By Ross Seyfried
The autumn had been a strange one that began with violent wind in early November, followed by deep cold and then deep snow.
The elk we found were remnants of a huge population that had migrated to lower, better climes. As a guide it is often necessary for me to do whatever it takes to find game for a client and this time it meant a long, difficult climb through the snow. Now I was faced with the fruits of our effort: several hundred pounds of prime venison far from home.
Normally I would have saddled the packhorses and led them back up the mountain, but experience and high insurance premiums that reflected the genuine danger associated with livestock caused me to abandon the warm, fuzzy kind of horse years ago. Their replacement was a new iron horse, an ATV. They worked exceptionally well, but, like all things, they do have their limits.
I was so sure that no ATV would make the return trip to the elk that I started its bigger brother—a 22,000-pound, 100-horsepower Caterpillar bulldozer. It would go there, but it was going to be a long, slow, rattling and way-into-dark trip. So, just for the fun of it I started the Honda and warmed its engine gently. The trip was six miles, all uphill, in about 18 inches of new snow. This was a dodge that would not work, but laziness was the mother of my invention and I did not relish the slow, difficult journey on the Cat.
With a very simple plan (low-range automatic and pin the throttle) I pointed the yellow horse up the mountain. It could maintain about 18-20 mph and to my amazement floated and plowed its way up the steepest initial climb. About 20 minutes later, in a cloud of snow, we blasted to a stop on the old logging landing, right beside the elk. An hour later she hung in the barn and my feet were propped beside the fire. It was very fine; the six-hour trip in the Cat was reduced to almost nothing, not to mention the rather ugly thought of four round-trips in a backpack!
Retrieving big game is only one small way hunters use the new iron horses. They are wonderful, gentle packhorses that deliver camps, supplies and hunters to campsites almost anywhere a road leads. Once there, they eagerly deliver water from the stream and delight in skidding small trees for firewood. Unlike the other horse, you do not have to feed them at night, nor wrangle them at 4 a.m. Yes, they will be waiting quietly when you want them in the morning.
Big-game hunting in the West is certainly not the only kind of hunt the ATV enjoys. There is no better way to transport duck and goose decoys to the edge of the water, whether the terrain be a beach or marsh.
Beyond hunting itself, the ATV is extremely useful in the land of habitat enhancement. With their myriad of available attachments they can till soil, plant seed, mow brush, improve trails, carry nesting structures and achieve a host of other tasks.
While in my opinion ATVs should never be used as a hunting platform, they do form the perfect companion for the hunter. They can pack and deliver hunters to hunting areas where they will actually hunt on foot or from a stand. They are a relatively new, wonderful friend, which if used wisely and gently could be an asset not only to hunters but to the hunting heritage.
Ross Seyfried has been an editorial contributor to numerous outdoor publications. He served as a licensed professional hunter in Zambia and Tanzania and is now a licensed guide and outfitter in Oregon. In addition, Seyfried won the World Pistol Championship in 1981.