The first snow of the winter fell on my house last night, so it looks like the warm sunny days are gone until March or so. That means some changes have to be made. When I get too stressed with work I head out into the back field with a bow, and amuse myself for a couple of hours launching pointy sticks. However, my weapon of choice is the English longbow and they don’t like cold weather very much. The wood stiffens – which at first actually adds some extra speed and power to the arrow – but get much below freezing and you start running the risk of the bow snapping because it’s too stiff to draw all the way. When there’s frost on the ground, my longbows stay in their bags and I’ll take my compound bow or a fiberglass Turkish horse bow instead.
Of course, it’s easy enough for me to take a different bow off the rack in cold weather. If you need to carry a weapon on duty, things aren’t quite so simple. For a start, the chances good that are you don’t have a lot of choice about what you carry. For another, various types of bows handle the cold differently, but all firearms have pretty much the same issues. That makes this advice relevant to hunters, too – your rifle is going to face the same winter challenges as any other gun.
There are some fairly esoteric issues that come up in winter but don’t affect the average shooter. Denser cold air can affect your point of aim over long ranges, for example, but how often are you trying to hit a Talib a mile away? I’m also guessing that not too many of us will be trying to get a Vickers gun into action when the cooling water has frozen solid. (Just in case you are, fire single shots by cycling the action manually. A couple of dozen rounds will generate enough heat to free the barrel from the ice.) Some things will affect everyone, though, because winter weather can mess up reliability and even cause some safety issues.
The main hazard to weapons in the cold is ice. It’s nasty stuff, ice. It’s not compressible, for a start, and it can get into the most awkward corners. If water gets into your weapon and then freezes, you can find major items not functioning – like the gas parts, or the trigger. Snow is also insidious, and it doesn’t take much heat to melt it. Then it can turn to ice.
Get water in the barrel when the temperature is below freezing and you have a problem. It’s fine to fire most weapons that have been submerged, as long as you open the breech to let the barrel drain; any residual water in there will be blasted out when you fire. Ice is different. If water gets down the barrel and then freezes, the weapon is in a very dangerous condition. Fire it like this and the ice is likely to jam the bullet long enough to push pressure behind it dangerously high; chances are you’ll either crack the receiver or blow the bolt out. Always use a muzzle cover when you’re out in snow or freezing rain to keep the bore dry until you need to fire.
Keeping dust covers closed will help keep ice out of the rest of the action, but few weapons are anywhere near waterproof. Apply plenty of cold-weather lubricant to repel water from internal parts – that lowers the risk of something vital freezing up. If you can’t find cold-weather lubricant, standard CLP will work pretty well too. Some people recommend dry-cleaning guns in winter, but that increases the chance of ice problems.
One other step to take if you can is to keep your weapon cold-soaked. Let it get down to the outside ambient temperature and keep it there. Weapons kept inside in the warm will begin to cool as soon as you take them outside, and that attracts condensation – water. Pretty soon it’ll start to freeze, and problems can arise. Where possible, keep weapons in a sheltered but unheated space so they stay cold.
Guns need proper care and attention to keep working reliably and any extreme climate has its own requirements. That applies to the cold just like it does to sandy or jungle conditions, so make sure your weapons are ready for it. Then, apply regular maintenance to keep them free of ice and water. It’s a pain when your hands are cold and sore, but you know it needs to be done.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.