Aurora Eastwood looks at the best farm vehicles for gamekeepers, hunt staff and landowners. Leave the 4x4 behind and take to the hills on a quad bike.
The best farm vehicles need to be reliable and emminently practical. The quad bike, ATV (all-terrain vehicle) and UTV (utility task vehicle) have become the transport of choice for hunt staff, gamekeepers and landowners. But how do you know which one is the right one for you?
Accessing every corner of a large farm or estate has become markedly easier over the years. Horses gave way to 4x4s, usually Land Rovers, and during the past 25 years 4x4s have been swapped for all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), scaled down, more manoeuvrable versions of themselves. ATVs are now the best farm vehicles for gamekeepers. Starting out as three-wheeled motorbikes, which tended to overturn faster than a squiffy lady in high heels, ATVs were replaced by the more stable and less lethal quad bike, the incredibly robust Honda leading the way among the best farm vehicles with reliability and build quality.
All-terrain vehicle or utility vehicle (ATV/UTV) is now a catch-all description that includes quad bikes, small four- or six-wheeled trucks with simple cabs (Polaris Ranger style) and the rather funky-looking, cab-less, fat-tyred, amphibious Argocat, with up to eight wheels. Argocats deserve a special mention as they have been around for more than 45 years and have the lowest ground footprint of all, going places where a UTV would get stuck fast. “We sell to everyone from shooting estates to the RNLI,” says Alistair Brooks of Argo Vehicles. “They aren’t as fast as quad bikes. Some people think that’s a good thing and others think it’s bad.” Not only that, there is the rather large advantage that they have over other ATVs and UTVs: they are amphibious.
“We started selling quad bikes in the mid Eighties and gradually farmers became aware of how capable they were and how many places you could get them into,” explains Joe Challen of machinery specialists Rafferty Newman in Hampshire. “In terms of utility vehicles, it was really in 2010 that we saw a surge in sales, when Polaris brought out two new models, a diesel and a little 400cc petrol. A lot of people changed from quads then. On the ATV side, Honda has always been our best seller and Polaris for UTVs. It has the largest range on the market, they are very reliable and are number one in Europe, if not the world. We sell mostly to shoots and gamekeepers but, that said, more and more farmers are buying UTVs as well, not just livestock but arable, too.”
One cannot replace a 4×4 entirely, as Chris Wild, head gamekeeper at Coniston Hall estate, explains. “You need at least two out of the three: a 4×4 or pick-up; a quad bike and a utility vehicle. If you only have two, then the 4×4 and the UTV is the best combination.”
So why the switch from Defenders and pick-ups to ATVs? “There is a huge difference – you can get into places you could never get to in a 4×4 before, especially on the narrow tracks we have round here,” enthuses Brian Mitchell, headkeeper at Castle Hill estate, Devon, and vice chairman of the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (NGO). “They really have revo-lutionised the job and made it much easier. You can get almost half a ton of feed in the back of the Ranger. They really are brilliant.” “If you are all wet and muddy you don’t spoil the vehicle. You can just hose out the seats on the UTV,” adds Wild. “They are really easy to get on and off and to open gates, and you can carry almost as much in the back of a UTV as you can in a pick-up.”
BEST FARM VEHICLES: ATVs – PROS
Versatile, practical and compact, quad bikes are used everywhere from the hunting field to sporting estates as well as for contracting work. There are myriad attachments that allow the quad to do everything from carrying a couple of dogs to topping paddocks, spraying, towing, feeding and more. Their physical impact is low, they don’t take up much space in the barn, use little fuel and are easy to drive. “We started to see the use of ATVs 22 to 23 years ago,” says Mitchell. “I then used one every morning for the next 20 years. I spent most of those years on a Honda as they are just so reliable.”
BEST FARM VEHICLES: ATVs – CONS
There is certainly no protection from the weather on a quad. They are also dangerous if driven poorly and can tip over and injure or kill the operator. Also, their payload is nowhere near that of a UTV and the addition of a trailer can be cumbersome. “A quad with a trailer attached is not very manoeuvrable in the woods,” says Wild.
BEST FARM VEHICLES: UTILITY VEHICLES – PROS
Highly manoeuvrable, large load-carrying capacity, safe, protection from the elements, no need to attach a trailer, can seat up to six and provide a stable platform from which to shoot pests. “I now use a Polaris Ranger,” says Mitchell. “Because of my age it’s better. There’s a windscreen, a cab and it has loads of storage pockets. I’m protected from the weather and I can get four or five dogs in the back. Here on Exmoor all the keepers use either the Ranger or a John Deere Gator; there isn’t much to choose between them. My Ranger has done almost 14,000 hours in just over a year. They are pretty reliable but do suffer from drive-shaft failure and the wheel bearings tend to go. I believe there is a new one out soon and JCB also make one but I’ve not seen it yet.”
Wild is another convert. “I started using a Kawasaki Mule about eight years ago, just a second-hand one to give it a go. There was a £600 fuel saving in the first year alone. We then bought a new one a year later, which I still use. It has an extra row of seats that can be folded down, which is very useful on shoot days to move some of the older guns around.” “The vast majority of gamekeepers have moved over to UTVs for reasons of comfort, safety and practicality,” says Charles Nodder, political advisor to the NGO. “Some have ad-ditional seating capacity, making them useful on shoot days. Those on grouse moors almost all use Argocats as they are second to none on boggy ground and do little damage.”
BEST FARM VEHICLES: UTILITY VEHICLES – CONS
Expensive, slightly greater impact on ground. “They leave a slightly darker mark across a wet field than a quad bike but are much more user friendly in the woods,” says Wild.