The coldest part of the year is upon us.

Here’s an article I did for Backwoods Home magazine on the topic. It appeared right at 20 years ago, but there ain’t much that’s changed.

Feel free to chime in here with your own cold weather shooting tips!

14 COMMENTS

  1. Living in Minnesnowta for 60 years I can safely say that I’m familiar with cold weather. I used to hunt a friend’s property north of Bemidji, MN (almost within spitting distance of the Canadian border) and have been in a tree stand at -20°F in a sideways driving blizzard. Just a couple of small tips.

    – They make glove-mittens where the entire forward half of the mitten folds over onto the back of your hand, with a velcro patch to keep it there. The glove portions are cut off just below the knuckles of the palm. When you spot (or even more likely, hear) a deer entering your shooting area you can flip your trigger hand’s mitt over silently and prepare your trigger finger for the shot without interference. Mine were in blaze orange.

    – Be sure to position your rifle in your stand (it’s mostly stand hunting in MN) so that it is NOT above your body. The warmth and humidity from your body, even wearing the best insulated clothing on the planet, will tend to fog and then ice over your scope. Best of all to avoid this entirely are silent flip-open see-through blizzard caps on your scope’s optics, so if it does ice over you can pop those open to take your shot.

    – Layers are important. Bring your top layer with you as you go out to the stand, but carry it instead of wearing it. When you get to your stand and climb up you will expend enough energy to significantly warm up…and you do NOT want to sweat. Once you’re up and almost settled in, put on your top-most layer, finalize your position, and only then prepare your firearm (shotgun or rifle) by loading it.

    – If your feet are warm, the rest of you will be warm. I recommend Thinsulate over-booties for your hunting boots. They’re not meant to be walked in, but sitting in a stand motionless for 6 hours they’ll keep your toes a lot warmer than just insulated hunting boots.

    • I have been in minus 15F blizzard conditions but not in a stand. Yes to your comments. I have used the mittens you mention (with gloves on under them). I always have a backpack with gear and clothing for layering (plus spare socks, emergency gear, etc). I use the pack to load/unload and layer/remove clothing while I come/go, still hunt, hike around or track. I always remember: temperatures change from 4AM to mid afternoon and from valley floor in sun to peak or ridgeline in wind). Most of that hunting & hiking was in northwestern PA or the Wah Wah mountains in SW UT. Same thoughts regardless of where or what I am doing in the back woods or mountains. Like hiking Mout Washington in May.

      About 16 months ago, our son & daughter in law bought a place in MN from her family. They are on Turtle Lake in Marcell just a bit east of Bemidji. He took his first two deer on his own land this year (1 by archery & one by my father’s Model 94 chambered in Win .32 Special).

      On my first visit it was minus 15F, dropped to minus 30 when I left and a week later it was minus 40. They get a lot of ice fishing! Well, until they stop biting around minus 30. Dang.

    • I have started using scopes since age related eye sight combined with hunting in places like UT where long shots are more the norm. Like the 460 yard shot across a ravine I dropped my last elk with.

      Those flip up scope caps are great imho. And I use them for my binoculars also. I prefer them with the clear plastic. That way I can glass things without getting into trouble flipping them up all the time. Only flipping them when I need to for a shot or if I need a better look with the binoculars.

      And try thanks for the tip about hunting in a stand in Northern MN. I expect to do so next winter. As we breath, we loose moisture with every breath. I can see how it could be a problem in an enclosed stand.

  2. “…but there ain’t much that’s changed.”

    Technology has made a few advancements that may factor into cold weather use. Here are a couple that I can think of (off the top of my head):

    1) Adjustable stocks are much more common now. They are fairly standard on AR style guns. However, many hunting rifles and shotguns, nowadays, have some means to adjust length of pull and comb height so as to allow the user to customize the rifle (or shotgun) to better fit personal requirements. Therefore, these rifles and shotguns can be readjusted for winter use without going to the expense of buying separate Winter and Summer stocks. Nor would one have to use a too short stock, all the time, just to be ready for winter use. Despite the anti-gunner meme that “AR’s are only fit for killing people”, they can make fine (and adaptable) hunting tools. The anti-gunners are never willing to acknowledge this truth, of course. It runs counter to their political narrative.

    2) We now have various types of non-expanding defense rounds. Here is a link to one example:

    https://www.midwayusa.com/product/1019464255?pid=186100

    This kind of ammunition tends to be “barrier blind”. It is not affected if the attacker happens to be wearing heavy winter clothing. It will punch right through and still do the job.

    So, while just about all of the points made in the linked article still are valid, technology has advanced and we do have some new options.

  3. Thoroughly clean & degrease your rifles, pistols & revolvers, leaving the firing pin channels, chambers & magazines dry. Apply a light coat of low temperature oil or dry lube to the moving parts/contact areas. Before hunting, tape the muzzles of rifles & leave in the cold if possible, especially muzzleloaders. Inspect, clean & oil guns before putting them away after hunting season.

  4. Living close to Anchorage Alaska in 1957, I bought a model 29 44 magnum and shot it several times a week. Shooting range was open to anyone but I never saw a shooter there.snow was deep but my Jeep always got me go and come.
    When spring came and snow melted I was able to recover most of my Thompson 429244 bullets, clean and easy to melt and recast.
    That was part of the good old days.
    Mucho

  5. Here in San Diego, we are not familiar with the term “Cold Weather”. Could you please let me know what it means?

    …….sent from the free…est state in the Union according to or wonderful gov’

    • December 1968 I was studying for finals at the Scripps Institute building there in La Jolla, right next to Scripps Pier. About ten AM I felt I needed a break. The day had been “cold” (I know, a relative term) I was barefoot as always, thin cotton trousers, and a plain tee shirt, but decided to clear the cranial fogbank with a long walk on the beach, heading south. I headed out one of the doors, turned to walk toward the surf line, studied the sky a bit and wondered what would be coming soon. The thought of snow crossed my mind but I quickly dismissed it as “eemPOSSabull” considering the location. I set a brisk pace walking in the zone between the surf and the dry sand, new waves washing over my bare feet. About two miles down I turned about to head back for the next round of cramming. As I turned to head back up the coast I began to see small white things trending downward. NO WAY. I watched, and sure enough it started coming down pretty thick. By the time I was halfway back to Scripps it was sticking on the dry part of the beach, and coating the lumpy sand well. When I reached the doors to the facility it was still snowing pretty hard. At least a full inch was standing on the hard surfaces everywhere. My bare feet were pretty cold but functional. I heard later that day that this snow was the heaviest on record in La Jolla ever.
      Not Minnesota by any stretch of fantasy but for San Diego I think that was pretty cold. After my study was don I had to walk up the longish hill to the main campus for my exam. By then the snow had melted but the tarmac and concrete were still pretty cold on my bare feet.

      Twenty years on I was up skiing at Crystal Mountain in Western Washington After the day on the slopes it was pitch dark, snowing some, and six F. My old diesel Benz took some doing to get her lit. Took a single burner Coleman propane camp stove, lit it, and placed it underneath the engine’s sump then spent an hour in the lodge. It barely but did light off.Whew!!.

      • Tionico, it was hard to beat the old Coleman gas stove for an oil pan heater. Got me started several times back in the winter of ’75, in a vintage used Ford Maverick, from Spokane through hard-frozen Montana to the mid west, without real brakes, and on virtually vacant, snowy highways. Would we recommend to anybody else to put a lighted Coleman stove under a car? Not with good will, seems to me! We just had some good luck the fuel systems didn’t catch fire. The only firearms I had then were .30-30 and .22 WMR Winchester lever actions. I am nostalgic for them now, naturally.

  6. We don’t have snow in South Texas (usually) but it does get around freezing on many a deer hunting morning. I remember the glove-mittens and the flip-up covers on the optics. Never had any real feet protection other than wool socks and roper boots. I found that if you had your head sufficiently covered with cold weather gear, then things were much better in the stand. I can no longer hunt due to old age infirmities, but I do remember the cold.

    I remember one Saturday morning I was goose hunting in a rice field with standing water. It was near freezing and we had just finished putting out our spread and settled in to wait. I was absolutely exhausted from the office that week and was so tired I fell asleep while laying in about four inches of standing freezing water. In retrospect maybe I was just drifting off into that permanent sleep associated with freezing to death. The geese finally came, and everyone started shooting which did wake me up. I don’t remember falling asleep again after I woke. Out of all the different types of bird hunting I did, I believe water-fowling attracts the hunters that will endure almost anything to do their thing. After several seasons of duck and geese hunting, I decided it was much more civilized to go quail hunting where one didn’t depart to the hunting field until around 10:00 AM after a big country breakfast. YMMV

  7. Gloves can change the point of aim with a handgun. Back when I lived in cold country, I experiment with that and had some disturbing results. Now I just suck it up when it is cold (for here). Be sure to practice with your gloves on.

  8. In MN the part of you that gets coldest is the part where your body weight compresses the insulation, your but if you are sitting or the bottom side if you are trying to sleep. The answer is a foam pad. They make pads of different sizes to fit.

  9. I am just now getting to reading the linked article from 20 years ago.

    And what do I see but reference to the Winchester Model 1897 pump. Mine hasn’t seen cold in a very long time! It sits comfortably in the safe next to a well used Model 10. Ahh, the old guns.

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