Man, it’s cold. Seems to be a common topic of discussion this year, doesn’t it? If you’re like me, hearing about the polar vortex is getting old, and if one more person says anything about global warming, you just might slap them silly. The good news is that there is still hunting to be done and it doesn’t matter how cold it is, you’re going. Hopefully your gun still works.

Keeping your gun, be it a rifle, pistol, or a shotgun, working properly when the mercury drops below the freezing mark isn’t all that difficult. It just takes an extra step here and there to make sure you’re good.

First things first

The best thing you can do to make sure you’ll have no firearm malfunctions during a cold snap is to make sure the gun is clean. Extra gunk and nastiness is compounded by cold weather. I’m notorious for not cleaning guns during a hunting season unless they really need it. But if the temperature is going to be really low, like well below freezing, I’ll clean every gun I’m using very thoroughly.

Moisture freezing in your action can mean your safety and/or trigger don’t work.
Moisture freezing in your action can mean your safety and/or trigger don’t work.

When things get really cold, they tend to expand. That can be said of the gunk in your gun, too. If you’re using a semiautomatic, it can lead to a major malfunction. Malfunctions lead to ruined hunts, and who wants that?

If you’ve ever read about hunting in the far north for things like musk ox or polar bears, there is one thing the hunters all do. Before venturing out, they not only clean the gun for the normal grime and such, but they remove all lubricants from the entire gun. I read a lot of books from the old bear guides of Alaska and all of them said the same thing, when it’s cold, make sure you don’t have any kind of lubricant on your firearm. The cold will make the lube gum up and cause the action to stick.

Frozen, with fear

Have you ever been sitting in your blind or stand and realized that your gun is frozen? A few years ago I was deer hunting in Michigan’s beautiful Upper Peninsula. On the day I planned to go, it started snowing and got cold. I’m talking ten-degrees-below-zero, should-have-stayed-home cold. With the 12-plus inches of snowfall, it made for a miserable day, but I was hunting and that is still better than anything else I could come up with to do that day. After an uneventful morning, I was snapped to total attention by the sound of hooves squeaking through fresh snow drifts. When the buck stepped into the clearing and I saw it was a shooter, I pulled the rifle up and went to slide the safety off. It wouldn’t budge. The snow and cold conspired to freeze things up.

Looking back, it was my own fault. Anything metal is going to draw condensation when it is around rapid temperature changes. I had the rifle in my house, put it in a case, and had it inside the cab of the truck. When I took it out, there was a severe change and water vapor accumulated. Add in the snow, which melted onto the gun and froze, and the whole thing ended up one big Winchester-cicle.

I’ve since learned to try to moderate the temperature of my guns and carry rags to make sure I’m able to wipe away anything that gets on it. A shammy cloth is great to use as a wipe rag for cold-weather hunts.

Lock deicer is a quick in-the-field fix for frozen guns.
Lock deicer is a quick in-the-field fix for frozen guns.

One trick I learned a while back after my little incident was to carry a can of lock-deicer with me. Those small little cans you can get for your pocket work very well to thaw out frozen gun parts. It is important to clean the gun as soon as you get home, though, so as to clean off any residue or dirt that might get dislodged.

Optical illusions

The scope is another thing that cause problems for you when the mercury falls. It doesn’t matter how much you spend on it, if you have metal that is warmer than the outside temp, you’re going to get condensation. Here’s a couple of quick solutions to cold-weather problems that have served me well over the years.

Scope covers are a huge help. Leupold makes aluminum covers that are spring-loaded and pop out of the way pretty quick. Rubber scope covers are good, too, and are better than nothing. Make sure they fit snug but are pretty easy to remove.

Just two years ago I was walking across a field, heading to a stand overlooking a nearby food plot and some fruit trees. There was a swamp to my right and a decent buck jumped up and came trotting out about 100 yards from me. He wasn’t in panic mode, so I tried for a shot. The scope covers on the 7mm-08 I was using had turned while the gun was slung on my shoulder and when I went to flip them open, I fumbled with it long enough for the buck to turn on the afterburners and do the high-tailing boogie on out of there.

I also carry some alcohol swabs with me in case excess water gets on my scope. They’re not the best solution, but it will help get rid of the water and will evaporate readily. They’ll also catch fire easily if needed for a survival situation.

Snow in the barrel spells disaster. A latex finger-glove can fix it!
Snow in the barrel spells disaster. A latex finger-glove can fix it!

Practicing safe shooting

Ever get snow in the barrel of your gun? How fun is that to clear out of there? Unless you carry a field cleaning-kit like something from Otis or a BoreSnake, your best option is to not let it get in there in the first place.

A small piece of scotch tape will keep your barrel clean of snow and should come off pretty easily when you shoot. The problem is that the tape doesn’t always stick too well. I’m sure you’ve all seen that an unlubricated condom will work, too. Even better than that are single-finger examination gloves. Slip them over the barrel and you’re set. They work for everything from shotguns to muzzleloaders and rifles.

If you’ve ever seen those pictures of bulging barrels or split barrels and the injuries that follow, you’ll never take the chance of a snow clog again.

Most of these tips are fairly common-sense, but it never hurts to remind any and everyone. In this day and age where everyone and their brother is trying to find a new way to paint guns in a bad light, taking every precaution to ensure safe use is worth repeating.

Images by Derrek Sigler

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6 thoughts on “Tips for Cold-weather Gun Care

    1. PK, this article has NOTHING to do with how you feel about global warming. In fact, what I was referring to was that I’m tired of hearing about it either way. It’s been a very cold, nasty winter.

    2. Thought you freaks called it climate change now and if all the hunting seasons were like bow season I wouldn’t complain.

  1. How do idiots confuse keeping your gun running in cold weather and global warming? When the next ice age occurs, you might want to eat your words and buy a better sleeping bag.

  2. During the Vietnam war they issued condoms for muzzle covers. And of course that’s what they were used for, sometimes…

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