Final Shot - Shooting in Cold Weather

By the time you read this, winter will be about to set in or already has done so. For a lot of us, that means shooting in near- or sub-freezing temperatures. Personally, I much preferred shooting in the winter over tolerating the heat and humidity of Pennsylvania summers. You can always don more clothes in order to stay warm, but there is a limit to how much you can remove. Even if you were to strip naked, you would still be hot — not to mention having a LOT of sunburn.

I also like the usual 50-target league events common to winter shooting and would participate in a league up to three evenings each week along with two or three over the weekends. On a typical Saturday or Sunday, I could shoot in two leagues each day as opposed to spending an entire summer day at a registered shoot. With all that groundwork laid, let’s start with how to properly attempt to stave off the bitter temps.

The first thing is not to layer up so much you resemble the Michelin Man. Doing so will both change your gun’s fit and bind your swing, neither of which are conducive to higher scores. My choice of outer garments came from my hunting clothes wardrobe. A jacket made of Gore-Tex and insulated with something like Thinsulate will keep you dry and warm without being bulky. If it was really cold or very windy, I would also wear the pants that matched the jacket in terms of construction. Of course, it should go without saying that the camo patterns should match. We have to look good, too.

Keeping your head warm calls for a beanie, but you should wear a ball cap over it so your eyes are shaded from the sun, which during winter months is lower in the sky. Blinders on your shooting glasses' frame are a big help with more than just the obvious blocking of movements by your squadmates from your peripheral vision, which can and will distract you. They also help darken the area around your eyes, something that helps you see targets better by increasing the amount of contrast. Ever notice professional golfers lining up a putt? They put their hands up beside their eyes because doing so helps them see better and imagine the ball’s path to the hole.

Speaking of shooting glasses, I do not suggest using a bright lens color like Target Orange in the winter. You are shooting at a brightly colored object against what often is a bright background (the sky and possibly the sun) but also possibly over snow, so the last thing you want is a lens color that further brightens things. I prefer medium bronze as it doesn’t allow the bright orange targets to seemingly disappear into the bright sky. They also work great on targets of all colorations including fluorescent yellow-green on south-facing traps.

Feet that become cold make your whole body feel cold, so I don’t suggest wearing sneakers. Wear your insulated hunting boots. Along with keeping your feet warmer, the more aggressive tread will help with walking over snow the shooters ahead of you walked upon and packed down. Wool socks are another good idea. Cotton socks don’t breathe as well as wool and become damp with perspiration from your feet, which leads to making your feet feel even colder than they actually are.

Finally, we come to your hands. Bulky insulated gloves will feel warm but interfere with your grip in the gun and your feel of the trigger. Try winter golf gloves instead. They aren’t thick enough to do a whole lot for warmth but since most shooting in the winter is not of the 100-target-per-event category, you aren’t going to be out in the elements long enough for your hands to take a chill. Winter golf gloves work great in keeping the chill from wind off your hands and that’s all you really need for the few minutes you will be outside at a time.

The next thing we should discuss is ammunition for freezing weather. Common sense might suggest that cold targets are more brittle and therefore easier to break, but I actually found the opposite to be true, especially when stored in a trap house located close to water or in the vicinity of melting snow. The targets in the trap houses will absorb moisture that in turn freezes, forming a binder that makes the targets harder to break.

I learned that in a semi-hard manner. A club near Harrisburg that no longer throws clay targets had trap houses on the bank of their club lake as shown in the included photo. One year they were going to be the first club in a league’s rotation. A group of us went there for a little practice, as their target settings could be quite inventive. It’s hard for mere mortals to walk out with a 15-foot pole on six feet of water, so the old eyeball method was employed. Usually one pair of eyeballs set one trap while a second pair set the other trap, so we usually were treated to high pop flies from one trap and low line drives from the other.

I shot 50 targets using my usual 16-yard load of number 8 shot (this was prior to the Eagle shot experiment explained in later paragraphs) and broke a 46. Three of the four I missed sure looked good, so just out of curiosity, I shot 50 more targets with my handicap load of number 7½ shot and broke them all!My recommendation is to use the larger shot on winter targets, as my doing so helped me win high gun in multiple winter leagues. Having to inventory two shot sizes can be more bother or expense than some casual shooters might want to endure. But there is a very easy, year-round solution.

My late shooting buddy Paul and I usually bought two skids of 80 bags of shot per year with about two-thirds being #8 shot and the remaining third 7½s. After Paul passed away, I went into my local gun shop to buy 40 or so bags of a mix of the two sizes only to discover that due to the then-current escalation of lead prices, the shop owner had scaled back his shot inventory and was no longer carrying the “name brands” like Lawrence, Remington and West Coast. Prices for those brands were generating negative feedback from shooters, and a resultant lower amount of shot was being sold. He began to stock the less-costly imported brands and found that two or three bucks per bag made a big difference in his sales numbers.

I had read on the Internet (and if it’s on the Internet, it’s true, right?) that those brands of shot were less round and patterned poorly, but I elected to buy a smaller amount of Eagle brand shot and let my targets tell me if my patterns were affected negatively. I performed an unscientific in-home test by pouring some of it on our glass-topped table and watched to see how it rolled. To my surprise, it rolled straight, didn’t veer off course and came to a gradual stop instead of some of it stopping more suddenly. Then I got out my digital caliper and measured some of it. I don’t recall the numbers any longer, but the pellets were all very close in size to one another. They were, however, an odd size. The #8 shot was between #8 and #8½ — call it #8¼ if there was such a thing — while the #7½ was between 7½ and 8 – 7¾, if you will.

After giving that some thought, I decided 1 1/8 ounce of that #7½ might work well for everything and bought 40 more bags of it. My scores on both 16-yard and 27-yard targets did not change from my old two sizes of shot, so I was happy. One shot size for everything, and I only had to change the powder bushing in my loader for 16-yard and the first shot of doubles or handicap and the second shot of doubles. Can it get any better?

Ed’s Mail
Mark Reeser read an old — at least a decade old, I think — issue and read where I had a stock refinished by Paul Altland at his Timberland Stock Shop near Hanover, Pennsylvania. Mark wanted his stock refinished the same way but couldn’t get an answer at Paul’s telephone number and his voice mailbox was full, so he asked me if I knew anything about Paul. As I hadn’t spoken with him in years, I could only reinforce the fact that Paul had some health problems and was caring for his elderly mother who had her own problems.

Assuming that Paul is no longer in business, I suggested Mark call my local gunsmith, Chad McCauslin at McCauslin Rifles in Dillsburg. I didn’t know if Chad refinished stocks but figured if he didn’t, he could steer Mark toward someone he knew who did. As it turned out, Chad does in fact refinish stocks and offers more types of finishes than Paul did — everything from matte oil to high-gloss automotive clear coat. For those of you who might be interested, Chad’s telephone number is 717-258-6607.

Ann Marie asked who was the Beretta dealer I mentioned in several columns. That dealer would be Joel Etchen Guns in Ligonier, Pennsylvania.

Until next month, please keep sending your comments, questions and suggestions for future columns to me at SS

Ed Clapper started shooting trap in 1974 but quit six months later due to limited ability and a sore jaw after every shoot. He tried again in 1989, but this time had friends who helped him overcome the obstacles. He liked the sport and became a student of it, attending several shooting clinics, some more than once. In 1989, he was automatically low man on the squad; in 1994, he broke his first 100-straight and won his first registered shooting trophy at the Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Fish & Game Association. His first 200-straight came in June, 2000, at Elysburg during the Pennsylvania State Shoot, where he came in third in a seven-man shoot off for the state championship, finishing as Class AA winner. He earned his 27-yard pin that July. Ed wrote for Trap & Field for many years and began writing for Shotgun Sports in 2002.

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