What Really Happens to Your Guns in Winter (it could get you killed)

Travis Pike
By Travis Pike January 9, 2018 09:15

What Really Happens to Your Guns in Winter (it could get you killed)

Winter presents unique challenges for everyone and everything, especially when you’re experiencing a “bombogenesis”. So, obviously having a working firearm is crucial in any situation. Ask the Marines at the Chosin Reservoir as their guns froze and ceased to function. Troops have long realized that harsh winters require special weapons attention. If you’re a shooter, prepper, or concerned at all about weapon’s maintenance you need to know how to deal with winter.

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Step 1 – Some Lubes Suck

I won’t name names, but certain lubricants simply don’t work well in the winter and fall. Mostly those based on vegetable oils. These oils like to gum up when it gets cold and until your weapon gets hot these lubricants are quite worthless. So the first step is to get rid of these gummy lubricants. If you don’t, you risk weapon’s failure. Cleaning this gunk out of the small crevices of your gun is a real pain, but needs to be done.

Even petroleum based lubes can harden and became more of a hassle than a blessing. You see lubes are meant to function in extreme heat. Guns run hot, and lubricants are designed to function within that realm of heat and to reduce friction between metal on metal parts. They aren’t designed to last in cold weather… so they don’t.

Step 2 – Remove those Old Lubes

Simply not using these lubes isn’t enough. You need to strip your guns of every single bit of lube on them as winter starts. Get an old t shirt, cut it to pieces and start cleaning them. Really get in as deep as you can and get that gunk out of there. Believe it or not you can run a gun with extremely little lube. If you are firing hundreds of rounds at a time go ahead and lube the gun before you shoot. Just remember after using it go ahead and break the weapon down and strip the lube out of the weapon.

Now if you’re like me your hunting rifle isn’t likely to be fired a whole lot during the hunting season. It’s unlikely to become dirty and fired so many times I really need to worry about lubrication. If you aren’t shooting hundreds or thousands of rounds at a time the external cold weather is going to prevent the gun from getting too hot.

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Step 3 – Condensation is the Enemy a.k.a. the Most Important Cleaning Step

Here is the real threat when it comes to winter maintenance. When you go out in the cold, sit in a tree stand, or deer blind things get cold. Your gun gets cold, you get cold, the world gets cold. So what do you do? You get warm? You head inside your home, the cabin, etc. Your nice warm escape from the frigid outdoors. While you warm up your gun is to and it’s experiencing condensation.

Condensation is what happens when you bring your gun in from the cold. Air carries moisture, and when it gets too cold the air can no longer contain the moisture. It builds up inside and outside of the gun and when it gets warm the moisture will materialize on the weapon, and inside the weapon. This isn’t a good thing.

The absolute best winter cleaning technique involves something quite simple. Disassemble the weapon and take a piece of cloth and dry it out. This piece of cloth needs to be clean and lubricant free. You need to dry the inside and outside of the weapon and  make sure you keep condensation at bay. You want to get the outside, the inside and every single small part possible. You want to dry the gun within the first 5 minutes of bringing it into a warmer environment.

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Step 4 – Don’t Forget the Ammo

Keeping the gun clean is one thing, but you need to keep the ammo clean and dry as well. In fact you need to inspect your ammo on occasion. The thin nature of brass means it’s easily cracked. Exposing thin metal to hot and then cold environments can cause some issues with cracking. You can also expect primers to pop out and bullets to take a weird angle in their cases.

Related: I Asked a Friend What I Should Stockpile for SHTF: The Great .223 Remington Or The Stalwart .308 Winchester?

Inspect the ammo, make sure it’s normal and ready to rock and roll. Bad ammo could damage your gun, cause a jam, or simply go click when you really, really need a bang. Inspecting and making sure your ammo isn’t corroded or damaged is important. Wipe it down just like you wipe down your gun’s parts.

Step 5 – Inspect, inspect and inspect

Make sure that any rifle you’re keeping in storage is prepped for winter. Sure it may not be a gun you use daily, or one you use occasionally, but it should be prepped for winter. Clean the lube off, and at least once a week inspect the guns for moisture or rust. Take your time and check the inside and outside of every weapon. Taking 5 minutes to inspect and dry your guns will keep you from hours of scrubbing and rubbing out rust.

Winter is Coming

Winter is a big deal for a lot of people, and for gun people it creates specific challenges. Hunters, recreational shooters, and gun owners in general need to hit the ground running when it comes to winter firearm’s maintenance. Get ahead of the curve, and be ready for the snow, the sleet, and those subzero temperatures. Just remember step 3, keep your gun dry!

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Travis Pike
By Travis Pike January 9, 2018 09:15
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  1. Graywolf12 January 9, 15:37

    I use graphite dust. Never freezes, and seems to last forever.

    Reply to this comment
  2. olsonhi January 9, 15:45

    While living in Alaska during the winter we never brought our guns inside – usually had a place to hang just outside the door and in our trapping cabins just left in a scabbard on the sled…no problems with condensation…worked with both lever action and bolt weapons.

    Reply to this comment
  3. Unarmedwarwolf January 9, 16:12

    This article is insane. Throw your favorite lube in your gun as long as you aren’t in -30c, and don’t be stupid with your ammo. You’ll be fine.

    Reply to this comment
    • PB- dave January 9, 19:57

      Wolf, I agree the cold problems probably won’t bother the majority of folks, and not until they are in sub-zero situations.
      I would however qualify your “favorite lube” to maybe “favorite GUN lube used as directed by the manufacturers of the oil & firearm “.
      I stored a few guns in heavy lube oil for a handful of years. I knew I would have to clean them out after storage, but I was amazed at how the lube set-up and locked up the various actions. The guns were well protected, But some needed disassembly to get them unlocked and cleaned out.
      The article should have included more on proper cleaning and proper types/amounts of lube for all seasons.

      Reply to this comment
  4. dp January 9, 18:07


    graphite is a minor abrasive. It can cause wear on your firearms over time if you use them quite a bit.

    Probably the best lube that you can use on your guns is a light coat of high quality synthetic motor oil. Something like 5W-20 made for older cars with worn engines (high mileage) is best. 2-3 quarts will last a lifetime. Keep the cloth in a sealed container, so that it doesn’t attract moisture.

    Motor oil has been engineered for decades for high wear environments, with high shear strength properties, multi-viscosity for sub-freezing to very high temp, and sticks to the metal to avoid dry starts. Most people use way too much lube.

    Clean the gun well, and use a lint free cloth LIGHTLY saturated – not soaked in the oil to wipe them down, and then put them in something to keep the lint and dust off of them.

    Keep ammo in sealed containers in a cool dry place. Trust in God, and keep your powder dry – still applies today.

    Reply to this comment
    • Graywolf12 January 9, 18:34

      Shot one Caribou North of Glennallen Alaska. The Temp at their airport was -42 degrees. To me that is too cold for any oil. Old timers told me get rid of all oil and use Graphite only. Worked for me. As stated above we kept the guns in unheated areas until the hunt was over . and we were home. Then clean and dry was done.

      Reply to this comment
  5. Mitchell January 9, 18:36

    To do all that work for a few months of cold is a bit much. Standard cleaning with a good oil and storing it in a bag with silica gel packs will keep it moisture free even in the rainforest. Same goes for ammo cans drop in silica gel packs to keep them around longer. Unless your in Antarctica you don’t need an insane type of lube or oil just a good name brand.

    Reply to this comment
  6. Lew Roane January 9, 19:22

    I was a Navy motion picture cameraman working in Antarctica way back in 1963. I had two 16 mm Ariflex cameras. One was oil lubed for indoor use and the other one was dry lubed with graphite for out door use. The out door camera was never allowed to come in from the cold, I only brought the battery in for charging. The indoor camera was never allowed to go out to play. So you see where this is going. You need to have an indoor gun and an outdoor gun. Your wife is going to be thrilled. Oh I almost forgot, the battery pack was a belt that I wore around my waste under my parka kept warm by body heat. My system worked like a Swiss watch.

    Reply to this comment
  7. dp January 9, 20:08

    The type of oil does make a difference. Engine oil is designed to flow easily at subzero temperatures. While Mitchell is probably referring to high quality oils – many folks don’t have a clue what “good oil” is. They may think that WD-40 is good oil.

    As far as the author’s advice of keep your guns dry of any oil and clean them every week – that only works for people with a few guns, and lots of time on their hands. Completely oil free metal is always a bad idea, IMO. Even stainless steel will rust given enough time with no oil, and just a fingerprint.

    Guns should be cleaned in rotation several times per year, properly oiled, and properly stored. Clean and lube before use is always good advice if you can do it.

    Always clean and lube ASAP after use. Just one example: I have a Mosin Nagant that may not see the light of day for a whole year, but it is properly cleaned, lubed, and stored. Even with proper care once every 6 months it is clean, properly lubed, rust free, dust free, and ready to shoot.

    Reply to this comment
  8. Bushmaster0369 January 10, 01:14

    To clean any weapon where there is a build up of crud, powder, particles, mud, dirt or water, fact is anything. Buy a can of carburetor cleaner and spray the weapon especially where the bolt comes to the rear, around the chamber. Try it, your weapons will function like new.

    Reply to this comment
  9. Jessie January 10, 04:50

    Try Frog Lube Extreme. It’s a non-petroleum, bio based lubricant, contracted and designed for the military, veteran owned and works in temps down to -40 and up to 125. It’s pourable in freezing temps and won’t burn off in the gun and foul it up. I won’t use anything else anymore. I only use their products on my firearms since I’ve found them. Money well spent.

    Reply to this comment
  10. Johnny January 10, 12:11

    Back when health allowed me to hunt, I always kept a supply of large trash bags outside [cold/dry air] our hunt shack.
    On return, my guns went into a bag which was carefully sealed before taking inside. Once warmed up, they could be exposed to the warm/humid interior air without condensation issues.

    Reply to this comment
  11. TheSouthernNationalist January 11, 13:51

    I’ve used 3 in 1 oil for years and never had a problem with lube issues in any type of weather.

    Reply to this comment
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