I spent Christmas in the Chicago area, and returning to warmer climes for (most of) the rest of the season reminds me of why I have lately wintered as much as possible closer to the subtropical zone.

Most of my life, though, was spent in Northern New England where winters are long and cold. From there to Canada to Alaska in winter, I learned that careful planning can make guns a lot more manageable in sub-freezing and often sub-zero temperatures.

Cold hands get numb, and numb hands get clumsy. Gloved hands can be warm, but warm gloves are thick enough to reduce the sense of feel and make gun-handling clumsy…a potentially dangerous thing. Snow, freezing rain, and even a rime of ice on the gun when you’re outdoors with it long enough in inclement weather won’t help, either.

As to gloves, you want the one on the hand that works the trigger to come off quickly, smoothly, and silently when you need to shoot. I tried the old woodsman’s trick of a thin, lengthwise knife slit on the trigger finger portion of the glove to let the warm index finger sneak out when it needed to work the trigger. Imperfect. Snow got into the glove and froze the finger as soon as you had to grab a snowy branch or catch yourself in a fall in the snow. Also, the palmar surface of the glove wants something rubbery for traction.

Traction helps on the gun itself. Consider skateboard tape. Yes, it’s ugly…but it’s efficient.  Most lubricants thicken and get sludgy in arctic temperatures. Oil in the firing pin channel that “gels up” can cause a misfire when you desperately need to make a shot. Some of my colleagues swear by graphite. I found that thin watch oil worked great.  I learned to put masking tape over the gun muzzle to keep snow out of the bore. If the bore plugs with snow, unnoticed in a fall or when a branch dumps snow over you and the muzzle-up rifle or shotgun (or catches unnoticed in the muzzle-down long arm), the stage can be set for a blow-up when the gun is fired with an obstructed bore.

I learned that a heavier trigger pull was a good thing to prevent premature discharge when working with cold-numbed or gloved trigger finger. I learned that a rifle or shotgun that fit perfectly in T-shirt weather was too long, and needed a shorter stock, when there were thick, multiple layers of winter clothing material between the shoulder and the gun butt.

As a handgun hunter in my teens, I learned from my predecessors to carry the gun under my coat, protected from the elements. With a long coat, a cross-draw holster let me reach it quick, but I found a shoulder holster worked best of all: if I fastened the outer coat up to just below the pectoral muscles, the upper part of the coat would stay closed to keep out cold and wind, but the hand could knife right in to gain immediate access. The coat-protected shoulder holster also gave the best protection to the handgun if you fell face-first in deep snow. I learned from experience that gloves would block the trigger return of double action revolvers. And I learned in the worst inclement weather to carry “beaters” – true rough duty guns, not “safe queen” guns – that wouldn’t make me worry more about the gun rusting than about spotting the deer in the thicket.

Plan ahead, and get practice manipulating your guns with gloves. You may have to do just that in a fast-breaking “shoot now or forget it” situation.

There are lots of folks reading this who have tons of experience shooting in deep cold. Please – chime in and share what you’ve learned about that!

Judiciously applied skateboard tape can greatly increase gun traction in cold-numbed, wet, or gloved hands at the expense of esthetics. Here, we preserve good taste AND good grasp with champion shooter Jerry Barnhart’s “Burner” grips, seen here on Colt .45 auto and available through Barnhart Performance at www.jerrybarnhart.com.

In seriously inclement weather, nothing protects an all-day-outdoor handgun better than a good shoulder holster. Here, Bianchi X-15 rig carries one of author’s Colt .45s under a quilted winter overcoat. Gloves are Thinsulate.


  1. Sorry for the smart-alec post – but who’s going to care about how to carry in a cold Chicago winter – there’s no right to own a handgun, much less carry it there!

  2. When hunting in the cold I wear thin poly “wicker” gloves under warm mittens. I can slide off or fling off the mittens as needed and still have some hand protection when hanging onto than frozen grip. They’re not bulky but they help for a while, though they can be a little slippery.

  3. hi mas

    in arctic warfare training in norway we used to use a condom over the barrel of our sniper rifles secured with a rubber band. a lot of the paras used an elastoplast waterproof sticking plaster. the small round ones seemed to work the best and they didn`t foul the front sight. we also used to keep our magazines in inside pockets as we experienced less misfires(probably the cheap powder bought by the british government). on the old SLR we used to double the magazine up but not end to end as in the movies but side by side with plastic spacer between(usually one of the thick plastic shims used by upvc window fitters) again with a condom and an elastic band on top. we would join them together with gaffer tape witch sticks in almost any weather. always carry a roll in the car even now. we used to join the mags as the SLR only had a 20 round capacity and fishing around for one in the cold wastes a lot of time that you may not have whereas the condom could be pushed off easy and change over was very rapid. skateboard tape wasn`t around then but we used to use emery cloth (cloth backed sandpaper thats waterproof) which we stuck on with contact adhesive including a small strip on the trigger as you finger didn`t weld itself on to it so easily but it gave good grip. we also used gaffer tape on the radio batteries as these became loose in cold weather and would fall out. think it was because the different materials contracted at different rates in the cold.
    on the wonders of gaffer tape(think you call it duct tape actually) it can be used in cold weather to close up severe cuts or wounds as superglue doesn`t function at such low tempretures.
    finally we all used to carry about half a pound of plastic explosive as it burns wonderfully when lit(won`t go bang without a detenator). the steering link arms on our landrovers would often bend on really rough terrain and we would wrap a coil of PE around the offending item light it up and when hot enough hammer back to shape(do when they are cold and they snap). you can also stick the kettle on at the same time for a pot of tea always a bonus! used this trick in africa too.
    finally would like to say we love your articles and see nothing but sound advice in them. a rarity in todays world of experts.

    best regards


  4. Another reason to appreciate living in central Alabama! We get enough cold to make it “winter”, but we don’t have to pile on the layers.

    I can still pocket-carry and wear either waist-length jackets or hip-length parka and still reach my carry pocket easily. I also had a knee-length coat modded with pass-through slits so the pockets can be reached without having to open the coat. PLUS, light gloves suffice.

    Last, but not least, if worse comes to worst, the Bad Guy won’t be as layered up as farther north, so stopping ability is not as compromised.

  5. Great column! People really need to think about such things, and they sure don’t seem to. Your perspective as a retired officer from NH is full of interesting considerations.

    I got advice on gloves from a friend who’s a LEO in the Twin Cities, and use those that he recommended. Neoprene is wonderful stuff. I also make sure to bring the gloves to the range and practice drawing, shooting and reloading while wearing them. I carry A-IWB, so I don’t worry about the effects of cold on my lubes or about covering the muzzle, but those would certainly be concerns were I a LEO up north. I also had the same concerns about light trigger pulls that you mention (was gratified to see that my thinking was good on that), and also find that it’s important to have a gun with an adequately large trigger guard to allow access for the gloved trigger finger.

    Hope you had a nice visit to Chicago, Mas. I was born up there (in Evanston, actually, just N of Chi – Dad still lives there, tho he goes N to Canada every chance he gets; it’s where he is now), but was fortunate to grow up in Free America (rural Indiana).

  6. Sir,
    I agree with Roger from Norway about the use of condoms and a rubber band to keep the barrel of a rifle or shotgun clear of mud and snow. I’ve used them more than a few times in hunting and in military service. Finger Cots (rubber or nitrile covers for finger wounds) work as well and are shorter to keep from fouling up your sights. I also recommend not using oil at all as a lubricant. There are several synthetic lubricants on the market today that work well and unlike oils don’t freeze or attract dust. Among them is a thing called mili-tec but an even better product that I was introduced to at the NRA convention a few years ago is called SLiP 2000 and SLiP EWL they have done really well on my M-21 in Iraq and Afghanistan where temperatures can be extreme and dust is a real problem.
    One of the tricks for cold weather especially in the Hindu Kush I’ve been using the issue Nomex flying gloves inside of a shooting mitt (mitten that has a velcroed opening in the palm) so that I can pull out my fingers when I need to shoot while having a very close fitting glove that offers some protection (flesh will freeze to metal when its cold enough) for dexterity. It’s actually a trick I learned hunting elk in Colorado and it works fairly well in keeping fingers flexible and warm most of the time.

  7. There are two types of handwear that you didn’t mention.
    The first is the “shooter’s mitten”, a regular mitten with a separate finger sleeve for use when actually shooting. The other is a “glove/mitten” where the fingers have individual sleeves, and a fold back mitten that covers them when dexterity isn’t needed. How practical are these?

    Do you have problems with the controls and trigger of that GM when heavily gloved? I remember back in the late ’80s that you had a Browning BDM (SIG 220 marketed by Browning) that you swore by for winter carry because the controls were “glove friendly”.

  8. Pete, I agree that the 1911 is not ideal with HEAVY gloves, particularly the models with longer triggers. Those Browning and SIG pistols were ideal for heavily gloved hands in my opinion.

  9. Massad, I’ve never tried this myself but I have it on good authority and offer it as a tip to you and your readers. My nice, quiet unassuming younger relative spent the very late Fall of 1950 near the shore of a mountainside lake. The lake is well known locally and has gained some international fame as the “Chosin Reservoir” in North Korea, where temperatures at that time of year can drop into the range of -40F to -50F. That was the case in 1950 when David went up there with his comrades in the 7th Regiment of the U.S. Marine Corps.

    Hardly anyone in the group had thought to bring synthetic lubricants for their weapons. David and most of the others were equipped with M-1 Garand rifles that they lubricated with government-issued gun oil. During the course of an unusually busy time when there were numerous targets for their “assault” rifles the oil in the weapons froze, locking their actions. Had this condition been allowed to continue the Marines would have had only bayonets, entrenching tools, and pineapple-appearing metallic explosive balls to subdue their prey.

    David and the lads were resourceful, though, and found a method for rapidly thawing the rifles’ actions so they could bring them back into the fray. Although their trouser flies were secured by buttons instead of by the more convenient “zippers” used in civilian tailoring, the troops found themselves able–despite the lethally cold temperature–to open the fly, bring the necessary body part into play, and pee on the rifles’ actions.

    Happily, they were able to resume effective firing and a few days later were given the opportunity to walk down the mountains to a seaside town from which they boarded ships and cruised to a warmer climate. They welcomed the plates of steaming scrambled, reconstituted eggs and cups of powdered coffee that were served on the ships.

    Anyhow, try that when you’re hunting in the northern woods and your rifle freezes just as an angry old griz’ heads toward you at full gallop.

  10. All: 3 winters in Germany, 1 in Korea, 3 at Fort Dix, one in Afghanistan, back to Afg for next winter. M16A1, M4, M9 pistol. I have always used, and never had a problem with Breakfree (CLP). Before CLP we had LSA, and that worked fine, too. Use LAW (like sewing machine oil) in extreme cold (below about -10). Used CLP in Afghan and Iraqi dust – no problem, if you keep cleaning it.
    Most problems I’ve seen came from dirty weapons – poor maintenance. Even with the dust, I don’t do lube-free weapons: Both the M16 and M9 require SOME lube to work.
    To keep mud/snow out of the muzzle, an issue muzzle cap, condom, or tape will work. An SF trick that I heard of was to put a foam earplug in the bore of the M9. Tried it – the things keep falling out.
    Gloves: GoreTex ski gloves in winter, and practice trigger squeeze to become competent.
    39 years Marines, then Army Infantry, now Civil Affairs.

  11. I loved your article on women and guns! My husband forwarded it to me as we are moving to a rural area and I have traded in my little .38 automatic “urban gun” for a .44 special revolver that I love and carry daily out in the boonies. I train with it at least once a week to get the feel of it since I have not shot much since leaving the Army 20 years ago. I refuse to shoot with both hands at targets since I have a small child and have to assume that I may need to hold back a child while shooting a person, snake or coyote. I can always use two hands if I have that available, but if I can hit something with one hand, two will make me only that much more accurate and stable. He says that I should only train with two hands as all handgun shooters train with two hands, but I must disagree. I am hitting things with one hand after all, but I will try some of your forward stance suggestions (which are very similar to my karate stances and yoga stances!) for stability as they make sense to me being just over 5 feet. 5-foot Mama Bear may need to shoot differently with a cub around than a 6’2″ husband! Have you any pointers here?

  12. Welcome, Avalon. I’d say do half your training/practice one handed (don’t neglect non-dominant-hand-only) and half two-handed, to best comport with the needs you’ve identified for yourself. The two-handed stance works better if you know how to do it with maximum application of technique, and will give you the best possible recoil recovery and hit potential if both hands are available.

    Best of luck and happy new year,

  13. Mas,
    I see your articles on LRC
    Good stuff – Thank you.
    Seen this?
    Rifle Review: .458 SOCOM

    Week of January 04, 2010
    The .458 SOCOM (.458 Special Operations Command) was reportedly given birth over a barbeque and some cold brew. It was at an informal gathering of special ops personnel, specifically Task Force Ranger, when the subject of stopping power came up. It seems it took multiple hits to permanently take the opposition “out of the game” in Mogadishu, Somalia. The consensus was a one-shot stop would sure be nice. Marty ter Weeme, founder of a company called Teppo Jutsu, L.L.C., went to work. In 2000 a sledgehammer cartridge that would launch 250- to 600-grain .45 caliber bullets from a standard size AR-15 with a proper barrel and chamber was born ? enter the .458 SOCOM. Read a full review of the .485 SOCOM now. http://www.military.com/veterans-report/rifle-review-.458-socom?ESRC=vr.nl

  14. I’ve often wondered why the .44 automag cartridge was never used in an AR-10 style weapon. Basically a shortened .308 cartridge with a .44 magnum bullet, I would have thought that it would be the nearly ideal combo of stopping power, light weight, recoil control and commonality.

  15. Be sure to have a plastic bag handy by your door when coming inside from the cold. Put your firearm inside it to keep the condensation from rusting your investment every time you come back inside – leaving it outside is impractical for defensive purposes.

  16. When I was younger and hunter the upstate NY area, I tried to keep a loose fitting but thick and warm glove over a thinner glove. The thinner glove was inadequate to insulate my hand for more than a few minutes, but helped to slow heat loss when the thicker glove was tossed to the ground, or slipped off slowly. It did allow accurate and careful manipulation of the trigger and other controls.

    I always wanted to have a sticky substance on my thinner glove but it inhibited the doffing of the thicker glove. Skateboard tape on the gun…Duhhhh, why didn’t I think of that 30 years ago.

  17. Maybe a law abiding citizen can not legally own a hand gun in Chicago but gang members and law enforcement people cary handguns. These people probably carry revolvers and never once thought about the firing pin freezing up. I don’t think a firing pin could freeze up as the force from the hammer would bust it loose and strike the primer with enough force to ignite the gun powder in the shell. Gang members probably would refrain from a semi auto as the shell casing might have a finger print left on it. Also the gang member usually fires from a heated moving vehicle. The gang members are very poor shots and end up killing inocent bystanders. Perhaps the gloves they use are too thick and hinder accuracy. IF a law abiding citzen were to conceal and carry in Chicago he would be resorting to using his weapon as a last resort. Even if the conceal and cary person saw a crime going on he would be forced to ignore it and continue on his course as the punitive anti gun law would punish him severly. Only when no other option is available would a conceal and cary person draw on his attacker. Chances are his gun would be warmed by body heat as the gun was hiden from vision and close to his body. I would resort to urinating on my pistol as a last resort (if firing pin frozen) because it takes two hands to urinate leaving the pistol unattended. In a critical moment trying to pee would be like trying to load bullets in a semi auto magazine under fire. Then that pee has to be able to reach the firing pin aperatus to thaw it out. You would be better off to pee on your attacker hoping to gross him out. When they find your bullet riddled body with your fly open and a smelly pistol laying next to you the liberal anti gun media will turn the story around. Man drops gun while urinating and shoots self several times. Mayor Daley would use this example as reason why no one should own hand guns in Chicago.

  18. An excellent light/medium glove is the SealSkinz brand.

    These are waterproof/breathable gloves, with just a little more bulk than the familiar brown cotton “jersey” gloves or aviator styles. They would be great under mittens, and protect for a good while in bitterly cold conditions. We’ve had temperatures in the teens here in Alabama, and they are my normal glove for cold weather casual wear.


  19. I am trying to compile some good cleaning tools for troop care packages. I was told wooden dental cleaning tools, used, work just fine. Unable to locate any. Would like suggestions, tho I think the finger caps for covering barrels from sand is one. How cold does it get in Afghanistan?