It ain’t just another day at the range WHEN YOU’RE only shivering.
There are multiple things to be concerned with in cold weather handgunning.
I’m writing this in a northern city in winter, where wind chills have recently gotten below zero and are predicted to get worse. Fortunately, having spent most of my life in northern New England, I’m reasonably well prepared for the cold.
As a young part-time cop in New Hampshire, I learned early on an emergency would keep me out of my nice, warm patrol car for very long periods. Whether it was a roadside accident in a howling blizzard or a manhunt in the snow, you had to make a decision about your hand and your gun. The decision was a stark one: gloved hand or frozen hand?
Mas finds the Glock pistol amenable to the gloved hand.
It should be, having been designed for the Austrian Army.
An arrow shows where glove material has caught in a notch at the top of this revolver’s
trigger, preventing the trigger from returning fully after the first shot.
The Gloved Hand
The first thing I learned was a glove warm enough to be worthy of its name in arctic-level cold was also thick enough to be incompatible with the double-action revolvers that were standard issue then. The thick glove material surrounding the index finger so filled the triggerguard you’d get the first shot off fine, but the trigger might not return for the next, turning your 6-shooter into a single-shot. When the trigger is all the way back on most double-action revolvers, glaringly so on the Colt, it exposed a sharp little “V” that tended to bite into the top of the glove’s finger and catch.
The 1911 pistol, and other autoloaders with small triggerguards, may present another problem. With a long single-action trigger, there isn’t much space between the trigger face and the front of the triggerguard. Thick glove material, particularly on a big hand with thick fingers, can start pressing rearward on the trigger without the shooter noticing as soon as the finger enters the guard.
It didn’t take very long to figure out a traditional double-action auto made more sense for a gloved hand. After the first shot, the trigger would stay back in single action so the trigger reset problem was off the table. It was no trick for the gloved thumb to manipulate the decocking lever on a Beretta, SIG, S&W or Ruger pistol so designed. It turns out the Austrian Glock, conceived in a country that understood ski troops, also had a large enough triggerguard to be compatible with a gloved finger. Ditto the similar striker-fired duty pistols which followed it including the S&W M&P and the Springfield Armory XD series.
The alternative to a gloved hand is a frozen hand, and trying both, I quickly came to prefer a warm glove on a shooting hand. If there was time to whip the glove off before going for the pistol, fine. If not, I made a point of spending substantial time shooting with winter gloves on. Yes, the glove takes some sense of touch away from the trigger finger, but cold-numbed hands take away more. It happens quickly in deep cold, and more quickly with severe wind chill factor.
If there’s no time to get gloves off before you have to draw, you want to know
how the gun will run. This SIG P227 is shown in a Leather Arsenal IWB holster.
A traditional double-action auto like this SIG P227 works well in a gloved hand.
A curled-down thumb guarantees thick glove material can’t put friction on slide.
Do you shoot with a high thumb grasp? Make sure you’ve tried it with your thickest winter gloves with live fire! You won’t necessarily be able to feel it, but thick glove material may now be pressing laterally against the slide. It didn’t bind in the bare hand, but that friction introduced by the glove may be just enough to induce a stoppage now. Only testing with those gloves, that gun and that ammo will determine whether there’s a problem or not.
Do you close your slide during an emergency reload by thumbing the slide stop or racking the slide? I prefer the former, but I make sure I can do it with gloves on. Some people can’t. You want to find out now, and if it’s a problem, switch to the slide-rack method for closing the slide.
Here’s something counterintuitive. You’d think since the glove makes your hand bigger, the gun should feel smaller. In reality, it’s just the opposite. Your hand is holding the pistol and, literally, a handful of glove material. It basically makes the grip bigger. There can also be hand slippage/glove slippage in the interface between shooter and pistol. This exacerbates felt recoil and its effects. As a rule of thumb, I discovered with the gloves on, a 9mm kicked like a .40 and a .45 ACP with standard-pressure loads felt as if I was shooting .45 +P. A crushingly hard grasp is indicated when shooting with gloves on.
There are those of us who tailor caliber choice to, among other things, weather. I’ve always preferred a .45 in serious cold. Any hollowpoint can plug when it goes through the heavy clothing—Carhartt, Fiberfill—whatever the opponent is likely to be wearing in winter. Plugged bullets may not expand. If mine might turn into flatnose ball, I want them to turn into a big flatnose ball, hence the .45-caliber preference.
I’ve put my time in on the range with gloves on. I’m wearing a SIG SAUER P227 (see this month’s cover story for my review), a traditional double-action auto loaded with 11 rounds of jacketed hollowpoint .45 ACP. When I step out into the windswept frozen urban wasteland tonight, I’ll be as ready as I can be.
If there’s something more dangerous than frostbite waiting for you out there in the cold, I hope you’re ready, too.
By Massad Ayoob
The Leather Arsenal
27549 Middleton Road
Middleton, ID 83644