Many of our readers have established their abodes in places which, during the winter months, do not exactly draw the beachgoers. The older I get, the less the longest season of the year seems like “winter wonderland” and the more it seems like “frozen wasteland.” Cold weather, particularly in its extreme, changes our approach to everything from starting our vehicles to planning long hikes. With weaponry, it is no different. Some changes have to be made there, too.
Cold, bare hands are dangerous when applied to complicated machinery that requires a dextrous touch to operate properly and safely. Firearms certainly fit that category. The logical solution is to warm those hands with gloves or even mittens. Alas, those layers of unfeeling fabric will blunt your sense of touch. This pretty much brings back the same problem.
Deep cold requires thick layers of warm clothing. That reduces the body’s range of mobility.
Bitter cold can quickly become so overpowering to the senses that it is all you can think about. This means that in particularly bad episodes of inclement weather, we can be distracted from the task at hand. This is dangerous when operating any sort of powerful equipment, and it is particularly dangerous when the equipment being operated is a potentially lethal weapon.
Cold weather generally means thick layers of clothing. This can affect the way a rifle or shotgun mounts to your shoulder. Good news: the fabric of the winter garb can act as a cushion to help dampen recoil. Bad news: the gun’s butt is pushed forward away from your shoulder.
This means that the telescopic sight whose eye relief (distance from the eye) was adjusted for your vision on a nice sunny day when you were wearing light clothing is now farther forward than it should be. You may not be able to get a proper target image. When you sight in a scoped deer rifle, sight it in while wearing the same clothing you’ll have on when you aim it at a deer.
Practice mounting the gun to the shoulder with your winter gear on. The added thickness of the warmer clothing may force you to push the gun a little bit out forward and away from you, then tuck it back in to get it at the right spot.
You may find that the upper rear portion of the stock’s butt snags on heavy winter upper body garments. If so, there’s time now for you to round off that edge.
With more clothing material between your body and the long gun’s butt, it’s the same as if you had put on a longer stock. You may have to cantilever your shoulders back to compensate. If you do that, your body weight is no longer leaning into the gun. That in turn is likely to accentuate the muzzle jump that occurs in recoil with a powerful long gun. If the shoulders are back, the gun muzzle is likely to jump enough to block your view, which will make it harder for you to hold the gun on target long enough to monitor the strike of the bullet.
How to fix? If cost is not an object, you can have a shorter stock fitted for winter use, and change the stock when the season changes. If for any reason that is not practical, go with the shorter stock for all purposes. It’s easier to adapt to a shorter stock than to a longer one. This will also make the gun more suitable for smaller-statured people you have authorized to use it. Remember the rule: bigger people can adapt to smaller firearms more easily than smaller people can adapt to larger guns.
Remember that lose-lose situation of frozen fingers or gloved hands. Most rifles and shotguns have relatively short-stroke triggers. Bear in mind that an unfeeling handwhether it has been numbed by the cold, or its sense of touch has been interfered with by glovesis much more likely to cause a premature or unintended discharge of the gun.
The best combination of tactile sensitivity and adequate warmth will be found in gloves made of high-tech materials such as Thinsulate. You can always try the old arctic outdoorsman’s trick of making a slit lengthwise in the trigger finger pocket of the gloves or mittens, through which you can extend your index finger just long enough to make the shot and then bring the digit back to its warm place if that is necessary. Downside: I found that snow tended to get into the glove through the slit.
When I toured Anchorage, Alaska, in the company of local city and state law enforcement officers, I learned their approach to “deep freeze shooting situations” insofar as gloves. Most, when they were outdoors long enough to have to worry about it, knew that in the Alaska winter the cold would be so savage that they would need substantial, serious-size gloves that could get in the way of manipulating their rifles and shotguns. They learned to fit the gloves just snugly enough to stay in place, but loosely enough that they could be flung clear, or the officer could at least raise the hand, sink his teeth into the end of the glove fingers, and jerk a bare hand clear to operate the gun.
It is always important to keep the finger completely clear of the trigger guard until such time as the decision to immediately and intentionally fire has been made. This is even more starkly necessary in cold weather, where hands numbed by cold or blocked from touch by fabric can start applying pressure to the trigger without the person holding the gun actually feeling it.
I know one deer hunter who made a habit of letting his index finger stray to the trigger of his 7mm Magnum Remington Model 700 hunting rifle. One frigid late afternoon in the remote wilds of Utah, his finger rested on that trigger, and began to contract. He didn’t notice it was happening until he was jolted back to reality by the deafening roar of his hunting rifle. Fortunately, nothing but his pride was hurt. Since that accidental discharge, he has become scrupulously careful to keep his finger away from the trigger area until he is certain that the time to fire has come.
There are special “hunter’s mittens” or “shooter’s mittens” designed for Arctic-level cold that have separately articulated finger pockets for the trigger finger. Whatever your handwear, it is critically important that you log some practice time with it on, handling and shooting your firearms. The gun will feel bigger when held in a gloved hand. If your firearm has a very small trigger guard, such as the old Winchester Model 1897 pump shotgun, a glove thick enough to be really warm may also be thick enough to fill the trigger guard to the point where the glove material is putting pressure against the trigger without you realizing it.
Exposed entirely to the weather, the rifle or shotgun wants to have minimal lubrication, nothing that’s likely to become gel-like in sub-freezing or even sub-zero weather and prevent the mechanism from operating. When the hands are cold, simpler guns work better. For more than a century, the lever action rifle has been popular from ice floes to frozen woods because mittened hands could easily lever a shell into the chamber, or cock back the exposed hammer of a Winchester 94 or Marlin 336. With shotguns, the sliding thumb safety seen on makes like the Mossberg is easier to manipulate in extreme cold than a push button safety on the trigger guard as is standard on some other brands. As a young hunter in northern New England, I found the hammerless double barreled shotgun the easiest of all to manipulate.
Ammo? Nickel-plated cartridge cases, as found on premium hunting ammunition such as Winchester Fail-Safe, seem a little more friction-free and may give a small edge in operating smoothness and reliability when cold weather concerns force you to keep gun lubrication to a bare minimum. Shotgun ammo? For home defense, remember that in this sort of weather, most intruders will be heavily clad. The traditional 00 (double-aught) buckshot load will often send four or five of its nine .33 caliber pellets through and through an average-size human male who is lightly clad and takes a face-on torso shot.
This dangerous over-penetration is less likely on a heavily clad man. This is why in the winter, I always changed out my warm-weather #1 buckshot (sixteen .30 caliber pellets per shot) for 00 in my home defense 12 gauge. Some of my colleagues prefer the even deeper penetrating 000 (triple-aught) buckshot in winter, throwing eight .36 caliber pellets.
The good news about cold weather garb is that it discreetly hides larger handguns. The bad news is that the thick, heavy padding of Arctic clothing can restrict your mobility and range of movement in terms of reaching for a location like a shoulder holster hanging beneath the opposite side armpit. You also have to worry about getting the reaching hand through the fastened clothing to the gun underneath.
Practice, practice, practice. Work out a gun carry system that will be comfortable and also accessible when dressed for bitter cold. The practice will be hot and sweaty when you do it months ahead of time, but if you ever need that handgun one cold dark night, it will pay for itself.
I have night sights on most of my carry guns now. What does that have to do with winter gun-handling? Only that in the winter there’s a helluva lot more dark than in the summer, and a “shot in the dark” is proportionally more likely to be required.
Do you have a system that lets you reload quickly with cold or gloved hands? Fumbling loose cartridges out of shell loops or spill pouches will be next to hopeless under those conditions. A speedloader will be a better answer if your preferred handgun is a revolver. Once again, the heavy winter clothing will help to hide the bulkier accessories. You’ll find that reloading a fresh magazine into a semiautomatic pistol will be much easier than reloading any kind of revolver in the sort of weather conditions we’re talking about here.
You want a secure holster. In ice and snowdrifts, we’re simply a lot more likely to take a fall in wintertime. You want the gun to stay in place. A holster with a simple thumb-release safety strap may suffice, and releasing it with the thumb is so easy that a gloved hand or a nearly frozen bare hand can manage it.
I noticed an interesting thing with Alaskan cops. The great majority carried their service handguns in high-security holsters, for just the reason cited above as well as the danger of a suspect snatching at their exposed duty weapon. However, the great majority of these officers also carry their spare magazines in open top, friction tight pouches. The reason: cold, gloved hands can retrieve the magazines faster without fumbling for a pouch flap. Besides, with the pouch generally underneath the winter coat, the magazines are protected from inclement weather and in any case, no perpetrator would try to snatch the spare ammo instead of the gun.
Gun design is a factor. Single action, frontier-style revolvers tend to have very small trigger guards. As with that old Winchester ’97, the glove material can fill the trigger guard to the point where the trigger is inadvertently pressed backward, causing an unintentional firing. Double action revolvers, for the most part, don’t have a lot of space between the front of the trigger guard and the frontal surface of the trigger. This won’t cause an accidental discharge by itself, so long as the gun has not been cocked. However, if you have to fire more than one shot, you may find that a thickly-gloved index finger blocks the trigger’s return, converting your six-shooter to a single-shot at what could be the worst possible time. The sharp edge at the top of most double action revolver triggers can also snag on glove material as the trigger begins to return forward under spring pressure to re-set.
The 1911 style single action semiautomatic pistol, especially one with a long trigger, also leaves very little room for a gloved finger. You can once again end up with unintentional pressure being put on the trigger before you actually want to fire the shot.
With all these “gloved finger on trigger” elements, we have to keep something in mind. We all knowor should knowthat the finger should never be inserted into the trigger guard until we have determined that we are immediately going to fire the gun. However, we also know that under stress a lot of people insert their finger into the trigger guard prematurely.
Even if you have perfect trigger finger discipline, consider this scenario. You have had to fire a shot in self-defense, wounding the opponent. He drops his weapon and falls next to it; you keep your gun on him, your finger still on the trigger. The cold-numbed finger or the thick padding of the glove material now cause an unintentional second discharge. Witness testimony will be that you fired the second shot into a downed man who was separated from his weapon and who, at that moment, did not deserve to be shot. You may spend your next winter behind bars.
This is why what is currently called the “traditional double action” semiautomatic pistol is an excellent design for use in a gloved hand. The long, heavy double action trigger pull required for the first shot minimizes the chances of a cold-desensitized finger pulling it unintentionally. After the first shot, the gun cocks itself to single action mode for subsequent shots, so the trigger stays to the rear of the guard and does not return all the way forward. This eliminates the chance of the gloved hand blocking trigger return and preventing subsequent shots from being fired. A thumb-operated decocking lever is not hard to use even with gloves on. Beretta, Ruger, SIG, and Smith & Wesson traditional style double action autos all work well in cold weather conditions.
Another excellent semiautomatic pistol for cold weather use is the Glock. It is by far the most popular service pistol in Alaska. City police from Fairbanks to Anchorage issue it, and the Alaska State Troopers have recently adopted the .40 caliber Glock 22. There are no decocking levers or safety catches to manipulate, and the Glock’s trigger guard was intentionally made large for use by ski troops in European alpine warfare scenarios.
Hollowpoint handgun bullets tend to plug with wool, Fiberfill, and whatnot as they pass through the heavy winter clothing of a criminal assailant. When plugged with inert matter, they usually won’t expand. This fact makes larger caliber bullets popular in cold climes. The two times I had to pick a single standard-issue sidearm for Northern New England police departments we wound up with traditional double action .45 caliber semiautomatics. If the bullets were going to turn into non-expanding ball projectiles, we wanted them to turn into big non-expanding projectiles. That said, high-tech hollowpoint designs like the Federal Hydra-Shok, Remington Golden Saber, Speer Gold Dot, and Winchester SXT in .45 caliber are likely to open up even after passing through heavy clothing.
A semijacketed hollowpoint .357 Magnum slug weighing 125 grains and traveling at some 1400 feet per second velocity will probably open up irrespective of heavy clothing. Ditto the soft all-lead 158 grain +P .38 Special hollowpoint known colloquially as the “FBI load.” So will the fastest 9mm bullets, 115 grain hollowpoints in the 1300 foot-second velocity range. In .40 caliber, the Winchester Ranger SXT 180 grain, 155 to 165 grain hollowpoints going 1150 to 1200 feet per second, and Pro-Load Tactical (driving a 135 grain Nosler bullet at some 1300 feet per second) all seem to mushoom reliably despite thick clothing barriers.
I learned early to practice intensively in drawing from underneath heavy outerwear. I spent lots of time manipulating rifle, shotgun, and handgun with heavy gloves on. I discovered that my favorite handgun shooting stance (the isosceles position, with both arms locked straight out forward toward the threat) often would not work with restrictive heavy coats. I learned that the isometric bent-arms Weaver stance worked better for me when so dressed.
Practice drawing and holstering, loading and reloading. Practice mounting, slinging and unslinging the rifle and/or shotgun, and don’t neglect loading and unloading practice with these guns too. Make sure your gloved hand has the right interface with safety mechanisms and trigger guards when you have to bring the gun into action quickly in these weather conditions.
I find shooting to be a helluva lot less fun in cold weather. But big game season is more likely to be in chilly weather than hot weather, and violent criminal attacks upon the innocent are not restricted by season. With careful planning and lots of practice, you’ll be able to adroitly handle your firearms in the coldest and nastiest weather that any frozen wasteland can throw at you.
Had a ranger in Colorado tell me how to identify bear scat. Black bear looks much like dog do, just bigger and darker with seeds. Grizzly scat is even bigger but smells like pepper spray with pieces of teeth and whistles in it.
If you found yourself in the suck, what sort of defensive weapon would you like to have handy? I’m thinking maybe an HK 416 or perhaps an M249 Para SAW with a truckload of ammo. While we’re dreaming, let’s make it a platoon of M1A2 SEP Abrams tanks and Close Air Support stacked up to the International Space Station. However, none of that stuff is terribly practical. It’s tough to conceal an M1 tank underneath a pair of shorts and a T-shirt while out with your best girl on a date.
Reality is that the best defensive firearm is the one you actually have on you. I’d much sooner have a Ruger 22/45 in my hand than that HK416 locked up in a gun box someplace. That’s why figuring out how you’re going to carry your gun is at least as important as the details of the gun itself.
I work in a busy medical clinic, so my daily uniform is basically pajamas. While that’s not THE reason I do what I do, that is indeed A reason I do what I do. Surgical scrubs are the next best thing to being naked, but they’re not necessarily the most efficient foundation for concealed carry.
I’ve tried quite literally everything. Pocket carry, ankle holsters, appendix carry and IWB rigs on a good stiff belt — all have their strengths and weaknesses. The rub is if something is uncomfortable or inefficient, you just won’t use it. The road to Hades is paved with fancy holsters that looked good on the website but rode like a wad of barbed wire stuffed down your Speedos. The Blackhawk Stache N.A.C.H.O. is legitimately different.
N.A.C.H.O. stands for Non-Conventional Adaptive Carry Holster Option. That acronym seems a wee bit contrived, but the rig it describes is indisputably elegant. The Stache N.A.C.H.O. is a belly band. It comes in five different sizes to suit most any particular body habitus.
The N.A.C.H.O. is formed from wide, heavy-duty, double-ply 4″ elastic. A generous 3D mesh backer cushions the load and helps the rig breathe in hot climes. The edges are intentionally rounded to prevent chafing. Two integral 3″ pockets accommodate spare magazines or a flashlight. Another pair of 3.5″ pockets will carry your wallet and cell phone. No kidding, it’s like the Bat Belt. Just slap this rascal on, and you’re carrying all the sundry gear you might need to stay connected, supported, and safe while you’re out where the Wild Things roam.
The Stache N.A.C.H.O. includes a length of rigid 1.5″ double-layer scuba webbing to accept your favorite IWB holster. The system is really designed for weapons like the GLOCK 19 or smaller. The adaptive bit means the rig can be configured for appendix, hip, behind-the-hip, or mid-torso carry. I used mine with my SIG SAUER P365XL micro-carry gun.
In case you hadn’t noticed, people these days don’t dress quite like they did back when we were kids. The Stache N.A.C.H.O. is perfect for those times you’re not wearing jeans, 5.11s, or anything that doesn’t lend itself to a proper belt. Sweat pants, yoga pants, shorts and a T-shirt, skirts, dresses, kilts, or most any other sort of truly comfortable attire nicely complement the Stache N.A.C.H.O. This thing is just perfect underneath a pair of untucked surgical scrubs.
For starters, the Stache N.A.C.H.O. really is comfortable. The wide 4″ elastic spreads the weight of your gear out so it doesn’t eat into your anatomy. Pressure always equals force divided by surface area. That’s not just a good idea; that’s the law.
Your weapon is as positively retained as the holster you choose. You can customize your rig to your particular proclivities and circumstances. The Blackhawk Stache IWB base holster is a seamless fit. Even tricked out with my P365XL, smartphone, flashlight, knife and spare magazine, the whole rig still feels more comfortable than my old belt packing just the gun.
My draw was just as fast as with my previous conventional rig. I tried the orientation behind-the-hip, which is my custom, and in the front, both over my appendix as well as covering my belly button. If you can imagine it, the Stache N.A.C.H.O. will put your gun there. I found it fit best riding a bit higher than a typical belt. This changes the draw somewhat, but that’s the reason we train.
So, if you feel less is better when it comes to clothing and the only thing standing between you and that killer loincloth are those antiquated indecent exposure laws, then this is your minimalist concealed carry solution.
- Assume nothing.
- Never go against your gut.
- Everyone is potentially under opposition control.
- Do not look back; you are never completely alone.
- Go with the flow, blend in.
- Vary your pattern and stay within your cover.
- Lull them into a sense of complacency.
- Do not harass the opposition.
- Pick the time and place for action.
- Keep your options open.
I glanced at my buzzing phone between crises at work. There was a kid with an ear infection screaming in Room 2, and the elderly man with chest pain in 3 was very likely having a heart attack. The lady in 4 was sobbing hysterically. Her husband of three decades had moved out the night before, and she had no place else to turn. It was, in short, a fairly typical day at the office.
The message read, “Can I borrow a .22 rifle to chase squirrels? My old hunting buddy and I got access to a nice piece of woods, and we’d like to go walk around a bit. Dad.”
Role Model, Inspiration, Hero
My father is an indispensable part of my success today. He and mom sacrificed when I was a kid and loved me even when I was unlovely. He lived the example of the Southern Christian gentleman and showed me what it meant to be a man. I never once heard him curse. If everybody had a dad like mine the planet would be a much more peaceful, respectful and productive place.
Dad was a football star in college and even earned a spread in Sports Illustrated. I take after my mom and apparently didn’t inherit any of that. He could have handily beat up everybody else’s dad. However, short of protecting his family I could not imagine anything provoking him to violence.
He and I split the cost of my first Daisy BB gun when I was 7. He gave me my first .22 rifle and 12-gauge shotgun. He taught me the basics of rifle marksmanship and wing shooting as well as how to talk to turkeys.
By the time I left for college, 13 wild turkeys had fallen to my Browning Auto-5 while hunting at his side. Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners were seldom without one. The musty sweet smell of the Army-issue field jacket he wore on hunting trips when I was a kid is burned indelibly into my memory. He would undoubtedly push back at the characterization, but if I took a clean piece of paper and designed the perfect dad he would look like mine.
Dad already has a splendid .22 rifle—a gorgeous Winchester 63 with a tubular magazine in the stock he got for Christmas when he was a kid. The gun shot straight enough for my mom to use it to clip sprigs of mistletoe out of towering Mississippi Delta oak trees for use as Christmas decorations back in the day. A closely held family secret was my mom was always the best shot in the family.
I borrowed his rifle for an article a couple of years ago, and, oddly, it never found its way back home. Dad could have just admonished me to give him his gun back. Instead, he just asked to scrounge one of mine. That’s the kind of guy he is.
After a literal lifetime spent squeezing triggers for fun and money I have tasted both the good stuff and the bad. However, this time was special. Here was my excuse to build my dad the ultimate Information Age counter-squirrel rifle.
Naturally the chassis is a Ruger 10/22. This classic, simple, ubiquitous self-loading .22 rifle is reliable and customizable unlike anything else on the market. It is also surprisingly inexpensive. Ruger makes so many of them mass production keeps the costs down. Spare parts and aftermarket cool-guy stuff are everywhere. In my dad’s competent hands, the Ruger 10/22 would be pure death to tree-dwelling rodents.
Standard Ruger 10/22 stocks are not bad, but this is for my dad. I want it to be perfect, so I looked to Archangel. Archangel produces a bewildering array of indestructible carbon fiber aftermarket stocks for an equally bewildering array of disparate weapons. For the old standby 10/22, their options run the gamut. They can transform your humble 10/22 into the spitting image of a German HK G36 combat rifle or set you up with a heavy target stock sporting multiple adjustments.
As this rifle was to be toted operationally in the field I opted for the midrange version. This stock incorporates a handy thumbwheel adjustment for length of pull yet remains sufficiently lightweight for easy carry. The stock free floats the barrel for accuracy, is festooned with sling sockets, and also includes a handy carrying compartment for a few spare .22 rounds or some emergency M&M’s.
I mounted glass on the top without a fuss. Neither Dad nor I have quite the visual acuity we once did, and a proper optical sight sure makes it easier to drop rounds on target. All Ruger 10/22 rifles come equipped with a sturdy sight rail, and the receivers are drilled and tapped from the factory.
Magazines range from standard helical feed 10-rounders up to 50-round drums with banana mags of various capacities liberally interspersed. New 10/22 rifles come standard with extended magazine release levers. Modern 10/22 fire control groups and barrel bands are polymer, but you will not wear out these components.
In a timeless tribute to the innate toxicity of testosterone, my dad and his best friend, both well into their 70’s, were recently hanging out at their hunting camp when an armadillo had the poor grace to make an unscheduled appearance. Dad produced his Ruger .22 Magnum revolver and, 6 rounds later, both my dad and his buddy were well and truly deafened. The armadillo, naturally, escaped unscathed. After some vigorous admonishment by his physician son, Dad now keeps a pair of muffs in his pickup truck.
A lifetime’s exposure to gunfire and chainsaws has already taken a toll on Dad’s hearing. You only get so much, and every time you are exposed to excessive noise you lose a little. It is imperative you safeguard every bit of it.
Hearing protection can be tough to manage when in the field hunting, particularly when there are multiple hunters involved. Sound suppressors are the obvious answer. Regrettably, however, civilian ownership requires the same onerous paperwork and $200 transfer tax fully automatic machineguns and grenade launchers might.
Sound suppressors should really be sold over the counter in blister packs at your local Shop-n-Grab. In America you are statistically at greater risk of succumbing to a shark attack or toothpick injury than a criminal assault with a suppressed weapon. (No kidding. I looked it up.) The only place Bad Guys use sound suppressors is on the screen at your local movie theater. However, there is a way to optimize this labyrinthine process.
If you transfer a sound suppressor to yourself as an individual then no one else may legally possess the item. However, if you form a trust it is possible to include more than one person as trustees. Details are available online, and the process is not particularly difficult or expensive. As such, I created a trust for both Dad and me allowing us to share legal possession of a .22 caliber can. The processing time takes about forever, but the resulting convenience makes the wait worthwhile.
The resulting optimized squirrel rifle will easily keep its rounds within a tennis ball out to 50 meters or more in Dad’s capable hands. He used his Winchester 63 to drop swamp rabbits on the run when I was a kid. Dad’s the one who taught me to shoot, after all.
When stoked with subsonic ammo Dad’s squirrel gun is easy on the ears and even allows multiple shots at the same rat. With the can in place the bullet may agitate the squirrel, but the source of the shot is all but impossible to ascertain. The rifle is lightweight enough to tote long distances, and the Archangel stock allows the gun to be adjusted to fit your particular anatomy. While not just dirt cheap, this rig still remains within the means of most American shooters.
There is indeed a great deal wrong with our nation today. Among our many resplendent social ills, one of our greatest shortcomings is how few American men these days are signing up to be good old-fashioned dads. The job is grueling and the pay sucks, but the unfiltered adoration from a job well done makes up for the suffering.
Dad invested his life in me. As a result, I understood the value of hard work, discipline, good citizenship, and character in a world rapidly becoming bereft of same. Everybody has a father. Lamentably, fewer modern Americans have a real dad. Dad, enjoy your new rifle. The tree rats won’t stand a chance.
43 North 48th Avenue
Phoenix, AZ 85043
Sturm, Ruger & Co.
411 Sunapee Street
Newport, NH 03773