We had visions of taking our four-wheeler everywhere but found out what kind of day we were going to have shortly after we left the plowed road on the lake. We spent the rest of the day loading, unloading, pushing, pulling my 660 Yamaha and fishing very little. We watched several times as a local fisherman on a tracked four-wheeler went anywhere he wanted with ease.
The final decision maker for me was when he came over and took my partner and all of our gear back to the cabin and returned to help me get my ice-covered Yamaha back to the safety of solid ground and a well-deserved rest. Having been the lift-and-push-guy on more than one occasion while using a snowmobile in similar conditions, and currently sitting on a quad I needed for hunting in Wisconsin’s Bluff country, my options were clear. I needed to build a four-wheeler that would get me up and down the hill to set stands and recover animals in the fall, let me ride trails during the summer, and convert to a winter warrior without putting too big a smile on my banker’s face. The four tracks would give me four times the surface area of a snowmobile’s tracks, and the liquid-cooled engine would allow me to enjoy the same performance regardless of the temperature. And did I mention POWER STEERING? This would be a machine that could handle any terrain or weather conditions while not taking the top layer off my driveway. Plus, it would be convertible from tracks to tires in a reasonable amount of time.
I started researching my project by visiting Bobby Donahue at Donahue Super Sports in Wisconsin Rapids, WI to discuss my options and take a look at models that work best with a track system. Bobby is a world-champion snowmobile racer in several different classes, so he knows a lot about getting around in the snow.
After we looked at all my options I decided on a Can Am XT 650 along with an Apache Track system and a power steering module. The Can Am comes with everything you would ever want to put on a 4 wheeler along with a superior ride. So, the machine I started with came equipped with a Warn winch, radial tire, alloy rims, and a camo finish.
I realized the tracks would knock some horsepower out of the wheeler but felt the 650 would have plenty of top end after we installed them to get me on the ice and also be able to cover plenty of field edges while shed hunting in the late winter. The Can Am came stock with two levels of power steering and a module included in the track kit gave me an additional level that made cornering with the tracks a whole lot easier at any speed.
Troy Donahue made short work of installing the tracks and setting up the Cam Am to run true on flat ground. The tracks and tires can be swapped out in about an hour after they are set up properly. Changing the power steering to normal settings is done from the vehicle’s console with a simple press of a button. I replaced the stock rear springs with a heavier coil to offset the load I added with the rear rack and allow me to put my gear in the back basket.
My next stop was the Gander Mountain of Wausau, WI to get a few items on my must-have list for the Ice Warrior. Store manager and walleye professional Tom Keenan was excited to be a part of the project and provided some welcome direction when it came to electronics.
I wanted a large GPS unit mounted on the console to provide mapping and waypoint navigation. Tom offered a number of options and I settled on model that gave us a good-sized screen at an attractive price and accepted Navionics Hot Spots Data Chip. This was a unit that typically would be used on a boat, so seeing the screen in the daylight would be a lot easier.
We also picked up a RAM mounting system for the GPS, a set of Koplin Gun Grips to use as an Auger holder and a Rear Drop Basket which we’ll discuss later. I purchased the Can Am Windshield to add some protection from the wind and cold as well as extra protection for the GPS unit.
The RAM mounting systems allowed us the put the GPS unit at the perfect angle so it could be easily viewed and didn’t obstruct the instrumentation and controls from the driver. We also added heated hand grips when we had the handle bars off to install the windshield. I was able to hide the wires to neaten up the look and protect them where they would have been exposed.
Adding the rear rack drop basket offered some extra challenges. The OEM rack isn’t designed to hold a load being cantilevered off the back of the machine. The rack we purchased would have also covered the rear storage compartment, making it inaccessible.
We took our project to Furo Racecraft in Stevens Point, WI to get some help with the rack. Harold Furo is a one man shop who isn’t limited to any certain skill area. His motto is “Custom Doesn’t Come in a Box,” and we wanted custom!
Harold essentially cut most of the aftermarket drop rack apart and welded it back together in a configuration that allowed access to the vehicle’s rear compartment. He also built a very clean-looking rear strut to brace the basket to vehicle’s receiver hitch, letting the frame heft most of the load carried in the drop basket. He also added a connection point to the receiver allowing me to hook the vehicle to an ice shanty or sled with a rope or strap. The finishing touch was a cushion for the rack (a treestand seat I had in my shop).
We thought we may have challenged Furo when I explained what I had in mind to hold the Ice Auger securely in place, but he made it look simple once he got his hands on a piece of Moly tubing and a welder. We completed the parts Furo made for us with prep and paint and reassembled everything.
We returned to Furo Racecraft and worked with Harold to design some custom decals to for the companies that helped put this project together. We started by removing the decals that come stock on the machine to clean up the overall appearance. The factory “Outlander” decals were replaced with “Icelander” to add a small personal touch.
Now that the Ice Warrior was completed and it was time to put out in the field for some testing. Wisconsin is currently having one of the mildest winters on record with as little as 2″ on the ground in the central region and none to the south. Most lakes have questionable ice for safe vehicle travel making ATV’s the mode of choice.
We took the Can Am out to a remote section of private land that had some ponds that didn’t see much pressure once the snow falls to test it in virgin powder and on an untouched marsh. We put the Ice Warrior through every possible terrain we could find and nothing really challenged its ability to continue on.
The following weekend we were invited to do a photo shoot with local photographer, Brian Howe. Brian is a very talented individual who specializes in shooting ATV’s, cars racing on ice and “anything that is different.” When I dropped the ramp on the trailer Brain said, “That looks just a little bit naughty,” and reached for his camera. Brian was able to get us permission to use the back area of Gollon Brothers Wholesale Live Bait where they have several ponds and large sand hills.
We able to test the Ice Warrior on most terrain types at Gollons and found it as sure footed as it looks. I was able to kick the rear out when I was in two-wheel drive and could go straight up the steep sand hills with a simple flip of a switch. The vehicle held onto the side hills as if they were flat ground.
I took it off the beaten path and out into a swamp to see how it would do in a cedar swamp and shallow creek. I was half way through the creek when I realized I still had it in 2 wheel drive. I was able to turn around and drive back through the creek and across the swamp barely hitting the throttle.
Overall we feel we built one well-thought-out ice, snow, mud, sand, dirt, and trail machine with mostly bolt-on parts. It transforms from ICE WARRIOR to trail machine in about an hour, ready to clear trails and set stands. It fits in a 6 X 10 enclosed trailer.
We would like to thank everyone who helped us with this build and photos shoot. Donahue Super Sports, Gander Mountain Of Wausau, Wisconsin, Furo Racecraft, Brian Howe Photography, Gollon Brothers Wholesale Live Bait, Scott Worzella, Greg Johnson and Al Olski.
The Ice Warrior project was an independent undertaking by freelance writer, Eugene Mancl, of Wisconsin. Eugene is an avid outdoorsman and a regular contributor to the Field & Stream website. He’d be the first to tell you he could have built this machine with components from most of the major ATV and ATV accessories manufacturers. Mancl says: “The main idea behind this story was to get you thinking the next time you’re looking at your ATV in the garage on a less than perfect day on the ice or in the field. Go see your dealer and show him what you have in mind and build your own ICE WARRIOR!”
Eugene Mancl is an avid outdoorsman and a regular contributor to the F&S site. When he came to us with his idea for building what he called, “the ultimate winter ATV,” and asked if he could put the Field & Stream logo on it, we said, “Sure, as long as you build a serious machine.” We think the Ice Warrior qualifies. Click through the gallery to see the step-by-step creation of this truly all-terrain vehicle. –The Eds