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Study Suggests that ATVs Hurt Hunting

October 21, 2007.

One evening, on one my very first elk hunts in Colorado, I had climbed to the top of a ridge with my bow and was glassing for elk. On the road down below me, I heard the puttering of an ATV from about a mile away. After a while, the rider stopped, and I enjoyed the silence for about 30 seconds. Then the driver let loose a bugle. He waited another 30 seconds, then fired up his ATV again. He puttered down the road a hundred yards or so, shut off the engine, then bugled again. He continued this all the way down the road. Not surpisingly, no bulls were remotely stupid enough to respond to the bugle of what they would have had to accept as an ATV-riding elk. I didn't mind that the guy on the ATV was wasting his chances of getting anything that evening, but it did bug me that he was spooking every elk that might have been down in that valley below me.

Anyone who has hunted in the West has seen ATVs misused or abused. Many hunters get discouraged and lazy after not seeing anything opening morning and slip in to road hunting, desparately hoping to bump in to an elk or deer that is deaf enough not to hear them coming. More perniciously, many hunters, taking advantage of the smaller size of ATVs, use them to circumvent gates or road blocks on roads that are closed to motorized vehicle travel. There are few things as infuriating as seeing an ATV tearing illegally through an area that you just spent several tough hours hiking in to the honest way.

Surely, some other ATV owners use them in a lawful and sensible manner. However, the cumulative actions of even these riders may be doing harm to their hunting experience, and to the experience of those hunters who do not rely on ATVs.

The Izaak Walton League of America, an organization that works to defend our natural resources and to preserve the hunting and fishing opportunities, recently published a report on the impacts of off-road vehicles (ORVs) on hunting and fishing.

There are 3 sections to the report. The 1st documents extensive studies that have been conducted by organizations other than Izaak Walton regarding the impact of ORV use on wildlife. There's a two-page bibliography of these studies if you'd like to dig deep, but the general theme is that wildlife moves 2-4 times further away from roads when spooked by ORVs compared to when they are spooked by foot traffic. ATVs push animals further and further in to inaccessible areas, reducing (legal) hunting opportunity for everybody.

The 2nd section of the report provides a variety of anecdotal reports of negative experiences hunters have had around ATVs.

The 3rd section is a new survey conducted by the Izaak Walton League in 2007. The survery sampled wildlife managers, with respondents from 27 states. Interesting perspectives from these professional wildlife managers include:

  • When asked if they felt that "ORVs negatively impact hunting and habitat in your state," 61% agreed or strongly agreed. 39% were neutral. 0%, as in not a single wildlife manager, defended ATVs as not being harmful in this regard.
  • 72% felt that ORV use disrupted hunters during hunting season
  • 67% felt that increased accessibility to formerly remote hunting areas was a problem.
  • 61% felt that disruption of game species during hunting season was a problem.
  • Although "only" 50% felt that riders hunting from ORVs was a problem, there were numerous comments from respondents along the lines of this one: "There seems to be a misconception that just because you own a piece of equipment that can go almost anywhere, that you are entitled to go almost anywhere.... This needs to change."

Despite what all the ads on the Outdoor Channel and in all the magazines are telling us, we can live without ATVs, just as generations of hunter before us did. To improve your hunting experience, along with almost everybody else's hunting experience, please consider leaving your ATV at home this year.


The study conducted by the Izaak Walton League is available at:

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