A treatise on cold weather gun prep

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It’s December, and as expected, outside temperatures are slipping with increasing regularity into the skinny digits.

If you plan on participating in one of the ongoing late season big game or waterfowl hunts, and haven’t done so already, now’s the time to perform some “cold weather” prep on your firearms. This is a lesson that my older brother, Bob, and I learned the hard way over 30 years ago.

This call to reality took place during a late mule deer hunt in the foothills of Topance Creek in southeastern Idaho. Opening morning found us slogging uphill through knee — often thigh deep — powder that was as light, feathery, and silent as Ruby Mountain Heli-Ski’s finest.

This uphill jaunt started long before daybreak and culminated several hours later when we finally settled into a little sheltered pocket of wind-driven snow near the crest. From that vantage point we had a commanding view of the canyons and draws below us.

At that time in our hunting careers, we were both shooting 7mm Mauser rifles. Bob’s was one of the original tang safety Ruger M77s and mine a beautiful little post-64 Winchester Model 70 Featherweight. His rounds were loaded with Nosler 140 grain Partitions, while my 7×57 doted on Speer 145 grain spitzers.

After about an hour of glassing, we spotted a very decent 4×4 mulie bedded in a north-facing Douglas Fir grove. Another hour of slow, judicious maneuvering put us downwind and some 100 yards above the unsuspecting buck.

Settling into a comfortable kneeling position, Bob placed the crosshairs of his shooting stick-rested Ruger on the bedded buck’s near shoulder. He gently pressed the trigger. Instead of the expected snow-muffled blast of the little 7mm, only the metallic click of a hesitant firing pin reached our ears … and those of the buck.

The buck instantly rose from its bed and stood there motionless, nose into the wind, trying to scent the source of his alarm.

Working the bolt as quietly as possible, Bob chambered a second round which also failed to fire. Obviously flustered, Brother Robert whispered back over his shoulder, “Rich, give me your rifle.” A quickly aimed shot penetrated through both shoulders, dropping the buck belly first into his bed. It was over. The next day, I managed to take my own 4×4 out of a neighboring draw.

The following week — with both of our big game hunts done for the year — we got together in Bob’s basement to disassemble and examine his rifle. We wanted to know why his rifle had failed at the critical moment so that incident would never be repeated by either one of us. As it turned out, Bob had made a completely novice mistake.

Never a stickler for preventive maintenance on any of his outdoor gear, Bob had neglected to remove the original packing grease that Ruger had slathered into the trigger mechanism and the bolt innards years before, prior to its release from the factory. Then to add insult to injury, Brother Bob — with almost religious zeal — over-lubed his rifle’s moving parts annually “to keep her all slicked up.”

NOTE: All firearms manufacturers apply preservative oils and greases to the bores and internal mechanisms of their guns before shipping. This over-lubrication is intended to prevent rusting during transit, handling, and storage prior to their purchase. To ensure proper, reliable, consistent performance, it must be removed prior to the gun being fired. Explicit instructions are provided with the owner’s manual accompanying the firearm. If the manual doesn’t provide enough instruction or you’ve purchased a used firearm, you can hop online and check out YouTube. There are disassembly and lubrication instructions galore there for practically every gun in existence.

The importance of this procedure cannot be overstated, particularly if the gun is going to be used in extreme cold (freezing/sub-freezing) temperatures. You can see where this procedure has genuine relevance for any hunting outing. Obviously, It is also of prime importance for anyone carrying a firearm for personal defense and family/societal protection, where your gun “must” function every time — no exception.

SUGGESTIONS: Long established tradition suggests that any firearms exposed to freezing (32F) and particularly sub-freezing temperatures (around 0F) should have petroleum-based lubricants removed to avoid temperature-induced failures. These materials thicken and can gum up the works at very cold temperatures. That is what happened to Bob’s Ruger. In that frigid environment, the packing grease and oils thickened and congealed as a stiff mass around and within the firing pin spring. The resultant weakened primer strike was insufficient to ignite his rounds.

Synthetic (non-petroleum) oils, used sparingly, are the accepted substitutes. Many experienced gunners favor the U.S. military-approved cleaner/lubricant Break Free CLP. Remington’s Dri-Lube aerosol has a dedicated following. Lately, I’ve been having good luck with Lucas Synthetic Gun Oil.

When crunching cold temperatures are anticipated, some gunners choose to “go dry.” In other words, they use a cleaner/degreaser to strip out all the oil/grease and fire their guns without lubrication. Expensive commercial degreasers are available, but many experienced shooters prefer basic automotive brake cleaners (just be careful using them around most factory stock finishes). I prefer good ole isopropyl alcohol. Simply disassemble, soak and scrub with an old toothbrush, dry, and reassemble. This simple, inexpensive procedure will go a long way toward making your guns cold-proof.

The “go-dry” principle works well If you anticipate shooting a few rounds during the hunt, but if high-round counts are the rule, I apply a very light coating of a synthetic lube for good measure.

With a bit of conscientious care you can keep your firearms functioning reliably in the coldest of temperatures. And be sure not to neglect suiting yourself up in appropriate layered clothing because “Baby, it’s cold outside!”

This article originally ran on elkodaily.com.

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