Super Cold Weather and Rifle Ammo Performance
Dr. John Woods 01.09.18
Right now it is 21 degrees outside in Central Mississippi. If I were hunting today at my camp, the temperature would be less than that. How do you think your rifle and the ammunition you use performs when it is this cold? Is it that big a deal? Here are some thoughts and considerations.
First, from practical, hands on experience, I leave my hunting rifle and ammunition in my truck overnight at deer camp even when it is super cold. I do not want them warming up inside, then taking them outside in the cold to form unwanted condensation on the rifle, ammo, or scope. That is my routine, and so far it has not proven to be a problem.
However, in terms of metallurgy and other factors that might impact a rifle and ammo’s performance in the cold, there are some realities. I have this imaginary from the movie The Christmas Story where the kid sticks his tongue on a frozen metal light pole in the school yard. I cringe when I think about it.
That scene passes through my mind as I send an ice cold bullet down an ice cold barrel for the first shot in freezing temperatures. I also get the same impression when I crank my truck engine or my ATV on a frigid morning. Cold metal against cold metal cannot be a good thing, at least in theory. Ironically, it all seems to work out in the end anyway.
If you are a persnickety rifle shooter, then any change in your rifle’s or ammo’s standard expected performance is not good news. However, it would seem impractical to pre-warm either in hopes to defer the impact of cold temperatures. Perhaps your deer blind or shooting house is heated and that might make a difference however slight. I never saw a deer rifle or a duck gun pre-heated. We just shoot and go on about our business.
What changes might we expect from a cold bullet racing down a cold rifle barrel? At the best, very little. At the worst, you can expect a decline in the bullet’s velocity and thus some change in the impact point of the bullet, especially at really long ranges. Will you be able to notice this when you poke a round at a giant buck out at 200 yards? I doubt it. At 400, maybe, but you shouldn’t be shooting at a buck that far out anyway.
In terms of shooting-hunting practicality, cold weather will probably impact your comfort more than that of your rifle or ammo. Just plan to make a good accurate shot in the kill zone, and don’t fret it.