Do you carry a firearm 365 days a year?
Do you live in a region of the country that has varying weather conditions?
Do you carry a different firearm in the winter vs summer months?
Do you have a different carry method in the winter vs summer months i.e. inside waistband vs outside waistband?
Do you wear different clothing in the winter months vs the summer months?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you should consider reading this article.
I left my home of Cleveland, Ohio nearly 18 years ago for the Marine Corps. I ultimately ended up in San Diego, California. The climates of Cleveland and San Diego probably couldn't be more opposite. San Diego has arguably the most ideal weather conditions of anywhere in the country, while Cleveland…well not so much. Now I am back in Ohio and teaching firearms classes to people who have to consider sub-zero temperatures and snow for several months out of the year. While discussing concealed carry with people in climates like Ohio, I realized that some people choose to carry different firearms, based on the season. Some also change the way they carry, inside the waistband vs outside the waistband based on the clothing they wear during the season. So I think it is important to mention some important considerations for those of you that are not lucky enough to live in a climate that is nearly perfect 365 days a year.
Train Under Realistic Conditions:
I think it is safe to say, that we all understand the importance of training under conditions that most closely replicate real life. We don't have the luxury of choosing the time, place and weather conditions of the moment we have to use our firearm to save ours or someone else life. So this training should include weather conditions and clothing differences based on the temperature. Some would rather not go to the range and shoot with extremely cold temperatures, while it rains or while there is snow on the ground. I highly encourage those of you who have the chance, to go out and specifically train during these times. I believe it is very important to understand and experience the limitations differences and effects various weather conditions have on your ability to use your firearm.
Rain: While it rains or snows, it is obvious that your firearm and hands will become wet if exposed for any period of time. Can you safely grip and manipulate your firearm under these conditions? Products that assist in gripping the firearm and slide in adverse conditions may be beneficial. There are some grips that are more suited for wet conditions than others, and products applied to the slide that can assist in gripping the slide even when wet. Run some dry fire drills with wet hands and gun grips, and see how you do.
Gloves: If you wear gloves during cold weather, are they gloves that you can safely grip and draw your firearm while wearing? Are the gloves so thick that you cannot even get your finger through the trigger guard? These are considerations you MUST think about. While working as a police officer in San Diego, there were nights that got pretty cold. Believe it or not, cold enough that gloves were definitely appropriate. I avoided wearing gloves at all costs, but occasionally I did break down and put a pair on. The gloves I wore were specifically designed for shooting, had grip and were not only thin but form fitting. The thinness obviously sacrificed the warming ability, but it was a trade-off I was willing to accept. I made sure to practice shooting with these gloves so I could ensure I could manipulate everything on the gun (draw, mag release, slide stop etc.) as well as get used to the subtle ways the trigger feels different while wearing gloves. To this day, when there is snow I try not to wear any gloves, and if I do, I stick to these more ‘tactical' gloves because I want to be able to handle my firearm safely.
Clothing: -5°'s outside, and wearing a T-Shirt and shorts? Probably not. More likely to be wearing a sweater and jacket overtop. Have you practiced drawing your firearm while wearing your heavy winter coat? Or while wearing a thick hoodie sweater underneath that jacket? If not, you need to. Whatever type of clothing we are wearing over top of our firearm will affect how we get to our firearm and the amount of time it takes to draw. As a safety note, try to avoid jackets with the little “barrel” cord lock. These have been known to get into the trigger guard while drawing or re-holstering and can cause a dangerous situation.
Carrying location/method: Some people I talk to take advantage of the cold months and fact that they are typically wearing bulky sweaters and jackets, to carry a larger firearm or carry outside the waistband instead of inside the waistband. I don't necessarily think this is a bad thing as long as you practice your draw with the new holster and firearm just as much as with the firearm/holster set up you carry in the summer months. Just because carrying outside the waistband would seem to make it easier and quicker to get to your gun, if you haven't practiced drawing from that location or with that gun for some time, you will no doubt be slower and less efficient.
Change of firearm: This is similar to changing the location or method of carrying based on the weather. But there are a couple pros and cons to consider. Changing your firearm can change the manual of arms that your brain needs to reference during a stressful incident. I would try and stay within the same type of firearm if you are switching between summer and winter firearms. What I mean is I would recommend that both your firearms are mechanically similar. Manual external safeties are an obvious consideration. Carrying one firearm in the summer that has a manual external safety and one in the winter that does not, is something that even with much training is going to slow your overall effectiveness down. If you carry a single action 1911 style firearm that has an external manual safety or any firearm with a manual external safety for that matter, remember your fingers can become numb when they are very cold, even with gloves. Trying to manipulate safeties, mag releases and triggers with numb hands is very difficult. If you carry a striker fired handgun with a light trigger, and after practicing in the cold, are worried you don't have the feel you want on the trigger because of gloves and decreased feeling in your fingers, maybe you could consider going to a double action only or traditional double action trigger in the winter to combat these effects. Just remember, like anything else train with your new gear until it becomes as automatic as the firearm you carry in the summer time.
I hope the cold and wet weather does not scare you away from training with your firearm or have you running for the nearest indoor range. Take the opportunity to get out a few times under, not so ideal weather conditions and practice. I have had some of the best times shooting when it has been snowing, raining, heck I am pretty sure you will have the range to yourself as well. When practicing with gloves, or your jacket etc for the first time, I highly recommend dry firing and practicing with an unloaded firearm until you feel comfortable. Then head out to the range and begin slowly before going live. Be safe and prepare to survive and win the fight under any condition.