Cold weather makes a lot of things more difficult. Believe it or not, when you’re shooting in the Winter, there are factors to be considered and changes that sometimes need to be made to avoid the effect cold hands have on shooting.
“Cold hands get numb, and numb hands get clumsy,” says firearms and self-defense instructor Massad Ayoob. “Gloved hands can be warm, but warm gloves are thick enough to reduce the sense of feel and make gun-handling clumsy…a potentially dangerous thing.”
Cold Stress and Heat Balance
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 even parts of the body (such as hands) results in discomfort, impaired sensory and neuro-muscular function and, ultimately, cold injury.
The most obvious and direct effects of cold stress include:
- Immediate cooling of the skin
- Systemic arousal, which increases sympathetic nervous activity and, thereby, Adrenalin begins to dump.
- The muscles begin to shiver and blood vessels in the extremities begin to squeeze, which results in a reduction of blood flow to muscles and skin.
- Reduction of fine motor skills
How Do I Prevent Cold Stress From Occurring?
The simple answer is to keep our hands warm or wear gloves; However, wearing cold-protective clothing, footwear, gloves and headgear interferes with the mobility and dexterity of the shooter. That being said, there is a “cost of protection” in the sense that movements and motions can become restricted and more exhausting.
Cold Weather’s Effect on Hands
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).
Fine, delicate and fast finger movements deteriorate when tissue temperature drops by only a few degrees. 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. 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.
In other words, cooler temperatures will have an effect of overall gun handling, and very dramatic effects on trigger pull, and proper grip functions.
What You Can Do To Help Your Hands Get Acclimated
Looking on the bright side, there is evidence for different types of acclimatization to long-term cold exposure. Manual (hand dexterity) performance is better maintained after repeated cold exposures of the hand (soaking hands in ice water and then practicing dry fire drills).
If you have not regularly maintained these cold exposures and find yourself needing to use your gun in the cold, make sure to warm up – flex the fingers, shake the hands, get them ready to operate the gun.
If you find that you do a lot of cold weather shooting, and exact precision is needed, try training your body to acclimate to that style of shooting. This combined with simple warm-ups will cause your dexterity to be less affected by temperature changes.
Check out this handy chart for optimal temperatures for hand and finger dexterity: