I like to describe a couple of my friends as bluebird-weather hunters; they hunt only when the weather is nice. Unfortunately, I don’t enjoy that luxury. Come rain, snow, sleet or shine, I have to head for the woods whenever my schedule allows. I don’t particularly enjoy hunting on rainy days, but I will if I have to. I do enjoy hunting in snow and the colder the better!
One of the bad things about hunting in bad weather is it can be hard on rifles. Wet weather can rust steel in no time flat and a wooden stock that soaks up enough moisture can swell, exert pressure on the barrel of a rifle and cause its zero to shift enough to miss a deer. Old Man Weather is easily foiled by a few minutes of rifle preparation.
Modern rifles, with their rust-resistant stainless-steel-barreled actions and moisture-shedding synthetic stocks, are hard to beat for bad-weather hunting, but those of us who continue to hunt with rifles made of blued steel and natural wood must resort to protecting them the old-fashioned way. A number of gun oils on the market today do a great job of preventing rust.
For longer-lasting protection during lots of handling and plenty of rain or snow, try coating the metal with several coats of wax, the type designed to protect the metal surface of an automobile. Most brands sold by automotive supply stores should work. Simply apply a coat to the metal, allow it to dry and then buff off the surplus with a soft cloth – same as you do on your Rolls Royce every Saturday. Half a dozen coats applied in that manner will give days of protection.
An extremely thin film of oil in the bore of the barrel will prevent rust and while it won’t affect the flight of a bullet enough to notice at woods ranges, it can on shots beyond 100 yards or so. Rather than applying oil there, I prefer to moisten a cotton patch with Hoppe’s No. 9 solvent and push it through the bore with a cleaning rod. A light film won’t affect bullet point of impact like a heavy oil will, but it will prevent rusting if the muzzle of the barrel is sealed off from the elements. Wrapping a layer of plastic electrical tape over the muzzle will prevent rain, snow, mud and woods trash from entering the bore. You can shoot right through the tape and it will have no effect on the flight of the bullet. A toy balloon attached to the muzzle with a rubber band also works. Just remember that whatever you decide to use should go over the outside of muzzle and not in it.
Winterizing the wood stock of a rifle is a two-step process. After removing the stock from the barreled action, seal all surfaces of its inletting with several coats of a good commercial stock finish. Apply a thin, smooth coat of the finish with your finger, allow it to dry thoroughly, repeat twice more and all that wood hidden from view by the barrel and action should no longer soak up moisture the next time your hunt gets rained or snowed on.
For weatherproofing the exterior surface of a wood stock, good old Johnson’s Paste Wax is as good today as it was decades ago when Grandmother first used it on the wood floor in her home. If the stock came from the factory with an epoxy-type finish, then it is already protected quite well, but adding a coat of wax is still a good idea. A spray-on wax works quite well on that type of finish.
Extremely cold temperature can cause oil inside the bolt of a rifle to congeal to the point where it is thick enough to cushion the blow of the firing pin and thus cause a misfire. The bolts of some rifles are easily taken apart for cleaning without tools, but others do require a special tool.
After disassembling the bolt, use an old toothbrush dipped in bore solvent to remove all trace of oil from inside its body and from the firing pin and its spring. When hunting in extremely cold weather, I prefer to leave the inside of the bolt bone dry, even though it will have to be disassembled and dried out each time the rifle gets wet. If leaving the bolt dry makes you uncomfortable, a thin film of bore solvent offers some protection against rusting. This part of the job is best handled by a gunsmith if the bolt of your rifle is not easily removed or taken apart.
The first telescopic sight I bought back in the 1950s fogged up each time the sun went behind a cloud, but the scopes available today are capable of shedding a lot of bad weather. One thing to remember about today’s scopes is that some are weatherproof only if their windage and elevation turret caps are kept tight. Check them often during a hunt.
The lenses of a scope attached to a rough-weather rifle should be protected to prevent them from becoming covered with rain or snow. Covers included by various scope manufacturers with some of their models do a good job of keeping lenses free of dust while in storage in the home, but they were not designed to keep them free of water and snow in the field. They also make a rifle wearing them slow to get into action when a hunter needs to take a shot quickly. The best covers I’ve used are the bikini and flip-up styles.
If you can find a rubber inner tube in this age of tubeless tires, a strip cut from one and stretched across both lenses works great, and it won’t break the bank if you lose it. Other things will do in a pinch. I once got caught in a heavy rain with no lens caps on my scope and covered the entire scope with a plastic sandwich bag from my rucksack.
I have also hunted with muzzle-loading rifles in some pretty awful weather and have yet to experience a misfire. In addition to covering the muzzle as I have described for modern rifles, I wrap the entire action with cling-type plastic sandwich wrap. Unless you’re hunting with a flintlock, there’s no need to remove the wrap before shooting; just thumb back the hammer, aim, squeeze the trigger and watch as that big buck bites the dust.
Of course, nothing is ever “perfect” for every situation, but these tips can improve the chances of your rifle performing correctly when it’s time to take that buck – come rain or come shine.