Let’s present an example of how to have a great day. You and your buddies jump on your quads for a few hours of down-and-dirty trail riding. You happen to know where a couple of mud bogs are, so you head up into the hills to find them. They’re bigger and badder than you remember, and a couple of the quads get hopelessly stuck. You pull up the quad with the winch mounted on it, hook the cable to the stuck quad, and pull it out with ease, followed by the next quad. You do it all over just for the fun of it, then jam on down the trail looking for the next spot.

Now here’s how to have a bad day. You and your buddies hit the mud bog and get hopelessly stuck. Unfortunately, no one has a winch. You all get completely filthy and exhausted as you try to push, pull and tug your big, heavy 4×4 quads out of the quagmire. By the time you do, you’re totally drained and the day is half over.

Pretty good incentive to put a winch on your quad, eh?


A winch is a pretty amazing device. Many that rate less than a horsepower can pull up to three thousand pounds! How is this possible? It’s pretty much high-school physics. A winch is a gear reduction device that converts the electricity from your battery into pulling power. The winch motor provides power to the gear mechanism, which turns the winch drum and winds (or unwinds) the cable. A reduction gear converts winch motor power into a powerful pulling force.

For even more pulling power, utilize a snatch block. You see, pulling power decreases with the number of layers of cable on the winch drum. A snatch block enables you to double out the cable and “gear down,” increasing your motor’s pulling power. You can thank the simple laws of physics for this capability.


You’ll be handling the winch cable, of course, and even when relatively new, the cable strands can produce small, sharp protrusions of individual wire. These little wires can slice right into your hands as you’re playing out the cable, so tough leather gloves are the first item of winch safety. Riding gloves can work in a pinch but real leather work gloves are the preferred weapon of choice.

Next, as when using any power equipment, avoid having loose clothing that can catch in the spooling mechanism. Likewise, be careful of dangling jewelry such as necklaces, or even long hair. You don’t want a freak accident to occur when you least expect it.


Let’s say you’re stuck in a mud hole and want to get out. The first thing you’ll need to do is find a suitable anchor point. This can be a large rock, a tree, a self-arresting anchor such as stakes in the ground, a log, or even another quad. As you might imagine, the anchor point is critical to the success of the winching. If your anchor point won’t hold, you’ll never get your quad out.

Once you’ve picked a suitable anchor spot, disengage the clutch of the winch. On many winches this is done by twisting a wheel on one end of the unit. When the clutch has been disengaged (also called free spooling), take the hook strap and begin to pull the cable out to your anchor point. The cable should unspool easily from the drum as you are pulling.


You’ll need to wrap a choker chain or nylon webbing straps around your anchor point. If you’re using a tree as your anchor, make sure you use a tree trunk protector strap to avoid damaging the tree. NEVER wrap the winch cable around your anchor and attach the hook to the cable itself. This can dangerously fray the cable and cause a breakage. Once you have a strap around your anchor, attach the winch hook to the shackle. Re-engage the clutch on the winch to take it out of free spool mode. As an additional safety measure, lay a heavy jacket or even a tree limb over the cable. This will absorb some of the energy should the cable snap under pressure, and hopefully keep the cable from taking someone’s head off.

Keep as straight a line as possible from the winch to your anchor point. Also, don’t try to use the winch as a hoist. It’s not designed for that and it invites injury to you and damage to the winch and cable. Finally, don’t winch if there are less than five wraps of cable around the drum.


Start up your ATV so that the battery has additional juice, and activate the winch to slowly put the cable wire under tension. Once the cable is tight, never step over it. Do a final check of your hook, anchor point and quad, then activate the winch. Many winches have a wired remote control, so you can stand clear of the quad and start the winching from a safe distance. All come with a handlebar-mounted switch, too. If you’re really stuck, stay on the quad and give the rig some gas as the winch pulls. Power to the wheels along with the winch should soon extricate you from trouble,

If a buddy is using his winch to pull you out, make sure the pulling ATV has its hand brakes locked and the wheels are blocked.

Remember, a winch can pull a lot of juice from your battery. It’s no good to free yourself from trouble only to be unable to start your ATV. It’s a good idea to keep your engine running at medium revs, or even better, install a battery with twice the recommended cold-cranking amps. If you’re serious about winching, you can install a deep-cycle battery on a split-charge system that operates independently of the main ATV battery. The advantage of this double-battery system is that the winch operation won’t affect your ATV’s engine, lights, or radio. If you’ve done everything right, you should soon be unstuck and back on the trails!


A winch is a valuable addition to any utility quad. You, and your stuck buddies, will fully appreciate having the awesome pulling power of a winch when it is needed most. The most popular brands include Warn, Ramsey and Superwinch. Moose Utilities and most ATV manufacturers’ accessory divisions also sell winches. Also check Cabelas for a wide variety of ATV gear including winches and accessories.

Warn (800) 543-9276
Ramsey (918) 438-2760
Superwinch (860) 928-7787
Cabelas (800) 237-4444
Moose Utility Division, see your dealer


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