by Dan Kleen
When I'm riding my ATV for recreation, I'm an ATV rider. When I'm sitting in my blind, I'm a hunter. But when I use my ATV to hunt, what am I?
I reckon that I'm both an ATV rider and a hunter. And as such, I need to be aware that my actions will reflect on both sports and leave an impression with both the non-riding and non-hunting publics.
To be responsible hunters, we are taught safety first, always to ask for a landowner's permission before going on their property, and to respect wildlife and the environment. Those exact same things apply to us as responsible ATV riders. So those of us who use our ATVs while hunting really need to be aware that we are representing not one, but two user groups while we are enjoying our great outdoors.
I have had the opportunity to represent and work with both hunters and ATV riders on the state and national level, and issues collectively involving hunting and ATVs are becoming more numerous and more visible.
With sales of ATVs at an all-time high, every hunting show and sportsman publication is being sponsored to some degree by ATV manufacturers and companies that sell ATV hunting accessories. Each year, more and more people discover that an ATV can help make a hunting or outdoor trip more accessible and enjoyable. With the increasing number of ATVs, however, we also see an increase in issues that can have a negative impact on our two sports.
From private landowners to state and federal agencies to others who enjoy the outdoors, our sports are becoming more visible. And even though the vast majority of hunters and ATV riders pursue our activities responsibly and follow the rules, a few irresponsible individuals are creating a negative image of both of our great sports.
All states have rules and regulations governing hunting, and a growing number of states also have legislation to regulate the use of ATVs. Not surprisingly, many states are also taking aim at issues involving both ATVs and hunting. Laws currently in place vary considerably from state to state. Some allow hunting from the saddle of your ATV, while others restrict their use to game retrieval.
As a hunting ATV rider with a physical disability, I'm pleased to report that a growing number of states recognize the value of ATVs to disabled persons. Without an ATV, my hunting would be limited to areas I can access with my pickup and wheelchair. Believe me: My ATV is a lot better in mud and snow, and going up and down hills, then my chair!
There are many hunters who have limited mobility due to illness, injury, age or disability. They depend on ATVs to hunt, fish, work and pleasure ride. Odds are that some of you may someday need to use your ATV for the same reasons.
None of us should have to worry about losing our right to use our public lands because of the actions of the few that do not follow the laws. But we do need to be concerned, and if we don't help fix the problems that exist, we will lose riding and hunting opportunities.
We have a right to responsibly use our lands, and we should work hard to keep those rights. Part of our work includes educating our friends and neighbors of the damage they can do to all of us through irresponsible and reckless behavior.
Over the years, hunters have proven to be the best stewards for wildlife, and without their efforts to improve wildlife habitats and hunting regulations, we would not have the great hunting opportunities we do. I feel very strongly that this same level of stewardship can and will be accomplished by ATV users.
We are already seeing great successes all over the country. Organized ATV and other motorized user groups are working with land managers to improve and protect our riding opportunities. We are doing this with the well-being of the environment as our major concern. After all, ATV riders love the outdoors and wildlife as much as any other recreational or environmental group.
For me, the joy of riding an ATV comes from the experience of getting close to nature. One misconception that some people in the environmental community hope to perpetuate is that ATV riders are not environmentalists. That's simply not true, and we need to combat this image. The best way for you to get involved is to join the ATVA (All Terrain Vehicle Association) as well as one or more local clubs or state associations. Already a member? Then sign up a friend and have him or her sign up a friend, too.
If you would like help starting a club in your area, contact the the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council (NOHVCC ) at www.nohvcc.org or (800) 348-6487.
As a hunter and an ATV rider, I will continue to work to preserve our environment and to improve to image of both sports. I ask all of you for your help. It is our responsibility to know the laws of the state where we are hunting or riding and to help educate others. It's the best investment we can make in our recreational future.
Reprinted with permission from the All Terrain Vehicle Association
Dan Kleen is president of both the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council and the Iowa OHV Association. He is an avid bow and rifle hunter.