My Love/Hate Affair

Most of my life I have been anti-ATV.

Most of my life I have been anti-ATV. That may be partly because I'm anti-mechanical, which means that anything with an engine and wheels that I touch turns to trash. Machines and I don't get along.

However, ignorance and fear have not been the only sources of my aversion to mechanical devices. Modern ATVs are so agile, powerful, and durable they will go anywhere, and some people use them to do just that -- go anywhere. Abuses of laws and land by ATV-riding morons at one time totally turned me against all ATV use. As a result, I refused ever to ride an ATV of any kind.

Then I came to my senses. My buddy Jeff Zennie and I were hunting in Nevada, where winding ribbons of boulders and foot-deep dust pose as desert roads. Jeff rode either his quad or Yamaha Big Wheel on these roads, while I drove my Dodge truck. Jeff offered to loan me his Big Wheel, but being 100-percent righteous and pure of heart, I refused. I would not be caught dead on one of those things.

After a few days, however, the light began to dawn in my primordial brain: Jeff was lawfully riding to precisely the same spots where I was driving my truck, yet he was doing it at one-tenth the cost in gas, one-quarter the time, and with less damage to the roads. And he wasn't tearing up a $30,000 truck. What was I gaining? What crime was he committing?

"Hey, Jeff, could I try one of your machines?" I said timidly.

Well, I did, and after hurdling the psychological barrier and embarrassment -- and choking down a whole lot of crow -- I began to reap the practical benefits of speed and economy. And I was not violating any of my principles, because I was riding only on roads -- where I would have driven my truck anyway. It's one thing to be righteous; it's another to be just plain stupid.

Does this mean I've become an off-road-vehicle advocate, lobbying for ATV access to every pristine spot in North America? Absolutely not. In my opinion -- and this is one man's opinion -- all backcountry trails should be closed to motorized vehicles. I have never lobbied for more motorized vehicle access, and I never will.

At the same time, I recognize the value of ATVs and similar machines. On desert and forest roads that tear 4WD trucks to shreds, quads and motorcycles only make sense. In Canada, outfitters and guides ride quads on winter roads that turn into muskeg soup during summer and fall; without quads, outfitters could never access their areas during hunting seasons. On farms and hunting leases, quads are far superior to larger vehicles for transporting stands and hunters, hauling game from the woods, and preparing food plots. In short, ATVs have become central to hunting across North America. In our annual ATV roundup (page 67), you will see the latest do-everything ATVs. These are fantastic tools.

Continued -- click on page link below.

TO PUT IT ANOTHER WAY, ATVs have given hunters new power, and that's good -- up to a point. Trouble is, some people are outlaws who abuse their power (not just on ATVs but in all areas of life). I could list many examples, but here are a couple of recent ones:

'¢ In Nevada, the BLM has designated certain lands as wilderness and closed some of the more obscure two-tracks that lead into these lands. These old roads are clearly posted as closed to all motorized vehicles. On a recent antelope hunt there, I walked a couple of miles out one of these closed roads to check out a remote spring. The entire way I was walking on fresh ATV tracks. The so-called hunter had driven around the road-closure sign and directly to the spring, where he had built a blind. He was a lawbreaker.

'¢ In New Mexico, state and federal rules clearly state that motorized vehicles are restricted to existing roads and two-tracks. A friend and I had taken a stand in a remote draw one evening, and soon we heard a bull bugling. A herd was coming, and we were almost guaranteed a shot. As the elk came within 100 yards, we heard putt, putt, putt and looked over to see a guy on a quad riding along the edge of the draw. He never heard or saw the elk, but the elk heard and saw him -- and disappeared. This guy was a half-mile from the nearest two-track. He was a blatant outlaw.

When I witness incidents like these, my hatred for off-road vehicles begins to resurface. Then I come to my senses. Blaming ATVs for abuses to the land is like blaming guns for shooting deaths. The criminal is the person behind it -- or on it.

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