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How To Maximize ATV & UTV Performance

A properly outfittedoff-road vehicle can do more than just get you to your hunting spot and your deer back to camp.

How To Maximize ATV & UTV Performance
The ability to haul sizable loads makes today’s top UTVs extremely handy for hunters. This Honda Pioneer 1000 has a towing capacity of 2,000 pounds. (Photo courtesy of Derrek Sigler)

Many of us have ATVs and/or UTVs in our garages or barns, and one of the reasons we own them is that they’re so handy in the deer woods. But are we really getting the most use out of our machines? Sure, they work great for transportation to and from the stand and are handy for hauling deer and gear. But there also are a lot of other ways in which an ATV/UTV can lead to better hunts this season, and in seasons to come. For a relatively modest amount of money, you can tweak your machine to be more useful than ever.

Let's Accessorize

Most of these machines, as they come off the showroom floor, are a blank canvas in terms of accessories. Extras allow you to customize your machine to fit your specific needs. For anyone looking to get the very most out of a machine in deer season, the right accessories are a must. But with so many choices, do some serious homework before bolting on extra parts.

One of the first areas people look into changing with any machine is the tires. ATVs and UTVs come from the dealer with good all-around tires that work decently for general terrain. However, think of your truck tires. An automaker selects a tire that’s going to help it meet certain criteria that in turn will get you to buy the truck, including fuel economy and road noise. Of course, while the tire might be a good selection for those needs, it isn’t going to help you get maximum traction under the worst off-road conditions. That takes a different design.

The same basic idea applies to ATVs and UTVs. To truly get the most from your machine, you need deeper lugs for improved traction in all types of conditions. As a group, we deer hunters face loose soil, mud and snow, depending on where we are, so a good, deep-lugged tire helps us dig in and keep moving under those conditions. It also helps keep the tires moving when using the machine for food plot work. Trust me, getting an ATV or UTV stuck with a disk attached is no fun.

Another reason to consider a tire swap is to get better puncture resistance. Many of the more aggressive tires offer this. Yes, it can add weight to the tire, but that won’t matter much with most modern machines. Besides, minimal added weight is much better than walking all the way back to the truck or camp after a flat tire leaves you stranded.

Looking specifically at UTVs, next on the list of accessories popular with deer hunters are what we often lump together as “cab parts.” These include some sort of roof, as well as windshields and doors. Such components add protection from the elements for you and increase the comfort level.

A roof is the most important of these, as it helps block the sun as well as provide a little shelter from rain and snow. A windshield adds still more protection from the elements and helps keep dust and debris out of your face as you ride. Just keep in mind that if you add a whole windshield on the front, you need to add the back panel as well. Otherwise, you’ll be pulling in dust, snow and everything else as you ride down the trail.

Some other accessories are designed to secure your stuff. For instance, there are several nice gun scabbards that can mount virtually anywhere on a machine. You can get soft, bag-style cases and hard-plastic boot-style cases. Having a gun scabbard mounted to your machine is far more secure than tossing your cased gun in the bed or on the rack.

Hunter with Yamaha UTV
For many hunters, UTVs are becoming the go-to option for hauling people, gear and game. If transporting a deer, try to wash off blood before it dries. Adding more aggressive tires, auxiliary lighting and a winch can help you set up deer camp farther off the beaten path. (Photos courtesy of Yamaha Motorsports)

Although bows and crossbows are harder to secure, Kolpin Outdoors makes several mounts that work well with them. Just remember to check your local laws first, as some states require that a bow (vertical or crossbow) be cased while in transport on an ATV/UTV.


Among the best ways to increase your vehicle’s versatility is to add a winch. Unlike those made for mounting on trucks, ATV winches cost very little; even the best winches from Warn are only a few hundred dollars. For that, you get several thousand pounds of pulling power. That makes ATV/UTV winches great for clearing fallen logs, moving permanent ground blinds, etc.

I use my winch every time I set up a ladder stand. I pull up behind the tree and use the winch to securely hold the stand to the tree while I’m affixing the straps. That added tension on the ladder really helps keep it secure when I’m climbing up to set the straps. Of course, you still need to wear a safety harness when setting up or hunting from any type of elevated stand.

One bit of advice with a winch: Be careful. Unless your winch has synthetic rope instead of cable, always carry something you can drape over the cable while it’s under tension. A cable with thousands of pounds of pressure on it can turn into a serious weapon if it snaps. However, avoiding this problem isn’t difficult. Even something as simple as a shirt draped over the middle of the tight cable can reduce the risk of it lashing out and hurting someone. We all know how important it is to be safe in the woods. Never let your guard down, people.


Scouting Tools

Every year, we see new products that make deer scouting better, quicker and more efficient. Trail cameras always amaze with innovation, and scouting software and phone apps make things easier to track exactly where you want to be and when. The fun thing is, this applies to your ATV or UTV, too. New GPS and phone applications are available that work directly with your machine to make plotting exactly where you are, what you see and where you want to hunt easier while on the go.

This is good news, because it makes it simpler to record information. That lets you spend more time doing the fun parts of scouting — watching game, looking for sign, etc. — and less time worrying about recording locations.

Yamaha recently teamed up with GPS company Magellan to offer the Yamaha Adventure Pro GPS system, a tablet-style GPS device that offers everything you’d expect in a GPS, plus tracking info from your ride, photo logging, social media sharing integration and more, all in a completely portable system. The newest Yamaha Wolverine X2 and X4 models are prewired for the system for even more enhanced integration.

Imagine it this way: You can go on a scouting trip and be able to replay the entire trip back, including data on exactly where you were, when you were there, weather data, images, video and more — and have the ability to share it with others, should you wish, through social media or other digital forms.

One scouting concern some hunters have with ATVs and UTVs is noise. Whitetails have excellent hearing, and let’s face it: Even the quietest machine creates some noise. I’ve been looking at this very issue for years and have experimented with several scenarios on my own farm. My results have shown me that deer react less to the noise of an ATV then you’d think. Unless we’re talking about 100 percent isolated deer populations, the animals you’re hunting have heard noise from engines and other vehicles. Speaking from my experiences alone, I can say that you can scout deer with an ATV and have less impact than you’d ever think.

I’ve used electric vehicles and have spooked more deer due to the sounds of the tires rolling on the ground. I’ve also rolled right up to within 10 yards of deer while driving a 1942 John Deere Model B tractor. My point is, don’t be afraid of the noise you might make using your ATV to scout. It’s honestly less impactful than you’d think.

Plotting For Deer Demise

One of the easiest ways to get the most use from your ATV is by developing food plots for whitetails. So much has been written on this subject that I won’t bore you with rehashing all of it here. Let’s just hit the high notes.

One of the most important features an ATV/UTV offers for food plotters is remote accessibility. With one of these machines, you can go places that are hard to reach with a tractor, truck or other big machine, if not impossible. And with the plethora of implements available these days, you can really hammer in some secret “sweet spot” plots.

One of the best systems I’ve used for working up a food plot with an ATV is the Kolpin Outdoors DirtWorks System. This versatile system starts out with a hydraulic 3-point hitch that attaches to your machine’s battery for power and connects only by way of the 2-inch receiver on the back of the machine. From there, you can select from a number of interchangeable tools to attach to the machine and control them from the cockpit. This includes a chisel plow for tough dirt, a harrow disk and more. The whole setup is a significant investment, but still cheaper than buying a tractor.

If you’re looking for something smaller, maybe to work a small plot near your stand to hold deer as they transition, the Groundhawg Maxx harrow plow is a good fit. It’s a 6-blade disc plow that cuts a 21-inch-wide swath. It plugs directly into your receiver and uses the machine’s weight to cut into the ground. I’ve been using one for years, and it works great. You do need ramps to get the machine up off the ground to install it on site, but that’s not a big deal.

I’ve also found that ATVs and UTVs make food plot maintenance much easier. A small portable sprayer makes weeding and watering a breeze. You can buy spreaders that attach to the rear of the machine for seeds or fertilizer. The important thing to remember about ATVs and food plots is that you have access to the most remote terrain you’re hunting. Take advantage of that by using your machine to manage whitetails.


Hauling out your whitetail after the hunt is much easier, obviously, with a UTV or ATV. How many times have we heard of a hunter who has a fatal heart attack while trying to drag out his buck? As more machines are becoming available with 2-inch receivers, the popularity of gambrels that lock into the back of the machine is on the increase. Think of how easy field dressing could be with one of those and a winch.

When you’re transporting your machine to and from your hunting area, be sure to do so safely. Whether in the back of the truck or on a trailer, make sure the ramps you use to get it to the ground are secure. And while in transit, check those tie-downs. A word to the wise: When tying the machine down, put a twist in the strap. I learned this from a veteran truck driver. The twist keeps the wind from whipping the strap and causing it to rub on things. A strap that rubs will eventually break, which of course can lead to disaster.


If you’re going to truly get the most use out of your ATV or UTV, it obviously has to run. So maintenance matters.

Always check your oil before using the machine. Make sure it’s at the level it should be, and change it periodically. I like to do so annually. While I might not use the original factory oil, I do use the weight and type called for in the owner’s manual.

Also, periodically check your radiator fluid. Overheating can be an issue on hot days, especially when you’re doing serious stuff such as working in food plots. If you go for long periods not running the machine, use a fuel system stabilizer and a battery tender.

Another part of maintaining the machine is cleaning it. Mud, blood and other nastiness can lead to bad things, including rust and mold. If you live in a northern climate, as I do, and deer season runs late in the year, blood can be an issue. Do yourself a favor; don’t wait to wash it off your machine. Load it up and head to the local car wash if you have to.

Other parts to clean include the air filter. Keep in mind that a clean, well-maintained ATV/UTV is less likely to leave you stranded in the backcountry, or at home with no machine to take to the woods. Breakdowns stink. I know.

In Conclusion

A clean, well-maintained and properly accessorized ATV or UTV is something every serious deer hunter can use and benefit from. It will make your hunts better, too. There’s the old saying: “Hunt smarter, not harder.” But I slightly disagree with that; I use my machines to hunt smarter, so I can hunt harder.

A farmer friend uses a new, state-of-the-art tractor equipped with full GPS and multiple plotting systems. He can map out his property to get the exact perfect placement of corn planted to maximize every inch of available real estate. He said he’ll use whatever is at his disposal to get the maximum return each fall. I hear ya, brother.

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