Mud Maneuvers

Don't let the muck get you stuck.

Field & Stream Online Editors

To hunters and fishermen, mud is not a major concern. Other than the occasional stuck boot, we hike, wade, and sometimes stand around for hours in mud without much effect. Driving through mud is a different story, because mud changes the very way a vehicle behaves: The wheels can't get good traction. Acceleration is retarded. Stopping takes longer, and turning is much more difficult. At its worst, mud can literally stop your vehicle in its tracks. Here are some tips to keep you rolling:

[BRACKET "1"] Look before you drive. Though deep mud usually can be spotted easily, mud under brown sod or frozen soil is hard to identify. I once saw a turkey hunter bury his 4x4 up to the axle when what he thought was solid ground gave way under the weight of his truck. Before you attempt to drive through a mud hole, take a long stick and check its depth. Avoid any hole with mud deeper than your hubs.

Don't count on tracks left by other 4x4s to be an all-clear sign. They may only indicate the most direct route in dry conditions. Skirt the edge of any terrain you aren't sure of.

[BRACKET "2"] Go low and slow. A good rule of thumb is the deeper the muck, the lower the gear. The idea is to keep the vehicle moving without wheelspin. A steady foot on the throttle is best. If the vehicle starts to bog down, resist the urge to hit the accelerator, which will spin the wheels and instantly bury the rig. If forward motion stops, accept the fact that you're stuck. Winch yourself out or go get help. If you keep trying to free the truck otherwise, you'll simply bury it deeper. Trust me. I learned this the hard way.

[BRACKET "3"] Don't veer. Generally, when driving muddy trails, follow the ruts, as long as you can clear the higher ground between them. In really muddy situations, you may have to drive with your tires partially out of the ruts for better traction, but keep the front wheels pointing straight ahead. (Front wheels can follow muddy ruts even when turned to the side-this is known as plowing. If the wheels suddenly gain traction, the vehicle could turn abruptly, and you'll find yourself off the trail.)

[BRACKET "4"] Know your mud. Gumbo mud-a thick, gooey mud found in parts of the South and Midwest-is virtually impossible to negotiate. The only way to drive over gumbo is to wait until it dries out or freezes over. Clay-based farm roads are also tricky. The slightest drizzle will turn the top layer as slick as grease and send your truck into a ditch, at which point an annoyed farmer will be the least of your problems.