hiking, horseback and other modes of non-motorized travel, activities that require a hunter to be reasonably fit.  And if we are bluntly honest with ourselves, many of the hunters concerned about being “shut out” are not fit enough to get to their preferred hunting area without the assistance of an ATV. We’ll spend countless evenings at the range working on our marksmanship, hours perfecting our calling; yet fail to put the same kind of effort into getting in shape - which is as much a part of the hunt as any of other skill.

Myth #3 – Hunters have the right to ride their ATV’s when and where they want in pursuit of game
Even in areas where ATV use is legal, it is every hunter’s responsibility to ask him or herself “is it the right thing to do?” We have all heard the stories of the hunter who hikes miles before dawn, slipping into just the right location undetected by his quarry when the roar of the ATV motors on a nearby trail obliviously push the animals out from under him. We have all also seen the muddy wheel ruts like fresh scars that ATV’s leave across previously pristine fields and streams, especially in wet conditions.

Myth #4 – Once they get used to it, wildlife isn’t impacted by ATV’s
The numbers of elk seen near trails and roads, or “town deer” are often cited to substantiate this myth. While individual animals can become habituated to human presence, they actually represent a very small percentage of the overall populations. It has been scientifically documented that traffic rates and road densities reduce wildlife’s effective use of habitats. Areas easily accessed by motorized vehicles also experience a reduction in the number of mature bucks/bulls, which affects more than just trophy hunting opportunities.

Myth #5 – The only way for the disabled to hunt is with the use of an ATV
Unfortunately, this argument has been usurped and is sometimes heavily promoted by a few able-bodied hunters, who are often just looking to access more landscape for themselves.  Not surprisingly, their position is rarely supported by disabled hunter’s organizations, which understand that every hunter and angler – regardless of ability – has the responsibility do what is best for our fish and wildlife, including protecting roadless habitats.  It is encouraging to see that aids, such as adapted saddles that enable some individuals to ride horses to their preferred roadless hunting destination, are becoming increasingly popular and more readily available.

Myth #6: Reducing motorized access decreases the number of people going out to hunt
In reality, fewer hunters in the field may be the result of declining hunt quality, which in turn may be due to increased motorized access. Non-motorized areas can support quality hunts for a greater number of sportsmen - because hunters on ATV’s have a much larger footprint on the landscape, and are more likely to interfere with each other. Motorized hunting can push the game into smaller, more remote areas. It follows that these smaller areas can only support smaller game populations, leading in turn to reduced hunting opportunity.

There are many reasons our professional land and wildlife managers may choose to restrict motorized access on some public land; however it is always for the benefit of our wildlife and the habitats they require, which ultimately benefits all hunters.  For those hunters who prefer to hunt on an ATV, there is no denying that a great deal of our public lands is open to motorized access. However there are also areas where it is not necessary for a quality hunt, nor appropriate for the continued conservation of our wildlife and landscapes. The ultimate goal is to preserve opportunity for the future, and ensure that our children will have a place to hunt and game to pursue there. That is something every sportsman should be able to agree with and support.