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Stuck in a Rut?

Grab two handfuls of dirt and realize you are holding one of the most powerful substances on earth.

On the one hand you have soil, when combined with water, seeds and sun, can feed masses whether it's millions of deer, turkeys or people. A substance that enhances all life that comes in contact with it.

On the other hand you have muck, when combined with water, no seeds and no sun, can create a gravity well so powerful, it can snatch and hold a two-ton four-wheeled drive vehicle like it was welded to the road. A substance that sucks all the life out of a day in the outdoors.

Everybody gets stuck eventually. What makes a difference between wasting the morning unsuccessfully trying to escape a mud hole, and spending a few minutes pulling yourself out and continuing on your journey? Having the right gear and understanding the right techniques will make a mud hole a mere annoyance, rather than the end of the road.

Drying Up a Mud Hole

The best way to avoid getting stuck is by fixing wet spots. Every hunting club seems to have a soft spot in the road where water collects and develops a bumpy, wet rut. Some roads only need a few buckets of gravel to fix, but persistent standing water is usually a sign that the road crown and ditch are not properly funneling water away from the road and needs grading or water bar installation.

Water bars are low angled berms in the road that redirect the force and volume of water off the road, preventing the pooling that causes mud holes to develop. Unless you have access and training in heavy equipment, creating water bars should be left to professionals. A few state forestry commissions will grade and install water bars for a very reasonable fee.

Buddy System

One of the best ways to keep from getting stuck is the buddy system. Having a spare vehicle to pull you out of a mud hole is a godsend when you are trying to beat the sunrise or trying to navigate a path back to civilization. When pulling a buddy out of a mud hole here are some safety tips to ensure trouble-free recovery:

  • Check the recovery strap for frays or any visible damage.

  • Check hardware to make sure attachment points are not corroded, weak or sharp. This includes clevis, tow hooks hitch and bumper.

  • Never attach recovery strap to axles, suspension, steering rods or a hitch ball. The attachment points must be secured to the vehicle frame.

  • Never attach recovery strap to another vehicle with a knot. Use a clevis or loop the recovery strap over itself.

  • Use a chain to weigh down the recovery strap, in case it breaks. The weight of the chain will direct the force of the strap safely downward.

  • Protect the strap from accidental cuts or scrapes by make sure all obstructions are clear before adding tension on the strap.

  • Everyone should stand clear of the recovery strap when it is under tension.

  • Wear appropriate hand, foot and eye protection when pulling vehicles.

  • When pulling the vehicle out, drive very slowly. Sudden tugs may lead to damage to vehicles or the strap.

  • Once the vehicle is safely removed, inspect vehicles, recovery strap and hardware for damage.

Going Solo

If you have to go it alone in muddy territory, make sure you have adequate equipment to pull you out of a muddy situation. A quality electric winch rated appropriately for your vehicle's weight or a come-along winch rated at least double the vehicle's weight are indispensable when traveling solo. Using winches and steel cable requires caution when pulling your vehicle free. Keep these tips in mind and safely recover your vehicle:

  • Inspect cable for kinks, broken wires, abrasions, rust damage, crushing, stretch or other obvious damage.

  • Wear appropriate hand, foot and eye protection when winching vehicle.

  • Never exceed the working load limit on winch, cable or accessories. The working load limit is the maximum load, which should ever be applied to a winch, accessories or cable.

  • Always consult the winch manufacturer's manual before performing any winching operations.

  • Select a solid anchor point for winching. If it is a tree, use a tree strap to avoid damaging the trunk.

  • Keep the cable as straight as possible between the anchor point and winch.

  • Everyone should stand clear of the cable when it is under tension.

  • Use a chain to weigh down the cable, in case it breaks. The weight of the chain will direct the force of the cable safely downward.

  • Once the vehicle is clear of the obstruction, inspect vehicle, winch, cable and hardware for damage.

  • Hit the road!

Get Away Plan

A mud hole should not be the end a potentially fun day in the outdoors. With the right equipment and safe techniques, a muddy spot will only be a short stop on your adventure. Remember to Tread Lightly by traveling and recreating with minimum impact.

— P.J. Perea




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