All Terrain Vehicles, quad bikes or to use the common abbreviation 'ATVs' have transformed a gamekeeper's working day. They can turn in a tight space, squeeze through narrow gaps, haul heavy feed and bales, let the rider range far afield to carry out maintenance, check traps or keep down vermin.

‘Quad’ or ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) is defined as ‘a motorised vehicle designed to travel on four low pressure tyres on unpaved surfaces, having a seat that’s designed to be straddled by the operator and handlebars for steering control.’

It may come as a surprise, but the first powered ‘quadra cycle’ was marketed in the 1890s by Royal Enfield. It was, incidentally, underpowered onroad, and quite useless off it.

The modern quad celebrated its 34th birthday this year. Suzuki and Honda were early pioneers – today joined by a host of other manufacturers including Yamaha, Kawasaki, Can-Am, Polaris, Apache, Quadzilla, TGB, Quantum, KTM, Kymco, and many others.

You can expect to pay a few hundred pounds for a battered workhorse, £2000-£3000 for a decent used model, £5000-£7000 for a new model with prices nudging through £10,000 for a higher spec utility vehicle (UTV).

The choice of specifications is bewildering, manual, automatic, shiftable auto, 2WD, 4WD, selectable 4WD drive, and that’s just the transmission!

Quad bike rules

Here’s what you need to know

  • You don’t need a driving licence to ride a quad bike off-road
  • You don’t have to tax and register your quad bike if you’re only using it off-road.
  • You might however find it useful to record your quad on the off-road register which will help police if it’s stolen
  • Quads used for agriculture need to be registered as light agricultural vehicles
  • You don’t have to pay vehicle tax on quads used for agriculture
  • The website has some more useful advice on quad bikes here
  • Crash helmets aren’t a legal requirement but are recommended. More than half ATV drivers have been thrown off at some time and wearing a helmet can almost halve the risk of fatalities
  • You will need lights if the vehicle is used after dark
  • Safety training is recommended and LANTRA offer some useful courses. Even a small syndicate shoot with a part-time keeper could get into trouble if an accident happens and the keeper has not had adequate training
  • Quads are liable to theft and insurance requirements will almost certainly insist that the vehicle is taken in at night and stored securely
  • More essential reading on the safe use of ATVs in agriculture here


“Couldn’t manage without one”

Shooting coach Mark Russell of Grimsthorpe Shooting Ground uses John Deere six wheel diesel Gators for both farm and shooting ground work.

He says the Gator’s higher load deck is ideal for lifting heavy kit on and off, plus it can carry a half-ton load and take a palette.

“Frankly we could not manage without them.”

The Gators are slow, but that makes them ideal for transporting breakable loads such as clay pigeons.

On the farm the Gator is used with a trailer or a fan jet pellet/feed broadcaster.

Trade in prices hold well provided the machine is well looked after. And Mark’s advice for a new purchase?

“Make sure you buy the right vehicle for the right application, look after it well with regular servicing, and only use it for what it is intended for.”

Essential for feeding

Buckinghamshire keeper Dave Pocock uses a Honda 350 Quad. Dave says his quad is essential for feeding and getting round his release pens. A custom made trailer with Solway spinner means he can get four feed bags in the spinner hopper with an extra four on the trailer platform.

The Quad is small enough to get in his pens. Dave uses another trailer for pen repair kit and lugging straw.

Low-pressure balloon tyres avoid damage to young crops. The 350 was purchased slightly used after a larger model Honda was traded in following gear change problems.


Winning the Lottery

Peter Theobald uses a Kawasaki 350 on the farm and shoot. Purchased 13 years ago, already well used, the Kawasaki keeps plodding along with few hiccups other than a carburettor problem and an oil leak, both easily fixed.

If he wins the lottery, Pete says his dream ATV would be a Kubota Mule with a hydraulic tipping back . Pete says that the quad is ideal for getting around narrow field margins without damaging soft ground.

Given its age, he does not bother with insurance for the Kawasaki, which he says is heavy on fuel.

His tips for a new purchase? “Buy the best you can afford because it’s bound to suffer a lot of abuse.”


A deer stalker comments 

Deer stalker Jon Snowdon uses a Honda Rancher 350 quad. John says he chose this model because it has a hand gear selector and is relatively light.

“It’s easy to handle and you can pull out of a hole if you get stuck.”

The estate’s keeper uses a larger Can-Am outlander 500.

“When the birds are in, we need that bit more power for towing. Again it is easy to handle,” says Jon.

Deer stalker with ATV

Jon’s choices – a Honda for deer work and a more powerful Can-Am for use on the game shoot.

The Honda was second-hand but the Can-Am was new. “I would now buy new every time for the warranty – if something does go wrong it can be expensive”.

Overall Jon says the quad is essential for work on the shoot, and makes stalking easier, particularly when recovering carcasses.

His current accessories include larger racks, heated handgrips and hand shields. In an ideal world he would also like a winch.

He says that values hold well, providing the vehicles are regularly serviced and traded in at regular intervals.

Insurance cost about £250 a year with the Can-Am also needing road duty. Jon’s tips for a first-time ATV purchase are to work out exactly what tasks you expect the vehicle to do, then study the market carefully.

“If you are towing a lot you may need a more powerful engine which will use more fuel. Go for selective 2 or 4 wheel drive, you can save on fuel that way. If you are buying new do a deal on the accessories, most dealers will throw in a few items,” he says.

A gamekeeper comments

With more than 30 years of gamekeeping under his belt, Ian Farndale-Brown has used many types of quad/ATV.

Ian says that his preferred workhorses are a Honda Foreman 500 and a Kawasaki 4010 Mule.

“For me, these have the best features – they are reliable, hold their value, and in the case of the Mule, have excellent economy and load carrying capacity.”

Favoured accessories include Solway spinner, Logic seed spider and sprayer, Wessex flail mower, chain harrows, mower and a range of trailers.

Trade in values on both Honda and Kawasaki are excellent, typically costing around £2,000 to replace with new after two seasons.

“Running costs for Honda are high due to the cost of petrol but the work rate justifies this. The Mule is exceptionally economic. His hints for a first time purchase are to buy an established brand for ease of service, spares and selling on.

“Never buy a smaller bike than needed as it will be false economy in the long run. Don’t pay extra for bells and whistles you will never use. Keep on top of service and repairs as down time and breakdowns can be costly and poor maintenance leads to accidents.”

The syndicate shoot

Surrey keeper Len West says that a quad proved vital for looking after his DIY syndicate shoot. “I’d get round the shoot three times a day, and sat on a quad you see and hear so much more than you would in a 4×4 vehicle.

With a rifle rest on the quad I can also rapidly despatch any vermin spotted.”

Len has a spinner for feeding rides. His Honda 400 was stolen off the shoot and replaced with a Suzuki 450.

Of the two, Len says the Honda was easier to use and felt a better ride. Both were purchased used, the Honda with 70 hours use and the Suzuki at three years old.

Insurance for each was around £140 a year via the NFU (it would have been cheaper if the quad had not been kept in a shipping container at the shoot).


An earlier version of this article was published on 4 May 2012