Outfitting Your UTV for Hunting: Part 1
UTV’s have become incredibly popular with outdoorsmen recently. They carry us into remote, rough, and difficult places with relative ease compared to full-sized vehicles. UTV’s come in many shapes and sizes, with feature sets geared to suit target audiences from farm/ranch owners to adrenaline junkies. The type of machine you have often dictates the accessories you’ll need if you plan on outfitting your UTV for hunting.
There are a few staples I think every UTV for hunting should include such as a roof, windshield, and doors. Manufacturers typically leave these out so they can advertise lower prices.
I’m content running a half-windshield on my RZR, but when it’s coldest, or when foul weather strikes, a full windshield would be preferable. The drawback to a full windshield is that you’ll also need a wiper kit. Razorback Off-Road manufactures a fold-down, full windshield with optional air vents and a built-in, hand-operated windshield wiper.
A UTV for hunting should have excellent ground clearance, because you’ll use all of it when hunting the West. I’ve encountered plenty of rocks, logs, ruts, and berms that scraped and banged against the thick plastic skid-plate. Covering the undercarriage protects the drivetrain and allows the machine to slide over logs and rocks instead of catching on exposed metal edges.
The exterior shell items mentioned can be added by the dealer when you pick up a new UTV and won’t add much to your payment. If you’re accessorizing a used UTV for hunting, shopping for parts online and performing the installation yourself can help your dollar stretch farther. If you’re shopping for a used machine, try to find one that’s already outfitted with most of these essentials.
One of the first things you’ll realize when using a UTV for hunting to access remote hunting areas is that you can find yourself a long way from help should something go wrong. Therefore, many of my top accessories are basic rescue and repair items.
#10) Emergency Tire Kit
You’ll need to purchase a spare tire, jack, tire plug kit, and a compressor. If you’re running stock tires, a spare should be easy to find in the local classifieds, because many people upgrade to better tires and wheels before their UTV ever leaves the dealership.
I purchased a Tusk Off-Road scissor jack and roll-bar mounting combo from Rocky Mountain ATV. The compact jack mounts securely out of the way on the roll cage. I picked up a slime branded tire plug kit and their heavy-duty 12-volt compressor from Walmart. I spent about $70 on the pair to complete my emergency tire repair kit.
#9) Spare Belt
Carrying a spare drive belt is recommended for all UTV’s with CVT transmissions. Belts are one of the most common wear items, especially when driving in steep and difficult terrain. We replaced the belt on my hunting partner’s RZR last year during our elk hunt. Since we had the belt, tools, and owner’s manual with us, we were able to complete the replacement in about 20 minutes. It’s best to install a new belt as soon as your first belt has a few hundred miles on it. The lightly used belt will be your spare that you carry, along with all the tools you needed to complete the repair.
#8) Winch & Rigging
A winch is a vital piece of gear for any serious off-road vehicle. I haven’t needed to use the winch to extract my UTV (yet), but I’ve used it to move trees and other trail obstructions from the trail. A heavy-duty tow strap, a snatch-block with a shackle, and the knowledge of how to properly rig them should also be on board. A snatch block doubles the pulling power of your winch and a tow strap will help you secure a winch line to trees and other immovable objects. Most UTV manufacturers have winch and bumper combos designed for each model. I recommend going that route for guaranteed fitment and ease of installation.
#7) Fire Extinguisher & Header Wrap
A fire extinguisher can save your machine (and the forest or desert) from catastrophe. UTV fires are alarmingly common. I’d hate to lose a UTV to fire, but it would be far worse to be responsible for torching your favorite hunting area. Stay off dry grass and carry a good fire extinguisher. Roll cage fire extinguisher mounts are available at many local dealers and most online retailers.
For added insurance, I also wrapped my exhaust with Volcano Exhaust insulating header wrap from Summit Racing to help mitigate the possibility of starting a grass fire. The exhaust wrap has provided peace of mind, and I no longer smell any hint of smoldering grass/weeds when riding.
#6) Street Legal Kit
It’s relatively easy to add a street legal kit with blinkers, horn, mirrors, and a license plate bracket to your UTV. I got a kit made by Tusk Off-Road for $170 that I installed in three hours. Next, get your UTV insured – it’s surprisingly inexpensive and required in most states. I enjoy the freedom of being able to run my RZR on paved and dirt roads legally in most states. Aside from legality, mirrors are a worthy addition. Check state and local laws for requirements in your area to make your UTV street legal.
LED off-road lights are a nice addition for any off-road vehicle, especially hunting rigs. I probably drive my UTV in the dark at least 50% of the time, traveling to hunting spots before daylight and returning well after dark. LED light bars and light-pods have become more affordable over the past few years, so it’s a perfect time to add a light bar to your machine. Forward-facing lights are the norm, but rear-facing back-up lights can be beneficial when loading gear and backing up on tight trails. I added a small, battery-powered, interior cab light that I use on a regular basis.
There are so many manufacturers and styles of lighting available I won’t bore you listing them. Low prices are great, but you still get what you pay for. Some of the ultra-cheap, off-brand stuff on Amazon may not be worth the headache. The Rigid Industries LED light pods on my front bumper have taken a beating for two years, but they still work perfectly and really light up the night.
#4) Weapon Mounts
Safely and securely transporting a gun or bow is one of the biggest challenges of using a UTV for hunting. Every UTV has space limitations that make mounting a gun rack challenging, and hauling a bow comes with its own set of difficulties. In my RZR, I can put my bow in a soft case with the QD quiver removed and wedge it neatly behind the headrest of the front seats. I have also strapped hard bow cases to the roof or the upper part of my rear cargo rack.
If a traditional gun rack fits your needs, Big Sky Racks from Bozeman makes the Sky Bar UTV Combo rack in one-gun or two-gun models. It offers versatile mounting options for the roll cage or roof of your UTV. The rack securely holds rifles and shotguns in thickly padded, adjustable brackets.
I mounted Big Sky’s two-gun UTV combo rack directly behind the driver seat with one rack oriented vertically and the other facing rearward at 90 degrees. I can mount two scoped rifles securely. Everything in a UTV for hunting gets caked with dust, so I recommend using an old soft case or plastic sleeve to keep dust, mud, and moisture off your firearms and scopes during transport.
Kolpin, Seizmik, and ATV Tek offer gun storage solutions incorporating hard-shell cases. Hard cases offer an additional layer of protection and maybe the best all-around option, but they require more space to mount. I didn’t feel like I could accommodate the size of a hard case for my build. Seizmik offers an interesting gun caddy for UTV’s equipped with flat bench seats and a middle seatbelt.
If you need to transport AR-style tactical rifles, look at Blac Rac. Their unique, clamp-style gun mounts are used extensively by law enforcement and SWAT teams. They offer mounting options for UTV’s and other vehicles that will safely and securely hold most service-style weapons and shotguns.
#3) Air Filtration Upgrade
The first time I checked the air filter on my UTV, I was astonished how much dust had accumulated after a few short rides. That experience, combined with horror stories of poorly sealing factory air filters convinced me that I needed something better.
After investigating options, I selected the Particle Separator from S&B filters. The unit centrifugally filters out over 90% of the dust before the air filter. This dramatically increases filter life and reduces maintenance intervals while offering better protection and performance to your engine. The S&B system requires a little installation work and the intake scoop and ductwork occupies some space, but it was a worthy addition to protect my UTV’s engine. I also use premium Donaldson replacement air filters.
#2) Cargo Rack & RotopaX
The cargo beds in most sport model UTV’s are relatively small and tend to be overrun quickly when packing for a hunt. The first three-day, two-man expedition in my RZR looked more like the Beverly Hillbillies moving to Hollywood than a hunting trip.
To increase cargo capacity and organization, I got in touch with Idaho-based Razorback Offroad (RBO). After a few conversations with the owner, I installed their complete rear rack system. The RBO rack surrounds the bed with a cage that includes provisions for the optional spare tire and RotoPaX containers.
The spare tire mounts to the rack’s lockable rear access gate. With the RBO rack, I can stack gear higher within the cage and there is even more room on the upper “Baja Rack” for overflow and to haul items as large as a 65-quart cooler. Just remember to take items off the high-rack before you back your trailer into the garage (don’t ask me how I know this).
The Razorback Offroad rack has made it easy to stow enough gear on-board for multi-day excursions. Visit www.razorbackoffroad.com for information.
RotopaX: RotopaX are modular, stackable containers for hauling extra fuel (red), water (white), and storage boxes (black/orange) on your adventures. They are the best solution for transporting essential fluids, tools, and repair items safely and securely wherever you go. The heavy-walled roto-molded fuel containers are guaranteed for ten years, so you’ll never have to worry about a cracked fuel jug leaking on your hunting gear and not having that precious fuel when you need it most.
#1) Tires & Wheels
Aftermarket wheels and tires can make your UTV for hunting look bad-ass, but they can also have a dramatic impact on traction, handling, ground clearance, and ride quality. My stock tires were worn out after just two seasons and 2000 miles, so I started researching replacements.
Several hardcore UTV riders I know recommended the Rock-A-Billy from Sedona Tire and Wheel. Sedona is based in Boise, so I reached out for more info. Sedona’s brand manager, Richard Kelsey, was a wealth of knowledge. I interviewed him as he steered me through the process of finding the perfect tire/wheel combo to tackle the harsh terrain and diverse conditions the West dishes out.
Richard says, “ATV and UTV tires have come a long way in recent years and there are a lot of really good options. At Sedona, our tires are designed and built from the ground up, exclusively for ATV’s and UTV’s. Purpose-built tires make a huge difference in how your ATV/UTV for hunting performs.
“When selecting a tire for your machine, you need to consider the stock tire and wheel size and engine size. More powerful machines can run slightly larger tires with minimal performance loss. For rugged Western terrain, you want a tire with a sturdy carcass design, aggressive shoulder tread, and durable sidewall protection.”
Richard confirmed that the 30x10R-14 Sedona Rock-A-Billy would be perfect for my RZR XP 1000. “The Rock-A-Billy features an open tread design that cleans out well, hooks up on virtually any surface including snow, and runs smoothly on hard-pack terrain. The carcass is a durable 8-ply-rated design with layers of puncture-resistant material from bead-to-bead, and aggressive tread wrapping around the shoulder and well into the sidewall. It’s one of those tires that checks all the boxes.”
DC: “Off-road enthusiasts gravitate toward big tires and extreme vehicle stances. However, bigger isn't always better - especially with stock UTV's. What recommendations can you make for our hunting audience about selecting the optimum tire size for their machines?”
RK: “Taller and wider tire/wheel combos improve ground clearance and stability, but the weight of larger tires is a factor that’s often overlooked. UTV’s are designed to run the stock size tires. Increasing tire size dramatically can compromise clutching and the strength of the drivetrain. If a new tire’s weight is considerably more than stock, then it’s time to consider axle upgrades and adjusting your machine’s clutching. A great feature of the Rock-A-Billy is that it’s remarkably lightweight for an 8-ply rated tire, so you can usually upsize conservatively without the need to make modifications."
“Trail width is another important consideration in selecting tires and wheels. Here in Idaho, we have trail systems that limit the width of the machines allowed. For running on narrow trails and tight, technical terrain, we recommend a high positive offset option like a 6+1 to keep the track width narrower and close to stock. However, if you were running primarily high-speed, open-desert terrain, we might use a 5+2 or 4+3 wheel to set a wider footprint and make your machine more stable.”
DC: “Wheels can have a big impact on appearance, but can aftermarket wheels really offer performance advantages over stock?”
RK: “Absolutely! Many factory UTV’s like the Polaris RZR have different width wheels on the front and rear. This means you can’t rotate the rear tires to the front, and your rear tires will wear out first. With aftermarket wheels, you can run the same size wheel on all four corners. That keeps the width of the machine consistent front to back and helps to provide maximum tire life when rotated properly. You can also add your spare tire into the rotation."
“Beadlock wheels offer huge advantages for hardcore off-roaders – that’s why you see them on competitive rock crawlers and trophy trucks. Beadlocks prevent the tire from popping off the bead when running low air pressure and when tires experience severe lateral loads from ruts and off-camber situations. A tire like the Rock-A-Billy on a Beadlock wheel can run flat without the tire coming off the bead. This can allow you to “limp” the vehicle a short distance back to the trailhead if necessary. You can also mount tires on Beadlock wheels by hand without any special tools. The Split 6 Beadlock wheels you purchased for your RZR are very affordable, so they’re an excellent choice for severe off-road use.”
My idea of the ultimate UTV for hunting may not be the same as yours, but many of the accessories and concepts should be similar. When properly outfitted, UTV’s and ATV’s are fantastic tools to access your favorite hunting grounds. Enjoy your UTV for hunting, its versatility, and off-road capabilities responsibly. Tread lightly and use only designated roads and trails.