Hunting Ethics And OHVs

Published in the July 2014 Issue July 2014 Powersport News

I have utilized motorcycles/ATVs as a part of hunting in Idaho for some 20 years now. During that time, I have watched the numbers of registered vehicles climb from around 15,000 to approximately 136,000 today. While the numbers of vehicles/users has increased, access has fallen quite dramatically. On USFS lands alone, roughly 20 percent of the motorized trail miles in Idaho have been lost during that same time period.

While it’s an egregious loss of public land access, I can say without hesitation we are our own worst enemies.

Know Where You Can Legally Ride

Nothing makes us look worse than some idiot riding an OHV on a trail designated as non-motorized. I’ve experienced it more times than I can recall and every time I have had a chance to discuss it with the offender, I hear the same thing: “I didn’t know. I thought this trail was open to OHVs.”

Whether they knew or not, it’s still not a viable excuse to ride on trails closed to their use. Each and every national forest has a document called the Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM). That document is the Bible for where you can and cannot ride.

I’ll tell you from personal experience the MVUMs leave something to be desired in terms of a navigational tool. There are precious few landmarks on the map and rarely does a sign on the ground match anything you’re looking at on the MVUM.

If you’re fortunate enough to live in Idaho, there’s a website to help bridge the gap between navigation and legal opportunities on USFS lands. It can be found at The website has multiple layers of data that make finding legal opportunities a relatively simple proposition. If you don’t live in Idaho, then I suggest you also acquire a Forest “visitor” map to accompany the MVUM. Between the two of them, you should be able to identify where, how, and when you can use your OHV during hunting season.

Be Considerate of Others

The legal opportunities for OHV use are generally pretty black/white. The “grey” area of OHV use during hunting season can also make a difference though.

As an example, very few hunters would ever consider shooting from their car/truck/SUV. Besides the fact that it’s illegal in most states, it also doesn’t meet MOST hunters’ definition of fair chase. I would encourage each of you to think of your OHV in the same way. Use OHVs as a means of transportation to and from your hunting area. DON’T use them as a chase vehicle or shooting platform. Doing so perpetuates negative stereotypes associated with many people’s views of OHV use in general and in association with hunting specifically.

It would also go a long way towards bolstering the image of OHV use if we were to all “yield” the right of way while using our OHVs during hunting season. I’m not aware of any rules that mandate as much, but it’s certainly a good idea if we want to maintain public land access.

Horses in particular can spook around OHVs and it’s a good idea when you encounter one to pull off the trail as much as is reasonably safe, turn the machine off and remove your helmet. In addition to helping keep horses calm, it affords you the chance to have a positive verbal exchange with the rider of said horse. Who knows? You might even get some tips on where to find game.

Get Involved

OHV clubs and organizations are generally the folks most likely to preserve your ability to continue using your OHV on public lands for hunting. Clubs and organizations provide an opportunity to be heard by policy makers on a local, state and federal level. Joining a pro-OHV organization or club is the single most important thing you can do to maintain your current, motorized hunting opportunities. Even if you aren’t an active member, the collective good associated with club “dues” and donations works on your behalf. It allows your otherwise (mostly) silent voice to be heard.

Also, clubs and organizations frequently get involved in trail maintenance efforts. They provide a direct path for the average guy to make a difference on the very trail he rides. You know those trails you like to ride in the fall in pursuit of bucks and bulls? Well, someone has to maintain them. If you leave the responsibility solely to the land manager, don’t be surprised if it isn’t available to you long term. It’s much harder for a land manager to eliminate an opportunity for someone who has stood beside them and shared in the labor necessary to keep trails open.

It’s Up To Us

I like to think the world is run by the 80 percent of people who fall in the middle of any given issue. When it comes to using OHVs as a part of hunting, there are 10 percent who love them (you and I), 10 percent who hate them (environmental groups mostly) and the 80 percent who largely decide how things shake out (land managers/policy makers).

Our job as OHV enthusiasts is to make sure the 80 percent that influence our opportunities view us in a positive light. Behaving in an ethical manner is the most sure fireway to ensure that happens.

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