Why an ATV Over a Horse

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Why an ATV Over a Horse?
Hunting season is upon us here in Colorado and estimates for ourundefined local forest range upwards of 38,000 hunters in our area. Wow, that’s a lot of folks with guns! Obviously many of these folks are purist hunters who disdain anyone who may not have the desire or be physically able to walk the miles needed to stalk the wily elk and deer. Other hunters will drag huge horse trailers with built in living quarters for hundreds of miles just so they have something to feed, untangle, and listen to all night long. Still others will load ATVs on the back of their pickups or flat-bed trailers and mount the steel steeds rather than the hay-burners. All have the same objective but different approaches.

With the onslaught of hunters come the inevitable accusations of user conflict. Of course the Forest Service welcomes these complaints and has even gone so far as to advertise a “hot line” number to make it easier to complain. The most coveted complaints are those against the ATV rider. Foot hunters don’t like horse hunters, and horse hunters don’t like jeep hunters, and jeep hunters could care less. But everybody who doesn’t own and ride an ATV hates ATV hunters. Why? I dunno, maybe toy envy. Maybe just the realization that an ATV makes hunting more efficient and more enjoyable than tramping about on foot or on the back of a jug-headed horse. No matter, we will be dealing with these complaints for the next 6 months, and with the wonderful “hot line” the Forest Service will have documentation to “prove” that ATV should be subject to more and more restrictions. Even our local, but nationally distributed green rag, the High County News, called and requested an interview to try to further widen the perceived chasm between the purist hunter and the ATV hunter. I told them where to go. I won’t even talk to them.

With that in mind, one of our club members, Kim Kokesh, returned from a horseback hunting trip to New Mexico and filed this story for our local club bulletin, the Thunder Clap. It says it all and I reprint it here for your enjoyment.

Hunting & Horses

I just got back from a week long elk hunt in New Mexico where horses instead of ATVs were used to provide transportation. Just imagine, me a rabid motorhead as described by several Forest Service employees (including Supervisor Bob Storch), riding a horse. What a trip!

Being a so called motorhead gave me an opportunity to look at the claimed advantages of using a horse over an ATV for hunting. Guess what, there aren’t many. Their purpose and functionality are about equal. Granted you can go more places on a horse but this also raises an ethical issue.

Let’s take a look at the similarities and differences between a horse and ATV.

Fuel: The horse eats grass the ATV eats gas. Both pollute the air. A horse 24 hours a day and an ATV only when the motor is running. The horse pollutes the ground with urine and poop, the ATV doesn’t do either, but some claim it pollutes the air. Horse by-products may be biodegradable but remember this may take years. We’ve all seen camps where people have used horses. They’re easy to spot. Trees are scarred up from ropes and horses eating bark. Horse pucky is all over the place. Leftover hay is often left to rot over the next couple of years. In recent years, the worst example of this was the outlaw outfitter working out of Alkali Basin which the club helped the BLM to bust.

Carrying capacity:
The ATV is the winner here with front and rear racks. Most machines can carry the rider PLUS 200 to 300 pounds of stuff. The horse can carry the rider and safely carry 40 pounds extra stuff. When packing a horse you should not pack much over 200 pounds total dead weight (1/2 elk & no rider) on one or you will end up crippling the animal if traveling very far.

Care: You take care of a horse the whole time it is breathing. That means feeding and watering, cleaning the feet, doctoring cuts, brushing it out before and after use, and making sure that it doesn’t get tangled up in a lead or picket rope. To care for the ATV you kick the tires, check the oil and pour gas in it when needed. In both cases you have to bring the fuel to camp whether it be it in a gas can or bales of hay (weed free I might add) and sacks of grain.

Travel distance: You can go farther on an ATV than a horse in a day plus the ATV isn’t tired the next day when its time to go again.

Ground disturbance:
ATVs have been accused of tearing up trails especially when the ground is soft. I believe the disturbance is equal. I recall about 10 years ago, the last time I hunted in the West Elk Wilderness Area, it rained most of the 1st rifle season. The Throughline Trail was a disaster from all the horses plodding up and down it. Honestly, a human couldn’t walk on the trail because it was so torn up.                                                                              

Noise: One of the biggest complaints I hear about ATVs is the noise they make when running. I agree they make noise. I have only to thank the American marketing empire. Ad agencies have taught the American public to equate a loud vehicle engine with horse power and performance. I can’t blame a manufacturer who wants to sell its product by putting a loud muffler on an ATV (car, truck, boat, motorcycle, etc…). However, horses aren’t innocent either. They make a lot noise when traveling. Shoes hitting rocks, saddle leather squeaking, snaps clanking, nostrils blowing, and the most irritable of all, whinnying. I won’t even mention the sound they make when they pass gas. One of my biggest pet peeves in life is the whinnying of horses when they are separated from each other. Horses can whinny for hours and it can be heard at much farther distances than an ATV motor ever dreamed of. The nice thing about an ATV is when you park it and turn it off, it quits making noise.

All terrain transportation: ATV stands for all-terrain vehicle. That’s a joke. Yes they will go more places than a 4X4 pickup or jeep, however, both the rider and the machine will pay a price, but an ATV will not go everywhere. That myth comes from the greenies who believe that if you tell a lie enough times, people will begin to think it is the truth. In reality, an ATV is a far cry from an “all terrain vehicle”. Now take a horse that’s a different story. I’ve swum horses. While fishing, I’ve waded horses in lakes half way up their chests. I’ve had horses in bogs up to their bellies. I’ve had horses on trails where they had to jump up or down three to four feet to keep going. A horse can easily go through two feet of snow. A good horse can go over logs and through deadfall like a cat without missing a step. To top it off, I’ve watched Tom Musser take horses through places I wouldn’t walk down without a rope around my waist.

Safety: Again, taking a cue from the greenies, tell a lie enough times and people will begin to think it’s the truth. Contrary to popular belief horses are dangerous animals. Even though most horses are treated like pets. God put them on earth to be used as a beast of burden. (or maybe for dog food?) Man has forgotten that. A normal horse weighs 1,200 pounds, has a brain about the size of a walnut, is many times stronger and is much faster than a human. Who do you think will win in a fight? Ask Bob Storch. Ask four of my dead friends about horses. Yep, that’s right, four. Two were dragged to death, one with his head kicked off. One died when a horse went over backwards and the other when the horse went down and rolled over. The saddle horn crushed my friends hearts. All four of these guys made a living sitting in a saddle. They were some of the best horsemen I’ve ever known.

Are ATVs safe? — Only as safe as the opertaor. Ask Cindy about her accident. Accidents happen, just like Cindy’s, regardless of rider ability. Here again you have a machine that weighs 600 pounds on average plus steel and plastic and has no feelings or mercy when it comes to inflicting pain to the rider. However, I will say that most ATV injuries and deaths have occurred because of a stupid operator, not because of the machine. I recall watching the news when Christopher Reeves was paralyzed when riding his horse. NBC showed an interesting statistic when they were reporting on his accident. MORE people are seriously injured (requiring hospitalization) and killed riding horses each year than ALL serious injuries and deaths resulting from ALL motorsports combined, including ALL forms of motor racing.

Hunting from the critter or machine: While in New Mexico it dawned on me that hunting from a horse is nothing more than politically correct road hunting. Road (trail) hunting on horseback has been accepted and encouraged by the American society for over 200 years! Those two statements are mouthful, but think about it. There are no laws against it. Anybody who says that they wouldn’t stop and shoot at a legal elk or deer while riding their horse is a liar and a hypocrite. I know hunters that do nothing all day but ride their horses around their hunting area. They only get off to shoot or stretch their legs. Those that do tie up their horses once they get to an area to hunt by foot, or hunt by sitting in one spot, wouldn’t pass up a chance to shoot their critter if they rode up on it. However, it is illegal and politically incorrect to road (trail) hunt from an ATV. Much of this came to a stop with the new DOW ATV firearm transportation regulations this year.

As Paul Harvey would say, “Now the rest of the story”. One thing I deliberately did not include in my previous article titled “Kim’s Law” were the recommendations TMW made for horse hunters that the DOW completely ignored. TMW recommended that all hunting firearms be carried in an enclosed (hooded) gun scabbard while being transported on a horse for rider safety and the very reason previously mentioned, to discourage horseback road hunting.

To illustrate this point the following is a true event I witnessed several years ago. I was sitting up on a hill elk hunting when three people on horseback passed below me. The first rider carried his rifle across his lap like John Wayne in the movie Rooster Cogburn. The second rider had his rifle slung across his back. The third rider had his rifle in a scabbard. The trail they were on passed under some pine trees. The first rider ducked and passed through fine. The second rider ducked to go under the branches but his rifle got hung up in the tree limbs and he was pulled off of his horse. When he hit the ground his rifle discharged with the bullet kicking up dirt in front of the third rider. (Yep, his rifle was cocked and loaded.) Needless to say, I watched quite a rodeo for a few moments. Thank goodness, only a rodeo. It’s a miracle that the bullet didn’t hit the third horse or rider. There were some real colorful words said after the accident but believe or not the second rider got back on his horse with his rifle slung over his back. Unfortunately there is no law prohibiting stupid people from breeding and having more stupid people.

Some of you are thinking that must have been one hell of hunting trip to come up with all this. Well truth be known there is a little more to my background than one horseback hunting trip. I grew up on a cattle ranch in Wyoming. I’ve ridden horses all my life except for the past ten years when I’ve owned an ATV. I’ve personally owned over a dozen horses. I’ve untimely come off horses every direction imaginable including underneath at a full gallop. (Nothing like a saddle turning with no breast collar to stop it!) I’ve trained horses. I managed a horse breeding farm while at college. I held the title of ring steward at several major horse shows. I would have graduated with a minor in equine science if I had stayed one more semester at CSU (Colorado State University). As a student instructor I taught a 2 credit semester long Horse Packing and Outfitting course at CSU with the help of the Wyoming Extension Service. I guided big game and turkey hunters in Wyoming for sixteen years. Horse blood is still in the family. My oldest brother owns the Santa Fe Horse Park which has the capability of boarding over 400 horses at one time (he currently owns 39).

I also believe I’m a practical sort of person. When I came to Delta fifteen years ago I brought my last horse with me. I had to board it. Well, after five years of paying for boarding and vet bills I realized I was spending a lot of money for something I didn’t use very often because at the time I couldn’t find anybody to ride with, So I did something I didn’t think I would ever do and sold my horse. Just so I wouldn’t get foolish again I sold my gooseneck stock trailer, two riding saddles, 3 complete sets of pack saddles and panniers along with all the rest of my horse gear and bought an ATV.

Well, I guess according to Forest Service Supervisor Bob Storch this makes me a motorhead.                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

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