Cold Weather Shooting

By Ace Luciano published on in Bowhunting, Deer, General, Hunting

Being in top shooting shape requires diligent practice year round. The last thing you want is for the trophy of a lifetime to step out—with a 10 second window—and you miss the shot because of under preparation. I am often asked what type of preparation that really takes, especially during winter. So, where do I practice shooting in wintertime? Why, outside of course!

Deer feeding in snow.

Tasks that were extremely simple at 70 degrees, such as taking your time, drawing in a deep breath, and slowly squeezing the trigger are all downright unpleasant at 10 degrees.

This winter, that has posed a bit of a problem. It appears the scientists predicting a global melting of the polar ice caps were… wrong. Even with the extreme temperatures we have been experiencing across the country, practice is still an excellent idea. You will learn (very quickly) where your negligence lies when cleaning and sighting in your firearm. Any excess lubricants or fluids that have been left behind from your last cleaning session, or as a buildup over time will readily become apparent. Sometimes it will be so apparent it will rise to the level of malfunction or non-function.

Use extreme caution if you feel you have a non-function in cold weather. The mechanisms within your firearm may just be moving exceptionally slowly. It can also cause a surprise release and result in a dangerous hang fire caused by mechanical parts moving at a molasses pace. In addition to mechanical issues, cold weather and altitude can both have an effect on your point-of-impact—all else being equal. Powder burn time, barrel resonance and flexibility, and even your optics are all affected to some extent by the cold, and some more than others.

In talking with a friend who often guides for elk, he was amazed at what would sometimes happen to a gun placed in a case in the Midwest at 60 degrees and taken out at 4000+ feet of elevation in 15F degree conditions. Stories of low-end scopes having lenses fall out and rifles shooting nowhere near their point of impact abound. This changed his attitude and provided the impetus to institute a rule of “shoot on arrival” no matter how confident the hunter is in their equipment.

Corn field under snow

Use extreme caution if you feel you have a non-function in cold weather. The mechanisms within your firearm may just be moving exceptionally slowly. It can also cause a surprise release and result in a dangerous hang fire caused by mechanical parts moving at a molasses pace.

Finally, you are different physiologically in the cold. Your blood flows differently. Your breathing will change. You may shiver or hunch more when shooting in cold weather. Tasks that were extremely simple at 70 degrees, such as taking your time, drawing in a deep breath, and slowly squeezing the trigger are all downright unpleasant at 10 degrees. To adapt to all of these additional challenges, we add clothing—hats, facemasks that can obscure vision. We put on bulky, insulated clothes that can change the way we mount our firearm, and how it fits after being mounted.

Gloves are a necessity in the cold. Extremities such as fingers and toes are often the most difficult to keep warm even with added layers. If it is really cold, you may even use a thin glove under your insulated glove. I still take the outer glove off—even in bitter cold—but the inner glove certainly changes the feel of the trigger.

Practicing in the cold will help you become a better shooter when you need it most, and help retrain your body to perform under extreme conditions. It will also teach great lessons about elevation, temperature and the effects they have on ballistics.

Do you shoot in cold weather? Share your tips with us in the comment section.

Ace Luciano is first a seasoned hunter, an accomplished angler and experienced outdoorsman. He is also a published outdoor author, seminar speaker, consultant and entrepreneur. Ace is involved in numerous conservation and youth-oriented projects. He spends much of his time pursuing his passion of introducing youths to the outdoors through the United Sportsman’s Youth Foundation. Over the years, Ace has traveled the globe in pursuit of both game and fish, from North America to Africa, from Europe to Australia. Ace’s highly successful booking agency, World Game Hunts, Ltd., specializes in affordable, unbelievable hunting and fishing trips. You can contact or learn more about Ace at www.AceLuciano.com.

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Comments (1)

  • Bill from Boomhower, Texas

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    Ace, I’m past sixty now, and haven’t hunted in this millenium, but do remember mornings setting on a limb of an Oak, facing into a breeze, at 2 degrees, the morning I got my big female Coyote I have on the wall, back in ’83. Lot’s of other times start to creep into my mind, as the blood begins to leave my toes, and snot freezes on my mustache and beard. When I was young, I worked in an ice cream plant for several years, where I was in the freezer for twwo to three hours at a time, at 40 below, with a 20mph wind. Working like that will go a long way toward conditioning you for hunting late in the season. I have some of those small catalitic heaters also, the ones you’d rent at the drive in movies, and hang on your car window, those worked well, and were quiet. Later, as I got older, I built some box tower stands, and put small bathroom and Dearborn propane heaters in them. That was nice. Felt pack boots, several layers of clothes, the old Jon-E hand warmers, and the new shake hand warmers, I’d tried about everything over the years. Being out in the elements every chance you get means better acclimation when it matters. Moving slowly to and from stand to avoid getting hot and sweating will be an obvious benifit. Laying off alcohol before and during your hunting weekend, and eating good meals with lots of carbs should also help. We all have a tendancy to eat poorly, while off at hunting camp, away from the wife, and your diet certainly affect your ability to stay warm. Today, even I could not sit still in sub zero temps, like I used to, I suppose it just a fact of life, but there are things you can do to help offset the effects of the cold. Carry a couple of Army ponchos and some dry soc,ks, and drink lots of water. stay warm guys, and let me know of any secrets you might have. One of these days, God willing, I’d love to be out there again!

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