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Scott Rall: Some work tools are fun to drive, too

Pictured is Ray Busch with his new Argo Avenger. He and the author agree this is the best machine for wetland use. (Submitted photo)

BY SCOTT RALL

The Globe outdoors columnist

I was out in the elements on Wednesday visiting a friend of mine whose name is Ray Busch. Ray is a member of Nobles County Pheasants Forever and an avid pheasant hunter.

I was on a pheasant hunt with Ray last year and we were talking about habitat management of wetlands. There are not many wetlands left in southwest Minnesota, and many that do still exist are in great need of habitat management.

So what kinds of habitat practices do wetlands need? Wetlands are magnets for cottonwood trees. If left untended most wetlands will be ringed with these very prolific trees in as little as five years. Trees surrounding a wetland are a large net negative from the wildlife reproduction perspective.

Once these trees get large enough to house raccoons, they will spend their days hunting the edges of these wetlands and surrounding uplands and will eat the eggs of every ground nesting pheasant or duck there is.

Waterfowl reproduction is very low to begin with. In many cases success runs in the 3 percent to 5 percent range. This means that for every 100 duck hens that lays a clutch of eggs, only a handful will ever raise a brood.

Managing habitat is the key to success.

Wetlands in our area also have an invasive cattail problem as well. Invasive cattails grow so close together and in such thick mats that a duck hen and her brood cannot move around in them.  They also make it almost impossible for ducks and other shore birds to move from water to land. The key to managing these wetlands is making sure you control the trees and manage vegetation in a way that allows waterfowl young to move about.

The problem with these two issues is that the equipment you need to do this work is just about non-existent. A tractor is too heavy to move about in the soft edges of a wetland to remove trees and create openings in the cattails. A Polaris Ranger, even when equipped with tracks, is no match for the muck when you add the weight of the workers and the needed equipment.

I have tried to do wetland habitat management in the winter when the water in the wetland is frozen. The problem with this idea is that when it snows one inch and the wind blows 45 mph for an hour, all the snow ends up in the wetland.

With three feet of snow blown into the wetland edges, the water beneath is insulated so successfully that the ice never gets thick enough to carry the weight of a human -- more less the weight of a tractor or a Ranger.

Ray Busch came up with the answer to both of these problems.

Ray purchased an Argo Avenger from Liewer Enterprises in Burke, S.D.  Their number is 888-898-2746. This is a combination of an ATV, a Polaris Ranger and a boat all in one package.

These units lack some of the handling capabilities of other land based rides, but more than make up for it in their versatility when it comes to the watery world of wetlands. They come in 6 and 8-wheel configurations and Ray added the tracks to his for additional go power. As with anything there is an almost unlimited amount of combinations. When it comes to wetland habitat work, there is no better set-up.

You can drive along the edges of the wetlands and remove trees by mechanical means or by the application of a chemical to the truck of the tree. If the water gets deep this rig just floats like a boat. It can be used to create entry and exit points between the land and water in multiple locations around the wetland allowing wildlife the ability to transition from water to land.

This is accomplished just by driving into the water and then backing up.  The tracks will smash down the invasive cattails. They will grow again the following year, so this is an annual management exercise.

In addition to their versatility in the management of wetlands they are also great hunting rigs. You need to be careful where you use them, though.  

You could not drive one on a state wildlife management area where mechanical transportation is restricted. On private spots you can toss a bag of duck decoys in the back, along with your gun and other necessities, and drive out to the water’s edge or to your duck blind and proceed to hunt waterfowl.

I won’t say you can’t get one of these track-equipped rigs stuck but you would have to try pretty hard to do so. I drove one and they are a ton of fun.

Whether you want to work on habitat of just play, an Argo is a unique way to do both.

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