Statistics from the Motorcycle Industry Council say that four out of every five ATV owners actively engages in hunting or fishing or both. And anecdotal evidence shows that more and more hunters are purchasing ATVs to make their hunting easier and more successful.
Dealers say the number one thing hunters seek from an all-terrain vehicle is more carrying capacity. The industry is answering in a variety of ways, with new product coming from both original equipment and aftermarket manufacturers.
One rather unique answer is the Polaris MV7 heavy-duty four-wheeler introduced last year by the largest American manufacturer of all terrain vehicles. Well suited for the extraordinary demands of big game hunting in remote areas, this muscled-up 700-class quad with on-demand all-wheel-drive has a 2,500-pound winch at each end and a cargo capacity of 450 pounds on its steel racks.
“The MV grew directly out of the product developed for the military,” explains Polaris ATV Product Manager Jeff LeFever, “and this is a consumerized version. It has a lot of traits that people are looking for.” Two fuel tanks totaling 8.75-gallons provide extraordinary range, and Goodyear EMT (Extended Mobility Technology) Mud Runner run-flat tires guarantee a return trip up to 50 miles at 25 miles an hour. Big game hunting is “typically a more difficult environment,” LeFever explains, “so the heavy-duty features and dual winches make a difference.”
Another way to increase carrying capacity is to tow, and towable carts, or trailers, continue as one of the most popular attachments for utility ATVs.
“Any time that you go hunting, you have to carry your gear,” says Agri-Fab Marketing Manager Sean Ruppert. “And you have to carry your deer out. And a trailer seems to be the logical choice.” He goes on to say that, “We have a couple of new carts coming out in 2006, including a 15-cubic foot tandem axle with walking action.” The patent-pending tandem walking axle keeps the load level on uneven terrain. Capacity of the plastic body is 750-pounds. There is also a larger steel version that can handle a 1,000-pound load.
Cycle Country offers a unique fold-up Fifth Wheel Trailer. “(It) attaches to the rack in the up position,” explains Brad Danbom, V.P. of Sales and Marketing. “When the hunter gets his deer, he can fold it down to take his deer out.” The steel unit has a capacity of 500-pounds, and it tracks inside the ATV's width.
Of course, part of carrying capacity is add-on bags, often for specific purposes, and new products are appearing constantly. For instance, the Moose Utility Division (M.U.D.) of Parts Unlimited has introduced a new bow bag for ATVs. “It will work on any ATV,” explains M.U.D. Product Development Specialist Kyle Phillips, “handle the largest bows, and protect them during transport because it's all soft-sided.” The Moose Rack Bow Bag is available in black or Mossy Oak Break-Up camouflage.
One problem now solved is the carrying of hunting blinds into the field. Arctic Cat's proprietary Rapid Blind was a real step forward in portability. The Cordura nylon internal-frame shelter attaches to the ATV racks and swings opens to conceal the quad and the hunter. It is available in a choice of camouflage schemes, and there's also a Hunker Down kit to lower the blind profile if desired.
The Viking Quad Track 'N Hunt from KL Industries is the next step in the evolution of the portable blind. Introduced with a “soft-launch” late last year, this new patent-pending single-person camouflaged blind is a derivative of the portable ice shelter marketed by the company for almost twenty years.
The Quad Track 'N Hunt mobile blind is constructed from 420-denier nylon over an internal framework of poles connected by elastic cords. Three shooting ports provide 270-degree coverage with a gun or a bow. The mobile blind knocks down and stores in a protective polyethylene box that attaches to the back of most bigger utility quads with a powder-coated universal mounting bracket. An optional matching ATV cover is available for total concealment.
“We know how important rack space is to the guys,” says KL Industries National Accounts Manager Dave Way, an avid duck hunter who has been working with this product since day one. “We took every step to avoid using rack space.” Because the carrying bracket mounts the carrier completely below rack level, it does not interfere with large or odd-shaped objects that may overhang the rear rack, either. “It (the carrying system) only weighs 38-pounds, so it's fairly light,” Way tells us. Add the 49-pound blind, and the whole system is still well under 100-pounds.
“The interest at shows was overwhelming,” Way reports. “Guys were crowding into our booth.” The Quad Track 'N Hunt is available to the dealer channel through Bell Industries and on a temporary dealer-direct basis for non-Bell dealers.
KL Industries also offers other products including the light weight Viking polyethylene Sport Sled with an optional ATV tow bar and the similar Deer Drag, both of which can be useful for recovering the results of a successful hunt.
These carrying capacity solutions from a cross-section of manufacturers show that serving the hunter's carrying and toting needs are a high priority for the industry as a whole.
THE AG ANGLE
Agri-Fab Marketing Manager Sean Ruppert says the formation of food plots is one of the hottest trends in deer hunting. As a result, he said it's important niche to think about when designing product for the hunting consumer.
Brad Danbom, Cycle Country's V.P. of Sales and Marketing, agrees. “Food plot is the big buzz word now. I can say it is certainly a growing trend. We've been targeting this market for about eight years, working with the White Tail Institute.”
The idea behind food plots is that plentiful and nutritious sustenance provides more robust game. Plus, foot plots help concentrate and hold the desired species for better harvesting opportunities. This can be particularly important for people who hunt with muzzle loaders or bows. Deer are by far the most common target species, but food plots are also being prepared for wild turkeys and upland game birds, too. “When we started doing this eight years ago, it was predominantly southeast,” says Danbom. “Now anywhere there's deer hunting, there's food plots.”
So what do food plots have to do with all terrain vehicles? Plenty. Four-wheelers are becoming the vehicle of choice for installation of food plots for hunting. “We're seeing an increasing trend,” says Blaine Burley, President of Tecomate Wildlife Systems. “Guys realize that they can use their ATVs for more than just recreation.”
“They were putting them in with small tractors,” Ruppert explains. “But they are learning that ATVs have various implements available so they don't have to take their tractors out into the (back country) field.” ATVs, and UTVs provide easier access to remote and isolated areas where game will congregate because it feels more secure.
Jamie Ratajczek, General Manager of Kolpin Powersports absolutely agrees. “We see a huge upswing in the utility and foot plot preparation categories,” he says. “This is one of the main reasons we have introduced our 'Dirt Works' line of implements that directly mount to the ATV or UTV via a three-point attachment system.”
Food plot preparation equipment falls into two basic groups. First there are the discrete components like plows, tillers, disc and tine harrows and cultivators, rakes, furrowers, and seed spreaders from companies like Agri-Fab, Cycle Country, and Kolpin.
Much of this equipment is set up to use a “category zero” three-point hitch that can be added to most of the larger utility-type four-wheel drive quads and some of the UTVs. The hitch locks out the suspension movement of the ATV, allowing attachments to achieve soil penetration to an accurate and consistent depth. Attachments that do not require ground penetration may use a receiver-type hitch.
Then come the integrated multi-functional units for no-till planting like the Agri-Fab Quadivator and Tecomate's Plotmaster 400. The patented Plotmaster 400 is engineered to allow a “one-pass” planting technique because it discs, plows, plants, and packs the earth all in a single pass. The device has an electric lift and requires only a conventional towing ball on the ATV or UTV. Tecomate also offers a wide variety of seed formulations to attract various species of game, plus feeders, consulting, and other products to assist in game management.
But none of this equipment can do its job until the overgrowth is removed with a rough-cut mower. “The first thing you have to do to prepare a food plot is mow down the brush and weeds,” explains Danbom. And afterwards, a sprayer may be used to apply liquid fertilizer or a specific herbicide.
“Hunters are realizing that drawing an animal to a specific area and keeping it there equals hunting success,” summarizes Kolpin's Ratajczek. “Products like plows, cultivators, and seeders allow the hunter to create a haven for game.”
So the ATV hunting market isn't just camo stuff any more. With the widespread adoption of food plots as a game management strategy, all of this small-scale agricultural equipment and related supply materials have become part of a four-wheeler dealer's potential offerings for this market. If you are not paying attention to what is going on here, you are overlooking a growing and potentially very profitable part of this activity.
IT'S HAPPENING IN ICE FISHING, TOO
ATVs are taking over in fishing, too. Ice fishing, that is. Once the final refuge for snowmobiles, frozen lakes and rivers now are increasingly being traversed by four-wheelers, which often times prove superior for the job.
Along with easier loading and unloading, the quads offer easier steering and more maneuverability, superior carrying capacity on the vehicle, and somewhat lower cost of operation.
“That's the main, staple transportation to and from the ice,” says Dave Way, National Accounts Manager at KL Industries, a company that has been producing ATV-portable ice fishing shelters for seventeen years.
Way points out that an ATV can provide superior mobility and carrying capacity on the ice because they don't require a tow-behind sleigh to carry the gear. Cheap and minimally-engineered tow sleighs for snowmobiles are prone to tipping over and spilling gear at inopportune times. Plus they usually don't tow well at higher speeds.
The KL Industries' Viking-brand Quad Ice House is carried in an impact-resistant polyethylene box that attaches to a four-wheeler and hangs off the back, leaving the racks free for tackle and other gear. It can be assembled or taken down by one person in just a few minutes. “If you're not catching fish where you are, you've got to move,” says Way, “there's no use drowning your bait.” The key advantage of the quad-mounted shelter is easier mobility because tackle goes on the racks, not in a sleigh. “For big water fishing, you can go fast and not spill anything,” Way says.
Other features of the Quad Ice House include 420-denier nylon fabric in a dark color for better heat retention, large tinted windows for 270-degree visibility, sewn-in window shades, comfortable seating with full back support, storage pockets, and a large fishing hole.
Arctic Cat also is in the ATV-portable icehouse market with its Rapid Shack, a blue ice fishing version of their Rapid Blind rack-mounted concealment and protection system.
- Dave Wells