The invention of the ATV was a dream come true for hunters. Most envisioned owning a horse that would take them to the way-out back, locations they could never reach on foot, and bring back that big buck without a mountain of work. Today, the UTV (Utility Terrain Vehicle or side-by-side), is becoming increasingly popular since it carries far more gear plus a buddy or girlfriend.

Four-wheeling in a Can-Am side-by-side is great fun because you can do it together.
Four-wheeling in a Can-Am side-by-side is great fun because you can do it together.

Can-Am will introduce their newest UTV, the Defender, in December; I was invited to test and evaluate the new machines at Gary Harpole’s Heartland Lodge in Illinois. At our welcome dinner, I was surprised to learn that Heartland’s biggest clientele consists of ATV users. The lodge, located in Pike County, is well-known for its hunting prowess, yet the owner was quick to acknowledge the growth of the ATV crowd in a non-hunting format.

“I built the lodge in 1995”, said Gary Harpole, “and envisioned it to be a year-round resort with hunting in the fall. We built a second lodge in 2004 and last year we opened two more. Hunting will always be part of our DNA, but the growth is coming from ATV riding. Many customers bring their own ATVs for a get-away or vacation, and we rent ATVs to people who have never had a chance to ride. We are unique because customers can stay in a nice lodge with great food and it’s not camping.”

“The side-by-side units have become very popular and over the last five years because couples can do it together. The UTVs have really grown in popularity and we see an even mix between ATV and UTV, but the side-by-side units may win out this year,” says Harpole. Heartland Lodge’s ATV park is open year round, rain or shine, so bring all of your safety gear and dress for the weather. For more information, check the website at or call (217) 734-2526.

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Joe Byers has more than 1,000 magazine articles in print and is currently a field editor with Whitetail Journal, Predator Xtreme, Whitetails Unlimited, Crossbow Revolution, and African Hunting Journal magazines. He’s spent the last three decades depicting the thrill of the chase and photographing the majesty of all things wild. Byers is a member of the Professional Outdoor Media Association and numerous other professional and conservation organizations.