Preparing for the worst

Andy McLachlan offers some practical advice so outdoor target shooters can still have a good day when the weather turns bad.

The elements are already making themselves known when checking the gun’s zero prior to venturing out into the wind and rain at Emley Moor

There are few things better in my opinion than spending time outside enjoying hobbies. They might involve shooting outdoor targets, fishing, or hunting live quarry with a gun.

These pastimes are usually enjoyed even more when the weather gods are being kind and we don’t have to resort to layers of additional clothing to protect us from the more inclement weather we are likely to experience as the days draw in and winter really sets in.

Target shooting outside in lovely weather, such as those of us fortunate enough to be competing in the World Hunter Field Target Association at Weston Park in Shropshire in September will remember, is an altogether much more pleasurable experience compared with the precise opposite conditions we experienced at the previous year’s Kelmarsh WHFTA shoot.

That particular event, due to the terrible weather in the days leading up to the competition, saw the organisers having to totally rearrange the shooting times, with the two days having to be hastily (and successfully) reduced into one.

Many of us will remember having to try to peel our shooting mats up from the liquified mud and resembling the Swamp Thing as we clumped our way back to our cars with our totally muddied equipment and clothing.

As we are all aware, here in the UK we can occasionally suffer from poor weather! This will come as no surprise for those of us who do spend a lot of our spare time outside enjoying various outdoorsy-type hobbies.

As a keen angler, it has become almost second nature for me to study regional weather forecasts for clues as to what direction any prevailing wind is likely to appear from as this is very likely to affect any potential success on the water.

Westerly and southerly winds can lead to good days, with those blowing from the north or east usually meaning more gruelling times. 

Using a shooting mat is a good idea if you want to stay dry and reasonably comfortable as Geoff demonstrates

This of course also applies to those of us who enjoy outdoor competition shooting. It is much more comfortable shooting in a mild westerly or southerly wind than it is to compose a shot with a wind straight from the eastern steppes of Russia freezing fingers and any exposed body parts at a vast rate of knots.

The answer is of course to make sure that when shooting in such conditions, our clothing is well up to the job of protecting our extremities to any wind chill or the usual accompanying wet stuff.

Shooting in dire conditions brings about another series of considerations regarding the protection of our expensive equipment. Unlike summer, when we would normally hope to carry our gear to the shooting peg in relatively lightweight gun bags, we will need to consider additional measures – such as waterproof covers, which allow gun bags to be laid down without acting as expensive sheets of blotting paper that suck up all of that ground moisture into the close proximity of our guns and scopes.

In addition to protecting our equipment, we also need to seriously consider any protective clothing that can either allow us to compete effectively, or if not the case, mean a trembling hike back to the car with hands, fingers and feet feeling like they belong to somebody else.

I am confident that those of us who do spend a lot of time outside will have just as many jackets, pairs of leggings and boots of various levels of bad weather insulating qualities as I do.

If you do intend to start spending time shooting outdoors in the middle of winter, you will certainly need to consider these items of clothing just as importantly as you would the purchase of a new gun or scope. Failure to do so and being caught unprepared is a quick way to experiencing the onset of hypothermia, which is a far from pleasant experience.

Most of you will be aware of the importance of layering your chosen clothing, as this is guaranteed to provide the winter shooter with the comfort and security of knowing that you can be prepared for the worst conditions.

If you happen to get too warm, it is an easy procedure to remove one layer to maintain a comfortable level. Obviously, if you start to get colder, it is then just a case of adding an additional layer to maintain that all-important core body temperature.

There are many excellent manufacturers of outdoor clothing who provide a vast choice of items devised to maintain good levels of body protection for the harshest environments.

It goes without saying that the exterior shell of any layered outer material needs to be both breathable and of course waterproof. Inner layers will usually consist of a high-quality fleece that helps to retain body heat, with my own recent purchases also being totally waterproof for those warmer conditions in spring when a full-on winter coat is unnecessary.

We don’t need to equip ourselves for an assault on the southwest face of Everest, just remind ourselves that conditions in winter tend to deteriorate rapidly and that we don’t want to get caught out by being unprepared.

Helen Kelly stays warm and dry thanks to a great choice of clothing that ensures her shooting doesn’t suffer due to the conditions

Many of my shooting friends spend large amounts of cash on high-quality footwear that can be used all year round. Being a skinflint, I tend to wear footwear that costs slightly less and hasn’t been designed to take on the Pyrenees.

I also use neoprene-lined wellies in winter, particularly if I anticipate lots of mud. I will also wear a pair of high-quality insulating socks that go a long way to keep those tootsies warm as well.

Suitable headwear that will help to retain body heat also needs to be considered carefully. I don’t usually like wearing hats, but acknowledge that a good peaked cap can help to shade strong sunlight when shooting on those rare sunny days.

Either a woolly hat or a fleece-lined cap, with or without ear flaps, can help to keep you warm when the temperature drops. They are also easy enough to remove if you start to overheat.

Presuming that you manage to complete a course of fire in which the Thunder God has done his best to lash you with both wind and rain, we then need to consider how well our pride and joy has managed to stand up to the elements.

In one recent round of the North West Gauntlet HFT series, we were faced with one of those horrible days of continuing drizzle that always manages to soak everything and everybody.

Following the trip home, I removed my Steyr target rifle form its damp gun bag and took a close look for any residual water that had been deposited in or around the gun’s action.

Bearing in mind that this particular gun was initially designed to be shot indoors at ten metres, the slots allowing for the gun to be cocked, situated on both sides of the action’s chassis assembly, can and do allow for the ingress of water in severe conditions.

Many Steyr owners will completely strip down their guns for a thorough drying in extremis. However, unless the gun has been dropped in a puddle or been exposed to heavy driving rain, I find that any water present will swiftly evaporate if left in some nice warm air.

As I don’t own a hair dryer to assist with driving off any remaining water droplets, all I can do is use a kitchen towel to get at as much water as I can off the action and allow the warm air to do the rest – though if you’re involved in wet weather shooting, it might well be worth investing in one if you haven’t already.

In the bleak mid-winter Daz Taylor takes a shot on a muddy peg – but at least he keeps his seat dry thanks to his shooting cushion

A quick pull through of the barrel to ensure nothing is lurking there followed by rubbing down the gun with a silicone-impregnated cloth when fully dry has worked for me for many years now.

So there we have it! Don’t be put off by the prospect of inclement weather at one of your clubs’ mid-winter HFT or FT shoots. Just make sure that you dress correctly and that your equipment is properly dried off when you return.

The darker months are a challenging period to shoot outdoors in, but they shouldn’t be any less enjoyable if you remain properly equipped. Tally ho

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