Ridgeland — Several years ago, Randy Watkins’ hunting buddies asked him to convert a few electric golf carts into hunting vehicles. Intrigued with the idea, he had Club Cars raised several inches off the ground, added a stronger motor and painted them camouflage. His sportsmen pals were pleased. By the time those friends told their friends, Watkins had grown a successful market niche.
“It’s a big part of my business now,” said Watkins, owner of Whisper Lake and Patrick Farm Golf Clubs and Randy Watkins Golf Cars in Ridgeland. “Instead of four-wheeling, deer and turkey hunters especially are going with ‘no scent, no noise’ transportation in the woods.”
Serious sportsmen are paying up to $10,000 for customized carts converted with lift kits, embellished with mud tires, and loaded with all sorts of bells and whistles.
“Most deer camps are like country clubs now. They’re very nice, with good road systems and woodland grass so you can hunt and not get mudded down. It’s so clean now that you could hunt in a tuxedo,” Watkins joked.
Business has been so brisk that, beginning this year, the outdoor toys are being manufactured in-house, said Curt Busching, managing partner of Watkins’ golf car operation.
“It’s turned out to be a better avenue for us to do it ourselves,” said Busching. “We’ve been experimenting for seven years now, trying to find the right vehicle to fit the specific needs of hunting in Mississippi. The most important thing has been producing a product to service and keep out in the field. Our customers are not going to be very tolerant if we put them in a vehicle that’s going to have to continuously be brought back in for service issues. We’ve been very slow, almost slothful, getting this vehicle ready for market.”
In the meantime, the Club Cars had been customized out of state, with requests running the gamut from simple add-ons, such as rear view mirrors, gun racks and bifold windshields, to pure indulgence amenities, such as a custom dash with a drink holder large enough for a bottle of wine. A common request: rear flip seats that double as cargo storage to accommodate four riders. Other popular options include battery meters, weather-shielding camouflage enclosures, power points for spotlights, Warn wenches and butane heaters.
“Our slogan is, if you can think it, we can build it,” said Busching.
To modify the club car into a LYNX two-wheel drive, the rustproof and lightweight aluminum frame vehicle is lifted eight inches and a new independent front-end strut system is added. To transform the club car into a BOSS HAWG four-wheel drive, a drive shaft that connects to a 15-horsepower General Electric motor is installed, enabling four-wheel drive on demand with a flip of a dashboard switch.
“When we’re done, our vehicles have an extremely powerful high-torque engine,” said Busching. “We have a very aggressive tire package that offers as much comfort as possible but at the same time, our primary objective with this vehicle is to make it all-terrain tough. For folks with extremely nice road systems at their camps, they may not need four-wheel drive, but it comes in very handy driving through gumbo mud in the Delta.”
A LYNX two-wheel drive starts at $4,500 and the new BOSS HAWG four-wheel drive starts at $7,500. “Once folks have a chance to demo this 4×4, this is what everyone wants,” said Busching.
The typical drive time for two-wheel drive vehicle is six to eight hours, two hours longer than a four-wheel drive. “At the end of every hunting day, just plug it into a charger overnight and you’re ready to go the next day,” said Busching.
A fanatical hunter, Busching said he’s passionate about bringing the product to market locally primarily because electric hunting vehicles are safer than ATVs (all-terrain vehicles).
“I’m the father of a son that hunts, and safety is very important to me,” he said. “With this, I can sit side by side with my son and talk to him on the way to the stand and coming in from the stand. Deer is my primary game, and a deer’s sense of smell is its top defense, so with no gas or diesel, the vehicle doesn’t smell. It’s quiet. You can drive right up to the stand and not be concerned about the noise.”
The hunting vehicles have been driven through shallow lakes, with water well over the dash, and continued to function because the motor and battery system is waterproof, Busching pointed out.
“Club Cars has been building golf carts since 1974 with a lot of built-in technology,” he explained. “They’re built to survive 1,000 rounds of golf or five years on the golf course. The top maintenance issue is not letting corrosion build on the battery post. When that happens, it makes the battery run hotter and wires burn up to protect themselves, and we end up replacing battery cables. Keeping the proper water level and battery posts clean is only maintenance involved.”
Six technicians are involved in the manufacturing-customization process, which may be expanded into another building before year-end. “We’re producing as many as possible year-round as orders come in,” said Busching. “We appreciate people’s loyalty. They know we’ll keep them in the field.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at firstname.lastname@example.org.