While ATVs and trucks get most of the attention, they’re also loud and costly. If you’re willing to put out the effort then you just might find that a mountain bike can be a perfect companion for many kinds of hunting.
Faster than hiking, and quieter if you’re careful, mountain bikes offer some surprising advantages if the terrain you’re on allows for their usage. Even if you aren’t going to be dragging them through the brush, with a little bit of forethought you can get where you’re going with minimal difficulties and a lot quicker than hiking in.
We asked someone with experience in the field how they do it, and what they use to make sure they get the full advantage from their bike.
Your Mountain Bike
When the idea occurred to us the first time, we did what all good modern hunters do: we Googled it to see if we could find out if it was a good idea or not. At the time upland bird season had just started, the area was a bit unfamiliar and it was a long hike in without using a 4x4 truck.
There are some specialized bikes supposedly perfectly built for hunting. We didn’t bother, the extra expense was enough to be a bit shocking and frankly, the “extras” didn’t really seem to be worth it. The two of us were both pretty used to humping our rifles or shotguns along the trail, and in the off-season, we try to hit the trails at least once a week.
I wouldn’t call either of us “seasoned” mountain bikers. We can handle ourselves on single track, but neither of us is into hardcore downhills or free-riding.
We decided to just grab our hardtails and give it a shot. Anything was better than two hours of hiking in the morning cold for a shot at some birds.
Type of Bike
Regular trail bikes seem to serve well enough, but those with a long distance to cover may want to switch to a cross-country bike and confident riders who can handle riding off the trail may be more comfortable with an all-mountain bike.
Fat bikes are also a possibility if you’re going to be on a lot of slick gravel and sand.
The specialized bikes we looked at didn’t seem to be worth the cost, but if you have the money to burn there are a few of them out there with electric motors which would be nice to have for less fit people in really hilly terrain.
Hardtail, all the way.
Weight is going to be even more of a factor than you’ll normally encounter in mountain biking, with guns, ammunition, and other gear having to be distributed.
Rigid mountain bikes are a pain to ride even for experienced riders, but the extra support offered by the back suspension is really only worth it if you’re going to be freeriding for the majority of the trip.
Most of the time the bikes are going to spend a lot of time just wrapped in camouflage netting by the side of the trail or at the base of the stand or near the blind.
My hunting partner and I differ on this one. It’s pretty obvious why if you see the two of us side by side, I’m about six inches taller and forty pounds lighter than he is.
29” are all the new rage. I prefer them over anything else I’ve ever ridden since I find they can take care of drops and slight climbs with just a bump on the front suspension. They also place the rider pretty high up, regardless of frame sizing, so sizing the frame appropriately is a requirement.
27.5” tires, on the other hand, served well enough on my first trail bike but take more work through obstacles. They handle a bit tighter in corners as well, so if you’ve got inertia behind you they’re probably the preferred way to go.
26” bikes are still around, but neither of us has used one since we broke out our first bikes four years ago. Most modern trail bikes are going to be 27.5” or 29”.
Some Other Considerations
There are a few other things to consider, at least if you have a choice of bikes. They’re all non-essential for the most part, but keep them in mind if you’re shopping.
Disc brakes tend to be quieter, and since when we started we were creeping along chaparral patches for quail it was good to be able to dump the bikes quickly and get our guns without a lot of squeaking.
Colors really don’t seem to matter, we mostly use the bikes to get to our destinations rather than actively hunting from them. Camo netting kept them hidden once we were in place if we were hunting along the edges for more than a couple of minutes. If you’re particularly cautious, you might just want to take some sandpaper to the frame and get rid of the shine.
Always check up on the bike before you launch, check all functions and tighten up anything that needs to be tightened and all of that. It’s important trail riding, but bikes get pretty beat up when being used for hunting, so take care of it.
I honestly think you’re better off spending around five hundred to seven hundred on a decent trail bike than spending the remaining difference on the stuff you need to outfit it, rather than a ton of money on a specialized hunting bike but that’s up to you.
Tricking Out Your Mountain Bike
I’m fairly simple when I’m on foot. Just a few knives, a backpack, and a basic sling for carrying the gun. Some calls and a basic complement of gear, along with some food, water, and ammunition round things out and I use a fairly small bag since I usually stash it before I hit my final position.
I found out two things quickly:
- A basic sling is incompatible with riding.
- My little backpack wasn’t a good option since I now had to carry tools and extra tubes for the bike.
The first thought was to try an ATV handlebar rack, but I found it got too cumbersome on downhills although it was fast to access the gun in a hurry if needed.
I ended up opting for a shotgun scabbard and mounting a cargo rack for a backpack. The scabbard lets me get to the shotgun out in a couple of seconds after some practice, and some bungee cords held my bag in place well enough.
My hunting buddy, on the other hand, opted for a backpack with a rifle holder. The biathlon style carry seemed to work out well enough for him, but he needed to keep the seat up high in order to make sure he wasn’t hitting the top of his rear tire with the bottom of the rifle.
He hates to do it, but he’ll stick a rack on the bike for larger game since it’s not exactly an easy feat to field clean anything much bigger than a rabbit and carry it in the pack.
Some people also recommended an actual biathlon sling, in which case you’d also need a cargo rack to hold things up.
Frame bags are another option for carrying gear and are probably a great idea if you’re planning on going for larger game so you don’t have to keep your backpack tied down.
Other than that we haven’t done much extra to the bikes or our normal carry gear.
The Advantages of Using Bikes
The area that we started in doubles as an ATV and off-road trail for a long run. That was the biggest reason for a long hike: pretty much every animal there knows humans are around all the time and it makes them quite wary.
Once you get a few miles out, past the main off-road trails, things aren’t quite as pressured because there are plenty of areas with no access allowed for motor vehicles. Or just areas where it can be hard to get them even if they are allowed.
It wasn’t a big deal to hump the bikes for a bit if we needed to.
The biggest advantage was definitely speed, but close behind it was easy access to animal trails.
Most deer and coyote trails are about as wide as normal single-track, if a bit more overgrown, and we found that we could get a good distance off the main trails before needing to stash the bikes within the first trip.
They’re also, surprisingly, quieter than moving on foot and we found out pretty quickly that most animals don’t recognize the sound of a bike going along. A lack of gas smell as well makes them a lot stealthier than we were expecting, as I found out when I ended up with a flush of birds hitting the air in front of me the first time we used the bikes.
They’re not a magic ticket, but when we hadn’t been able to get closer than fifteen yards without spooking the birds the year before it felt like it.
You can look forward to the following if you give it a shot:
- Easier access to animal trails
- A whole lot faster than moving on foot
- Being able to surprise animals a little bit more often
Like I said, not a “magic bullet” but it’s not a disappointing experience either.
Risk vs. Reward
The biggest problem with biking that we found was the risk involved. You have to keep your guns on safety and it’s really not a good idea to have one in the chamber.
I’ve taken a couple of spills and been glad for that fact. We’re probably a bit dumber than most people when it comes to riding, but crashes are a real occurrence and it hurts a lot more to roll over a scabbard than over a padded backpack.
And seriously, wear a helmet. No one is going to point and call you a dork deep in the backcountry and all it takes is a single rock or log to turn a hunting trip into a serious medical emergency.
I used my normal cheap full-face helmet at first but found that I had to remove it to aim accurately. It wasn’t too much of a burden with a shotgun, but when we decided to start chasing jackrabbit once in a while in the off-season with .22LR rifles I switched to a standard lightweight mountain biking helmet.
I use fingerless gloves as well like I normally do when riding, but my buddy goes without and seems fine.
The biggest thing is this: if you’re not familiar with trail riding then take it slow. Ten or fifteen miles per hour is still way faster than moving on foot.
This is particularly important if you don’t know the area well, a sudden turn can lead to a nasty wreck.
Flats and Repairs
If you’re not used to riding trails… then get ready for a lesson.
You should be carrying at least the following when you’re out there:
- Two extra tubes
- Tire levers
- A frame pump or hand pump
- A bike multi-tool
- An extra chain
- Chain tool
The latter two might seem extreme… until you’re twenty miles in and hit a creek-bed wrong. And you should consider carrying a lubricant like Super Quick Clean Guns in case you run into a nut or two that doesn't want to let go.
We learned that lesson the hard way, and my buddy’s bike basically ended up being used as a scooter the entire way back. What had been an hour ride out turned into a four-hour dredge back to the truck.
Maintenance is essential to your bikes, and you need to know how to fix most of the moving parts of your bike. Or at least kludge them together well enough that you can get back.
This was the biggest disadvantage we found: if a bike takes damage and you’re not in a position to repair it, then you’re in for a long walk back.
Even if you’re completely new to cycling, however, all of this is quite easy to learn. A couple of Youtube videos will have your knowledge up to par in less than a couple of hours and the stuff doesn’t take up too much bag space.
Mountain bikes make a great hunting platform, just be aware of the pitfalls before you head out. It really doesn’t matter what you’re going after, a mountain bike may be the perfect hunting vehicle for many of us.
It’s also a great way to keep in shape for those who are used to taking their ATVs and trucks out there.
Give it a shot in the lead up to the next season for scouting. You’ll be amazed at how much ground you end up covering in just a few hours even if you’re the type who normally uses a bicycle.
You might have just found the secret weapon to add to your arsenal and a surprisingly fun way to get out there and after game next season.