Four-wheel drives expand hunters’ horizons

John Denman

It’s both commonsense and a universal fact ‑ your hunting time will be maximised by having a four-wheel drive. Let’s face it, the family Commodore or whatever is not going to transport you, your hunting mate and your gear further into the bush as smoothly as something that has the attributes of a so-called All Terrain Vehicle.

It means that you can access places that are well off the main tracks from a public land point of view, or well away from the nearest open road if you hunt on private property. Generally speaking, a 4WD can carry a better load than a conventional vehicle, so you have that sort of versatility that is once again denied to you in a two-wheel drive.

It also means you are less likely to become bogged and have to seek help. That little extra edge of self-sufficiency can make a big difference in terms of how long you can hunt as well as how long it will take you to arrive where you hunt. However, there is another facet to this. Sometimes your 4WD can take you to places that may be beyond help. This means you have to be self-sufficient.

Your standing as a rugged individualist will take a bit of a battering if you turn up at the property owner’s door asking to be pulled out of a bog. It’s best to avoid this, so the first thing the aspiring 4WD hunter needs to know is when to go and when not to.

A four-wheel drive is not a magic carpet. Sure, it will reach into some interesting places but it still has its limitations. It’s up to you to assess the condition of the terrain ahead and decide whether it’s worth proceeding or not. Boggy tracks are notorious for hiding unseen problems, and in any case tearing up a trail just to gain a few extra kilometres is not going to win you any friends. Those roadways are for management purposes, not for your personal challenge.

There is an amazing array of 4WD vehicles available, to the point where we are spoilt for choice. They all have their good and bad points and like a lot of motor vehicles, there are compromises to be made. The most rugged, load-carrying beast may not be much use as a family car, but something too soft will be near useless in the bush.

There has been a rise in the popularity of what some call ‘soft-roaders’ or cross-over vehicles. These generally speaking don’t have a transfer case, or second gearbox, and have a limited ability due to that, and minimal ground clearance. For a hunter, one of the dual cab 4WD utes is a good choice. They offer a good combination of three seats in the rear and two in the front.

Then there is the choice to be made regarding power. Many, myself included, prefer diesel power. But there have been a lot of improvements in some of the petrol engines powering four-wheels drives, to the point that there is not a significant difference in fuel economy. However that’s better left for a separate topic.

Few four-wheel drives miss out on a bit of aftermarket treatment and that’s fair enough. The manufacturer offers you a vehicle that will suit a certain preference in the market, then it’s up to the new owner to make whatever changes they deem fit.

The obvious one is some frontal protection or bull bar. These usually come in either steel or alloy. Mine have always been steel and there’s usually a winch installed. Bull bars and winches are like insurance policies ‑ you plan for the worst but hope for the best. I have actually hit a cow with my 4WD and was forever grateful for the ARB bar I fitted. A good bar must be airbag compatible and designed to absorb the impact. In my case the bar did its job extremely well. It protected the cooling system, even though there was substantial panel damage, and the chassis was also spared any harm.

You can pretty much sell the farm to fit out a 4WD these days, but in some cases all it does is raise the weight of the vehicle and maybe decrease fuel economy. But things like a fridge are handy, particularly if you hunt for meat. If you’ve already decided on a winch then a dual battery would be a good idea. You can run the fridge and the winch off that without compromising the power of the starter battery.

Driving lights are also crucial if you travel on country roads at night. But you don’t need the biggest and most expensive. The roo you hit will usually be less than 100m ahead and will have jumped out at the precise time you came by. Driving lights that set the bush ablaze at 1000m are no use at all. Nor are any lights mounted above the line of the original gear; they are also illegal.

Tyres are also one of the things changed, often before the originals have worn out. The fact is that most original equipment tyres are designed these days to be little more than pavement rubber. When it comes time to purchase new tyres you need to look at the construction of the tyre even before you consider the tread. In the bush there are any number of ways you can destroy a tyre. Sharp sticks, rocks and old fencing wire, even animal bones. I once had a 10-ply rated tyre succumb to a bit of roo bone through the shoulder.

Tread pattern is the next choice you must make and while big lug tyres look pretty awesome, they can often be a liability. For a start, they are noisy on the bitumen and while their performance is better in mud than less aggressive patterns, mud driving on private land is not ideal. I’ve tried them all and have come back to what is optimistically called ‘all terrain’ pattern. Tyre wear will be better anyway and for most bush travel you won’t really notice any difference.

There is no big secret to being a competent four-wheel driver, it’s mainly commonsense anyway. But if you have any doubts either join a 4WD club or pay a good instructor. The first and most important skill is ground appreciation. This is the art of appraising the surface of the track ahead and deciding where you need to put your wheels.

You should always look at an eroded track and mentally draw a line up it that plots where you need your wheels to go. You do this by attempting to avoid letting your wheels drop into deep ruts. This will often end up with the wheels spinning minus traction while something like the diff housing is grounded on a big lump under the car. Faced with a rough track like this, or any other obstacle, you must ask yourself an important question ‑ do I really need to go there?

Your four-wheel drive was never intended to take the place of a good pair of hunting boots. It’s only there to transport you to a good spot for your base of operations and in some cases to recover harvested game. But for those of us who crave some isolation, a well set-up four-wheel drive will take you a lot closer to that ideal than any other alternative. I can guarantee it.

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