Meditations on winter

Winter weather modifies many things, not the least of which involves personal protection.

There is the obvious — the clothing that is required to handle cold will require a difference in the way we access our tools — but there is also the not-so-obvious.

The body handles cold — cold weather — by drawing the outer parts of itself closer in. We huddle inside our coats and jackets, shoulders hunched and hands crammed deep inside pockets.

The thing is, if we aren’t careful, our sphere of awareness will mimic our physical actions. As we draw our arms in to our chests, tuck our hands into pockets or fingers under arms to conserve warmth; or to keep limbs out of the wind, some people will also retract the range at which they start to notice things.

I see that I have already lost some of my Gentle Readers. Let me clarify:

Everyone notes and classifies things within a certain radius of their body space. Most do it subconsciously, while some of us do it consciously. To use my self as an example, if I am walking down Main Street at the height of summer — unless someone calls attention to himself — people are just people until they get within about twenty feet of me.

Once a person is within my twenty-foot radius, I consciously note clothing, body language, general emotional state, breaks in pattern and any intuitive signals from my hindbrain.

During the winter, walking down the same Main Street, in snow, with a cold wind blowing, dodging patches of ice, this twenty-foot radius is almost halved unless I consciously work at it.

So, the same person I would have noted and classified at twenty feet during September, has a good chance of getting to within ten feet of me in January.

Halving the space in which you have to make a decision and react is never a Good Thing.

On top of that, weather conditions themselves become a hindrance. Frozen water — sleet, snow, ice — is slick. Actions and reactions which are second nature on dry ground, will dump you upon your fourth point of contact when — unconsciously — performed on ice.

I studied Kodokan judo for some years. People who know of this invariably congratulate me on my choice, either due to the “superiority” of grappling styles in referee’d, ruled fighting games, or the full-speed sparring, or the encyclopaedic knowledge of chokeholds.

Those may be good reasons, but the best thing that judo taught me was how to fall. And it made breakfalls a reflexive action.

Do you know how to fall?

If you’re around ice, it might be a worthwhile skill to pursue.

Slick ice may also interfere with, reduce, or outright eliminate our options. Faced with a developing situation, oft times the best option is to avoid — to run away before the situation escalates to the point of requiring a deadly force decision.

It can be difficult to run on ice. A vehicle — usually a fine way to escape a situation — may be totally immobilized on ice. Could you be spinning your wheels, or sliding slowly sideways, while the critter you are trying to avoid walks up to the side of your vehicle?

These are things to think about, to consider, and to plan for.

My Gentle Readers have no doubt practised some fighting (shooting, knifing, whatever) from various prone positions. Has the act of drawing from prone also been practised? Has this practise been done in full winter gear? Gloves, scarf, winter coat, sweater?

Not only that, but warm weather practise is practise for warm weather situations.

Have you practised in the snow? In the cold? If not, how do you teach your body and your subconscious what to expect?

Winter also has an effect upon your tools. There is the famous example of lubricants that thicken and disturb function in low temperatures. A Bad Thing, but one most prepared people know of.

Fewer know that low temperatures can have an adverse effect upon battery life — and given the number of tools that require batteries for some part of their function, this can be a Life Altering Development.

When I worked midnights, I habitually walked the business district of my town at midnight, checking that each door was locked and secure.

One Panhandle winter night — temperatures below freezing — I walked along checking doors with my pistol holster protruding through a slot in my jacket waistband to allow for a quick draw if necessary.

As noted, the temperature was below freezing, and my exposed metal pistol — riding outside my jacket away from body heat — cooled.

My walk done, I went back to Dispatch, poured a cup of coffee and warmed up. In a small, closed room, with four adults exhaling moisture into the air, wet carpet, coffee-pot steaming — in other words a mildly humid atmosphere.

This moisture condensed — obeying the laws of physics — onto cold items in the room.

The break was interrupted by a 10-50 MVA (motor vehicle accident) and I spent the next half-hour directing traffic as the VFD and EMS pried someone out of a car. Out in the cold. Where the moisture that had condensed on — and in — my pistol froze.

I doubt that the tiny amount of ice present would have had any effect on the functioning of my pistol. However, it was not something that my fair-weather summer training had prepared me for, and that disconcerted me quite a bit.

Something to keep in mind, folks.


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22 thoughts on “Meditations on winter”

  1. Good advice there lawdog.

    I’m a bit surprised your “radar” is that short though, mine’s about twice and I’m not an LEO… and it doesn’t diminish by cold(but then, I live Sweden, and I’m used to the cold. It’s about -8c outside and I wear a leather jacket when I go out, not quite cold enough to go for the winter clothes yet. This is a mild winter by my standards.)

    And on the subject of martial arts, breakfall is indeed a great skill to have, I like my chokeholds too, as you do. Depending on how loosely you use the term, I’m on my fourth jujutsu variation right now. Started with minami ryu, then jujutsu kai, throw in some BJJ and most recently yagyu shingan ryu heihojutsu(which is actually termed a kobudo, or old warrior art, it does have jujutsu as a part of it though.)

    BJJ(brazilian jujutsu) is something I highly recommend as a suplementary martial art, as it mostly deals with fighting prone, and does it very very well. Yagyu shingan ryu… is perhaps more for the japophiles(like me), or military, as there’s a great risk/possibility(depending on how you look at it) of killing the opponent if you do the techniques properly(most throws for example aim at putting the opponent head-first in the ground, some giving you leeway to aim at a suitable hard object.)

    Oh and BJJ has one thing over judo I cannot stress enough for self-defense situations. When prone, judo wants to go belly-down, BJJ wants to go belly-up, which is a much better position to be in. Bad habit taught by judo there.

  2. PS: If you’re looking for a local yagyu sensei, you might wanna think again, as there are only 3 outside of Japan. I forget where the first non-japanese allowed to teach it is from, but the second is dutch and the third is swedish, and just happens to live near enough for me to practice it.

    Not sure how the situation is with its sibling yagyu shingan ryu taijutsu(which is unarmed only, while heihojutsu is much wider, including weapons, healing, rope tying, fighting in armor, etc.)

  3. LawDog:

    Good point to think about condensation. Up here in the Frozen North of Minnesnowta, deer season takes place towards the end of November. This means, where I hunt up near the Canadian border, that the weather can range from shirtsleeves and 55 degrees to -15 degrees with a windchill into the minus forties.

    I’ve learned to use non-thickening oils on the firing pin of the bolt-actions…anything that thickens up can cause a reeeeeally-slow “click” instead of a bang. And we stash the unloaded rifles in unheated trucks overnight, so that you never bring them into the (relatively) warm cabin.

    Optics are another thing to worry about. If care isn’t taken with scope covers, you can find that your scope has been covered in condensation, which has then frozen. Even just the water vapor coming off your body while sitting in a tree stand will fog a scope, if it’s cold enough, no matter how will insulated you are.

    The only problem I’ve run into while hunting in the cold is that if you sit motionless in a stand long enough, you’ll start shivering so hard that Bambi himself could walk underneath you and laugh, since your muzzle would be shaking right along with the rest of you.

  4. Sharp openhanded smack to forehead…
    Checklist made….
    Practice begins tonight…..

    Thanks…yet again.

  5. Three caveats for winter survival:

    One: Stay dry!

    “You Sweat, You Die”…so bundling up to your eyebrows can bring it’s own set of problems…

    which is the major advantage of loose layers that can be opened/shed as you become active in the cold, and closed/re donned as you get less active.

    by the same token, a ‘relatively warm’ 36 deg F (2 deg C) day with rain/sleet can be quickly fatal to a person who does not have a way to stay dry, especially if they are the type of person who swears by a thick down coat. Wool under a water proof layer is considered the traditional best, but polyester micropile has a major advantage, in that it’s easier to get the water out of wet micropile than it is wet wool.

    Two: Stay out of the wind!

    an active purson in still air can be quite comfortable stripped to the waist, wearing gloves, hat, boots and pants, while doing heavy physical labor (like chopping wood)…keey here is *still air*…as the wind chill factor is as or more important than air temp alone.

    Three: Stay Hydrated!

    Thirst does not develop as fast with cold weather as with hot, but dehydration is a major problem because not only do you still sweat, but there is a phenomonon called ‘cold diuresis’ where the body’s natural reaction to cold (closing down peripheral blood vessels) results in the kidneys becoming more active.

    a major advantage of the ‘Camelback’ type hydration bladders is that you can keep them under your outer layer with the tube still easily accessable, so that the water will not freeze as it can in traditional canteens.


  6. Lawdog…

    Excellent thread on condensation… Bear with me while I convey a story on this topic… Pulled over while in upstate reaches of I-87 a few years back in northern Adirondacks in wintertime… late night…cold as a witches’___, New York’s finest with light flashing behind me…officer gets out of car, asks me the usual, then, due to weather, asks me to get out of my car and follow; he accompany me back to his cruiser due to cold… fairly unusual but due to cold I guess he didn’t want to ask me questions while outside in blowing snow… while sitting in passenger seat I look at various cop tools while he runs my licence and answer the usual cop questions… I am still unsure why he pulled me over… glancing up at roof-racked Mossberg 12 gauge I see a gun well passed the need for cleaning… indeed entire slide is rusted and moist air and condensation in crusier (I assume) has caked gun with rust; I doubt it would work…truly awful…

    I choke back urge to condemn state mountie for not cleaning his gun and remain stoic and silent in passenger seat for a while…turns out New York state has been hunting for a fugitive in a car exactly like mine but obviously not me and not mine… in a short while cop releases me with an apology and an urge to be careful… before returning to my car I fail the need to keep my mouth shut and urge him to clean the crud and condensation from the shotgun…he replies, and I quote verbatim: “Oh that’s just for show… my gun is in the trunk!”


  7. Big +1 on learning to fall. I’ve been an AK amputee since I was seven. I have LOTS of experience at falling, and gotten pretty darn good at it.

    I also find it amusing in winter, when two-legged people all around me are going down on ice like bowling pins, and I just keep hobbling on, because I actually pay attention to my feet.

    Incidentally, I have managed to freeze a pistol solid. I had a brand-new S&W 908 semi-auto, and I dropped it in the snow with the slide locked back and the mag well empty. After clearing it (place mouth over ejection port, blow, inspect) I continued firing. Of course, the gun heated up and the snow melted. Then I tossed it in the back of my pickup for the trip home. You see the problem – it was frozen absolutely solid when I got home. Took two hours for it to thaw enough I could strip it for cleaning.

  8. ” doubt that the tiny amount of ice present would have had any effect on the functioning of my pistol.” Growing up in Detroit, the son of a Detroit police officer, I knew a guy who was alive because the firing pin of some citter’s shotgun froze.

  9. good looking out. most people even walk with head cast downward to avoid the cold wind on the face without even thinking about it. hard to see the wolf that way.

  10. While elk hunting during a snow storm up by Wolf Pass, Colorado, my Sendero Stainless froze up solid. I couldn’t even rack the bolt, more less fire a shot or knock the safety off.

  11. Law Dog,
    I found out that these days it doesn’t take as moch as it used to. I was qualifing a class on the range for their CCH certificate, all the boys brought their newest Gold Cup, or Ruger, or other fine shooting piece. One of the aflicted pieces was mine. It got a little chilly, and the slids stopped going into battery. Lay the gun down and let COOL and it would star back up. Differential expansion slowed it up just a little.

  12. One other cold weather shooting tip I’ll throw in. This is unlikely to be an issue with modern weapons, but it may play a role for antiques. Steel looses a large amount of it’s ductility when it gets cold. Modern alloy steel still retains a great deal of it’s toughness at 32 degrees F, and higher alloying tends to shift the curve even further towards ductility at colder temps (4140, or 8620 steel with a large amount of chromium and nickel for instance). But plain jane carbon steel, especially less “clean” steels from yesteryear with large amounts of Phosphorus and Sulfur inclusions compared to modern steels, are right on the 32 degree line. If the temperature is cold enough, and the steel not tough enough at that temp, you can have a burst barrel/cylinder on your hands if you aren’t careful. Keep Great Granpaw’s shootin irons warm and they’ll still be around for YOUR great grandkids….

  13. One other cold weather shooting tip I’ll throw in. This is unlikely to be an issue with modern weapons, but it may play a role for antiques. Steel looses a large amount of it’s ductility when it gets cold. Modern alloy steel still retains a great deal of it’s toughness at 32 degrees F, and higher alloying tends to shift the curve even further towards ductility at colder temps (4140, or 8620 steel with a large amount of chromium and nickel for instance). But plain jane carbon steel, especially less “clean” steels from yesteryear with large amounts of Phosphorus and Sulfur inclusions compared to modern steels, are right on the 32 degree line. If the temperature is cold enough, and the steel not tough enough at that temp, you can have a burst barrel/cylinder on your hands if you aren’t careful. Keep Great Granpaw’s shootin irons warm and they’ll still be around for YOUR great grandkids….

  14. Regarding falling, five years ago I had both hips totally replaced, plus my back is fused. So ya’ll can see why I can’t afford to hit the ground. I have a way of staying on my feet… just walking normally, deer hunting, or in snow. Ice can be the biggest hazard so I’ve made it a point to watch for it. Thing is, sometimes I’ve found myself paying a lot more attention to my footing than to people. I haven’t run into anyone who wanted to knock me over, but all it takes is running into the wrong one.

    On firearms freezing up, I noticed most of the stories seem to involve autoloaders. Conventional wisdom seems to say “get a good double-action revolver” since they’re so much more worry free. They may be less troublesome about dirt and water and such, but they’re not immune from getting wet and freezing up any more than an autoloader is. Steel is steel; it gets wet and cold and ice will form on it.

    I’m reminded me of an article I read on shoulder holsters… the author said they weren’t designed by Chicago gangsters of the 1920’s. Shoulder holsters were designed by Montana saddlemakers for use by folks who carried a gun under a big heavy coat out in a much colder, and much snowier, part of the country. The sidearm was protected not only by the holster but also the coat. It was also much easier to access from under a long coat in its cross-draw positioning. Personally, I’d rather wear my sidearm in a crossdraw on my belt and it’d be the same effect under my Wall’s(TM) or Schaeffer(TM)(sp?) ranch coat.

    While I seem to have gotten on the subject of cowboys packing iron, and concerning ice, somebody asked me about horses being shod in winter and snow balling up in a horse’s feet worse with the steel shoes on. They didn’t realize that balled up snow in the shoe makes it harder for a horse to walk. They asked me “so how did the old cowboys ride in snow?”. What they didn’t realize is a lot of ranch horses (pre-1940, but moreso pre-1900) weren’t shod, so the foot would shed the snow pretty easily. I thought of this next bit partly because I’ve read from some guys who had to ride their horses on iced-up streets in the 1930’s… best to take your feet out of the stirrups so if your horse slips and falls, you’re not hung up under him. What does this part about horses have to do with martial arts? Nothing. What does it have to do with surviving if you must ride in bad weather? A lot.

    mustanger98 on THR

  15. Sorry about the double post, blogger was acting squirrelly last night.

  16. Thing is, when you’re wearing a duty belt full of goodies for fighting and apprehending bad guys, even if you break your fall, falling on those extra items still hurts. I thought I cracked a floating rib one time when I landed on my radio. OPN’s (nunchucks) can hurt too ’cause they tend to stick up in their holster so high.

    Regarding your radar, bulky clothing during the cold also makes it MUCH harder to key on things that you could normally see during mild weather / temps.

  17. I guess it is a good thing that I dress the same in the cold and in the warm weather… I’ll wear shorts and a shirt even when there’s 2 feet of snow around me, or other normal clothes that I would wear in the summer.

    Since I’m never comfortable unless I can see my breath, I guess the only way that I really could alter my attire too much is to go around naked in the summer, and I’m sure that some people would have issues with that.

  18. Hey LawDog,
    From past experience:
    We used to get surgical tubing and use pigging (upholstery) rings to make a pair of loops a little smaller than each foot. Then you connect the sides of the loop with flat chain accross the heel and toe and the ball of the foot. Foot chains! You can drive in them. They get lots of traction on ice and snow and they stretch enough to come right off at the Courthouse door. Be sure to take them off before you walk into the kitchen or your SO will be a little testy about the cleat marks.
    Let the critter fall while you walk up on him!

    I’m a retired old LEO from Northern California and Oregon. Not super winter here but I’m no stranger to black ice.

  19. Very good advice, memories of Mt. Fuji leaped into my mind. Kept our weapons stored in an unheated part of the tent, and dreaded my turn at fire watch.

  20. ‘dog,

    am I the only guy that has my personal bubble expand 3x in cold weather?

    armed or not, in cool weather I lamp and classify targets out to 30 or 40 meters.

    In summer/spring weather I don’t care unless the target is w/in 20 feet or so.


    this may come from driving in witer in west Tx for waaay too long.

    the old 3 second rule to 5 seconds of seperation etc.


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