Tactical Use of ATV ‘Four-Wheelers’

Canteen Vs. Hydration Bladder
August 27, 2013
VIDEO – Sep 1 Team Break Contact Drills – React to Contact Front
September 3, 2013

I decided to write this post after spending a day up at my site with J.C. Dodge from Mason-Dixon Tactical. He originally came up to meet and ended up staying all day to help with some work we were doing to improve the training site. We had a long tactical discussion and as part of that we were discussing SHTF ATV tactics. So credit where credit is due – he helped form some of the ideas behind this post.

The intent of this post is to focus on general patrol use of ATV’s. The tactical use of ATV’s is a very large topic and in the spirit of keeping the post to a reasonable length I will look at the topic in general with this post and look to further posts to focus in more specific detail on topics such as break contact drills. So really, the purpose today is to pass on concepts rather than tell you specifically how to run drills.

A good primer read would be my POST on ‘Tactical Mobility’ from July. ATV use forms a subset of that topic. The first objection I anticipate is “there will be no fuel” in an SHTF situation. Well, we can’t predict exactly what SHTF will look like. It could be a full grid-down collapse or it could be a partial collapse, a civil war, a foreign invasion, a balkanization, or some similar thing. This may allow continued fuel supply, perhaps limited to theft from enemy forces and the black market, and you may also have stocked up on fuel at your retreat in order to be able to continue limited vehicle operations. So don’t situate yourself too much with your own assumptions; for the purposes of this post, we will assume availability of fuel to run ATV missions, within reason. At the very least, you can run them till you can’t….

Using ATV’s is a cross between foot patrolling and vehicle patrolling. I do cover vehicle and foot patrolling and break contact drills for both in detail in the manual ‘Contact! A Tactical Manual for Post Collapse Survival’. The important thing is that the principles – that of fire and movement – remain the same even if the detail changes. I will be raising various situations and configurations throughout this post and it is important for you to adapt the basic principles of fire and movement to the set-up that you are using, in order to create effective SOPs.

Why use ATV’s at all?

They have the following advantages over foot movement:

         Range, short term (within fuel considerations, not an advantage over long term foot moves)

         Equipment carriage


         Ability to evacuate casualties. Vital.

Disadvantages over foot movement:

         Noise. A key consideration.

         Range, long term (limited fuel)

         Limitations of off-road capability.

They have the following advantages over vehicle movement:

         Off road capability & versatility of routes. This is absolutely vital.


         Less equipment carriage

         Less range

Equipment carriage over that which can be carried by a dismounted fighter is an important consideration. However, if you are looking to move large amounts of supplies, ammunition or support weapons then you are likely to want to put trailers on your ATV’s or step up and use larger vehicles like the Polaris style UTVs. That in itself would be a vital use because by doing so you could achieve objectives such as the resupply of remote patrol bases or caches, or the transport of heavier weapons and larger amounts of ammunition to support a raid. However, that is a separate discussion and such a use of ATV/UTV vehicles would limit their maneuverability and therefore is not a consideration for use in this post on basic patrolling.

The two considerations that I have highlighted in bold above are noise and versatility of off-road routes. These are both key considerations and speak to the tactical employment of ATVs for patrolling. Noise must be taken account of in your movement plans. The off-road capability must be utilized to the maximum to reduce your chances of enemy contact, and reduce channeling such as found when using standard vehicles when you move on roads and larger trails.

If you are looking to patrol a large area, or for example move to conduct an OP or raid on an objective where time and distance preclude a long foot move, then ATVs are a perfect choice. They will not go everywhere a man can walk: they are limited in the incline they can get up and down and have difficulty driving sideways across steep slopes. They can be stopped by creeks and other broken ground. However, you can use them on small trails or even just cross-country, depending on your terrain. You can weave through trees. This is where they have a vital advantage over vehicles, even 4 x 4 off road vehicles, which are often still limited to certain routes. Of course, if you are in open desert, then this is no longer a consideration and full sized 4 x 4 vehicles may become a better option for range, speed and equipment carriage reasons.

Noise is a key factor. This is where you have to be clever in your tactical application. Noise can be reduced by using slower speeds, which is something you will be doing if tactically patrolling anyway. Noise is also reduced by using range and terrain masking. You will use terrain masking anyway to help defeat FLIR. You will probably not drive an ATV all the way towards the enemy position, but you may perhaps drive it to behind the ridge over which the enemy is located, cache the ATV’s, and then move forward on foot.

If you are doing a raid and want ammo resupply and casualty evacuation, then you will leave the ATV’s to the rear in a rally point, move forward with the weapons and ammo you can carry, then call the ATV’s forward when the fight goes noisy and it does not matter anymore. They will bring the ammo up and evacuate any casualties. If you had heavier weapons such as mortars then ATV/UTV vehicles would be able to carry in the heavy ammunition and may be co-located at the mortar firing line in dead ground from the enemy position. For a machine gun fire support line, the ATVs would be out of noise range to the rear and would have to move forward once the fight started. 

Military units have for some time utilized ATV’s with trailers as part of dismounted formations to carry ammo and evacuate casualties. The ATV(s) will move slowly at the rear of the formation, for example in the platoon sergeant’s group within a dismounted platoon. The noise of a slow moving ATV is limited, granted it is not uber-tactical, but it depends what you are doing. Horses for courses.

If you are really serious, you can even get a stealth exhaust system for your ATV’s that will significantly reduce noise. Remember that the less noise you make, not only are you reducing the range at which you can be heard, but you are also allowing yourself to hear more:

“The Stealth 2.0 Exhaust System is an innovative high-flow/low-restriction spark-arresting muffler with a smaller diameter for a better universal fit. 4.5″ diameter by 12.5″ overall length. Quiets UTV or ATV exhaust noise by at least 50% with no measurable back pressure or loss in performance. In fact, Dyno test results on some models have revealed an increase in midrange power and overall performance. Universal design fits any UTV or ATV with a four-stroke engine. Heat shield included. Certain models require an additional adapter (sold separately).Colors: Black.”

So how are we going to conduct these ATV patrols?

I would suggest a minimum of two ATV’s, which gives you a buddy pair. You could have one person on each ATV, or two people. You could have a four-man team riding on two ATVs, or give each man an ATV for more flexibility. If you had the full four vehicles, then you could really practice genuine bounding overwatch by deploying one pair on an overlooking feature, the other pair riding across to the next feature, then the overwatch pair mounting up and riding across,. The speed of the ATV’s will allow this to be conducted fairly rapidly but keep a base of potential fire ready in overwatch in case the moving pair comes under enemy fire.  

Alternatively, if you are ‘riding the fences’ at your retreat property with ground domination patrols, you could send out one man on an ATV, preferably two persons (a buddy riding on the back), to do a short term patrol and look for signs of infiltration. This kind of patrol could mix ATV movement with dismounted movement and LP/OP activity. 
If you are moving or patrolling on ATV’s you will have to consider how you can do this more tactically. You will inherently be less tactically aware and create a much larger signature than a foot patrol, but be more tuned in to the environment than if you were in a vehicle. Think about moving at a slow ‘patrol’ pace, well spaced, and using the ground as best as possible, in a similar way to how you would do it if you were on foot. It stands to reason that there will be times when moving on the ATV’s is not appropriate. That will be when close to the enemy and when you need to make better use of ground by moving on foot. ATV’s can go off-road to a serious extent but will still be limited.

A useful way to think about it would be similarly to how orienteers navigate to a checkpoint when racing: they will move at a fast run (green) when simply trying to macro navigate and close long distances fast. They will then slow down (amber) when seeking the attack point onto the checkpoint. They will then be moving slowly, maybe even walking (red), when moving from the attack point to find the checkpoint. They will then set off again at green to the next point, after a quick map orientation and assessment. You may end up moving initially at a faster pace (green) before slowing down (amber) when you are moving into what you consider ‘hostile’ territory, before caching the ATV’s and moving the final part of the route on foot (red).

Because you are driving an ATV, with your hands on the bars to steer, you will have a slower reaction with your weapon if you come under fire. As such, your first reaction might well be to move the vehicle rapidly into cover. You need to work out how to carry your rifle, whether slung across your chest or in a hunting rifle mount on the front of the ATV.

If you have two people on an ATV, then you may consider the passenger facing rear. You may have to rig a seat and foot rests up to do this. This will allow them to fire their weapon and cover the rear sector, and if you were able to turn around and drive away from the enemy in a break contact drill they would be in a position to fire. Be aware that if you want to conduct break contact drills in such a fashion, then you still need to stop to put accurate fire down on the enemy, so you would have a group moving and a group firing as per a conventional break contact drill. 

If you are riding an ATV alone, with another buddy travelling with you on another, then you have to work out the practical considerations of how you will break contact, which will depend largely on the terrain you are on and the ability to turn around. You may be able to reverse, spin around off-trail in a circle, or you may have to do a k-turn. A k-turn takes time and is not advised initially – if you can’t spin around due to a narrow trail, then reversing until you have broken contact or can spin around is better, then do the k-turn and drive away.

Also remember that sitting on your ATV you have a high profile so if you are going to stay on it you must be putting down effective suppressing fire and moving fast. Don’t forget reliability issues with the ATV and the potential for it to stall, or be disabled by enemy fire, if trying to maneuver under fire. All this points to the need to mentally be able to make the decision to get off the ATV when it does not serve you to stay on it any longer. This may take the form of abandoning the ATV and moving out on foot with a conventional break contact drill, or perhaps fighting back to your buddy and getting on the back of his. It may also mean that if you are moving back in bounds by fire and maneuvering on your ATV’s, that you may actually get off and adopt a fire position each time you stop. You have a choice between a balance of speed by staying on the ATV, or steady with more cover and effective fire if you get on and off with each bound.

There is potential to use the ATV itself as a form of cover. The engine and metal parts will give you a little cover, but there is a gas tank sitting right there in the middle, so beware! Yes, this isn’t Hollywood so gas does not automatically explode, but it is a fire/explosion hazard.

There is so much that you need to pull in from standard patrolling, and also from vehicle patrolling, that this shouldn’t be re-inventing the wheel but rather adapting techniques to ATV use. For example, you are making noise and limiting what you can hear. So, put in tactical halts. Stop, turn off the engines, and listen.

One of the great advantages of ATV’s over something like an off-road motorcycle is the stability. You can stop, turn it off and sit on it. You can take cover behind it. You can carry more gear; you can easily fire a weapon from on top of it. A dirt bike is useful for simple ‘run away’ drills to escape contact, either that or just dump it and fight out on foot. An ATV gives you more options, from simple ‘run away’ at speed (mostly not advised), break contact options while remaining on the vehicle and fire and maneuvering, and also the ability to dump the ATV and fight out on foot. The ATV also allows you to carry casualties. So in a contact if your buddy is hit, rather than having to drag him out of the contact and then carry him out, you can pull up, throw him on the ATV, and drive out. Even if you have to initially drag him off the ‘X’ by foot then if you then have an ATV, perhaps one parked outside of the contact or back at a Rally Point where you left it, you can man-carry the casualty to the ATV and then drive out to get help. Using ATVs will also allow you to move faster out of an objective area if you are subject to follow up by hostile forces.

But don’t forget the keys! If there is any potential for having to swap out or use others vehicles, then have an SOP for where the keys are; not on the body of the guy you left back at the objective before running away.

One thing that vehicles should have in a hostile situation is run-flat tires. Input on options for that with ATV’s, perhaps foam filled, would be useful. 
I will follow up this post with one next week discussing specific contact drills and how you may achieve them in varying terrain and maneuver options. Right now I am getting ready for my August 31st training weekend. For further training weekend availability, please check out THIS POST and also the detailed information on the MVT WEBSITE.
Live Hard, Die Free.


  1. Anonymous says:

    ATVs are a tool and like any tool they have their place and they have their times to be left in the garage. The largest downfall of them is laziness of the people the same downfall I see when I hunt and people are flying around all over the place no longer hunting just driving.
    They can be useful for food, water and logistics collection as well.
    The ATV itself can become a logistical financial nightmare prep if you are not careful so weigh the risk reward carefully before getting all googoo eyed about it. Stay away from all “speedy” models and look for power and utility.

    • Anonymous says:

      Amen on the ‘sound’ issues brought up above. The neighbors use ATVs for saving gas for ranch maintenance like riding the fence, checking for holes and windmill maintenance as well as hunting. The headlights are TOO bright – even from a mile away, you can easily see their lighting the horizon so masking that to light up only the immediate front would be well worth the effort. Noise – even when run slow, you can hear their monotone rumble (sounds like an outboard on idle), it may be fast, but it sure isn’t quiet.

      Having said that, a ROKON would be awesome fun, fun being the operative word. The two wheel profile would be able to drive cattle / game paths and they have a high ground clearance too.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I have to go with you on this one , as long as you have fuel this is the modern mule. I still like horse power (four feet and a tail) but the ATV has it beat on speed. One thing, I think y’all will need a good mechanic on any team using ATV’s and a goodly pile of spares-POL. But as long as the tires -oil-gas-parts hold out its a real force asset.–Ray

  3. Anonymous says:

    One comment about two guys on one ATV. Unless the ATV is specifically built as a two-seater, going up a relatively steep hill can cause it to flip. Already done it once. RZR 570 is a side by side that can fit in most of the same places as your ATV but haul two guys and junk in the trunk.

  4. Greygrandpa says:

    A source of gasoline that is forgotten is your local general aviation airport. Not only do they have fuel in storage, but most general aviation piston (propeller) aircraft are stored in a full fuel condition in order to keep water condensation at a minimum.

    Currently Aviation gasoline is 100 octane LEADED gas. It WILL plug catalytic converters, but has no alcohol in it.

  5. Knob says:

    Forgive me for bringing this idea up but…

    This sounds silly somewhat to myself, and I’m sure it will for others but another concept is MTB’s.. Mountain Bikes. Juvenile, somewhat, but when ya think it out, it’s has practical uses. Especially if for some ugly reason there is no gas, anywhere or if EMP for some reason makes it impossible to start the ATF. For bikes, it’s easy enough up-keep with basic knowledge of bicycle repair.

    -Silent when not coasting, otherwise you hear your rear hub lightly buzzing from the wheel-hub-locking-thingamagig. you can hear a bit more.
    -Granted your using your energy, during patrol though, you can keep a cadence around a perimeter that wont cause much fatigue for the fit to semi-fit rider.
    -With going a slower speed, you can dismount sooner to take cover. If you have a short barrelled firearm in front of you, get down to about 10 mph, dismount as the bike is moving and let it continue on a ghost ride like when we were kids all while you keeping your eyes on your target.
    -You don’t have the cover an ATV can provide but you do have less of a profile.
    -for just what is mounted on your body via a tac vest, or back pack, the MTB can be carried easily.
    -with the right gear ratio, you can get to a good 21-30 mph depending on the rider and terrain.
    -they can go just about where ever a horse can go-depending on the rider and load and terrain. Deep mud? hard at about 2 inches. Anything more, then you might as well ditch it.
    -carrying a rifle on a MTB can be tricky.. on back, for transport its easy. Another is like ATV’s, you can mount a gun rack on the bicycles handlebar.
    -Solid rubber tires are very usable.
    -If in a city, you can ether trade for parts or salvage parts of other bikes that may or may not be abandoned. A good number of parts are pretty interchangeable depending on the part.

    Again, if it sounded silly to you, can’t blaim ya…

    • Max Velocity says:

      There are a bunch of mobility options that, even if they seem somewhat out there now, may not be so much when SHTF. This post intended to concentrate on ATV use, with some follow up mobility posts. Horses, bikes, game carts, strollers…..

    • Knob says:

      understood… slapped my own hand for bringing it off topic.

      ATV could also get rigged as a mobile relay station for radio/wifi/wimax/fm/ham..ect.. To extend communications reach.. don’t even need a trailer.. Just, first try to find one you can hookup a power adaptor some-way, or an attached generator. Just set it all up on the back of the ATV.. easy enough to set up an antenna mounted to the ATV with conduit that can be detached and packed on the cargo rack of the vehicle.

    • Tim B says:

      I agree on the Mountain bike option and believe it can be a good choice for those of us with neither the space nor dollars required for a ATV. I’ve actually ridden up to within 10ft numerous time on foxes, racoons, deer, and other wild game before the heard/saw me. Since bicycles have been historically used in warfare I would be very interested in knowing what their modern day tactical role might be for SHTF…

    • pdxr13 says:


      Bicycles are everything you mentioned. They are also cheap. If you have many men and not many dollars, bicycles are speed/range/capacity multipliers. When the fuel is short, a garage full of bikes is gold.

      Thanks Max.

    • Anonymous says:

      No such thing as a stupid idea, the Swiss are famous for Bicycle Infantry. But they’re not the only ones: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicycle_infantry

    • Anonymous says:

      Here’s an excellent article about a traditional mobility asset, the pack mule: http://www.hmvf.co.uk/pdf/BRITISHARMYANIMALS.PDF

      Jai Mules! Jai Patriots!

    • FormerSapper says:

      It’s all good, Knob just off topic. The horses are a good option and were put through good use by the Rhodesians via the Grey’s Scouts and the US SF during Afghanistan (there’s also a classified manual for using pack horses in an SF evironment)

    • Knob says:

      Enough Bicycle talk.. He’ll save that for later im sure due to practicality of applications.

      ATV could be a Mobile (good guy) drone launching and control hub. All on the back of an atv./side-by-side.

    • Anonymous says:

      Another option, though it comes with its own set of limitations is the electric versions of ATVs:


      If you can afford the “refueling time”(7-9 hours for battery charging) and the possibility that the batteries could die off prematurely, their lack of engine noise is a big benefit.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Just a stupid Q on a rally good post…In the first picture, why the upside-down V on the door of the technical?

  7. Anonymous says:

    Look into “Wood Gassifier” It is an amazing, OLD technology that can generate fuel using wood scraps to generate fuel to operate gasoline powered vehicles & generators.

  8. FormerSapper says:

    You know if you had a wolf pack of these combined with a motorbike or 2 for recce ahead of the ATVs you could do quite well and have a nice violence of action effect on your target. As far as mounting options, a friend of mine in the U.S had one of the many tactical seamstresses/tailors make him up a molle vest to mount (goes over the fuel tank) and to hand he has a pistol, various utility pouches and behind him he has a plastic scabbard for his rifle. Also if you google “MARSOC motorcycle gangs” you’ll see that they too use ATVs.

  9. Anonymous says:

    IMO people will use them to get sloppy, in a grid down local tweeker gang coming to wreak havoc on your peaceful abode a typical corn syrup fed ‘Murikan would probably drive right up to your inner defenses, thank god for neck high wire. Thank god Max stresses the need for discipline in the good guy’s uses of ATVs.

    In a government gone mad scenario they could be used to circle around to the soft spots of the train of goons which in CONUS should have to be a hell of lot softer than what is in AfPak.

    As for patrolling my AO only in pairs otherwise you are looking to be a lead catcher, again IMO. RRS

  10. Anonymous who posted while I was composing my Mad Max on a golf cart joke has a good point. There was a gentleman on the Survivalist Blog a few months back who mentioned getting really annoyed at the constant engine revving of ATV-ing marijuana growers/jerks in his neck of the woods and having placed some, er, obstacles. Not lethal ones, but ones that would make them know someone had it in for them and they better go away.

    These pot growers aren’t peace and nature loving hippies either, they’re dirty, loud and dangerous and they poop and throw trash all over the woods. If you can compare notes with people who have successfully driven them off, that’ll give you some idea of what you can accomplish now while there’s still rule of law.

  11. Anonymous says:

    One thing everyone forgot in this; stringing a wire between two trees and across a trail at a 20deg. to 45deg. angle ,about 4 feet off the ground is a very-VERY good way to remove a human head. You will need to place a “wire breaker” on the front of any type of ATV you wish to use in combat. The second thing is small IED “toe popper” mines,(AKA “shotgun shell” mines). The tires on ATV’s are very easy to “take out” even with something as simple as a nail board or “shotgun shell” mine. Using ATV’s in the woodland environment will be very different than using them in the Mideast. Command will need to put infantry “sappers” in front of the ATV’s to clear roads or trail prior to any movement. They will need good flank security as ambushes can be laid at much closer ranges in the woodland environment V the desert. This will cause a very real end to the “speed of movement” argument, as any “pre contact” movement will be limited to the speed of your sappers and flank protection. It looks like a great support system. I think it will be superb for EVAC of the wounded, moving ammo forward and LOG. transport, but I have my reservations as to its utility in the attack.—Ray

  12. Anonymous says:

    The Ural sidehack rig seems like it would be applicable to this situation. The Germans made extensive use of sidecar motorcycles in WW2. The model with the power drive to the hack wheel has excellent off-road mobility.

  13. Anonymous says:

    What about lightly armoring the exterior of an ATV, in order to protect the gas-tank and provide extra protection for the rider and/or passengers on the vehical? Ballistic grade aluminum is cheap and lightweight, industrial ceramic plates too.

    One vehicle I’ve always been fascinated with is the Universal “Bren” Carrier. A neat little light armored tracked vehicle that British/Commonwealth forces used in WW2 as a general transport/utility vehicle. Could an ATV be modified to serve the same functions, but as a faster vehicle?