Could Your ATV Be Harming Your Hunt?

atv hunter

This is a question I’ve been trying to figure out for years and I am still not sure about the answer. I have read many posts related to this subject and it seems that the general consensus is that using your ATV to hunt doesn’t affect your chance of seeing deer. I believe it depends on where you hunt.

As soon as hunting season rolls around, I see dozens of trucks with an ATV in the back heading up to their spot. It’s more uncommon to not hunt with one these days and they are wonderful tools for getting in and out of hard to reach areas and also for hauling out your kill. I have one and I use it every time I hunt. But does the outcome of my hunt depend on how I use it?

Here’s where the location plays a huge roll. About 9 out of 10 posts I read came from hunters who lived somewhere in the midwest, near farms and where baiting is a common practice. Naturally, areas like those have lots of farm equipment making noise all the time. It’s no surprise that the majority of hunters questioned agreed that ATV’s had little or no impact on their hunt. But then there are the rest of us who hunt in mountainous areas such as Northern California and the Pacific Northwest.

First of all, deer in the mountains aren’t privy to large feeding areas that they can return to time after time. They are opportunity feeders that follow the food supply and generally stay within the same couple of mile radius most of the season. If they feel heavy pressure, they move further into the rugged terrain and spots that see few hunters and look for resources. As soon as hunting season rolls along, they know that there will be dozens of yahoos riding along the roads and trails. Believe me, they are sure to avoid these areas all together.

Last year, we were up on our usual knoll way before daylight and one of these guys came trailblazing up near our spot. We heard a couple of bucks cough and snort and then, off they went, never to be seen again in that spot for the rest of the season. This ignorant hunter had no idea what he did.

Here’s what I’ve come up with in regards to being successful in areas like ours if you have an ATV. First, if you like to road hunt, beer in hand, go right ahead and blaze along. If you think you can win the Lotto, you might get a chance shot one day. I see guys doing this all season, so knock yourself out if you need to blow off some steam and get away from the wife and kids for the weekend.

If you’re serious about getting game though, get out early and scout with your ATV. This means stopping and walking into many different areas looking for sign before the season starts. The well prepared hunter will already have a few spots in mind and your ATV is an excellent resource for getting around to lots of areas. Realize also that once the season starts, there will be lots of hunters cruising these same trails and that the deer will be aware of them.

Here’s the pearl: Make a plan on where you’ll go and where you’ll ditch your ATV while you hike in. Yes, you have to hike. Even if you think you can blaze a trail closer, don’t. Not only does it negatively impact the environment, it will spook whatever game is in there. We hide and camouflage our ATV’s at least a mile or a mile and a half away from where we’ll be hunting. If we’re in a heavily traveled area, we use that to our advantage. Deer will move in the early mornings and the late afternoons. They will also move if the pressure gets too intense.

If we’ve done our job, we’ll be in the spot where they go. My rule of thumb is not to bring my ATV any closer than a mile from where I set up. That seems to work pretty well and usually we spot a shooter. The bottom line is that deer in these areas equate ATVs with hunters and know that when the season starts, they will hear and smell them way before they are seen. Play it smart and ditch the ATV well away from where you hunt. You will be the one riding out with a deer on your rack.