Do This When Getting Your Vehicle Stuck Off-Road

Just to show you how good I am at getting stuck, I’ve been stuck in mud puddles, lakes, and streams. I’ve been snick in the middle of plowed fields and the middle of county roads. I’ve been stuck in clay-soil gumbo, sandy-soil uplands, and most other kinds of soil in between.

The ”art” of getting stuck

My last traps to check were on the far side of an abandoned railroad right of way. There were no rails anymore, just a steep hump up and over to the other side. I’d driven over the grade dozens of times. Each time involved rollercoaster-like fun and a minor leap of faith.

Going up, all I could see through the windshield was the sky. Even on the crest of the hill, the downslope side was so steep I could only see what was 50 yards ahead. The hood obscured the road just in front of the truck. It wasn’t until I was over and on the way down that, I could spot the two trap sets 15 yards ahead.

Except this time when I went up, over, and started down, instead of coasting between the two sets, I went up, over and whump. The few inches of snow that had dusted the area the night before had blown across the bean stubble and piled into a 3-foot drift on the downhill side of the grade.

I was stuck.

Good and stuck. My front wheels weren’t even touching the ground. I’ve been there before. Stuck, I mean. Not in that place, but I’ve been stuck dozens of times in other places.

I’ve been stuck in trucks, vans, cars, ATVs, bulldozers, lawn-mowers, semis, farm tractors, and bicycles.

Bikes are easy —just pick them up and carry them to firm ground. Bulldozers are much more serious.

I’ve been stuck on wet grass, wet dirt, wet snow, dry snow, and ice. Suffice to say, I’m an expert at getting stuck. Since I don’t have any stranded trucks, ATVs, or bulldozers rusting away across the county, it goes without saying that I’m pretty good at getting unstuck as well.

Unstuck A Bulldozer

I will admit, getting the bulldozer unstuck was a chore and required the use of another bulldozer, though I did help a guy get a bulldozer unstuck once by chaining a log to both tracks and backing out of the quagmire.

Chances are you operate some sort of vehicle off the road. Chances are, if you operate some sort of vehicle off the road, you stand the chance of getting stuck. Chances are also good you manage to get stuck in a handy location.

Keeping from getting stuck is like wearing the right clothes to keep from freezing when you are on a deer stand or knowing when the weather conditions are such you need to get off the lake when you are fishing.

Getting unstuck is mostly planning ahead, coping with the issue, and usually a good dose of hard work. As a self-proclaimed expert in getting stuck and unstuck, let me offer some advice.

Tools of the trade

I have a “getting unstuck” tool kit I keep in my truck at all times. I carry a chain and a towrope. If you are slightly stuck, it’s a lot easier to convince someone to hook onto you and pull you out if you furnish the connection.

tlw2 b3It’s not that your connection is better than their connection. It’s that they probably don’t have a chain or rope. Be prepared when you are begging for help.

If you are buying a new truck, select the option of front or even front and rear tow hooks. Whoever first bought the truck I now own didn’t do that, so I purchased a set at an auto parts store and installed them myself. At the rear of my truck, the receiver hitch makes a good attachment point for a chain.

A vehicle without hooks requires crawling underneath to find a place to fasten a chain or tow strap. Finding secure hooking points on late-model trucks seems to be much tougher than on older models. Even if there is a good spot, do you want to be wallowing in the mud or snow getting to it when you are stuck?

I carry a cell phone. I also carry a local phone book and a plat book. I also carry a little black book. I’m lazy. I’d rather call for help than walk for help. With the phone, I can usually summon help without having to walk a mile or two.

My little black book doesn’t have numbers and notes on old girlfriends. It has the phone numbers (home and cell) of the landowners or farmers where I trap. It has the phone number of other people who might be able to help, especially cell phone numbers. I can get most of the other numbers from the phone book.

I always know whose land I’m on when I’m running my trapline, but I don’t always know who owns or farms the adjacent acreage. That’s where the plat book comes in handy. If I’m stuck in the middle of the southwestern quarter of section 18, perhaps the owner of the northeast quarter of section 18 is just a half-mile away. First, I check the plat book, then I check the phone book.

Plat Book

I have two last resorts. One is knowing the number of local towing companies. The other is knowing how to get in touch with my wife. I’m uncertain which option is worse. Both options will cost me; one in dollars, the other in grief.

Other tools I keep in the truck include a shovel, jack, and hand-powered come-along. None of these are sure-fire tools to use to get unstuck, but they can occasionally get the job done.

The situation I was in at the start of the story was solved with the shovel. I was able to shovel enough snow from under the front of the truck to get my front wheels solidly on the ground. After I engaged the 4WD transfer case, I just backed up the hill and back down the other side.

I’ve used the jack more often to change tires speared by rusted fence posts or other sharp objects hidden in the grass than to get unstuck, but the jack did get me out of a jam once.

I was backing up to turn around when one of my rear wheels fell into a hole over a rusty culvert. Barn! The rear bumper was to the ground, and one front wheel was in the air.

I managed to position the jack under the rear bumper and raise the back end high enough to lower the front wheel, and put some weight on it. Then, with the 4WD engaged, I drove up and off the jack and back onto the road.

If there had been a tree or fence post ahead — or even another vehicle with or without 4WD — I could have probably hooked the chain to it, then the come-along and ratcheted my way out of the hole.

That’s the downside to relying on the come-along or even a front-mounted winch. They work great when there’s something to hook to. Unfortunately, I seldom get stuck in ideal locations. If I have 20 feet of chain, you can bet the closest tree will be 25 feet away.


Defensive driving

My employer hired a defensive driving instructor to instill safe driving habits to workers. I still remember the “two-second-rule” to judge if I’m following the car ahead at a safe distance, as well as other aspects of the class. Some of the rules apply off the road as well as on the highway.

One of them is driving in the “know.” Know the road ahead, and know the vehicle you are driving. The defensive driver instructor was talking more about anticipating road conditions, such as known hazardous areas, spots prone to traffic congestion, whether the pavement is day, wet or slick.

For an off-road driver, knowing the road is different. We need to understand how the path we are taking will change with rain, snow, thawing, or other environmental changes. If possible, drive the same track tomorrow you drove today. Anytime you are on unfamiliar ground, the chance of finding the spot that will stop you cold becomes more likely to occur.

Not all vehicles handle off-road conditions the same. I once saw three pick-ups driving down the edge of a harvested cornfield, and the first two clicked along without even throwing any mud. Halfway down the field, the third in line lost traction, started flinging dirt, and quickly mired to a stop.

Differing tires, weight, ground clearance, and other factors affect the ability of a vehicle to traverse safely over rough, uncertain terrain.

When in doubt, I walk the area I need to drive before putting the truck in gear. If I’d have checked the approach with the rusted out culvert first, I’d have spotted the hazard. It’s a part of knowing the road you are taking.

I have driven my truck long enough to have a feel for places I can go and places to avoid. Unfortunately, on-the-job training is the only school you and your pick-up can attend. Fortunately, you’ll learn as much from the classes you flunk as the ones you pass.

Two lessons to remember

1. Slow or Go:

Getting Stuck Slow Or Go

There’s a lot to be said about momentum. If the questionable spot you need to traverse is only a short distance, putting the pedal to the metal can blow you on through. I use this trick to splash through mud holes and pound through snowdrifts.

Get 2,500 pounds of steel, rubber, and trapping gear rolling at 20 miles per hour, and you can blast through small impediments that could stop a cautious driver.

On the other hand, there are situations where easing along in granny gear makes more sense. On deeply rutted paths, keeping your wheels on one side of the vehicle on the hump in the middle of the road and the other on the berm beats powering through and risking slipping into the ruts.

Snow and ice driving is another place where maintaining a steady pace makes sense. Don’t drive faster than the speed the conditions allow you to steer where you need to go and stop when you need to stop. That’s as true off the road as on pavement.

2. Hold or Fold:

If you have some questionable terrain to cover, ease into it if you can. If your front wheels push into 6 inches of quagmire, hold. Back out while you can.

If all seems good, proceed with caution and judge how the truck is covering the first few yards by its feel, power requirement, and the ruts left behind. It might not be too late to back out.

If you do decide to continue, make the commitment and go. Powering on through is often a better option than shutting down. Again, momentum is your friend. Pass or fail, you’ll learn a lesson.

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