How Can I Use A Winch For Recovery and Prepping Situations?

I’ve had a pretty long history with vehicle recovery among other tasks that using a winch is helpful for. I watched the use of rope and pulleys to move trees and lift deer on a skinning rack as a youngster then graduated to straps, chains, and cables to recover stuck vehicles when my friends and I started driving 4 wheel drive trucks off road. While very few of us had an actual winch, we learned a lot of the mechanics of leverage and resistance that come into play. A couple of years later, I got bitten by the towing and recovery bug and spent about 16 years in and around heavy duty tow trucks and even some crane work. I’ve had the opportunity to take multiple classes involving winching, rigging, and resistance over this time and while that’s been great knowledge, there are some basics we all can use to safely move loads with a winch. For some other vehicle related information, check out my vehicle survival post Here.

What Is A Winch?

For our purposes as preppers, winches are anything that moves a rope, cable, chain, or strap around a drum in some manner to lift or move an object. I’ve seen crude winches fashioned out of a bare wheel mounted to a cars axle with a strap or chain around it and a cable looped through a stuck tractor’s tire to free it from a sunken spot as well as many other setups over the years, but they all serve the same mechanical purpose.

What Kind of Winches Can We Use?

Depending on who we ask, I’d be willing to bet that the most common winch that pops into our heads would be the electric, self recovery winches found on the front of many vehicles. I would dare say that this could be one of the most important parts of a survival/ bug out vehicle simply because we are more likely to have to move ourselves or others across treacherous ground in the event of a disaster such as a flood, tornado, or earthquake. Ice and snowy situations can also bring plenty of opportunities to work with vehicle recover gear, so we’ll look into the vehicle winch pretty close in this post. The recognized leader in the self recovery winch market is Warn Winches. I recommend them and they have a value line as well, however I would encourage everyone to purchase one locally because the dealer support at the local level is usually the best. For a budget minded prepper, the most reliable ones I’ve seen used regularly are the new Smittybuilt models. Click below for a heavy duty one:

Beyond the electric vehicle winches, its good to think of the other types of winching devices we may have or need around the farm or homestead. A “Come-a-long” is a type of self contained, hand operated winch that usually has a snatch block, or pulley built in to assist in moving the load. The beauty of this type of winch is that it can be mounted and operated in almost any direction needed. It can lift, pull horizontally, or pull down to an anchor point. These are very handy for farm and homesteading use. Click below to get one for your home:

Another handy, yet inexpensive type of winch can be found in most boating stores, or in supply houses like Harbor Freight tools. If we look around, we can often find used ones left on rotting boat trailers. These winches were designed to pull the hull of a boat up onto a trailer and secure it, however they can be mounted in multiple ways to benefit us. Using one of these winches mounted to a secure post on a skinning rack allows us to raise large animals up high enough to butcher without straining ourselves to lift them. We can also employ them to lift walkways up in a draw bridge fashion, or attach them to a trailer or truck bed to assist loading heavy objects. Click the picture below for an inexpensive trailer winch:

One More type of winch that I find handy around the shop and farm is the chain hoist. This hoist has one chain that is attached to a load and another lighter chain that is pulled by hand to raise or lower the load. Like the most other winches, the advantage is in the gear reduction allowing us to move a much larger mass with the same amount of effort. Below is a decent sized model for around the shop and farm:

Proper Winching Technique

To properly flesh out this topic, I’ll have to add a video explaining some of the concerns we have when using any of these winching devices so I’ll give fair warning here, any of these pieces of equipment can cause serious injury to us and serious damage to equipment if used improperly. For some basics, click on the picture below for a recovery handbook from LandRover vehicles:

Connection Points:

To move an object with a winch we have to have at least two connection points. both of these points must be able to withstand the strain placed on them by lifting or pulling. I have seen heavy duty tow trucks with the winch brackets broken an bowed up from the frame and I beams bend under the weight of a load suspended from a chain hoist in a shop, not to mention the number of chains, straps, bumper brackets, and axle parts that I have seen damaged from pulling on vehicles to recover them. The inconvenient fact is that not everything that we need to move was designed to be pulled with a winch.

Vehicle Connection Points: While most vehicles have some sort of attachment points, usually only pickups and SUV’s have adequate tow hooks for any sort of major recovery. If we have to recover a vehicle from a stuck situation, it pays too look closely at the chassis. Don’t hesitate to look at an owner’s manual too if its available. Often times there are recommended procedures listed that can guide us to a reasonably safe connection point. Regardless, Look closely at anything you hook to and anything that the cable or chain will contact as is tightens. Avoid touching and especially connecting to hoses and lines. Look for solid points on the frame if possible and always watch from a safe distance and gradually apply tension. When building a bug out or survival vehicle, it’s a wise choice to plan on adding quality connection points during the build. Below is an example from my Jeep. The two extensions on the front bumper are to connect shackles to.

Home and Farm Connection Points: Engineers spend years in school working with all sorts of mathematical and physics computations to design structures capable of lifting a specified load. For the rest of us, we have to learn from experience and that can be an expensive teacher. Just because the metal beams that support the roof of our garage or barn are made of steel does not mean that they are designed to hang a vertical load from. Those treated hardwood crossties that we might have handy to build a skinning rack for deer might have a weak spot in them that causes our lag bolts or eye bolts for the winch and hoist to pull out as we raise up the animal. Much like the vehicle connection points, we should watch carefully as we lift and pull on anything around the home or farm and whenever possible, we should consider seeking the advice of someone with the engineering knowledge of placing a hoist safely. Below is an example of a purpose built gantry hoist that I’ve used many times. It is far safer than trying to use the roof beams in the shop to lift the engine and transmission in this picture.

Winching Accessories

When I was in the heavy-duty towing business, I had, probably, over a thousand pounds of rigging and connections that I carried in my truck boxes for winching and lifting. For prepping purposes, we can seldom expect to have that drastic of a need, however some hardware is important. Click the picture below for a basic recovery kit that has a snatch block pulley and some connection hardware that can help you recover yourself or another stuck vehicle as well as perform utility tasks with a winch. Also take a minute to look at the chain and binder information in my YouTube video on load securement by clicking Here. The hardware I use there can be combined with other attachment points for recovery.

Winching Safety

I’ve stressed safety throughout this post but there are a few things that need to be added. Not only do we have a chance of damaging the connecting points at either end of a winch pull, we also have to consider what happens to the connection when it breaks free. In an overhead lift, the greatest hazard is the load falling on someone or something. In a horizontal pull, however, things get much trickier. Depending on the force and direction, a hook or pulley can fly off of a broken connection point and become a steel missile in any direction. A steel cable can snap and become a weighted bullwhip that can cut through flesh and bone. In an ideal world, we would be able to perform any winching an lifting functions by remote from a distance out of harm’s way, but that’s seldom the case. The best we can do is to keep ourselves out of the line of fire of a broken cable or falling object and insist all others present do the same. Remember that injuries reduce the survivability of everyone in the group.

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Should I Consider 22 Long Rifle For Prepping and Survival Use?

It’s almost a coming of age moment in a youngster’s life when he or she gets to fire that first “Real” gun. I know it was for me. I had already had a BB gun and a pellet rifle to practice with. You can read about those in more detail Here. But, there is something different about that first live round of ammunition. The loud crack. The smell of burnt powder on our hands. At that moment we were entrusted with an honest to goodness firearm and regardless of the diminutive caliber, that 22 rifle was a huge step forward in the process of maturing as responsible shooters. It’s a pleasant moment to think back to for many of us, but for others, it might not have ever happened. For those of you in the latter category, it isn’t to late to get your rimfire fix!

What Is 22 Long Rifle?

I try hard to remember that not everyone has had the same experiences as I have and to add some of the basics for those that need a little extra info to catch up. The Union Metallic Cartridge Company most likely developed the 22 Long Rifle cartridge (or 22LR) around 1884. It was preceded by the 22 short and the 22 long, which are both still available today. That’s a pretty impressive useful lifespan for a cartridge over 130 years old to still be one of the most popular today! The 22 LR, just like the short and long, is a rimfire cartridge. This means that the firing pin strikes the outer rim of the casing to detonate the powder versus a centerfire cartridge where a primer is pressed into the center of the casing for the firing pin to strike. The 22 LR is loaded with bullets weighing 32-40 grains, for the most part, and capable of delivering them from rifle length barrels at anywhere from 1000-1600 feet per second. The cartridge provides this velocity while maintaining a relatively soft report and very little recoil. While the firearms and ammunition market are in a bit of an uproar this year with the election and the shortages from COVID, 22LR is still pretty inexpensive and a lot of fun to shoot.

Why Preppers Should Have A 22 On Hand.

I mentioned in the previous paragraph some of the benefits of this light shooting caliber. There are many more for us as preppers to consider.

Size: I don’t have a decent scale handy, but I can tell you that the weight and space taken up by close to 200 rounds of 22 LR is going to be similar to the space needed for 30-40 rounds of .223/5.56 ammo that feeds most AR15 rifles and will still not be as heavy. Simply put, we can carry a whole lot more 22 LR ammo than any other useful cartridge.

Range: In the hands of a practiced shooter, the 22 LR is capable of shots at 100 yards or more, however the bullet does its best work between the muzzle and 50 yards or so. Beyond the that, it takes some compensation or sight adjustment to correct for the bullet drops at 75 to 100 yards. As preppers, this means that the 22 round is perfectly capable of reaching out to the ranges that we would normally hunt small game, or dispatch vermin and pests that are trying to damage our gardens or get into our homes and buildings.

Energy: There is such a thing as too much gun. Keeping in mind the basic rules of gun safety that you can read Here, we know that it is important to know that our bullet will not exit our target and continue on to injure something else. While the 22 LR is a lethal round and should never be underestimated, it is much better suited for closer shots on small game, especially when shooting up in a tree at something like a squirrel. The second advantage of modest energy is that we can preserve much more of the meat from small game with the 22 LR. Faster or larger calibers can either rip apart the valuable meat of a squirrel or rabbit, or almost cause the animal to explode from the shock wave. Either way, it makes for thin soup and that’s no good when we need all the protein we can find.

What Makes A Good Survival 22?

Even when discussing a category as specific as 22 rifles for preppers, I have to start by saying that it’s still not a one size fits all choice. If we find the need to have a rifle that can be packed out or stashed, there are a number of takedown models on the market that all work very well. There’s even the Henry U.S. Survival that disassembles and the barrel, action, and magazines are stored in the butt stock of the gun.

Henry AR 7 U.S. Survival Rifle

For most purposes other than packing in a small space, I prefer a full size or carbine length 22 rifle. I’ll do a video soon on the Ruger 10-22 which is possibly the most popular semiauto rimfire rifle ever sold. As long as the rifle we chose will function properly with the ammo we have and hit accurately enough to humanely kill the small game that we may need to hunt, I don’t wade far out into the weeds as far as brand loyalty. Buy as good a quality rifle as you can afford, maintain it, and enjoy it!

Pistols: I can’t think of much that comes close to the fun of plinking cans with a 22 rifle other than doing it with a 22 caliber pistol. A good 22 pistol or revolver can be hours of fun and good training for the larger caliber pistols we carry for defensive use. They also can be a fun and challenging hunting tool that is easily packable to use as game presents itself. You can add a pistol scope with a longer eye relief to make them even more deadly on game. Click below for one I like.

Accessories: 22 rifles are getting more and more aftermarket support these days and we can doll up many of them, especially the Ruger 10-22, with all sorts of hot rod trigger groups, tactical stocks, and high capacity magazines, however for practical use, I prefer simply adding a low power telescopic site like the one below. The scope gives us the advantage to make slightly better aimed shots at small game and gives us a better chance to put food on the table if small game is beyond 20-25 yards. Click the picture below for one of my favorite rimfire scopes and the second one down for a great aftermarket stock for your Ruger.

Ammunition: Within 20 to 25 yards, it’s not likely that we will notice a huge amount of difference in 22 LR ammo unless we shoot carefully from a bench. That said, there are some ammunition considerations that I’d like to offer. As a youngster I thought faster was better so high velocity or hyper velocity 22 ammo was the thing to have. When I started shooting competitively, I discovered quickly that standard velocity, or sub sonic velocity ammo had some great benefits. First, it is just as effective on small game and with less damaged meat than the hyper velocity rounds. Second, it is usually more accurate, though within small game ranges, its a nominal difference at best. The third benefit is one of the biggest for us as preppers. Standard and subsonic ammunition is right at or below the speed of sound. Much of the noise given off by a rifle is from the supersonic crack of the bullet breaking the sound barrier. The combination of a subsonic bullet speed and small powder charge make the 22 LR capable of repeated shots almost as quiet as a pellet rifle but with significantly more energy with the right ammo.

Targets: Because of the lower energy of the 22 LR, there are lots of inexpensive targets that we can purchase and use for fun and practice. Click the picture below for a fun resettable target stand from Caldwell.

Survival Situations That We Shouldn’t Depend On The 22 For

If you gather even a modest size group of gun guys together and discuss calibers, I’m willing to bet that at least one person will offer up the “fact” that more people have been killed by 22’s than any other caliber. Now, I’m not going to research the FBI crime statistics in an effort to discredit this claim. It may very well be the truth, however my position is that the death rate humans shot with 22 LR is irrelevant.

The 22 LR round has many great uses in the prepper arsenal, but self defense is not one of them. I wholeheartedly agree with the people who say that its better than nothing, but it still is not my first choice to defend myself against predators, man or beast. The ugly truth about self defense is that it is none of our business whether the attacker lives or dies. Our concern, in the moment, is that the attacker ceases the actions against us. While humans and most animals large enough to kill a human by brute strength or with weapons will likely die from multiple shots of 22 LR, they may do so after they have completed their attack upon us. For self defense, I prefer a long gun in a medium to long range rifle cartridge, a shotgun with buckshot or slug ammo, and a pistol in a serviceable defensive caliber, in that order. I’ll concede that in dire situations, the small round can be used for quiet subversive work, but it still is not my idea of a primary defensive cartridge.

Final Thoughts on 22 LR For Preppers

Regardless of the level of preparedness an individual wants to reach, I can’t think of a single reason why he or she shouldn’t have at least one good 22 rifle and pistol in their arsenal. They are a great introductory firearm for new shooters and a practical hunting and pest control tool that is inexpensive to shoot and not cumbersome to carry. For semi automatics, I recommend the Ruger 10/22 as one of the best out there for quality and aftermarket support. If you like the look and feel of a lever action, I have really enjoyed my Henry carbine. A number of manufacturers make great bolt action 22’s now. I personally love the CZ brand of rifles, but Savage, Marlin, and others provide great guns for reasonable prices these days. For pistols, Look to the Ruger 22/45 or Mk4, the Browning Buckmark, or, for a similar feel to the Glock 19 many carry for self defense, try the new Glock 44.

Whatever you choose, hang up a set of swingers or a row of old cans and have fun while getting better!

Disclosure: I am an Amazon affiliate and may make money on qualifying purchases.