In Texas, everything’s bigger, so when hunting the Lone Star State’s numerous large ranches, getting from camp to roost takes more than just a few minutes’ hike through the scrub. Many times, it’s a road-bound adventure that takes 10, 15, 20 minutes or longer, and during each of those minutes you’re praying you just get there before the birds start gobbling.
Many ranchers or guides depend on their farm trucks to move their clients around, and this is a comfortable way to travel — especially when it’s cold — but invariably they’re white and you have to park the beast far enough away from where you will be hunting that the added walk tacks on another 10 or 15 minutes to your morning. Here’s where ATVs and side-by-sides come into their own.
The Side-by-Side Advantage
On a recent hunt near Uvalde, Texas, with SOE Hunts and several National Wild Turkey Federation partners, including Federal Premium Ammunition, Mossy Oak, LiT Coolers and Can-Am, I put Can-Am’s Defender side-by-side through some paces as we traversed one of their 10,000-acre leases in search of Rio Grande gobblers. The model we had on this hunt was the HD 10 Defender Mossy Oak Hunting Edition (MSRP: $19,699).
With many benefits of a truck, such as a bed for storage and capacity for multiple passengers, a side-by-side offers more in the way of maneuverability, concealability and, well, fun! Side-by-sides are the best option for these big-property hunts. They can easily carry a hunter and friend or guide, more gear than you really need and still plenty of room for a cooler and lunch. They’re much easier to conceal than a truck and allow you to drive closer to your hunt site, where you can swing it into some brush for total concealment.
They also provide a way to get up off the ground for a mid-morning nap or to quickly make the rounds as you glass for lonely gobblers in fields, food plots or other strut zones. With an open cab and no doors, it’s easy to bail out, quietly grab your shotgun and gear up for a stalk.
I’m not a stranger to the Defender; in fact, I was invited to participate in a prelaunch test drive at Harpole’s Heartland Lodge the summer of 2015, where I was able to drive (infer rip) various prototypes of the unit through the technical ATV trails that surround the beautiful Illinois property. I also had a test model delivered to my house for fall deer season, where I could put a microscope to the unit during a real-life test in cold weather and unbelievable amounts of mud — it was the rainiest fall we’d had in decades.
The 50-horsepower HD8 (799.9 cc) and 72-horsepower HD10 (976 cc) models did not disappoint. They have more get-up-and-go than any units I’ve driven, with their race-born Rotax V-Twin engines pumping out class-leading horsepower and unmatched torque in a side-by-side. Now don’t tell anyone, but I ran the HD10 at 65 mph on the highway next to my club and still had plenty of throttle left. Its independent suspension and intuitive power steering provided excellent stability and felt no different than driving a truck at the same speed (OK, maybe it was a little more exciting the truck).
A Food-Plotter’s Dream
Let’s get back to the torque. As food plotters, we use ATVs and tractors for serious planting on our 300 acres. The Defender HD10’s tight turning radius and 61 foot pounds of torque make it an ideal farming tool for improving wildlife habitat on your land. Set in Work Mode, it pulled our Plotmaster Hunter 400 like it wasn’t even attached, and it even had enough ass to rescue my friend Bob’s 8,000-pound 2500 Chevy from the slimy grip of red Georgia clay.
With 1,500 pounds of capacity, we confidently loaded hundreds of pounds of seed, fertilizer, tools and a cooler in the bed and were able to keep planting throughout the day without returning to the barn for more supplies.
A Parent’s Best Friend
If you have more than one child who enjoys hunting with you, I’m sure you’ve been in the same predicament as I often find myself; an ATV only safely carries two people. Since both of my boys are too young to drive their own unit, it’s always a balancing act to haul one kid and gear to the stand or blind, then go back for the other. And of course, the younger of the two doesn’t like being left alone in the dark, so the second trip has to happen quickly before his anxiety causes him not to want to hunt anymore.
With the Defender’s 40/20/40 split bench seat, my two boys and I easily fit in the front, so all of us could go in and out together in one trip with all of our gear and even the spoils of our hunt. No more Dad the pack mule!
The Defender is one of the most customizable side-by-sides on the market. Can-Am has a full line of add-ons, ranging from wrap-around corner body protectors and extreme duty bumper and skid plates to a bed wall extender and fully-enclosed, heated cab. The base model starts around $9,999 for a no-frills-but-no-joke 3-seat, 38-horsepower HD5 (427 cc), but a fully outfitted six-person, HD10 with soft cab can push the $24,000 mark.
Outfitted with the bed extenders, headache rack and winch, this configuration is ideal for the farmer/landowner/food plotter. Multiple click-in tool holders allow you to attach shovels, axes, forks, etc., to the outside of the bed extender while nearly tripling the capacity of the bed to carry hay, mulch or you name it. But you can still remove the bed extender and headache rack, put on your helmet, strap in and have some fun in the off season!
The Can-Am Defender proved itself a reliable, beefy partner during the fall hunting/planting season when I tested it, and I was sad to let it go. But when I do decide to spend some money on a side-by-side for my family, you can bet this is the unit I’ll be buying.