It's no secret that side-by-side all-terrain vehicles, or UTVs, have become a part of the hunting landscape in a major way. They are great tools for land and wildlife management, and for traveling into the areas in which we hunt.
Like rifles, shotguns and bows, there is no shortage of brands and models to choose from. And just like buying a new bow, it ultimately comes down to personal taste.
First things first
You wouldn't go down to the local feed store to buy a new bow, would you? Well, maybe if they had a full-line archery pro shop, but I digress.
You're more than likely going to go to an archery pro shop to get the right bow that fits you and have it set up for you correctly, right? Not to knock on feed stores, but that is not the place to go buying a UTV, even though they do often sell them and the prices seem awfully attractive.
The fact of the matter is this — you really should go to a regular dealership to buy a new UTV. The major brands that are sold only through dealer networks have the latest in proven designs, factory warranties and, perhaps the most important factor, a trained service department stocked with parts when something inevitably breaks.
We'll break things down into the major areas of interest when it comes to buying a UTV — engine size, suspension, cargo capacity, passenger room and cost. I know for many of you that last one is a real sticker, but let's look at it from a perspective of getting the very most for your money.
So how big of an engine do you really need? You can find UTVs with engine sizes ranging from less than 400cc's all the way up to 1,000cc's. There is an old saying that goes, "There's no replacement for displacement," meaning that bigger engines are always better. That's not always the case.
You want to get enough engine size to do what you routinely want and need to do, without putting a major strain on the engine. It's when you overwork the engine that it starts breaking down faster. If you do a lot of plowing, either snow or dirt, then you really should consider a bigger engine, something in the 700-class or bigger. If you're not planning on a lot of work, save some money and go with a smaller machine.
You'll hear a lot of debate about single-cylinder engines vs. V-twins. Some folks swear up and down that if you don't have a twin, you're not going to be happy.
It's a toss-up really. A V-twin, like a Can-Am Commander 800, or Kawasaki Teryx 800 is going to be smooth, and powerful. A big single-cylinder, like the Yamaha Viking, Wolverine, or Honda's Pioneer 700 is going to offer a ton of low-end torque.
Suspension discussion begs the question, what are you planning to do? There is a plethora of machines out there that offer a decent price and a lot of work-ability, but they often don't have much in the way of suspension. The more adventurous you are, the more suspension you need.
Take Yamaha's UTVs, for example. The Viking is a work-oriented machine with decent suspension for average trail riding and adventuring. Their new Wolverine has much more advanced suspension that has more adjustability and is designed for serious adventure in much more extreme terrain. The same can be said for Kawasaki's outstanding Mule PRO FX and FXT models versus their sportier Teryx line.
If you really want the extreme end of the spectrum, Polaris' Ranger line has pretty good suspension for most applications, but their RzR line of sport machines can really provide a plush ride. There are quite a few hunters now going with the sport-oriented RzR machines for hunting. If you've got to get there, might as well make it a fun trip, right?
As hunters, we always have stuff to haul. How much you have to haul will be a big factor in determining which machine you should buy.
Machine's like Kawasaki's Mule PRO-FX and Arctic Cat's Prowler HDX have large cargo beds with a 1,000lb. capacity.
RzR's have a very small cargo area, but can haul enough room and capacity for a spike camp.
Not all machines have a dump-bed cargo box, but many do.
With most UTVs, with the exception of the Polaris Ace line, there will be room for at least one passenger. How many of your buddies do you usually haul around? With some machines having passenger space for up to six, there are quite a few ways to haul everyone as well as your gear too.
There is a premium to be paid for passenger room, however. A few machines, like the Mule PRO-FXT and Honda's convertible Pioneer 700 and 1000, let you convert rear cargo capacity into seating. But you do lose cargo capacity.
Bigger machines, like Yamaha's Viking VI and the Polaris Ranger Crew models retain the regular cargo capacity, but you end up with a machine that is over 12-feet long.
In the end, it all comes down to what can you afford? That's where the non-major branded machines get you. Sure that price tag looks appealing, but if you have to buy another machine again in short order because it broke down and can't be repaired, it's not so great. Some great budget-friendly machines are Polaris' full-size 570 Ranger at $9,999, and Honda's Pioneer 700 at $10,299.
A great option for hunters is the new Polaris 570 Ranger EPS Hunter's Edition, which adds popular accessories like camo, gun scabbards and a factory-installed 3,500 winch, for $12,599. The hunter's packages are becoming popular these days, offering a saving on accessories that we often buy anyway. Can Am is now offering Mossy Oak Hunter Editions of their popular Commander UTV and budget-friendly Outlander L ATV.
If you're looking for the definitive answer on which UTV is right for you, the only one that can answer that is you. Take a look at these five areas and decide which are most important to you and then go to a dealership to see what works. There are lots of great options for you.