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It recently came to my attention that perhaps not everyone understands the processes involved in winching your ATV or SXS out of a mud hole.

After thinking about it, I realized there are a few tricks someone newer to the sport, or someone who hasn’t pushed their limits in the mud, may not know about.

So, here is a basic step-by-step “how to” on winching.

Step one: Realization

Once you’re in this deep there’s no avoiding it, you’re GOING to get muddy. Just jump into that murky quagmire and let the adventure REALLY begin.

Step two: Assessment

Often you can get a vehicle un-stuck without a winch if you take a minute to analyze the situation. Why aren’t you moving? Are you hung up on something? Is there any way you can move enough to get traction?

Remember, backing out of a mud hole is NOT admitting defeat. Sometimes it’s your best option to get another run at it.

Step three: Acceptance

If you’ve accepted you’re not going to wiggle out of this one, it’s time to thinking about HOW you’re going to winch out.

Start asking yourself, should you pull forwards or backwards? Where do you attach the winch cable or where should you park the vehicle winching you out? Can you get to a solid winch point on the frame of your ATV?

Once you’re done the math, it’s time to get dirty.

Step four: Attachment

If you don’t know the basics of using your winch, you’re not alone. If nobody ever showed me, I wouldn’t know either.

All winches have a free wheel lever. This detaches the cable spool from the internal gears of the winch so you can pull the cable out by hand. It’s usually on the side and it can often be hard to get to. Your best to figure out where it is BEFORE you leave so your not hunting for it underwater.

Once you’ve released the spool, pull the cable out as much as you need. Usually just enough to reach the stuck bike or winch point with a little extra so you can wrap it around something solid.

Remember, you’re pulling HARD on your stuck ATV so whatever you wrap your winch cable around needs to be TOUGH.

Wrapping the cable around a suspension part or bumper could cause damage to the vehicle. If it’s available, the trailer hitch is usually the best option.

Some ATVs don’t have winch friendly hitches so find a solid frame member to wrap the cable around. If possible, wrap it around more than one frame member.

Step five: Accept Help

Now it’s time to start winching. First, ensure your ATV is in 4-wheel drive with diff lock engaged (if available). If you’re winching from your own vehicle you still need to use the throttle to help. Keep your helmet and goggles ON, just in case something goes wrong with the winch cable.

You want to run the winch in stages and feather the throttle as you’re pulling. The idea is not to pull the ATV ALL the way out of the mud hole. Just get you to a point where the vehicle will drive out on its own.

If someone is pulling you out, keep you lid and goggles on and help the process by keeping the tires rotating. When you do finally gain traction don’t throttle out like crazy or you’ll run over the winch cable. Just slowly crawl back until the winch operator tells you to stop.

Step six: Appreciation

Time to either say a quiet prayer of thanks for the winch you have OR say a loud “THANKS” to the guy who helped you. The rules of the trail state that you now owe them one. Also take a moment to stand back and appreciate how awesome it is that an ATV can get that stuck, then unstuck and still finish the ride.

Finally, appreciate that without the winch, you’d still be in that hole so if you don’t have one, grab your phone and place an order right there on the trail. Apparently you NEED it.

Other notables:

* Most ATVs have a reverse override switch. You must push and HOLD this button to get 4X4 and/or full throttle in reverse. If you don’t push it, your throttle will be limited and 4X4 may not engage.
* Jerking a vehicle out of a sticky situation is hard on your winch. It tends to bind the cable on the spool and can make it harder to unwind the cable next time you need it.
* Putting the winching vehicle in reverse can help steady it as you’re pulling on another ATV. Try to avoid throttling it in reverse while your pulling.
* Never wind up a loose winch cable. Keep a bit of tension on it when retracting it to avoid tangles on the spool.
* Try winching from different angles if straight forward or backward isn’t working. All you’re trying to do is get some traction. There may not be any in a straight line.
* If you’re being winched and something goes wrong you start tipping or rolling unexpectedly, have an exit strategy.

Luke Lester
Luke Lester
Luke is Co-Host of DIRT TRAX Television which can be seen on OLN and Sportsman Channel in Canada, Outdoor Channel across America and globally on our YouTube channel.

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