The situation is usually different, but the results are always the same. You’re heading down some dirt road to that secret honey hole, and there’s been quite a bit of rain lately. Suddenly your hunting vehicle begins to slip and slide as you lose traction on the muddy, rutted road. Quicker than you can say “Oops,” your forward speed is reduced to zero. The motor is roaring with tires spinning, but you’re not going anywhere. You’re stuck!
Thoughts of spending the night in the woods flash through your mind, but it might not be that bad, if you’re prepared. In fact, with the proper equipment, you can be on your way in short order with only a few minutes lost. Before we get ahead of ourselves, however, let’s talk about how to avoid getting stuck in the first place.
Playing in the mud with an off-road vehicle may be fun for some, but for the outdoorsman in search of hunting and fishing opportunities, it’s business as usual.
To begin with, before you attempt to run through a soft spot, get out of your vehicle and test the ground by walking on it, if possible. By observing the “give” of the ground, you can decide whether or not it will support your vehicle. If the road has mud holes filled with water, you should consider probing them with a long stick to determine their hidden depth and bottom composition. Since the ground clearance on most factory vehicles is only about 8 inches or less, a hole deeper than this could “high center” your vehicle. This means that the vehicle’s chassis is supporting your vehicle and not your tires. In short, you would be stuck. Where possible, you should straddle deep ruts with your tires to avoid this situation.
If you’ll take the time to “look before you leap,” you can avoid most problems by figuring out a vehicle pathway through the trouble spot. However if the mud hole looks bad, but you’re determined to go through it anyway, approach the obstacle at a slow speed (about 5 mph) and high RPM’s for better torque, so you can power your way through it. If you attempt this approach, remember that control of your vehicle and its momentum are what really counts. Too little momentum and you’re stuck before you really get started. Too much speed results in an out-of-control vehicle.
Some outdoorsmen purchase 4-wheel drive vehicles thinking they have eliminated their off-road driving problems. The truth hits them when they’re stalled in a bog hole and have to crawl out a window because the mud is swallowing their vehicle whole. This is where being prepared determines whether you can get out quickly or have to walk back to civilization.
A good winch is without a doubt the most useful piece of equipment you can add to your vehicle. You can also help other friends and strangers in need. In choosing a winch, the most important consideration is pulling power. An 8,000-lb. winch will meet the needs of most outdoorsmen who have full-size vehicles, says Mark Cramer, at Ramsey Winch Company.
I’ve had an 8,000 Ramsey winch for 20 years, and it has never let me down. My current unit is an 8,000-lb. pull Ramsey Patriot model. There are many brands on the market, so check manufacturer websites for more info. Also check out www.expeditionportal.com.
An 8,000-lb. winch will usually pull out a stuck vehicle by just running the winch line from the vehicle to a nearby tree. However to get the maximum potential out of any winch, especially one of the smaller units, a little mechanical engineering is necessary. By utilizing a snatch block, which is nothing more than a simple heavy duty pulley, you can transform an 8,000-lb. winch into a 16,000-lb. powerhouse.
To perform this mechanical marvel, just unwind the winch cable and run it to a nearby tree, through your snatch block (attached to the tree by a chain or nylon strap) and then back to your vehicle. This setup reduces the pulling speed of the winch by one half thus doubling the pulling power.
One last word of advice on winches. Make sure the winch is mounted securely on your vehicle and that it’s locked down by some means to deter thieves. Special “anti-theft nuts” are available through winch manufacturers.
Whether your off-road vehicle is a 2-wheel or 4-wheel drive, there are several things you can do to improve its traction in difficult driving situations. Probably the most effective addition to your vehicle, other than a winch, is a good set or aggressive tread tires.
When you get into soft surfaces such as mud, snow or sand, the amount of weight that can be supported per square inch decreases. If you stop in soft mud, you have already lost your momentum, and you’ll sink. A slow, steady speed through the muck is often the best strategy, matched with a set of good aggressive traction flotation tires.
The big tires do have several disadvantages that you should be aware of before you rush out and buy a set. Besides being costly, tread life is low, and the tires make a lot of road noise. For the average off-roader who does 95 percent of his driving on asphalt roads, a combo highway and mid-level off-road tire is a good answer. If your budget is limited, you might have to choose between a winch or tires.
Many outdoorsmen figure that an electric winch will almost always pull them out of the mud and can conceivably last a lifetime with proper care. Tires wear out and have to be replaced. It’s nice to have both, but the smart money is spent on the winch.
If your budget won’t allow the expense of an electric winch, you could consider a Hi-Lift jack, which is a real workhouse. It will lift 7,000 pounds a distance of 4 feet. Besides being useful for lifting your vehicle so you can stuff some limbs under the wheels for traction, the Hi-Lift jack has a detachable base so it can be used as a come—along. It pulls 5,000 pounds when used as a come—along, and this can be increased to 10,000 pounds with a snatch block. However, remember it can only be used to pull for a very short distance.
For Hi-Lift jack info, go to www.expeditionportal.com/jack-of-all-trades. Some winches, like Ramsey, also have optional remote control for increased safety.
Every off-roader should carry as standard equipment a nylon “snatch” strap. Whereas chains are well-known for their ability to pull off your bumper with a single tug, a nylon strap of proper strength (20,000-lbs. is considered adequate by most) can be attached to a tow hook or chassis, not to the bumper, and used to pull a stuck vehicle free. The sling-shot effect of the nylon strap effectively uses the momentum of the pulling vehicle to the best advantage to pull the stuck vehicle out.
One last piece of equipment to always remember for emergency use is a cell phone. The reception may be spotty in some places, but if you move around, or get to a higher elevation, you probably can get a signal. I also carry a shovel, axe, extra heavy chain and an extra 50-foot length of 5/16 steel cable.
Hopefully you won’t need your winch or other off-road equipment very often, but when you’re alone and bogged down on some forsaken jeep trail at sundown, you’ll be thankful for every penny you spent on it.