Digging the Ride: A Love Story
It’s the loyal ally and longtime hunting partner.
It’s the trustworthy friend, leaping without complaint into the mud, the wet, the cold to help its owner bring back the ducks and make the hunt a success.
It lives to get messy. Its evolution has brought it to this point, this happy union of hunter and helper. It was created for this.
It is, of course, the waterfowler’s favorite utility terrain vehicle.
“We just crank it up and go,” said Bill Freeman, majority owner of Nashville-based property management firm Freeman-Webb, of his favorite wetlands ride, the amphibious Hydratrek.
UTVs may not have four legs, but, with four (or more) wheels, they have earned a place in hunters’ hearts surpassed only by the loyal retriever. Reliable, tough and multi-faceted, the UTV has become a modern hunter’s must-have.
“It seems to me that when a hunter finds a dog, a gun or any other piece of gear he likes, he sticks with it,” said Greenhead editor Brent Birch.
And when it comes to gear, there are distinctions to be made. UTVs have characteristics, like horsepower and load capacities, that set them apart from the all-terrain vehicles that became popular with sportsmen in the latter part of the last century.
ATVs have three to four wheels, are generally ridden in an upright, straddle position with handlebar steering and the capability to handle many types of terrain. UTVs have a standard base of four wheels (but can have more for specialized purposes), are generally larger and more powerful than ATVs, can seat passengers side by side and are built with larger storage space.
UTVs are commonly used to haul supplies or equipment in locations that make trucks impractical and are therefore, according to nationwide.com “used more for work than recreation.”
But don’t tell a hunter that.
Freeman maintains a hunting property in Arkansas, near Etowah west of Osceola. He became smitten by the Hydratrek, manufactured in Covington, Tennessee, when he saw one on a trailer display in the parking lot of Mack’s Prairie Wings in Stuttgart.
With its rear propeller, hydraulic drive system, marine-grade aluminum and payload and gear capacities, it is a true amphibious vehicle that can go where people, and other vehicles, can’t.
“I’m a big duck hunter. There’s not a combination it won’t conquer,” Freeman said. “Mud, ice, water, shallow water. I was so excited about it I reached out to them and said ‘Look if you’ll let me, I’d like to invest in the company.’ ”
Freeman is so enamored of his multi-faceted ride that he has parked his boat and all other hunting transportation.
“We’ve got boats and four-wheelers and everything else that we don’t get out of the shop,” he said. “It’s the equipment we use.”
While the aqua-capable Hydratrek and its cousins within industry may look like the wave of the future, don’t forget the effect of a hunter’s loyalty on his relationship to his utility vehicle.
Through four years of tender, loving care, Birch has kept his 1988 Suzuki Carry, a four-wheel drive mini-truck, ready for the hunt.
“Beyond the truck bed, the mini-truck is very light compared to today’s UTVs so it gets around in the mud like a champ,” Birch said. “Even when full of gear, it doesn’t get bogged down in the mud and spin out. Almost like it floats on the mud’s surface.”
Birch found the little guy orphaned and in bad shape — with rust, faded paint and bald tires — when he bought it. Over time he sprung for repairs and touch-ups that included a camo pattern paint job, new tires, installing a jump seat, spraying in a new bed liner and replacing hoses and brakes, which required him to wait on parts that have to come from Japan.
“When I take people hunting for the first time they are mesmerized by the ‘cool’ factor of this rig,” Birch said. “Mini-trucks aren’t common, especially for duck hunting. But it’s not all for show as the mini-truck is very functional as well. I’ve slogged through the middle of rice fields and broken ice with it.”
If not expressed through care and consistent use, waterfowlers find other, unique ways to wear their love for their favorite vehicle on their sleeve. Birch, who pitched four years for the Arkansas Razorbacks baseball program, leaves no doubt he intends to stay true to his ride.
“I’ve also built a custom horn that plays the Razorback fight song and calls the Hogs with the push of a button,” he said.