Outdoor Journal: ATVs handy hunting aids
I have a hunting question for those over 60 years old and still avid big game hunters, especially those who sometimes hunt alone. How do you get your deer from the woods to your vehicle?
Many hunt in groups and have help, the safest way, but three old guys pulling on a deer is not necessarily “safe,” in terms of our health. I don’t care how strong you think you are, I guarantee a doctor would discourage you from yanking on the 100-plus pounds of dead weight over rocks and logs and up and down hills.
I’ve done it, and the distance I can go when doing it without stopping is really not that far. Honestly, I don’t do it anymore because I found a much easier way to get my deer out and on my truck without stopping and without having to sit down until I can breathe again. Here’s a story of my last deer drag and what I did to remedy it.
About six years ago, I was hunting during the muzzleloading season in hilly country with my friend, Dave Rooney, in southern Saratoga County. We walked in what I estimate was about one mile on an up-and-down trail to where Dave had two tree stands. Mine was about 50 yards from the trail, and his was deeper into the woods. When he dropped me off, he told me when I got into the stand to keep an eye behind and on my left where there were several well-used deer trails.
Several hours after sunup, I saw movement to my left, and right where he said to watch, I could see the buck’s antlers moving through the brush. When he stepped into an opening about 70 yards out, I shot him. He was a nice healthy four-pointer. I called Dave on the radio, and when he answered he said, “Did you get him?” and he offered to come over to help me drag him out. It was only about 11 a.m. I told him to stay in his stand and hunt, and I would walk back to his truck and get his deer carrier. Now, that was my plan, but I decided not to use it. I wanted to see if this 62-year-old body could drag this buck out.
I should have realized when I struggled over those broken branches, logs, rocks and bushes just to get the deer the 50 yards to the trail, but I didn’t. For the next three-plus hours, I took my muzzleloader, pack and heavy coat about 50 yards, set them down, then went back and got the deer.
Dave called me once and asked how I was making out, and I lied to him and said, “OK.” But I wasn’t. I was beat and still almost a half-mile away from the vehicle. When I finally got there, I was exhausted. I struggled for 20 minutes trying to get that buck into the truck, but I couldn’t do it. When Dave came out at dark and saw me sitting on the ground he knew by looking at me, I was tired.
When I woke up the next morning, those aches and pains reminded me of my stupidity.
One week later, I headed for my deer camp in Allegany County, and in the bed of my truck was a 550 cc Suzuki King Quad All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV), something I should have added to my hunting equipment on my 60th birthday. Let me tell you just a few of the things that an ATV can do for hunters. But first let me give you a little advice on a few accessories you should add.
The one major accessory I highly recommend to insure easy deer removal and an unexpected “walk” out of the woods because you buried your ATV in the mud — is an electric winch. This is a must for the senior and actually any hunter. The use of a winch getting out of the mud is easy to understand, but the deer removal needs an explanation.
Once a deer is field-dressed, you have to get him on the ATV, and this is where the winch works very well. Find a tree with an overhanging branch 10 feet or so off the ground and drag your deer (with the ATV) to it. Make a knife slit between the tendons in each back leg, take the hook on the end of the winch and push it through both legs and attach the hook to the winch cable to keep it from slipping out of the deer. Slowly raise the deer up, line it up with the ATV carrying rack and let it down. Loosen the tension on the winch, remove the cable from the deer and secure it to the ATV with a rope or heavy-duty bungee cords. Once back at your vehicle, you can drive the ATV and deer right on the trailer or ramps on the back of your truck and head for home. It’s definitely much easier than pulling and lifting.
One quick bit of advice for those who use ramps with their pickups. When driving the ATV on or off,
don’t straddle the ATV in your normal riding position. Have both legs on one side of the seat (side saddle style). In the event of a problem, you’ll be able to easily jump away, should the ATV start to tip over.
Two other accessories I suggest are a hard plastic gun boot to keep your rifle/shotgun safe and clean and a snow plow that obviously takes a lot of strain off your back, and will help smooth over your acquisition of this new piece of hunting equipment with your spouse. Don’t forget the helmet.
As a tree stand hunter, I used the Suzuki to carry in new stands and/or move other stands to new locations. Finding, dragging dead trees and cutting them for firewood for the cabin is also a lot easier with an ATV.
You can actually buy a small trailer for hauling the wood and those long walks up the hills to the ridges where several of my tree stands and ground blinds are located are also a lot easier on the ATV.
Speaking of hills and ridges, I’ve used it on numerous occasions in the spring/fall hunting on the same private property on which I also hunt. There are several ridges which in the past could only be reached on foot, but now I can quickly get there on the ATV. And it also gets me there when deer season rolls around. And when it comes to hauling a couple of dozen magnum goose decoys and laydown blinds in/out of a field, the ATV is really a great help.
Several years ago, while hunting with friends in the Catskill deer woods, I watched three deer that were shot, skinned all in about five minutes using and ATV. They cut the hide of the hanging deer around its neck, pulled it down about 12 inches, then tied one end of a rope on the hide and the other end to the back of the ATV. The rest was easy. The ATV moved off slowly and pulled the hide off cleanly. You can watch this operation if you Google “skinning a deer with an ATV.” You will find a number of videos of how it is done. It is very interesting.
For two years, I joined a local ATV club because of its access to quite a few acres of North Country land, some of which I hunted. I would have liked to use it on some of the state lands I hunt, but there is none. However, there are rules for operating an ATV issued by the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) that I have outlined below.
An ATV must be registered with DMV if it’s operated anywhere in New York state, including the owner’s property, and the license plate and registration sticker must be attached to the rear of the ATV, and the operator must have the registration document whenever operating the ATV.
An ATV may not be operated anywhere in the state, except on the owner’s property, unless it’s covered by liability insurance. Youths 10-15 years old may operate an ATV only under adult supervision or on lands owned or leased by a parent or guardian or on lands where ATV use is permitted without adult supervision.
All ATV operators/passengers must wear a USDOT-approved helmet when riding, and DMV recommends a face shield or goggles and protective clothing. Wearing this safety equipment is just common sense. There are a lot of things (rocks, bushes, branches, etc.) that can quickly cause serious accidents.
These are just a few of the regulations. A complete copy can be obtained at www.dmv.ny.gov/broch/c29.htm.
There are a number of ATV safety training courses approved by DMV available through the state. Go to www.nyatvsafety.net for a list. These are excellent for new ATV riders, both children and adults.