28 Creative & Helpful ATV Winch Uses

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ATV winches could be used for more than just getting you out of the mud. Here is a list of creative ways to use our favorite ATV accessory.

An Important Safety Disclaimer

Many of the tips in this post involve using the winch in ways not recommended by the manufacturers.

For instance, vehicle winches are not meant for overhead lifting or suspending a load, only horizontal pulling. That is not to say that the winch will not be capable of lifting. But it lacks the safety features a hoist has, making it less suited for overhead lifting.

Please understand that winches can be dangerous if misused. Apply any of the stuff you read here solely at your own risk! I do not recommend or vouch for any ideas contradicting manufacturer recommendations.

Always make careful preparations and only use proper winching equipment. It’s not worth taking chances if you feel uncomfortable with the task.

1. Keep Control of the ATV on Steep Descents or Climbs

With enough speed, there is almost no limit to how steep an ATV can climb. But with increasing slope comes an increased risk of slipping or rolling over.

Using your winch as an anchor, you can remain in control of the vehicle in places you otherwise could not ride without a significant risk of tipping.

Forestry machines use the same technique for harvesting wood in areas that are otherwise hard to reach. But their winches are a lot stronger. You must remember there are limitations to how much your ATV winch can cope.

You need to attach the winch to a solid object on top of the hill you want to go up or down. The root of a big healthy tree will likely be your best option. Always use a tree saver to help all ATV riders maintain a good reputation.

Depending on whether your winch is located in the front or the back of your ATV, you may need to go in reverse as you climb or descend. The winch must always face straight up the hill, and the bike should not lean to either side.

Maintain even tension on the winch line as you attack the hill in a slow and controlled manner.

It’s a good idea to practice this tip on hills that are not so steep. This way, you are well prepared for the more tricky situations that may come later.

2. Build a Bridge

Bridge building is fun and could be a cool little weekend project with friends or family if you are fortunate enough to own some land.

When riding in the woods, you might even need to build one to make it safely across a small creek.

You can make a relatively sturdy bridge simply by using some beefy logs. Tie them together to prevent them from separating when you drive over the bridge.

But dragging the logs across the creek can be exhausting, if not impossible when done by hand. Using the ATV winch, you will have no problems pulling the logs from where you cut them and across the gap.

3. Operate a Snowplow

When installing a snowplow on an ATV, it’s common to use the winch to raise and lower the plow blade. The winch cable attaches to the plow frame, and you are all set.

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This model features a hydraulic tilting system but uses the winch to raise and lower the plow.

While lifting the plow blade manually is possible, it will soon become tiresome.

But you are in luck if you already have a winch on your bike. This gives you a smooth, fully automatic plow operation without added cost.

It’s a great way of getting the most out of the gear you may already have.

4. Retrieve Big Game

When retrieving big game, life before and after ATVs was like night and day. After a successful but exhausting day of hunting, it’s always convenient not having to pull the prey by hand.

When hunting on flat grounds, you can typically ride your ATV directly to where the animal has fallen. However, access may not always be straightforward when hunting in woodland areas fraught with small creeks, cliffs, and other challenging terrains.

And for some reason, the animal always tends to find the least accessible spots to rest. This is where the ATV winch really comes in handy.

The winch line is usually about 45 feet and can easily manage most big game types. Often, a couple of good pulls with the winch are all it takes to get the prey to a much better position for further transport.

5. Hoist a Deer

Whenever butchering big game, it’s always better to hoist the animal to make the job easier and more hygienic. You may need to do this job out in the woods if you are far from home.

Out there, your options for hanging are usually limited to a branch on a big tree, or you can build an A-frame construction. But to get a heavy animal up by hand can be pretty challenging.

If you have your ATV, chances are you also have a snatch block in your recovery kit. This handy little tool is not only valuable for rescue operations. It also works excellent for hoisting a deer.

  • Run the winch line through the pulley, and secure the pulley up in the tree or A-frame.
  • Connect the winch hook to your gambrel hook.
  • Then use the winch to lift the animal.

6. Skin a Deer

In the next tip, we remain on the topic of hunting. This may sound a bit brutal for those not into hunting or unfamiliar with processing dead animals. But this way of skinning is actually not that uncommon.

First, the butcher will start removing the skin at one end of the animal, usually at its head.

The animal is then hung by its front legs on a gambrel hook connected to a winch mounted to the ceiling. Then they attach the free part of the skin to a hook bolted to the floor.

When the butcher operates the winch, the skin gets pulled off the animal mechanically. This method saves much time compared to doing it with a knife, the traditional way.

You can achieve the same with your ATV winch. Hang the animal neck-up from a big tree or another solid anchoring point. Use a gambrel hook for the best result.

If you do this in your garage, ensure your roof construction is strong enough!

  • After skinning part of the animal with a knife, attach a rope to the loose end of the skin. A nice trick is to fold the skin over a fist-sized rock and tie the rope around it. This will make a solid anchoring point on the animal.
  • Then attach the winch to the other end of the rope and start pulling. As long as the animal is fastened correctly, pulling a bit down and sideways is okay.
  • Go slow, and continue until the skin is off. You may need to assist with the knife on some tricky parts.

7. Exact Tree Felling

Taking down a tree that’s close to a building can be quite a nerve-wracking experience. Even professionals do not take these kinds of jobs lightly.

A tree leaning slightly against the building adds extra complexity to the job. The ATV winch can help you steer the tree-felling in your desired direction.

It’s worth noting that this tip is definitely not for those that just bought their first chainsaw and are about to cut down their first tree.

But if you are an experienced tree-cutter, this trick may be a helpful addition to your toolbox.

The principle is quite simple. This way, you can use the winch to pull the tree in the desired direction while you do the cut.

Again, do not try this if you are inexperienced in taking down trees. A lot can go wrong, and the consequences can be fatal.

Here are some tips that should improve your odds a little:

  • Never attempt this on a tree that’s either too big or leaning too much in the wrong direction. I cannot tell you where this line goes because there is no definite answer. This has to be assessed from job to job and usually requires some experience.
  • Remember that the winching power of an ATV winch is limited, and so is the ATV’s weight. If you are not confident in your decision, consult a professional!
  • Remember, the winch’s pulling power is insufficient to force a giant tree that wants to go the other way. It is only meant to assist in remaining in complete control of the tree-felling direction. To some degree, it also acts as a safety line, “just in case.”
  • Park the ATV at a safe distance from the tree you are cutting. About 10 feet more than the tree length should be fine.
  • Attach the ATV to a solid object like another tree so it stays in place, even if something unexpected happens.
  • Attach the winch rope to the tree as high as you can reach.
  • Put just a little tension on the cable to take away any slack.
  • Take care of making a precise notch cut.
  • It would be best if you had a helper for the final cut. The helper should not start winching until the cut is finished, and only the hinge remains uncut.
  • The helper can start winching as soon as the cutter steps away from the tree.
  • Tiiiimbeeeeer!

8. Raise the Bed of an ATV Trailer

Many ATV trailers have beds hinged to the rear for more convenient unloading. But in most cases, you must pay extra to get a proper lifting mechanism.

You may get one of those flimsy hand-crank-style winches that are both slow and dangerous. Those are worth upgrading.

By swapping to an electric ATV winch, you get to unload the gravel or whatever you are hauling with the push of a button.

This affordable upgrade increases the effectiveness of the operation tenfold. It makes for an excellent cost/benefit ratio.

9. Pull a Dent on a Vehicle or Straighten Bendt Farming Implement

The low speed and high power you get from an ATV winch are great for any job requiring a controlled straight pull.

This tip may not be for the more delicate bodywork jobs where the result needs to be perfect. But it should work just fine to straighten a bent fender on an already beat-up off-road truck.

It’s also suitable for straightening some mashed farming equipment.

You want adequate pulling power and the control to stop the pull at just the right spot. An ATV winch may be just the tool you need.

Drill a hole or spot, weld a hook as an anchoring point, and you are ready. Don’t forget to put the procedure on video and post it on youtube!

10. Retrieve a Flooded Boat

If your boat gets flooded by heavy rainfall or sinks by the dock during a storm, you may use your ATV winch to retrieve it.

Just take your time to let the water out gradually. This will lessen the risk of damaging the boat or overheating the winch.

11. Drag Your Boat Onshore

It’s not only flooded boats that can be dragged onshore using an ATV winch. Similar winches to ATV winches are fitted inside boat houses and used for this exact purpose.

With the ATV winch, you have a mobile solution to drag your boat on shore anywhere you want.

12. Raise a Flagpole or Structural Members at a Construction Site

Flagpoles are often hinged at the bottom so they can be laid down in a controlled manner. This makes initial installation and, later, the occasional maintenance a lot easier.

But the job of raising or lowering the pole can be pretty heavy.

Use an A-frame or position your ATV on higher ground so that it pulls the pole upwards.

The same principle applies to raising studs and beams in small backyard construction projects. Just remember that ATV winches are not designed for overhead lifting.

13. Pull Fence Posts

Fence posts that have been sitting for some time can be a nightmare to remove. You’ll often need some heavy machinery or clever thinking to succeed.

The ATV winch can pull not only horizontally; it pulls with just the same strength straight up. The key is positioning.

Drive your ATV up against the stubborn post you can’t budge. You only have the distance from the winch down to the ground to work with, but this is often enough.

Attach a chain as tight as you can around the as close to the ground as possible. This increases grip and saves your winch cable.

You may need to re-position the cable and do a couple of pulls. But the stubborn post should be out of the ground in a matter of minutes.

14. Tensioning Fence Line

There’s a good chance that your ATV is already a part of your fencing rig. With the winch already there, you might as well make the most of it and use it for tension.

It can be used to stretch any fence line or fencing as much as you need to. Add a wireless remote, and it’s like having one extra helper there with you.

15. Collect Firewood

ATV winches make an excellent tool for collecting firewood. They allow you to move heavy logs up steep hills and over wet grounds that the ATV cannot access.

As soon as the logs are winched to more driveable grounds, they can be hooked up to the ATV or loaded into a trailer for further transport.

If you own an ATV trailer with a hand-cranked crane, consider upgrading to an electric ATV winch with a remote. This gives you a flexible system that makes loading the firewood onto the trailer much more effortless.

ATV winches tend to drain the battery faster than the ATV charging system can keep up with. If you have problems with your ATV battery draining, either from winching or other reasons, this article will be of good help.

To increase battery life when you’re out collecting firewood, it’s a good idea to fit an extra battery. Use a car battery that you install on the trailer. Top it off every time you park the ATV.

Combined with the charge from the ATV, a fully charged battery should be enough to get you through the day.

16. Remove Fallen Logs or Trees That Block the Trail

You won’t always be able to go around fallen trees that block the trail. I’ve lost count of how often the ATV winch has come to the rescue in situations like this.

Combined with a quality foldable saw, you can tackle most tree-blocking situations. The winch should be able to move even large trees if well-positioned.

17. Drag Stuff Out of the Water Before It Freezes Over

When fall arrives, it’s not only boats that need to go out of the water. If you have a boat hoist, a raft, or a floating dock, these must come onshore.

Once again, the ATV winch is a good tool for the job. Place some straight logs to make a sliding ramp.

The main benefit of winching rather than pulling with your ATV is having more control over the whole operation. You can stop instantly, and the speed is slow and controllable.

18. Demolish a Building

Winching may be a good alternative for tearing small wooden buildings like treehouses, sheds, garages, and even small cabins.

If you want speed and effectiveness, you will probably be better off renting a good-sized excavator. But it’s worth trying if time is not a big issue and you already own an ATV with a winch.

Especially when access is limited, the ATV winch may be your best bet. Together with a chainsaw and some chain or wire, you should have all the tools you need to get the job done.

I won’t go into the safety aspects of demolition. But winching will usually be much safer than other alternatives, such as pushing with a front loader or going at it with a sledgehammer.

You should always hook up an extension cable to winch safely from a distance.

I recommend getting a spare synthetic winch line. These are pretty cheap, and when the demolition job is done, you have a great addition to your onboard tool kit.

With a spare line, you can extend your winching range when the situation calls for it. The added range of applications this gives you is only limited by your imagination. Safe demolition is only one out of endless possibilities.

Do not directly connect the actual winch rope or cable to the building. It will likely be pinched, snapped, or damaged from demolition debris.

Instead, getting a few feet of chain or a beefy steel cable would be best. Use this to connect the winch cable to the actual building.

19. Pull a Damaged ATV Onto a Flatbed Trailer

Imagine being so unlucky that your ATV belt broke from ripping it too hard in the waist-deep snow. In such a scenario, a winch becomes extremely useful in hoisting the vehicle onto a flatbed trailer.

winch ATV onto flatbed trailer
Winching a damaged ATV sure beats pushing it!

20. Rescue a Truck That Has Gone off the Road

You’ll be surprised how strong an ATV winch is. One time I had to rescue a long-bed Ford F-250 pickup truck that had gone off a snowy road. I parked the ATV in the ditch on the opposite side of the road for optimal grip.

I was skeptical, and the 3500-lb Polaris winch was pushing its limits. But the rescue was successful, and the winch did its job.

21. Make a Spare Tire Mount

Spare tire winches are commonly used to attach spare tires to RVs and camping trailers. You can utilize the same principle to secure a spare tire to your ATV rig. All you need is a winch and a stick.

Simply pull the winch hook through the center of the wheel and attach it to a stick or metal rod. Then use the winch to tighten until the tire rests snugly on your brush guard.

Depending on the winch’s location, this trick may not work on all ATVs. There is also a small risk of damaging the internals of the winch over time.

But it can be done and won’t add any weight to your rig other than the tire itself.

I prefer bringing a simple tire repair kit instead. These kits are cheap and allow you to repair a puncture in the field. It cannot be considered a permanent fix, but it is usually enough to finish the ride and bring you home safely.

22. Attach a Power Loader

A power loader is a hinged steel or aluminum loading frame that attaches to the front of the ATV.

It utilizes the winch’s power to load a heavy big game, hay bales, firewood, toolboxes, ice chests, sacks of feed, building materials, fence posts, and many other heavy objects onto the ATV.

It’s an excellent back-saver and allows older riders or those with physical limitations to perform tasks they otherwise would not be capable of.

23. Make a Handy Clothesline

When out ATV camping or on trail rides that stretch over several days, a need to dry some clothes or wet riding gear may arise.

24. Create a Quick Emergency Shelter

Stretch the winch line between two trees, and you’ll get a nice and robust ridgeline. Throw a tarp on top, and you have an effective emergency shelter.

25. Straighten a Bent A-arm

Sometimes you may have to make emergency repairs out in the woods. Hitting a stump or rock may bend your A-arm, rendering the bike impossible to continue riding.

If your riding companion possesses a winch, you may manage to realign the bent component sufficiently to proceed with your journey. While this is not a permanent solution, it is not the intended objective.

26. Flip a Roofed Vehicle or Trailer

If a riding buddy is unlucky and flips his bike, or your trailer hits a rock and tips over, the winch has the power to get it back on its wheels.

27. Landscaping

Use the winch to move rocks or other heavy objects around. You may also be able to pull stumps from small trees and bushes.

Tip for increasing your chance of success when pulling the roots of a bush: Soak the area around the root ball with plenty of water in advance.

28. Pull cargo onto a trailer

A rear-mounted winch or one mounted on a trailer can be used to skid heavy loads onto the trailer bed.

Haavard Krislok
Haavard Krislok
Haavard Krislok is an ATV and off-road enthusiast with a rich background spanning two decades in owning, maintaining, repairing, and utilizing ATVs for farming, logging, and hunting. Outside his professional life as an engineer and project manager, he cherishes recreational trail riding and is the creative force behind BoostATV.com, serving as its owner, editor, and content creator.

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