Top tips for hunting in cold weather.
…will get cold before the core. This means having a pair of gloves, insulated boots and some head covering to reduce heat loss. The boots need to be waterproof and supportive with plenty of grip on the sole, they also need to be as quiet as possible, something that doesn’t often appear to be a problem when they are tried on in a shop but is most annoying a few weeks later when you can’t get close enough to your quarry.
Most shooting gloves have a facility where your thumb and trigger finger can be exposed to make the feel of a blade as normal as possible. Stretchy neoprene glove gives much better heat insulation than the thin summer weight variety and also a reasonable grip on your rifle.
It is important to cover the head with something even if it’s just a face veil. The best head cover for cold weather is a fleece hat or balaclava. The effects of wind and rain are much more important to protect against that just temperature.
Many see the value of a cushion, even taking one into a high seat if it’s cold because this is another occasion when you can quickly lose body heat, particularly when you’re trying to sit as still as possible for extended periods. Many modern jackets have a water proof flap in the back that drops down for sitting on. These keep you dry but they don’t insulate you from frozen ground.
A strong gun slip/case and if you choose one that folds up it can also be used as a seat as well as effectively protect the steel components and finish of your rifle as long as you don’t put it in the slip whilst it’s wet.
Everyone hates having to carry more stuff around than absolutely necessary but there are a few times when some creature comforts are worth the effort. Such as a Range Shooting Mat for prone shooting and when staying overnight, the well-insulated mat makes a very good ground sheet or base for a sleeping bag.
Most shooters have seen and used hand warmers, the Hot Gel version can be recharged by boiling them for about 15 minutes.
A small stainless thermos flask when it’s cold weather is essential. With the added risk of hypothermia and the increased risk of injury in slippery conditions, always carry a Space Blanket and make sure my mobile phone is charged up. Even with limited service in remote areas, it is a must.
The effect on cquipment
The effect on performance during hunting in cold weather can make the difference between a satisfying shoot and a disastrous one. Rifles rely on mechanical components moving in harmony to achieve their desired performance. It’s impossible to outline every situation and effect a rifle will have to the cold but there are some general trends to watch out for.
Oil usually thickens when it becomes colder. This therefore slows down the trigger components, the striker, the firing valve and even the pellet in the barrel so you cannot expect the same pellet velocity or point of impact from a chilly rifle as one that has been chonographed or zeroed shortly after being stored in a centrally heated house.
Rifles need to get up or down to the ambient temperature before representing a true velocity or zero and even lubricated pellets require a chance to settle down. It may also help to slightly reduce the quantity lubricant on your pellets.
It might take some trial and error to establish exactly how much change there is to the Point Of Impact (POI) in cold weather but it’s much better to be aware of the problem before it catches you out and therefore worth the time and effort to monitor it on the practice range.
The fit of the action in a stock and the stock material itself can have a dramatic effect on the stability and consistency of your rifle’s performance throughout the winter months. If the stock swells up in wet or humid conditions or just warps very slightly, it will more than likely change the point of zero. This can be avoided by correctly bedding the action and ensuring the stock doesn’t touch the barrel or influence the air cylinder. If you do get some unexplainable POI changes and want to prove the effect the stock is having, slacken off the stock screws slightly and see how much zero shift it generates.
Performance before aesthetics
There are many different camo and clothing patterns available and it is easy to get side-tracked into looking for one that blends in more effectively than all the others. However, with so many varying environments to hunt in i.e. pine forest, scrub, farmland or even farm buildings it is impossible to disappear into the background every time. When you then throw in the change in seasons and that a hunting area could even be covered in snow it makes more sense to buy clothing that performs in the insulation and rain proofing departments before anything else. It’s worth spending extra money if you do find a jacket and trouser with a muted break up pattern that have the right qualities to keep you warm and dry plus they need the ability to breathe and hopefully allow you to move around fairly quietly. When you buy new shooting clothing, always test it in a few shooting postures to ensure your skin is not exposed.
In many cases it’s preferable to have several layers so that one can be discarded but when these insulation layers are being worn under your clothing you don’t want to feel too restricted in your movements. It’s therefore important to take a fleece layer or two to wear under the potentially new clothes when you try them on in the shop.
When you do settle on a jacket or trouser it could be worth having someone take a few photos of you against some typical foliage, the pattern might be more visible than you think.
Modern optics are hardy objects but can also affected by the cold but most problems can be avoided if the exterior of the scope is dried out after use and it’s stored and transported with lens covers. Once again it’s important to let the scope adjust to the ambient temperature before using it especially if it has come from a warm car boot into cold air.