Friday, November 18, 2016

Shooting In Cold Temperatures

I grew up in the desert of Arizona. When the temperature dips into the 40’s its considered cold. I’ve lived in the Southwest my entire life so I’m not real acclimated to cold temperatures. I also don’t like cold which doesn’t help. I did hunt in the White Mountains and on the Mogollon Rim in Arizona so I’m not completely a waste in cold. I served my mission in Eastern Canada and experienced some of the coldest weather of my life, but that was only two years.
What does cold have to do with shooting? Well it affects your dexterity and cold stress may be present in many different forms, affecting the whole-body heat balance as well as the local heat balance of extremities. Cooling of the whole body or in this case, parts of the body, results in discomfort, impaired sensory and neuro-muscular function and, ultimately, cold injury.
The most obvious and direct effect of cold stress for this subject is the immediate cooling of the skin. The type and magnitude of reaction are determined primarily by the type and severity of cooling. Local cold exposure may cause stress level increases thereby, preparedness for action. When our bodies prepare for action and respond to the cold stimulus, our fight or flight nervous system function kicks in, and the adrenalin begins to dump. This function will work to fight the cold stimulus by giving the muscles stimulation to shiver AND cause the blood vessels in the extremities to begin to squeeze, which results in a reduction of blood flow to muscles and skin. This reduces fine motor skills and makes the “feel” for the trigger much less. That is not a welcome effect when trying to hit the target; great when trying to out run a bear or survive a blizzard, but we are not in those situations.
How do we fix this? The simple answer is to keep our hands warm or wear gloves. Prevention of cooling by means of donning cold-protective clothing, footwear, gloves and headgear interferes with the mobility and dexterity of the shooter. There is a “cost of protection” in the sense that movements and motions can become restricted and more exhausting.
Hand function is very susceptible to cold exposure. Due to their small mass and large surface area, hands and fingers lose heat while maintaining high tissue temperatures (86 to 95ºF).
Accordingly, such high temperatures can be maintained only with a high level of internal heat production, allowing for sustained high blood flow to the extremities. The most expedient way to tell if your hands are beginning to suffer from the cold exposure, and may result in decreased performance is to check for the “White Knuckle Grip.” If your hands look like you are holding the steering wheel of a truck on ice, headed down the hill, you will know the tissues are suffering from a lack of blood bringing oxygen to the tissues, and hand grip, finger press and support hand functions will be affected.
Hand and finger function is directly affected by the temperature of the skin. Fine, delicate and fast finger movements deteriorate when tissue temperature drops by only a few degrees. With more profound temperature drops in the tissues, gross hand functions will also be impaired, eventually, your hands will turn to “clubs” and the fine skill and gross skills will not be possible. You may get to a point where you cannot truly feel the gun in your hands.
Significant impairment in hand function is found at hand skin temperatures around 59ºF, and severe impairments occur at skin temperatures about 42 to 46ºF due to the blocking of the function of sensory and thermal skin receptors. The temperature of your fingertips may be more than ten degrees lower than on the back of your hand under certain exposure conditions.
Cooling reduces the force output of muscles and has an even greater effect on dynamic contractions. This will have an effect of overall gun handling, and very dramatic effects on trigger press, and proper grip functions.

There is a simple way to test the effects of cold on your hands and performance, and train yourself to adapt to this environmental issue and improve your performance as much as possible. This simple and free or nearly free acclimatization method will make you less susceptible to cold hand issues. By exposure to cold water from the sink then maybe move to ice water in a bowl, etc., and dry fire drills, make sure to include shooting (dry fire) and gun manipulations, failure drills, etc.
These drills need to be practiced for all shooters, not just for the hand gunners, but hunters with long guns as well. Just to state the obvious – check then recheck that the gun is unloaded, and no ammo is in the room. Get ahold of a simple and inexpensive surface thermometer from the drug store, the type that just reads the skin temperature, then put your hands in the cold water, use the thermometer and take the skin temperature, run your dry fire drills. You can check your performance differences between warm and cold hands dry fire, use a stopwatch to test speed or function. Eventually, you will see if your acclimatization efforts are giving any value to your shooting and watch for improvement as you train to beat the cold.
If you’re careful, and a simple warm up can be performed, your shooting should not suffer dramatically. If you find that you do a lot of cold weather shooting, and exact precision is needed. Try these simple steps to train your body to acclimate to that style of shooting. This combined with simple warm-ups, and you will be less affected and maybe even be the only guy in the group that can shoot as well cold as everyone else does in the warm.
This article is for all but obviously not so applicable to us here down south. But cold may affect us southerners even more because we’re not used to cold temps.
Stay warm my friends.
Semper Paratus
Check 6
Burn

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