Sports scientist Ethan Lowry explains how to make sure adverse conditions don’t ruin your shooting
There’s a lot in shooting that you can control. You can buy the best gun and cartridges, be trained by the best coach and spend hours practising. But one thing we can’t control is the weather.
When the time comes to step up and perform, there might be a howling wind, a torrential downpour or freezing temperatures – or all three if you’re really unlucky! Whatever the conditions, you have to make the best of it. There’s no saying “I don’t like this, I’ll come back and shoot tomorrow”.
In the UK, it’s inevitable there will be times when we will have to perform in less than ideal conditions. You can’t avoid it, but you can prepare for it – so it’s worth studying how the cold and wet affects us, and what we can do to minimise its impact on our scores.
The human body is an extraordinary thing. Every aspect of it is vastly complicated and everything is interrelated. Despite our best efforts, we still know very little of how it works.
One thing we do know is that it doesn’t like to work outside of its preferred parameters, and will do everything in its power to remain within these.
The science bit
If your body decides it is too hot or too cold, it will attempt to correct the imbalance by up-regulating some processes and down-regulating others. Scientists know this by the name ‘homeostasis’, which is another way of saying ‘maintaining the status quo’.
When you are cold, your body takes various measures to ensure you hold on to as much heat as possible. These will be familiar to everyone, as we all experience them at some point in our life.
You get goosebumps and your hairs stand on end. This is done in an attempt to trap air around your skin, providing better insulation. Your blood flow is diverted more away from your extremities and towards your more vital organs.
Your brain sends sporadic and rapid impulses to your muscles, leading you to shiver. This burns energy, generating heat as a byproduct. Your core temperature may rise, as if your body was turning up its own internal thermostat.
Your body will use a combination of these measures to keep your vital organs warm in a cold environment – but other functions will suffer as a consequence.
In most other sports your body is physically active throughout the game. This muscle movement generates its own heat and helps to increase blood flow, but of course in shooting we do not have that luxury.
Hanging around a cold shooting ground brings additional problems, as prolonged exposure to the cold affects your performance in various ways including:
- Reduced memory
- Slower reaction times
- Muscle performance reduces, which then leads to debilitative effects on your grip and ability to pull the trigger
- Shivering also affects the steadiness of your aim
If the weather is also wet, that will exacerbate all of the above effects, particularly if there is a wind adding to the chilling effects of wet skin and clothing.
The final consideration with cold is that prolonged exposure will increase your chances of becoming sick with colds, flu and the like. Cold weakens the immune system so you are more likely to succumb to the viruses and bacteria which cause such illnesses.
That can continue to affect your scores days or weeks after a day in the cold and wet, because none of us can shoot our best if we’re suffering from a bad cold or flu.
So how do we combat the cold and continue to shoot despite winter’s chill? First and foremost, try to stay dry. If you are wet you will feel colder than it actually is, and your body will react accordingly.
If it’s raining, wear suitable waterproofs and hat, and use an umbrella between stands if it’s practical to do so. Many shoots have shelters available, so make use of them if possible. The priority should always go to those competing – spectators can always retreat to the clubhouse if need be.
It’s good practice to keep your gun out of the rain as much as possible, making use of shelters, a waterproof gun slip or even the boot of the car – a wet gun is harder to grip, and water on barrels and rib can affect your sight picture; plus of course damp can get inside and cause longer term problems.
When shooting many people do not like to wear thick and cumbersome coats as it impacts their stance and movement. Instead competitors should always layer up.
Begin which a thermal base layer, followed by one or two t-shirts, and finally a jumper or jacket, waterproof if conditions require it. Many shooters will throw an extra coat over the top to keep warm and dry between stands, only taking it off to shoot.
What brand of clothing you choose is entirely up to your budget and style, but it’s one of those instances where you get what you pay for. Cheaper brands will keep you warm, but the more expensive alternatives will allow for the same level of warmth without being as bulky.
More expensive features in jackets, such as Gore-Tex material, will also allow the skin to breathe more easily, resulting in less sweating.
The most overlooked aspect of cold-weather clothing for shooting is probably gloves. Many shooters have had a bad experience with gloves that have affected their grip and trigger finger.
Thankfully, there are now several brands of gloves on the market, all of which have an excellent design with shooters in mind. Have a look at the shooting gloves on offer in your regular gun shop, and practise wearing your chosen gloves so that when you need them they feel familiar.
Many shooters swear by MacWet gloves, even choosing to wear the lighter weight models in summer. In adverse conditions, however, I prefer the Sealskinz waterproof all-weather gloves.
Sealskinz produce a range of good quality waterproof clothes, and they have carried this quality through in their shooting glove. The trigger finger on both hands opens and folds back, where it is held in place by a magnetic fitting. This means you can operate the trigger as if you were wearing no gloves at all. These gloves also have a leather palm which aids in gripping the gun.
Finally, warm food and drink will help tremendously with keeping your body temperature up. Make use of the clubhouse facilities where available, and if you’re going to a ground without a restaurant then take a warm drink in a flask.
We can’t control the weather, but we can control how we prepare for it. Always take appropriate equipment and clothing with you for competitions or practice. Stay dry, layer up and have warm drinks on hand!