By Steve Bauer
With the rising popularity of UTVs in recent years, one particular demographic has embraced the side-by-side with open arms: hunters.
A 2007 National Shooting Sports Foundation survey of 5,000 hunters found that more than one-third were planning on purchasing a UTV in the next three-five years. Considering there are more than 9 million registered hunters in the United States alone, by 2013 2.7 million hunters could be driving to their favorite outdoor destination in a UTV.
That number is astounding to Ted Novin, a National Shooting Sports Foundation pubic relations specialist, who believes UTVs have allowed hunters to better share their love of the outdoors with others.
“There will always be a place in hunting for ATVs, no question about it,” he said, “but UTVs allow for two hunters to share an outdoor adventure that wasn’t possible a few years ago. As more UTVs are available at cheaper prices, I wouldn’t be surprised to see that number jump even higher.”
Brett Lindstrom, a spokesman for the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance, says more hunters than ever before are using four-wheeled vehicles to hunt, and that in two-three years UTVs should overtake ATVs as a hunter’s vehicle of choice in the field.
“UTVs have many different uses when it comes to hunting,” he said. “They allow two people to ride together in a side-by-side experience, they are easy to handle and can access nearly any area an ATV can.”
Lindstrom continues that because hunters are constantly looking for ways to be more comfortable in the field, UTVs are a natural fit.
“Hunters will pay a lot of money to stay warm, dry and out of the wind,” he said. “They have a great deal of discretionary income, and especially for older hunters, a fully accessorized UTV is in many ways comparable to having the comforts of your car or truck, except you can drive right up to your hunting location.”
An economic boost
One of the biggest benefactors to the growing interest in UTVs among hunters has been aftermarket companies that cater to the hunting lifestyle.
Mad Dog Gear, a company that in the past has specialized in ATV hunting accessories, now has a complete lineup of UTV accessories as well, and has seen its sales increase 40 percent in 2007 based off UTV accessory sales alone.
“We’ve had so much interest from the hunting community to come with a line of products to outfit UTVs that it’s been our main focus for the past year and a half,” said Wade Krinke, product manager for Mad Dog Gear. “And with each new model that is introduced by an OEM, that’s another phone call from a customer asking us if we have a product specific for that UTV. It’s been crazy.”
Krinke also says for dealers, UTV accessories have been a huge profit boost because of the large amount of options available to outfit each unit.
“Our product line for UTVs will be double the size of our ATVs by the end of this year,” he said. “Dealers are beginning to recognize the huge opportunity there for them in terms of selling everything from cargo bed extenders, camo packages and beyond. About three-quarters of dealers who carry our products have reported inventory shortages on things like gun cases and bed liners because hunters really go all-out in upgrading their UTVs.”
And Mad Dog Gear isn’t alone in its success of selling UTV accessories to hunters.
Plotmaster Systems, a company known in the hunting industry for its UTV implements specifically designed for hunting, food plots and land management, recently unveiled a new Hunter Series of Plotmasters tow-behinds because of increased demand from hunters for more UTV food plot options. These new offerings have the unique ability to disk, plow, plant, cover and/or cultipack all at the same time.
Scott Pearson, product manager for Plotmaster Systems, says UTVs have a built-in advantage over ATVs for hunters because of their ability to haul more weight, thus completing a job like tilling and planting food plots at a more efficient rate.
“Side-by-sides, whether sport/utility or utility by description, can haul a bigger load than an ATV, plain and simple,” he said. “Bed capacities range from as little as 300 pounds to more than 1,000 pounds, which means that you can work the ground and carry a bed full of seed and tools at the same time. That’s been a very important selling point to hunters, who want to be out in the field more, not working on their food plots. UTVs allow work to be done at a much faster pace. The emergence of these machines has been huge for us from a revenue standpoint.”
Hunter’s Specialties, an aftermarket company that sells a variety of hunting accessories, says UTV-specific hunting clothing lines and specialized decals have become big sellers.
“It’s unbelievable right now how many hunters are trading their ATVs for UTVs, and are willing to spend even more money to customize them to fit their style,” said Carl Theise, a public relations specialist with the company. “In many cases you see hunters treat their UTVs as extensions of their trucks, but there are so many more accessories you can add to a UTV, so it’s like having a kid in the candy shop with these guys. It has really revitalized that segment of our sales.”
OEMs capitalize on opportunities
On the OEM side, manufacturers like Kawasaki, Polaris and Yamaha, among others, are seizing the opportunity to build vehicles that feature more of a hunting theme, which includes both manufacturing changes and important partnerships with some of the hunting industry’s biggest players.
“We have seen a huge response from the hunting community on our side-by-side product line,” said Donna Beadle, ATV and Ranger external relations specialist for Polaris. “The Ranger line has a model for every hunting situation. For the big-game hunter, there’s the Ranger XP and Ranger 6x6, for hunting outfitters, we offer the six-person Ranger Crew and for the hunter looking to get into tight spaces with extreme terrain, there’s the Ranger RZR.”
Beadle also notes the UTV’s interest level amongst hunters has led to partnerships with hunting industry giants Browning and Mossy Oak.
“The Polaris Ranger Browning Limited Edition is one of our best-selling limited edition models,” she said. “This year, along with offering the new Ranger in Mossy Oak New Break Up camo, we are offering a Ranger RZR in the pattern due to customer feedback.”
Vince Iorio, Kawasaki product manager, says the company’s long-standing relationship with the hunting industry has been key to the success of its side-by-side products.
“Kawasaki has partnered with NRA Outdoors on two models: the Brute Force 750 4x4 ATV and the new Teryx 750 4x4 recreation utility vehicle. Both carry the NRA Outdoors livery but the Teryx has additional features that hunters really want. Namely tons of the all-new Realtree APG-HD camouflage that go beyond the normal body panels.”
Van Holmes, public relations manager for the ATV and side-by-side divisions of Yamaha Motor Corp., says the Rhino line has presented the company with an array of opportunities from the hunting industry.
“Hunters and outdoorsmen are an important customer for us and we're supporting that lifestyle on a number of levels,” he said. “Among other activities, Yamaha has strong and long standing relationships with organizations like Buckmasters, Ducks Unlimited and Safari Club International, and we participate at a number of hunting events each year.”
What does the future hold?
With the success UTVs have already had in the hunting community and numbers expected to rise, is it only a matter of time before hunting and UTVs are synonymous with each other?
“I think you are going to see a trend toward that sooner rather than later,” Mad Dog Gear’s Krinke said. “Think for a second about all the handicapped and older hunters who would never have been able to hunt if it wasn’t for the introduction of UTVs into the market. With more Baby Boomers reaching retirement age, there’s no reason to expect the number of older hunters to rise in the near future.”
The NSSF’s Novin agrees that UTVs have sparked what was a declining market, with hunter numbers down and other handicap-accessible options too expensive/burdensome to be considered viable alternatives.
“Now a father and son can go to their favorite hunting spot together, with the question of mobility no longer a concern,” he said. “We expect UTVs to be a driving force in this industry for years to come, and with all the innovations we know powersports manufacturers are working on, it’s only going to be more exciting down the road.”