How To Take Care of Your Firearms in Freezing Weather Conditions

The cold winter months present a unique set of challenges for gun owners. Most gun owners are acutely aware of the corrosion and damage that moisture and humidity can inflict upon their guns, and these gun owners take action accordingly to ensure that their firearms are kept in good condition.

Far fewer gun owners, however, are aware that exposing their firearms to freezing temperatures can be just as damaging as exposing their guns to humidity, but in different ways.

Hunters in cold regions of the world, such as northern North America or Europe or Siberia, have to take extra precautions to ensure that their firearms remain functional and in good working order. Soldiers operating in winter conditions have to take similar measures. 

In this article, we’ll explore the unique challenges that exist with maintaining firearms in freezing conditions and the consequences of not practicing proper firearms maintenance for this type of weather. Then, we’ll dive into how to take care of your firearms in the winter and outline a simple but effective step-by-step process for doing so.

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Challenges with Maintaining Your Firearms in Freezing Weather Conditions

Freezing temperatures rarely discourage gun owners. People will still regularly hit the range in the thick of winter to keep their shooting skills up, others will pack a gun while snowshoeing or hiking in the snow, and hunters often find themselves in frigid and snowy conditions as well. 

There are specifically two big concerns you should have when using your gun in the middle of winter:

  • The first is protecting the finish of your firearm from rust from the moisture that is left by snow, rain, and condensation.
  • The second is in protecting the strength of your gun’s metal from the freezing temperatures. 

Most firearms are sold with heat-treated metal, meaning that they are designed to resist warping, malfunctioning, or deforming under hot conditions or sustained periods of fire. 

In freezing temperatures, however, the opposite effect happens. When gun metal is exposed to freezing temperatures, it weakens. Then if you fire the weapon repeatedly, allow it to cool under the freezing temperatures, then fire it repeatedly again and allow it to cool again consistently, it can inflict a large degree of stress and pressure over the metal as well. 

This is especially true for automatic or semi-automatic firearms that will heat up rapidly under sustained fire only to cool rapidly when exposed to the cold, but it’s also a concern for bolt-action, pump-action, or lever-action firearms where the actions are cycled repeatedly. 

This greatly increases the risk of the firearm metal sustaining small fractures or wearing out faster. 

That’s also not to mention that freezing weather can literally cause a firearm to freeze as well. The components will increase in friction when they are pressed against one another, and the triggers, slides, or actions of the firearm can seize up as well, making it non-functional until it becomes warmer.

So how can you make sure that your firearm remains fully protected and functional in freezing conditions? The simple answer is you’ll need to take proper care of it, and that’s what we’re going to discuss next. 

How To Care For Your Firearm Properly in Winter 

How To Care For Your Firearm Properly in Winter 

The biggest priority of caring for your firearm in winter is to make sure that the firearm is clean. When carbon, powder, and other gunk builds up in a firearm after repeated shooting sessions without cleaning, it greatly increases the chance of the gun malfunctions because all that gunk could become frozen or expand under moisture as well. 

Keep Your Gun Clean and Dry 

To ensure maximum reliability of a firearm when shooting in freezing weather conditions, you’ll want to make sure the gun has been properly cleaned and maintained. This may sound like a given, but it’s surprising how long many gun owners will go in between cleaning their firearms.

At the same time, you also want to make sure that any gun cleaning oils or lubricants have been wiped off and removed from the inside and and outside of the firearm as well. In freezing conditions, the lubricant can freeze and potentially cause the action of a firearm to seize up. 

This is precisely why hunters who regularly hunt in freezing conditions (such as in Alaska, Canada, Scandinavia, or Siberia) make it routine practice to simply clean their firearms of any carbon and gunk and then wipe the inside components and the outside completely free of gun oil and lubrication. 

Leaving lubrication over your firearm is normally a good thing. It’s designed to reduce the wear of components moving against one another to reduce friction and heat, similar to using lubrication in a car’s engine. In humid conditions, lubrication can also protect your firearm from humidity to reduce the chances of it rusting or corroding. 

But in freezing conditions, lubrication will have the opposite effect. When it accumulates, it can freeze and cause the components to bind up against one another. 

Here’s a good adage to follow: in the winter, make sure that your guns are kept clean and dry.

Caring For Your Firearm After A Session 

Once you return home or to your campsite after a day of using your gun out in the cold, you’ll immediately want to take action to clean it. 

After exposure to snow and sleet, moisture will accumulate over your firearm. But even without snow and sleet, your firearm is still being exposed to cold air, and air always contains moisture. 

That’s why when you bring a firearm back indoors into a warmer environment, the air that accumulated over the firearm will release its moisture. That’s why even though your firearm may look dry when you come back inside, give it a few minutes and you’ll see condensation developing over the surface of your firearm.

That’s why you always want to make sure that you wipe the firearm down thoroughly after coming back inside. Take a dry towel or rag and thoroughly dry the firearm so that the entire surface of the firearm (including the metal and wooden components) is completely dry. 

If your firearm was subjected to a prolonged exposure to the cold, it would be wise to field strip it completely and dry off each of the internal components. 

Again, make sure that there is no lubrication present inside or on the surface level of the firearm when you take it back out to the cold. If you clean it with gun oil, make sure that the oil is wiped completely from the firearm. 

Caring For Scopes and Optics

Your scopes and optics need to be cared for with the same level of protection as your firearms. Condensation can build outside of, and perhaps even inside of, the lenses of your scopes and inflict severely detrimental effects. 

That’s why you want to make sure that your lenses are covered up properly when you venture out into the cold. Many scope makers produce scope covers for their scopes that fit over the ends of the lenses and can be quickly disengaged when you need to bring the firearm into action quickly (such as if you’re hunting and suddenly see a deer burst out of the trees). 

Alternatively, you can go with rubber scope covers, and while effective these are a lot slower to take on and off. 

Likewise make sure that when you return home after a day of shooting or hunting that you also wipe your scope down thoroughly with a dry towel or rag in addition to the firearm. Both the lenses and the outside body of the scope should be thoroughly dried. 

Step-By-Step Process For Caring For Your Firearms in Winter 

Step-By-Step Process For Caring For Your Firearms in Winter 

Here is a step-by-step process for caring your firearms in winter:

  1. Try to limit the exposure of your firearms to use in freezing conditions, because it can gradually weaken the metal in your firearms over time.
  2. Follow the adage of keeping your firearms clean and dry in winter conditions.
  3. Always clean your firearms before using them in cold weather. Carbon, powder, and other kinds of gunk can accumulate and then freeze, which will inflict significant wear and stress on your firearms components.
  4. Make sure that the internal components and outside surface of the firearm has been completely dried of any lubricants, which can also freeze in frigid conditions and potentially cause the actions of your firearm to seize up.
  5. Always dry your firearms and optics thoroughly when you return home. Never stash a gun away in a case or back in a safe when you return. Always dry it with a rag or towel.
  6. Inspect your firearms regularly and keep an eye out for any signs of corrosion and rust.

Conclusion

Firearms are tools that need to be properly cared for. Freezing weather conditions present unique challenges to firearm maintenance, but the steps we’ve outlined in this article are the same precautions that are regularly followed by hunters, target shooters, and soldiers alike who use their guns in the thick of winter. 

Follow the adage of keeping your firearms dry and clean with the steps that we’ve outlined, and your guns should be kept in good and operable condition. 

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