I was asked by a chukar hunter of my perspective on using ATV’s to access chukar country. Eric Johnson is entertaining the thought of getting an ATV and putting some dog boxes on it to eliminate that long birdless walk into an area that has access to it by ATV. My short answer is “I’m all for it.”
The long answer takes a lot more thought though. Especially after reading other blogs this year and hearing the objections by others. In truth, I believe most of those objections are from people who are looking for an excuse for why they aren’t more successful. The way I look at it, they actually benefit all chukar hunters by spreading us out. Let’s take the Rocking M ranch along Brownlee reservoir for example.
There is only one road into the reservoir and many people like to hunt by the reservoir. Once you hit the water the road only parallels the reservoir for a few miles. There are a few ATV trails off the road that will get you quite a ways off the main road. If those trails weren’t there all the chukar hunters would have to begin their hunt off the main road and not be too happy about bumping into each other. So the use of a ATV helps to keep chukar country less congested.
This happened to me about four years ago. In the area I mentioned earlier I decided to try one of the trails with my side by side. As I unloaded it I realized I had a flat tire. It was my first time using it for chukar hunting and I was ill prepared. I loaded the rig back onto my truck and started the steep walk up the hill. About an hour into the hunt I saw another side by side heading up the trail and hiked over to visit. They were headed towards the top. There was no way I would ever be able to get to the top on foot. At that point, I had already bagged three huns and a chukar and I really never got that far off the trail. I continued my hunt and gained about 500 more feet in elevation and then hunted my way back toward the rig. I can’t remember how many covey’s I pushed that day but I knew I would have never hunted that area if it hadn’t been for the flat tire.
The next day I took my ATV up that trail about three miles. Two other rigs drove passed where I stopped. I knew they were bird hunters by the dog boxes. It wasn’t long before the sound of their ATV’s went silent. I don’t know how much further that trail goes but I felt like those hunters were miles away from me. From there I continued my hunt on foot and had a great hunt. I never heard a shot from above but heard many echo’s from shots way below me. With the amount of birds I saw and the amount of shots I heard from below I can’t imagine that the hunter who passed me didn’t find birds. I believe that the ATV’s put enough distance between us with the topography that I just couldn’t hear the action they might have had.
One of the grumblings I read on another blog about ATV’s, was about hunters hunting off them. Supposedly they would ride the roads with their dogs searching off road and would stop and jump the covey once the dogs pointed. I’ve never seen this and it’s hard for me to believe it’s very successful. But if it’s true, how far off the road do you think these hunters would get? It wouldn’t be to hard to range out to where they can’t get.
As Eric mentioned and I have also found, many times you have to walk for a couple of miles before you get into chukar country and then you hear shooting from up above. When you get there you find a ATV trail. If you have brains bigger than a chukar it doesn’t take long to know who the smart guy is.
Many hunters refuse to use one and I can understand that. I can remember when I was about twenty years old and still camped in a tent. I said “you’ll never see me in one of those campers”. Then I bought one. I don’t know if I can camp without one now.
Fish and Game rules for ATV’s are basically the same as for a full size vehicle, so make sure you follow them. From there it becomes be ethical. Quite often you’ll see a sign on a gate, “keep gate closed”. Make sure you do. It could mean the difference between future access or not. These trails and roads weren’t cut in for hunting purposes. They were made by ranchers, loggers, miners, fire breaks, and many other reasons. We just have the great opportunity to use them.
Today I took the boys on a exercise and training trip. This picture is of a road a rancher had cut through his property and onto BLM land. It’s his access to his watering troughs and maintenance on his fences.
Two years ago, I was up helping him fix all the damage done by ATV’s after heavy rains. He wasn’t real happy about it but has kept his gate unlocked. With the warm and dry conditions I felt good in going up the road without leaving any damage. Remember, if we tear up the roads and trails someone has to fix those ruts. I’ve seen places on public land where the trail is so messed up with boards, logs, rocks and other junk used to unstick an ATV that it finally became impassible. Keep that in mind when you make the first rut.
What might be good early in the season may not be so good when the snows come. Take this trail for example.
It doesn’t look that bad. It’s steeper than it looks on the north slope. There’s enough of a slope on the trail itself that icy conditions might send you rolling for quite a way. Last spring we found some four wheel parts and dog box parts on the side hill. The only thing I know for sure is that it was nobody I know.
When the trail stops, please stop. Don’t start making your own trail. We have enough trails to get us to where we want to go. I hate seeing those tracks across the land scape. This is where our trail ended today.
From here we had thousands of acres to explore.
Another point I might make about using ATV’s to access chukar country. It doesn’t make hunting any easier. I still get as much walking elevation gain when I use an ATV as when I don’t. Here’s a picture of the country that Grady, Jake and I got to walk after we parked at the end of the trail.
As you can see, there is still a lot of ups and downs to be had. Even some fun steep stuff. And remember, even though we’re close to the top, after we get to that far steep hill we have to come back up to the vehicle. In fact, many times when using my side by side I end up coming uphill at the end of the hunt. Going down hill at the end of a hunt is a far better way to end the day.
I can’t end without a shot of my boys on todays hike.
Or a shot of how tough they have it. They hardly know what a dog box is and assume these positions at the end of a hard days hunt.
ATV’s and UTV’s don’t put more birds in the game bag. They are a tool to get you into chukar country and at times can just make it a little more comfortable getting to and from. I’m sure I missed some pro’s and con’s. Please feel free to give me yours.