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Winter Wear: The Effects of Cold Weather on Guns and Ammo

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Extreme summer and winter temperatures can be harmful to our guns and ammunition. When it comes to cold weather, the primary problem is the rapid change of temperature from inside a heated area to outside into the frigid air. We have all had our eyeglasses or cameras fog up when moving from a hot to cold environment. Condensation forms and may affect metal, primers and powder. That’s why it is important to be aware of winter’s impact on both your firearms and ammunition. 

To Oil or Not to Oil

A number of years ago, I conducted a test of different lubricants by placing them in a freezer. Surprising, quite a few of these oils became stiff over time. The rule for cold weather carry is to lubricate the pistol lightly. A light coat of Ballistol should be adequate. The chances of a firearm actually freezing up are slim, but the recoil spring, cocking block and firing pin channel should be clear of lubricant. Cold lubricant in the firing pin channel is especially harsh on function.

It is tempting to simply spray down a handgun to lubrication it. A judicious application of light lube is the better program in cold weather.

It is tempting to simply spray down a handgun to lubrication it. A judicious application of light lube is the better program in cold weather.

Regular Exposure to the Elements

A handgun that is exposed to cold air may freeze up or corrode. Heavy grease is the best remedy to resist corrosion — but this is for storage, but not for daily carry. Some handguns are less susceptible to rust and damage. But keep in mind that even stainless steel guns may pit and develop corrosion.

A light sprinkle coupled with freezing temperatures can be problematic for a gun owner. Variations of temperature of 40 degrees or more may cause condensation, especially when moving from outdoors to inside a heated vehicle or dwelling. When a pistol is worn under a coat, the primary concern is when the gun is exposed to warm air upon returning home. I have seen pistols covered in condensation, which isn’t good for the firearm.

While this condensation may be easily wiped off, the firearm needs to be inspected after each carry session. Don’t neglect the gun’s hidden components either, such as the firing pin channel and small uncoated metal springs. No matter how busy you may be, maintenance is key. The pistol should be unloaded, examined and at least wiped down and lubricated on a monthly basis.

Protect that Ammo Too

Too often folks store ammunition in bags or shoes boxes where it is susceptible to climate change. Ammunition should be kept in its original container. Basements are damp and most garages are unheated. Cartridges should be stored at room temperature. This is especially important when you store handloads or generic ammunition without a case mouth and primer seal. A sealed ammunition can is ideal.

Federal’s practice ammunition (left) doesn’t need primer seal. Duty loads (right) are well sealed against the elements.

Federal’s practice ammunition (left) doesn’t need primer seal. Duty loads (right) are well sealed against the elements.

As an example, my emergency supply of 5.56mm is in a factory sealed can of Black Hills Ammunition MK 262. Sealed ammo cans — such as the popular MTM Case-Gard brand — are a great choice.

Some loads have good cartridge integrity simply because they have a tight crimp and excellent quality control. Others, like the new Federal Punch Defense Ammo, feature sealed primers. Many years ago, a good friend painstakingly sealed the primer of each duty load with nail polish. Today, factory ammunition is of much higher quality.

When factory ammunition fails, I have found that a failure of the powder charge to fully ignite is more common than primer failure. A primer usually fails because it is defective. Powder fails are the result of contamination. If the primer has come into contact with solvent or oil, or if the cartridge has been exposed to moisture, it should be discarded. A cartridge without proper case mouth friction will lead to setbacks with the projectile. This is bad enough, but it also may permit moisture to attack the powder charge. By chambering the same round multiple times, the user can determine if the load has a good case mouth seal. The risk of contamination is lessened when ammunition is carried in magazines and in magazine holders.

The less exposure to the elements, the better. Proper storage is vital. More often than not, ammunition failure is a result of poor storage.

Adapting to the Cold Weather

While chemical and mechanical considerations are important, don’t neglect the human side of winter training. If you wear gloves, practice manipulating your firearm with them on. Is your handgun buried under several layers of clothing? Don’t envelop the pistol under clothing to the point that you cannot present it quickly if needed. Think things through and practice accordingly.

Some of us enjoy the winter months more than others, but the bottom line is none of us can let our guard down. Carefully address the problems inherent with cold weather this winter.

For further reading on winter concealed carry, check out, “The Ultimate Guide to Dressing for Concealed Carry, Part 1: Cold Weather,” by the U.S. Concealed Carry Association.

Sources

Ballistol: Ballistol.com
MTM Case-Gard: MTMCase-Gard.com


About Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell is a writer for Concealed Carry Magazine with a degree in criminal justice. Bob has been a firearms writer for decades, writing for Concealed Carry Handguns, Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, SWAT Magazine, Law and Order and Black Belt, among others. He has written 15 books primarily focused on handguns and training, including The Accurate Handgun from Gun Digest. In addition to serving as a peace officer and firearms instructor, he has also written curriculum at the university level.

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