How much should hunters with ATVs be regulated?


The hunters stalked their game for hours, carefully taking note of scat and tracks the herd left behind. They hunted on foot through the West's backcountry wilds, through brush and over mountains. A rumble in the distance sounded like the characteristic clap of a Rocky Mountain thunderstorm. It spooked the elk. Over the hill emerged a firearm-clad off-road vehicle rider.

Many hunters contend they should be protected from noisy, ungulate-frightening machines when out seeking their prey. And in numerous states they are, with rules keeping hunters on ATVs tied to major roadways instead of backcountry paths. But ATV advocates want those restrictions changed, and across the West lawmakers continue to propose bills favoring motorized uses for hunting.

In Idaho, the issue is

coming to a head, where a back-and-forth on whether hunters can use ATVs to access wilderness is underway.

This spring, Idaho's Senate considered but ultimately tabled two bills that would have prevented Fish and Game from regulating off-highway vehicle hunters who use the brawn of a machine to reach their prey rather than hunting by foot or horse. The bills failed, but Fish and Game came back in July requesting public comment on a new rule that would impose motorized vehicle restrictions on trophy hunters (for moose, sheep and mountain goats) where the restrictions already apply to big game hunters (deer, elk and bear).

A 2002 regulation currently governs the state's motorized hunters. It prevents hunters from using the ATV trails that recreational off-roaders do in 31 hunting units south of the Salmon River. So hunters with OHVs are currently chained to roadways used by full-size automobiles while hunters that hike or ride horses have greater access to backcountry.

The shelved bills, 1015 and 1016, would have stripped Idaho Fish and Game's ability to regulate where hunters can drive their vehicles in a third of its 99 hunting units.

Lew Pence, a 70-year-old hunter from, Gooding, Idaho, voiced his concern and desire to keep the hunting woods quiet when he testified before Idaho's House and Senate resource committees in a February hearing on the bills: The real hunter did not hunt wildlife with vehicle use, he said.

While Fish and Game is currently taking comment on the proposed rule, an Idaho natural resources interim committee plans to explore solutions to the previously shelved bills. But too often, trying to troubleshoot a balance between non-motorized hunters and off-highway vehicle hunters is like spotting a gray wolf through the scope.

Non-motorized hunters wonder whether use of a vehicle to access game animals like elk and deer in the backcountry should be allowed under a "fair chase" ethic. They also argue technology takes the skill out of hunting. But advocates of ATV-based hunting say the vehicles are not a hunting aid like dogs or bait, just a means of getting to hunting grounds. So a few motorized vehicle hunters that act out are causing debate when most may be law-abiding ones.

But fish and game commissioners cite impacts to wildlife populations: Elk and deer were subject to greater harvest with more hunters in the backcountry.

The issue over motorized hunting is not new to the West; Idaho is simply the next locus of action where hunters must weigh in on the appropriateness of off-highway vehicles in the backcountry.

Other states have struggled with the same dilemma and also shelved proposals, leaving the matter unresolved as the number of OHV users increases.

In 2003, Nevada hunters traveling by foot blamed hunters on vehicles for dashed hunting opportunities and public land damage. A group in the state then proposed a regulation that would have prevented hunters and trappers carrying a hunting weapon from straying more than 25 yards off an established road.

That idea was pushed to the side. But the same arguments rose elsewhere like an ORV dust trail—hunters using off-road vehicle users were cast with blame over newly-dug trails on public lands. Individuals hunting by foot or on horse had their experience ruined by the resounding hum of an off-road vehicle chasing their carefully stalked prey away.

Complicating Idaho's debate is the ability of campers, landscape chasers and berry-pickers operating off-road vehicles recreationally to travel on trails and paths though hunters using those same vehicles cannot. The rules of the game aren't the same for all, and lawmakers remain mum on the topic.

Whether or not the new Fish and Game rule goes through, the issue won't be left in that dust—Idaho Conservation League conservation associate Brad Smith says the debate "seems to be kind of a perennial issue in the Idaho Legislature the last few years and I'm not certain how much longer it will go on until the legislature finally passes something."

Kimberly Hirai is an intern at High Country News.

Image of off-road vehicle rider courtesy marada.

Robb Cadwell
Robb Cadwell
Jul 29, 2011 06:38 AM
There's a similar face off at the federal level with the Safari Club and many off road driving advocates supporting HR1518 which would remove most of the restrictions for off road driving on BLM land even that under consideration for Wilderness designation, and many hunting and fishing organisations apposing it.

At issue is access to 48 million acres.

I'd break on the side of no access and the same rules for all users. We have a dwindling amount of roadless areas, better for it to be difficult for me to go there but the places remain. Knowing that there are places with elk on public land that remain unhunted simply by being remote preserves opportunity for my children.
Charlie Hohn
Charlie Hohn
Jul 29, 2011 10:34 AM
It is time to address the actual issues here. Is the issue the very presence of ATVs? Or, more likely, is the issue that they are too loud, cause pollution, and that some people abuse them and cause erosion? Can we fix those problems without outright bans? Are there good, Ducks-Unlimited-style ATV based conservation, advocacy, and reasonable use groups? If not, why not? The same goes for hunting. On the one hand, we want to be humane and fair (not just for ethical reasons, catching the weak or stupid ungulates strengthens the herd after all) but we also want wise management and continuation of hunting as a source of food and income for the rural poor. Or at least, that is what i want... and it seems reasonable.

I don't think someone taking an ATV (especially a quiet one, if such exists) into a hunting ground to harvest a deer to feed his family is what is destroying our public land. We all know who is - irresponsible and inconsiderate people who drive around in circles in fragile habitats, leading to flash floods and dust storms in the future. Let's deal with them.
Pamela Bond
Pamela Bond Subscriber
Aug 01, 2011 12:49 PM
You know the old saying. "A few rotten eggs..." Because of the vast amount of land that is currently accessible to OHV riders in the West it would be near impossible to just deal with the rotten eggs. 1)There is definitely not enough law enforcement personnel to keep an eye on all riders and 2)the riders don't even have some sort of identification on there machines for others to do self-policing. So how do we deal with the rotten eggs, spoil the fun for everyone.
The Taylors
The Taylors Subscriber
Aug 02, 2011 09:00 PM
one october i was quail hunting in a roadless (i thought) canyon here in central arizona. i was hiking/hunting downcanyon when lo and behold a caravan of rockcrawlers were negotiating the roadless canyon bottom with their highly modified vehicles. not only did they ruin our hunt but they were blazing a new "route". ohv hunting is a lose/lose situation. the vehicles disturb the habitat (noise and trampled landscape) and the operators get no physical xercise.
Paul  Higgins
Paul Higgins
Aug 05, 2011 06:58 PM
They need to be banned altogether. As "humanity" encroaches even more on the Wildlife areas, they must be preserved as that-end of story. If hunters are SO lazy that they cannot get off their fat butts & walk, then they should not be allowed into the spaces. The wildlife has no where else to go,period! It is their last habitat and it is fast disappearing. So called "hunters" who need to get their "rocks" off by killing something, need to be sent overseas to releive the troops who have done several tours of duty & just want to return to their families, Unfortunately, these "macho-men" would not stand anything shooting back at them, so they focus on defenceless animals-wow big pr**ks rule!Laws should be made to restrict any "hunter" from using ATV's, assult weapons etc. and be restricted to a bolt action rifle, pistol(if they miss & have to put the animal out of it's misery)& a knife. They then will have to carry out anything they kill between a pole, tough luck dudes and if you wish to hunt, then spend some energy! As for those who are "impared", get a rocking horse & trap, or learn to ride one if you wish to kill another animal,ok! Not everyone can fly a Jumbo Jet , play a violin, it's your karma for this lifetime,ok! If not, then take up bowling or some other recreation like rock climbing where you have a rope. We all have to deal with restriction in this life so there just has to be some things that you must accept,sorry if I sound realistic. Voters have to remove those local & federal politicians who do not care about anything except their own funding from the corporations & pharmacectical companies etc.-vote in some conscious representatives who will do what you, the voter, tells them. Just look at the latest mess we are in because of a few who have no idea of how to govern. Back to you before the next election and stand up to this current situation, oh well if thats what you want, then, meekly, it's ok.What a bunch of pussy cats!
The Taylors
The Taylors Subscriber
Aug 07, 2011 09:01 PM
hey paul higgins, i don't know if you directed your tirade at me a hunter ("so called "hunters" who need to get their "rocks" off by killing something") is offensive. take a biology lesson and you will learn man evolved as a carnivore and what's that mean paul, well paul, that means he takes an animals life to eat meat! i hunt on foot, occasionally horse or mule back. i served in vietnam (drafted) and both my sons are iraq war vets. multiple tours. you are offensive toward hunters and evolved humans who eat meat. you get way off subject and include all kinds of gripes in your tirade. we do agree on atvs should not be used to hunt, but jump in the water paul and cool off and try to stick to one subject.....
Paul  Higgins
Paul Higgins
Aug 08, 2011 02:52 PM
Mr taylor.
I think you missed my point or maybe I just wrote incorrectly. You are exactly the hunter that protects & works the ecology and principles of hunting. What I object to is these idiots, who simply go out and shoot at anything that moves, most likely leaves the animal wounded, telescopic sights etc, to lazy to get off their ATV and doesn't give, well you know what I mean. I'm not suggesting our military are the problem, I'm saying these clowns should be bundled up & sent over to releive them-that was all. I'm glad that you hunt for a purpose, to eat,not just the thrill of the kill, a big difference.Heavens, last season you could here the noise and it sounded like a battle with automatic weapons being fired- hopefully they were shooting at each other [;-)! Be careful out there as they may be color blind!