Selecting ATV or UTV Herbicide Spray Platforms for Wildland and Natural Area Weed Management

C Duncan Photo

C Duncan Photo

Herbicide application on rugged terrain requires knowledge, precision, perseverance, and the proper equipment. All terrain vehicles (ATV/4 wheelers) or utility terrain vehicles (UTV/ side-by-side) offer a platform for transporting application equipment and applicators. This type of equipment can expand the area an applicator can access, increases daily efficiency, which maximizes budgets, and has less impact on soil and vegetation than full-size vehicles operating on similar sites. These features translate into less operator fatigue and greater application accuracy, mobility, and acres monitored and treated.

We interviewed ten public and private invasive plant managers who use ATVs and/or UTVs for invasive plant management. This article features feedback from these experienced managers regarding the equipment they use for invasive plant control in natural areas and wildlands. This article does not endorse any one brand of ATV or UTV, or brand of spray equipment; however, it provides information from experienced applicators that may be useful when building or ordering herbicide application equipment for your program.

Many companies will custom build sprayers for ATVs or UTVs to your specifications or you can purchase complete units ‘off-the shelf’. Please refer to local dealers and suppliers for information and prices.


ATV or UTV: What type of equipment should you choose?

Utility Terrain Vehicles (left) and All Terrain Vehicles (right) each have their benefits for use as herbicide spray platforms. (Photos by Bobby Goeman, left; and Ken Morin, right).

Safety and stability are paramount considerations for private, commercial and government applicators when choosing an ATV or UTV as a spray platform. Lee Shambeau, owner of 4Control Inc. in Menomonie, Wisconsin explains. “Our biggest concern is to reduce the potential for roll-over during application, so we purchase equipment with a wide wheel-base and low center of gravity.”

Although most of the federal agencies are transitioning from ATVs to UTVs, private and commercial applicators, and county weed districts use both types of equipment for noxious weed control. Rick Stellflug, Supervisor for Valley County Weed District in Glasgow, Montana says, “UTVs and ATVs are both useful in our weed program since ATVs can access places where we can’t go with the UTV, and are less expensive than UTVs to purchase.”

Kenny Keever, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Montana switched from ATVs to the 6-wheeled Polaris UTV for controlling weeds in the Havre Field Office and Missouri Breaks National Monument. “The UTVs carry a larger payload than an ATV, which means fewer trips back to the nurse truck. The UTV in conjunction with remote reels have increased our efficiency at least three-fold. The only real draw-back is turning radius with the 6-wheel UTV.”

Daniel Bertram, Weed Coordinator in Salmon, Idaho uses the Cub Cadet UTV along with ATVs. Bertram recommends that any UTV used for spraying should have a minimum payload capacity of 1,000 lbs. 

Overall, UTVs offer a wider, more stable platform than ATVs for herbicide application. Applicators can improve the safety of ATVs by selecting appropriate tank design, tank size, personal safety gear, and working within weight and operational limits of the ATV. The narrower wheelbase with ATVs may be an advantage on some sites such as eroded or constricted two-track roads. 

Benefits of a UTV over ATV include more applicator safety features (windshield, roll bars, safety netting on doors, and seat belts), ability to carry two people, larger payload, easier to steer and spray when using a hand gun, and easier to maintain consistent ground speed because of a foot operated gas pedal (compared to ATVs that require operating the throttle with your thumb). 

Some applicators report stability issues with UTVs going uphill because the weight on the back of the sprayer reduces the driver’s ability to steer properly. With both ATVs and UTVs, keeping weight within the payload rating for the vehicle is important to ensure safe operation and reduce potential for tipping and roll-over. Be sure that any UTV purchased is equipped with roll over protection (roll bar).

The following twelve ATV and UTV models are recommended for use as herbicide spray platforms by experienced applicators based on their stability, reliability, durability, and ease of use and repair. Additional features and comments from interviewees are included.

Are Hose Reels Needed for Herbicide Application?

Hose reels are often not used on ATVs because the extra weight added by the reel does not justify its use. Several applicators interviewed use about 15 feet of hose with their ATV and wrap it around the tank or rack to keep the hose from catching on brush. Mike Mooney, Bureau of Land Management uses the Hanney PW2 reel, which will hold up to 150 feet of hose with an ATV-mounted sprayer. Mooney explains. “This is a hand crank reel, but for an ATV you don’t need a power or remote control feature. The reel has a front-mounted guide that allows you to pull from any direction without the hose binding.”

Remote controlled retractable hose reels will rewind the hose when a hand-held transmitter is activated. These units are best suited for UTVs that have a greater weight payload. Several applicators recommend the Intelli-spray system reel. “This system has a non-slip hose and electric rewind with up to 400 feet of hose,” explains Bertram. Stellflug also recommends the Intelli-spray reels. “The remote control rewind system makes the hose easy to handle on our UTV. We have used these reels for several years and had very few problems.”

Remote control retractable hose reels are best suited for UTVs that have a greater weight payload. Hose reels are often not used on ATVs because the extra weight added by the reel does not justify its use. Several applicators interviewed use about 15 feet of hose with their ATV and wrap it around the tank or rack to keep the hose from catching on brush. (Photos by Ken Morin).

Spray Tanks

Spray tanks come in rectangular, cylindrical and saddle (contoured) shapes with varying capacity. The type and capacity of spray tank selected should be based on the type of terrain accessed and the payload of the ATV or UTV. Exceeding the rack capacity on either an ATV or UTV can seriously compromise stability of the equipment during spray operations.

Stability tests conducted by BLM with various types of tanks reported the following:
[>>View full report]

  • Cross-slope stability was better with rear-mounted rather than front-mounted spray tanks.
  • Front-mounted tanks on most ATVs are not practical because rack capacity is exceeded if more than seven gallons are in the tank.
  • The majority of 400- to 500-cc ATVs have a rear-cargo rack weight limitation that is roughly equivalent to a full 15-gallon tank.
  • The 50-liter saddle tank (13.3-gallon tanks) did not out-perform the traditional 15-gallon cylindrical tanks in stability studies. There was some concern that side wings on the saddle tank could restrict a rider’s ability to dismount in case of an emergency.
  • Larger tanks restrict the rider’s ability to bail out during a rollover.

Rear mounted contour tank (top left), Front mounted contour tank (top right), Rear mounted rectangular tank (bottom left), Rear mounted cylindrical tank (bottom right). (Photos by Celestine Duncan, top left; and Ken Morin).

Several land managers who were interviewed use contoured tanks on ATVs because they feel the load is more stable and there is less water surge. Both the Cottontail 15-gallon and the Jackrabbit 24.5-gallon tanks are designed for better weight distribution and safety, and are recommended by several applicators for ATVs. Square tanks are also believed to have less water surge than similar capacity cylindrical tanks. Larger volume square tanks for UTVs can be purchased from agricultural dealers or custom made to fit specifications.

Bryce Fowler, Supervisor for Fremont County Weed Control, Idaho explains the importance of knowing where you are going to be treating weeds before you build or buy a spray system. “If you are spraying a yard and pasture that is flat or gently rolling, a normal cylindrical ATV tank will be fine. But if you are working in rough terrain, then consider something that is more stable that won’t let water surge. The most important thing is to purchase a spray system that you are comfortable with and that you will use.”

Water surge in tanks can be an important safety issue especially when working on steep terrain. Baffles can be purchased for ATV and UTV spray tanks to prevent water surge, resulting in a safer load, reduced stress and fatigue on the driver, and a longer tank life. The BLM recommends Surge Buster Baffles available at:



Flojet or Shurflo pumps are two brands recommended by applicators for use with herbicide sprayers. Recommendations are based on durability, ease of repair, and availability of replacement parts. The 4.9-gallon per minute (gpm) pump is recommended on ATVs, and a larger volume output pump (7 gpm) is recommended with UTV-mounted sprayers.

Michel Ottley, weed coordinator in Twin Falls County, Idaho recommends the Flojet Model #04300504A. “We have had some of these motors run up to 10 years. We put a filter on the line where it comes out of the tank just before the pump.”



Boom Buster 125

Fixed booms are not practical for most wildland and natural area herbicide applications because of rough terrain. Boomless nozzles that are mounted on the rear of an ATV and can be operated to provide an application pattern either left, right or both provide the best coverage for wildland weed control. Both Boom Buster 125 nozzle and Boominator 1200 PSR or PSL nozzles are recommended by applicators.

Bertram explains, “We typically mount a left and right boomless nozzle side-by-side on the ATV, with each nozzle spraying a 16-foot pattern when operated singly or a 32-foot pattern when operated together.” Nozzles are usually mounted on a vertical shaft located at the rear of the tank about 36 inches off the ground. The ability to move the nozzle higher or lower on the mount will give more flexibility for treating weeds of different heights. Additional information on nozzle placement and spray patterns is available at



Several different handguns were recommended for use by these applicators. Recommendations are shown in Table 2 and are based on durability, reliability, ease of use and ease of repair.

NOTE: Several herbicide applicators have been diagnosed with ‘trigger thumb’ (Stenosing tenosynovitis) or ligament damage to the thumb possibly caused by excessive use, and/or stiff spring pressure with some handgun applicators. READ MORE >


Other Considerations


Uniform, accurate herbicide coverage whether it is broadcast application or spot treatment is critical to the success of a treatment program. Everyone sprays differently, so it is very important for each applicator to calibrate his or her sprayer. Detailed information on sprayer calibration is available at


Maintaining a constant, uniform broadcast application pattern can reduce the volume of herbicide used and applicator exposure. When UTVs and ATVs speed up and slow down while spraying in rough terrain, uniform application is a difficult task.

The report "Field Evaluation of a Constant-Rate Herbicide Sprayer for ATVs and UTVs" (0824–2802–MTDC) describes a spray system that was configured by The Missoula Technology and Development Center (MTDC) to apply liquid herbicides evenly while an ATV is traveling between 2.5 and 4.5 miles per hour. The spray system costs about $2,225. The report also includes information about spray droplet size and coverage during tests of boom and boomless spray nozzles, along with recommendations for calibrating sprayers. For additional information about this spray system go to


Data collection and accurate record keeping are important components of any weed management program. “Commercial and government applicators should consider installing a Global Position System that records the exact location of the herbicide application,” explains Bertram.

Examples of two systems described by Bertram included the Sniper and Spray Logger. These systems vary in price and ease of use. The Spray Logger ( is about $4,000, is easy to use, and requires no GIS knowledge to operate. The system will create maps, records, and reports of your treatment sites. The Sniper is about $1,700 (, but a Juno GPS Arc Pad and knowledge to run the software is necessary.



Applicators agree that it is important to tailor the equipment to your business, including the experience level of applicators operating equipment, and the type of terrain and conditions in which you will be controlling invasive plants. Select equipment that best fits your needs and provides a safe and efficient spray platform for you and your employees.

Thanks to the following Individuals for contributing information presented in this article

  • Ray Beck, rancher Lewistown, MT.
  • Daniel Bertram. Weed Coordinator. Salmon, ID.
  • Bryce Fowler. Supervisor, Fremont County Weed Control, ID.
  • Kenny Keever. Bureau of Land Management. Havre, MT.
  • John Moodry, Butter-Silver Bow County Weed District, Butte, MT.
  • Mike Mooney. Bureau of Land Management. Dillon, MT.
  • Michel Ottley. Weed Coordinator. Twin Falls County, ID.
  • Lee Shambeau. Owner, 4Control Inc. Menomonie, WI.
  • Rick Stellflug. Supervisor, Valley County Weed District. Glasgow, MT.
  • Terry Turner, Hill County Weed District, Havre, MT.