Story and photos | Mark Hamerton

Some riders new to the sport worry about getting stuck. I can remember the feelings of concern early on, or even chickening out at the edge of a deep spot, but these days I seldom hesitate to plunge right in. This article will explain how you can approach any ride with more confidence armed with winching know-how.

After you watch someone else traverse a deep or muddy section of trail your fears tend to dissipate. You take on the challenge and suddenly you find yourself on the other side feeling triumphant. As you ride more and more you get to a point where a day s ride isn’t complete without getting stuck.

I’m not sure what your definition of “Stuck” is, but in my circles when your ATV stops moving, and your tires are spinning you are “Stopped” and the challenge has just begun. Most riders’ first solution is to rock the machine side to side and front to back hoping that the wheels will dig deeper and grab some traction. Jumping off the ATV and pushing while keeping the tires moving works well if you are dressed for standing in three feet of muck. While all this is going on you aren’t stuck until you give up and have to be towed out.

At this point, in most cases, I am having the time of my life but I know some riders find this alarming and uncomfortable. If this is the case just remember two very important things; your friends will NEVER leave you behind, and helping a friend who is stuck is an integral part of the camaraderie that off road riding is all about. It should go without saying that one should never ride alone, and the farther you intend to ride from help the more prepared you need to be.



So you get stuck, your ATV won’t move no matter how you lean on it, push it, or spin the tires, and you need a tow. The safest means of rescuing your ATV from the clenches of quagmire is a winch. Winching, although not the quickest process, is the most controlled and consistent method of towing, and is least likely to damage your machine. Extending your winch cable can be done either by selecting the free spool setting and pulling however much cable you need, or by holding the discharge button while someone else pulls the cable. New models such as the Bronco AC-12020-1, have an additional wireless control allowing you to walk your cable out while holding the discharge button. Using the discharge is slower than free spooling, but you don’t have to go back and switch the winch before you begin pulling.

Wearing gloves is a must, leather gloves are best, as metal winch cables can kink or fray leaving harmful wires perfect for slicing your skin. The Bronco AC-12020-1 comes equipped with a synthetic cable, far safer, stronger, and less likely to tangle in the winch cage, but I still recommend gloves. If your winch doesn’t have a synthetic cable it’s a simple job to install one, and I highly recommend it.  

Choosing a winch point, although seemingly basic, does require some planning. Try to hook on something steadfast in the direct path that you need the ATV to be moved. Most commonly a substantial tree works best, but be sure to use a strap around the tree to protect the bark and eliminate the need to hook the winch back on itself (this can damage the cable).


Another common solution is to connect to another ATV. Be sure that the other ATV is on solid ground with good traction or you will simply pull it towards the stuck ATV. Never use the second ATV as a tow vehicle as it will quickly exceed your winch’s maximum weight limit and cause considerable damage to the gears or worse.

Cover the cable at the midpoint between the ATV and tow point with a winch cable damper blanket (a towel, coat, or something similar will do). In the unlikely event that the cable snaps the damper will cause the cable to simply fall to the ground rather than whip up and potentially cause bodily or machine harm. Let the winch do its job, be patient, and control the ATV as it comes free of the bad spot.

If you are winching while on the ATV, helping the winch with the ATV’s power, be sure to let the winch catch up when you create slack. Driving over a winch cable can cause all sorts of problems, the worst of which would be having your cable tangled in your axles destroying your axle boots or more.

Lastly, it’s a good idea to hold the cable back as you winch in the remaining cable once you unhook. This allows the cable to spool evenly and tightly so things are free the next time you need it.


When you just need a quick tug a tow strap is a great tool that uses the power of another ATV to pull out a stuck one. As mentioned above, never use the winch for towing. The small plastic gears inside the housing are not tough enough to withstand the power of an ATV or worse a running tug. Towing is best left to more experienced riders, as plenty of things can go wrong. I recommend carrying a strap that is rated for at least 5000 lbs. I prefer the strap style over the rope style as the ropes tend to degrade much sooner. Connect your strap to secure, strong points on both ATVs as low as possible. Never tow to or from you rack as this can cause rollovers. Be cautious and maintain control as a flip over can happen faster than you think.

When on challenging journeys where your group is constantly towing each other out a Tiger Tail tow system can be extremely handy. This non electrical retracting tow strap can be installed in minutes and implemented in seconds.  

With the system mounted on your rear hitch receiver there is no more need to store your huge muddy tow strap. Simply grab the hook, pull out some of the 8000 lbs rated tow rope and hook on to your buddy’s ATV. As you begin to tow the rest of the 15 foot cable is spooled out, staying taut and keeping it out of the mud. Once it grabs you pull the ATV out and as it gains traction and catches up to the tow vehicle the rope begins to retract. You jump off, unhook, and let the Tiger Tail retract the rest of the way and you are good to go. What could be easier!


Whatever means you choose to get unstuck, be sure to have fun while exercising common sense and caution. For those new to the sport, never feel ashamed for getting stuck. It happens to all of us and we all love the chance to help another fellow rider out of a situation (after taking a few photos for “Ribbing Rights”, of course. : ). •  


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