Cold weather shooting

Ethan Lowry urges airgun shooters to prepare for the cold so they can banish discomfort and disappointment when the temperature plummets.

As shooters we can have the very latest training equipment and the best airgun. We can spend hours on end practising and be trained by the greatest of coaches.

There is however, one thing we cannot control: the weather. Indoor shooters can be thankful. They don’t have to withstand gusting winds, torrential downpours and plummeting temperatures.

On the other hand, hunters and outdoor target shooters can expect to experience any combination of these when facing the elements.

Outdoor airgun shooters – no matter their exact discipline – should all be prepared to face such conditions, especially in the UK, but how does the cold and wet actually affect us physiologically? The human body is an extraordinary thing.

Every aspect of it is so vastly complicated; so much so that despite our best efforts we still know very little of how it works. One thing we have observed over time is that it rarely likes to work outside of its conditioned parameters and will do everything in its power to remain within these.

The human body attempts to correct any problems it may find by up-regulating certain processes or down-regulating others: this is called homeostasis.

When we are cold and/or wet, our bodies react in a number of ways to ensure we hold onto as much heat as possible. You have most likely experienced all of these at some point in your life:

  • You get goosebumps and your hairs stand on end. This is done in an attempt to trap air around your skin, which in turn provides a form of insulation.
  • Your blood flow is, in part, diverted away from your extremities and towards your more vital organs. 
  • Your brain sends sporadic and rapid impulses to your muscles, leading you to shiver. Shivering generates heat as a byproduct, similar to how an engine gives off heat when it’s been running.
  • Your core temperature can rise, like someone turning up your body’s thermostat. This is a temporary measure and over a long period of time can indicate a fever has set in.
  • Your body will use some combination of these to keep you warm in a cold environment, but in doing so, other functions will suffer as a consequence.

In most other sports your body is moving significantly throughout the game or match and by doing so participants will have increased blood flow and heat generated from the continuous and substantial movement of their muscles. When it comes to shooting, we do not have that luxury.

Prolonged exposure to the cold affects shooters in a number of ways, such as: 

  • Poor memory
  • Decreased reaction times 
  • Decreased ability to actually pull the trigger 
  • Shivering will undoubtedly affect the steadiness of your aim 
  • Slower muscle contractions will affect your grip and trigger finger 

The addition of being wet will exacerbate all of the above effects and will most definitely increase the length of time a person suffers from them. 

The final consideration of the cold is that prolonged exposure will increase your chances of becoming sick, due to a weakened immune system and increased exposure to the viruses and bacteria which cause such illnesses. If you’re suffering from a bad cold or flu, it will very likely be evident in your hunting success or HFT score.

How do we manage the cold? 

First and foremost you should always attempt to stay dry. Regardless of the temperature outside, if you are wet, you will feel colder than it actually is, and thus your body will react as such. If it’s raining, wear suitable waterproofs and headgear.

If you have somewhere to take shelter, try to make use of it if possible. It’s also a good idea to keep your airgun well away from the rain as well, when it’s not in use.

When shooting, many people do not like to wear thick and cumbersome coats as it impacts their stance and movement. Instead hunters and competitors should always layer up. Begin with a thermal base layer, followed by one or two T-shirts, and finally a jumper or jacket.

Exactly what brand of clothing is entirely up to your budget and style, but it generally is one of those instances where you get what you pay for.

It’s not to say cheaper brands won’t keep you warm, because they will, but generally more expensive alternatives will allow for the same level of warmth, but without being as bulky.

More expensive qualities in jackets such as Gortex material will also allow the wearer’s skin to breathe more easily, resulting in less sweating.

The most overlooked aspect of cold-weather clothing for shooting is probably gloves. Most individuals will have had a bad experience with gloves in the past, namely how it affects their grip and trigger finger. Thankfully, there are now several gloves on the market which have an excellent design with shooters in mind.

The best by far in my experience are Sealskinz Waterproof All Weather Shooting Glove. The Sealskinz brand is popular for its waterproof clothes and the quality has not wavered when the firm developed its shooting gloves.

The trigger finger on both hands opens and folds back (being held in place by magnetic fittings), which allows shooters to work their airgun as if wearing no gloves at all. The gloves also have a leather palm which aids in gripping the gun.

Finally, having a warm drink in a flask, or availing of a food counter at your HFT shoot (if available) will help tremendously with keeping your body temperature up. 

There are plenty of things we can’t control when it comes to shooting, like the weather. But we can control how we prepare for it. Always bring appropriate kit and clothing with you when out hunting, in competition or at the outdoor range. Stay dry, layer up and have warm drinks on hand!

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