I was riding ATVs late last year during a Yamaha press introduction of their new Rhino 700 side-by-side. We covered more than 30 miles of trails on a huge parcel of prime hunting country called Brimstone Recreation Area located on the edge of Huntsville, Tennessee. It really allowed us time to get a solid feel for what the powerful Rhino has to offer outdoorsmen.
But something else also caught my attention: food plots. They were not something I was expecting to see while riding through the remote areas of Brimstone’s 21,000 acres nestled in the heart of Appalachia.
“We are working diligently to reclaim areas of the land with food plots so the deer, turkeys and other game in this area will benefit from the additional year-round food sources,” said Mark Love, the executive director of the group of outdoorsmen who manages and promotes Brimstone. “Right now we’re targeting old log landings, skid areas and clear-cuts. We use the Yamaha Rhinos for all of the food plot work because we can’t get a tractor into these areas.”
Cultivating and maintaining food plots has become quite common these days. It seems that anyone who owns more than an acre of land is trying their hand at turning nutritionally weak ground into a health deli for deer and other game.
Love says side-by-sides like the four-wheel-drive Rhino work great on their land because they can load seed sacks of orchard grass, winter peas, winter wheat and crimson red clover into the bed and still maintain the machine’s ability to pull the implements needed to create food plots on tough ground.
If cultivating food plots—either for game or your own family in the form of a large garden—is on your must-do list, then it’s important to match the ATV or side-by-side you’re buying to the related utility tasks food plot making entails.
I’ve talked with a lot of hunters who are also gentlemen farmers. The common denominator is bigger-is-better when it comes to the ATV or side-by-side they use for any type of land cultivation. So is four-wheel-drive. Diesel-powered machines are also beginning to become popular because they deliver gobs of low-rpm pulling power and slightly better fuel economy than a gas engine of similar displacement.
From my limited experience pulling plows, disks and drags behind ATVs and side-by-sides, I’d never get a four-wheeler with less than a 500cc engine and without four-wheel-drive. Drop a plow into heavy earth or hard-packed soil out in the woods and you’ll know what I mean; it takes a lot of grunt to tear up earth that’s been untouched for years—if ever.
Traction is the next biggest challenge. Sport ATV riders like light, fast, two-wheel-drive machines. Those of us who use an ATV or side-by-side for utility purposes like to be on a four-wheel-drive machine that’s heavy, so when that plow or tandem disk hits the dirt we keep on truckin’ instead of coming to a wheel-spinning halt.
You also need to consider the type of ground and terrain you plan to work. If it’s relatively dry, flat ground with sandy soil, a lighter, less powerful machine might be a suitable choice. If the ground is rough, hard and wet with a lot of clay, then look around for a bigger, more “muscular” machine.
Electric power steering (EPS) is also a useful feature to have on an ATV that you plan to spend a lot of time using for prepping and maintaining food plots or large gardens. It’s not common across the board, but there are a couple manufacturers (Honda and Yamaha) that offer EPS on some of their new models.
My first choice in selecting the one machine to have for both hunting and non-hunting tasks, like cultivating food plots, is a side-by-side. They might not be able to turn quite as sharp as an ATV, or be as quick, but the comfort and utility value of a side-by-side far surpasses those of any quad.
When you slip a disk or plow into the receiver hitch, a lot of force is going to be put on the machine when those earth-turning devices hit the ground—just like towing something really, really big. Generally, ATVs don’t have the towing (implement pulling) capacity of a side-by-side.
Most ATVs have a tow rating of less than 1,000 pounds. A half-ton of pulling capacity sounds like a lot until you consider a 300-pound disk plowing through weed- and brush-covered ground is akin to trying to pull a really, really big trailer that doesn’t want to move in the first place. Side-by-sides, because of their larger overall size and heavier frame components, are really good at towing and ripping up ground with ag-type implements—especially on uneven or gnarly terrain.
For example, the new Kawasaki Teryx 750 4×4 can tow 1,200 pounds; the Arctic Cat Prowler XTX 700, 1,500 pounds; the Polaris Ranger Crew, 2,000 pounds. The true utility side-by-sides, like those from Bobcat, Bush Hog, Club Car, Husqvarna and Kubota, are also excellent for this purpose.
Side-by-sides, whether sport/utility or utility by description, can also haul a bigger load than an ATV. Bed capacities range from as little as 300 pounds to more than 1,000 pounds. That means you can work the ground and carry a bed full of seed and tools at the same time. There’s a lot to be said about being self-sufficient when it comes to working a piece of land. Of course, having a buddy riding along and sharing in the work load is also helpful.
New Plot Makers
The ATV agricultural implement industry is growing just as rapidly as the sales of the machines they’re being pulled behind. It seems that every few months there’s a new disk, plow, spreader or cultipacker appearing on the hitches of four-wheelers and side-by-sides.
For instance, Cycle Country ((800) 841-2222) offers a full line of ATV ag-type implements, including a 46-inch disk harrow ($410) that fits to their special ATV three-point hitch system ($650). The three-point hitch is a standard category zero hitch that can be attached or removed in just a few minutes. It’s designed for the larger 4WD ATVs—from the King Quad to the Traxter. The hitch operates using an electro-mechanical screw-driven lift.
What makes this hitch excellent for ATV/UTV use is it locks out the rear suspension to provide much better precision and control than lightweight pull-behind implements. The Cycle Country three-point system also incorporates a built-in float for smooth operation of the implements in the ground.
Plotmaster Systems, Ltd., ((888) 629-4263) a company well-known for their ATV/UTV implements specifically designed for food plots and land management, offers a new Hunter Series of Plotmasters. These two new offerings, the Hunter 300 and Hunter 400, can be pulled by either a tractor, ATV or side-by-side, and each has the unique ability to disk, plow, plant, cover and/or cultipack all at the same time.
The Hunter 300 ATV Model (one-point hitch with electric lift system) is a smaller 36-inch version of the original Plotmaster, weighing 528 pounds and retailing for $2,499. It’s designed to be pulled by small (300cc-larger) ATVs or side-by-sides. Plotmaster’s 4-foot version, the Hunter 400, weighs more than 700 pounds, is designed for 500cc-larger machines, and retails for $3,199.
Both units are compact, making them ideal for planting food plots in a variety of settings, including hard-to-get-to places such as firebreaks, utility rights-of-way and small forest openings.
To help users cultivate and plant in rugged areas with heavy vegetation, each unit is equipped with a unique down-pressure system so that additional weight/down-pressure can be transferred to the unit for increased tillage if needed. Each Hunter Series is also equipped with a new, patent-pending “Versa-Seeder” system. This new reverse auger-brush seeder system will plant virtually any type of seed with ease, including grass seeds and hard-to-plant seed blends.
Another tow-behind unit is Kasco’s ((800) 458-9129) Plotter’s Choice—a versatile food plot planter providing true no-till drill for row crops and a drop seeder for grasses. The new ATV ag-implement offers more seeding options than any other similar tool on the market.
For planting grass seed, you simply attach the seed drop tubes to the baffle chute. Attach the seed drop tubes to the opening shoes and the Plotter’s Choice becomes a no-till drill for row crops such as corn. Kasco’s unique metering system allows the seed box to handle a wide variety of seed sizes and types, too.
All of the Plotter’s Choice ground-engaging components are rolling; there are no shanks to drag trash. This new implement is also available as a three-point hitch system, to work with small tractors.
Tufline ((662) 328-8347) is another good example of companies constantly expanding their offerings. Their UTD Series, developed for larger ATVs, side-by-sides, off-road vehicles and subcompact tractors, is a dual-gang offset disk. UTD Series models are available in 42-, 50- and 58-inch cutting widths with 16-inch notched disk blades and are rated for 600cc and larger machines.
Unlike the minimal cutting effect of single-disks, the UTD’s dual-disk gangs and wide 9-inch blade spacing creates a more aggressive and deeper cut. They also incorporate a unique side-draft and disk-pressure adjustment system that keeps the unit tracking correctly behind the power unit.
The mainframe is constructed with heavy 3-inch square by ¼-inch-thick steel tubing and is outfitted with an easy wheel lift system. The UTD has adjustable angles for each gang to allow for different terrain conditions. Options include an electric wheel-lift actuator, blade scrapers and 18-inch smooth or notched disk blades.
“The UTD Series crosses a threshold for ATV disks,” said Tim Perkins, president and CEO of Tufline. “We’re going from merely scratching the ground for food plot preparation to true agriculture applications resulting in tractor-drawn disk results.”
Tecamate, Summit, Polaris and a number of other manufactures offer a wide variety of ATV/UTV ag-type tow-behinds as well. So when you shop, do a little research before buying.