You’ve seen the rise and heard the buzz about this, but is this for real? You bet it is; and it is changing the face of public land deer hunting.
By Bernie Barringer
I was enjoying the warming sun on my face when a grunt jolted me to attention. I sat alert and soon heard hoofbeats in the leaves. Getting my bow in hand, I followed the sound of the movements as they drew near and soon a doe came trotting into sight. Another grunt revealed the location of the buck following her. Like a gift, she made an arc through the trees and trotted right past my stand. With his nose to the ground, the buck followed, only hesitating long enough for a broadhead-tipped arrow to slice through his heart.
A few minutes later, I stood over him with admiration and the satisfaction that comes from shooting a good buck on public land hundreds of miles from home. It was the third buck I had shot in this location in four years. In the past, the feeling of satisfaction was short lived as it was overcome by a deep sense of dread.
You see, one of the reasons this spot is great lies in the fact that it’s so tough to access. By drawing a line on Google Earth, I know I was 1.8 miles from my truck. That’s a long way to drag a 180-pound buck; then come back for my stands and equipment. If I was lucky I could get it all in two loads over the next four hours.
But this year would be different. I had equipped myself with a Fat Kat electric powered hunting bike and a Crawler deer cart that I could use as a trailer behind the bike. I had everything out of the woods and I was headed down the long road towards home in just over an hour.
When I first saw the introduction of fat tire hunting bikes designed for hunting, I was pretty skeptical. They are a significant financial investment and I wasn’t sure just how much of an advantage they would be. Riding a bike for hunting? Really?
But as I began to analyze the way I hunt on so many public lands in different states across the Midwest, Little “aha” moments came to light. Most public lands have a network of access roads used by the state game departments. These roads and trails are used to manage food plots, patrol for poachers, improve habitat, etc. As I began to think about how many miles I have walked on these two-tracks over the past couple decades, I began to realize that using a bike on them would be so much more efficient.
But it wasn’t until I actually got a bike and started using it that I realized how much more efficient riding can be over walking. It’s downright incredible, in fact.
When I attack a piece of public land, my strategy involves scouting for sign, the daily chores of hanging and checking scouting cameras and of course the hauling of stands, sticks and gear to the hunting destination. And then of course all this stuff has to be hauled out when it’s times to leave. Let me explain how the bike helps me accomplish all aspects of this more effectively.
In southern Kansas, I knew of a plot of clover well back off the road. I had seen the field on Google Earth, and knew that it was planted into clover based on a conversation with a local biologi
st. But I had never checked it out because it was so far from the nearest parking area, and it would take so long to scout it out once I was back in there. I figured it was a 3-hour job and I had never been willing to commit that much time.
In the fall of 2016, I rode my bike in there, rolled around the entire field looking for tracks, trails, scrapes and rubs. I hung two trail cameras and was back at my truck in 45 minutes. But two more aspects of this endeavor were the biggest eye-openers. As I coasted through that property, my scent intrusion was almost non-existent compared to walking, and I hadn’t gotten sweaty because I had used the electric pedal assist any time I came to an uphill climb. At that moment I knew this changed everything.
There are several companies making these bikes for hunters, and each offers the option of an electric pedal assist. With the addition of an electric motor, you can ride the bike three ways. You can elect to pedal the bike without an assist, using it only as a bicycle with all-terrain tires. Or you can use the electric assist to make pedaling easier, which is especially helpful going up hills, through rough terrain and while pulling a load. The third option is just to use the electric motor without pedaling at all. The bike will go about 20 miles an hour and you can ride 15-20 miles on a charge, depending on the hills and amount of gear you are carrying.
I have used it all three ways and I find that I use the assist the most. Typically I only use full electric in the mornings on my way to the treestand. This allows me to get into the woods wearing all my cold-weather clothing without the sweat that would be involved in walking.
The addition of a trailer was another game changer for me. I have been using the innovative game cart made by Hawk Hunting called “The Crawler.” This cart has four wheels and a pivoting axle that allows it to roll right over logs and obstructions with east. It makes getting your gear into the woods and your deer out a breeze. It was a natural extension for me to simply attach the cart to the rack on my bike with strong small bungees and use it as a trailer. I can haul a lot of gear into the woods with this set-up and pulling a buck out of the hunting area is done with jaw-dropping ease.
Getting the bike to and from the hunting area is one hurdle that I overcame in two ways. It seems like I haul a lot of gear on my hunting excursions, so the back of my pickup is always full to the brim. I considered using a bike rack on the front of the back of the truck to haul the bike, but I didn’t like the idea of it being exposed to the elements. On the front it might be covered with ice and snow, and considering how many miles I travel down dusty or muddy gravel roads, I didn’t think the bike would take being covered in dirt and mud if it was on the back of the truck. I solved this with a small cargo trailer which hauls all my hunting gear. I put racks in the trailer to haul the bike. At the end of the day, I simply plug the charger into the battery on the bike so I have a full charge the next morning.
I normally leave the trailer at the motel where I am staying and put the bike in the back of the truck along with whatever stands I plan to put out that day. This has kept the bike in like-new condition for me. The bike weighs more than double what a typical mountain bike would weigh, but I can put it into the truck with ease.
After hauling that buck out of the woods last November, then going back for my stand and equipment, I arrived at the parking area with the feeling that I had just discovered something that would forever change the way I hunt public lands. Suddenly, areas off the beaten path that seemed inaccessible due to distance now looked appealing. Scouting and game camera chores were now much quicker and with minimal scent intrusion. My original skepticism was changed into a wide-eyed excitement about hunting new properties and penetrating farther than ever before. I don’t see going on a DIY hunting trip without a fat-tire bike in my future.