As the summer heats up, your firearms can take a beating if you don’t pay attention to how you shoot, maintain and store them.
While modern manufacturing processes do produce consistently high-quality guns and ammunition for the most part, extreme environmental conditions can still play havoc with their performance and durability. High ambient temperature, humidity and UV rays can cause a variety of problems including faster parts and bore degradation, ammo malfunctions and sighting/accuracy issues. We know that your guns heat up substantially at the best of times, but they will obviously stay hotter longer in warmer weather (no surprise there). The heating effect will be further amplified with the use of suppressors and how you store your weapons and your ammo. It’s the long-term effects over time that really take their toll.
What Can Go Wrong?
Exactly how high temperatures can affect your guns and ammo will be determined by a variety of factors. Awareness of the potential issues is any shooter’s best first step.
Here are a few things to consider when it comes to the potential causes of heat-related issues with your firearm:
- Overall ambient temperature
- Exposure to direct sunlight
- Duration of high heat exposure
- Storage in hot environments
- Type/model of gun
- Barrel length
- Barrel contour
- Suppressor use
- Rate of fire
Thermal Expansion, Contraction & Distortion
High temperatures can cause the metal components of firearms to expand or ‘swell’ and this can affect the fit and function of moving parts. This can potentially lead to increased friction, binding or malfunctioning. Conversely, when a gun cools down, the metal can contract and this can also affect the mechanical tolerances and clearances. Beyond that, extreme heat can soften or warp the polymer components of your guns, and repeated exposure can contribute to metal fatigue, cracks or premature failure of critical metal parts.
Continuous firing, especially in hot weather, can cause the barrel of a firearm to heat up more quickly than usual and retain that heat for a longer period. This can lead to accelerated wear and tear, and can affect the structural integrity of the barrel, causing it to potentially sag or droop to the point where it can affect your accuracy.
Heat can cause lubricants to break down or evaporate faster, potentially leaving critical moving parts of the firearm without proper lubrication. This can lead to increased friction and wear, affecting the gun’s performance and reliability.
Sights & Optics
As with any change in season or environment, it’s always a good plan to re-zero before you shoot. You’ll also have to be aware of the fact that sights or magnified optics are susceptible to the potential of a heat-related thermal mirage effect that can distort the shooter’s view and affect aim and accuracy. There are fixed shade attachments available that can help to offset this issue, but they are generally impractical to use for anything beyond static range applications.
Ammo tends to heat up very quickly, with the case material, thickness and powder type all contributing to how sensitive your rounds just may be. As a general rule, a higher propellant temperature will cause it to burn faster, producing more chamber pressure and a higher projectile velocity. This will not only affect your POI, but can also affect the reliability and safety of the firearm.
To help mitigate the effects of hotter weather on your guns, it’s important to take a few fundamental steps to keep things cool.
When not in use, be sure to store firearms and ammunition in a cool, dry environment. Hint – not in the trunk of your car.
Avoid leaving guns and ammo (in metal magazines as well) in direct sunlight for extended periods, as they can heat up much faster than you would think.
Diligent gun maintenance and lubrication is important to keep everything moving the way that it should and to avoid long-term damage. Be sure use to use high-quality, heat-resistant lubricants, and wipe down your gun regularly when in use.
Allow your gun to cool down if it becomes excessively hot during use. Depending on what you’re shooting, it can help if you determine a rough set of standards for continuous shooting vs. cooling time.
There are a variety of barrel flutes, fins, sinks and other heat dissipaters available on the market that can be quite effective at keeping the bore at a reasonable temperature by conducting heat away from the barrel. Consider though, that this is likely to add unwanted weight to your gun.
There are also a wide variety of accessories that work well to offset heat-related issues. These include everything from shades, shields and suppressor wraps, to barrel temperature strips and battery powered fans.
Whether it’s generated through environmental conditions or by repeated firing, excessive heat can definitely have a negative impact on your equipment. By recognizing the potential for damage and performance issues, it’s a fairly simple process to offset the effects with some precautionary measures.
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