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Of all the innovations that have shaped modern big-game hunting in the past 20 years or so, perhaps none have had more of an impact – both literally and figuratively – on the hunting landscape than the rise of the ATV. Judging by the hunting shows on television and the countless quad-hauling trucks we encounter every fall you might think we’d become a nation of knobby-tired centaurs.

However (and there’s always a however), there remains a sizeable contingent of hunters who believe hunting should remain a leg-borne activity and if ATVs are to be used then they damn sure need to stick to the roads.

So it comes as no real surprise that “Four-Wheel Driver’s Ed” in the December issue of F&S provoked this letter…
“As an avid Idaho mule deer hunter I appreciate true wilderness and untrampled terrain. A pristine environment means a strong eco-system which is great for wildlife,hikers and hunters. As a true outdoorsman you love nature and adopt a leave no trace attitude. When I saw in your December issue on page 52-53 the article,Four-Wheel Driver’s Ed, I was furious. ANYONE who gets out into the backcountry has seen for themselves the massive damage done by ATVs. Not all ATV owners are irresponsible, but with great accuracy you can safely lump over 90% of them as over- weight gear heads who do not care about ripping up a meadow, running through spawning beds, leaving beer cans and cigarette butts and scarring up the terrain. They should be used on existing roads only and not taken off road. Your article instructs them on how to drive over logs, climbing and descending hazardous hills and basically how to drive off road. It is very apparent that you and your magazine are hypocrites and do not support untrampled backcountry where you don’t hear or smell vehicles.”

Thomas Kehrer_

Mr. Kehrer raises some legitimate points. There’s no question that ATVs – when mis-used – tear up the environment. The only real question there is whether you fall into the “it’s a small minority” camp or the “most of them are ignorant lead-footed jackasses” school of thought.

But there are deeper underlying issues at the heart of the ATV debate as well, issues that – to me, anyway -speak to the core of why we hunt in the first place: Do ATVs cheapen the hunting experience? Do they degrade it? Enhance it? Particularly on public land, do we have a “right” to drive ATVs into the woods? Are ATVs simply a natural progression in the evolution of the modern hunter or are they one more symptom of a culture that places more value on results, ease and convenience than on hard work, sacrifice and the quality of the experience itself? Is the magazine doing its readers, the environment and the hunting tradition a disservice by publishing stories on ATVs or is it simply reflecting the interests and values of a changing demographic?

I have to admit I personally have very little real-world experience with ATVs. I’m a public-land hunter who lives in a state that has banned them on its public hunting areas. I’ve never hunted with one so I’m in no position to say one way or the other.

What do you guys think?