I first posted this last year, and several things this week (Walt White's podcast and an extended conversation on Twitter) suggested that I needed to be reminded from time to time. I also want to thank Walt, MIguel, David, and Keith for their advice and guidance.
I titled this entry Beat the Heat, but it is my experience that we cannot beat the heat – the best we can hope for is a tie. Here are some things you can do to make shooting in the summer heat safer.
For any system, we have inputs, a process, and outputs. Our goal is to keep the process – our bodies, shooting effectively – in control, and minimize the effects of the heat.
The inputs to this process are sunshine, body heat from exertion, electrolytes, and water. The process, our body, generates its own heat, and generates outputs of movement and thought, and also generates liquids in the form of urine and sweat, which keep the body flushed and cool.
So, how do we keep the desirable processes – thoughts and movement – optimal? By making sure we mitigate the effects of the inputs:
Be sure to wear sunscreen, preferably 50 SPF or better, and use the waterproof kind if possible. I carry a bottle of this in my shooting bag, and it occurs to me that I should have a spare bottle in my Get Home Bag. In my experience, the spray on kind of sunscreen doesn’t work for me, but if you like it, and it works, use it.
If you find you are susceptible to sunburn you may need to re-apply the sunscreen as needed.
Try to stay in the shade when possible. If you’re practicing and there is a covered shooting area, use it. If not, consider erecting a canopy of some sort, or bring an umbrella.
Wear smart clothing. There are all kinds of breathable sports shirts on the market now, and I wear one when I shoot matches. In fact, I have found that 100% cotton tee shirts are uncomfortable after a few hours, as they become sweat drenched in the sun. Instead, consider investing in a sports shirt like the ones from Techwear or Nike .
Wear a hat, to keep the sun out of your eyes and off your scalp. Consider a hat with a wide brim like Walt's boonie hat or cowboy hat. However, this will mean you may have to wear earplugs and not muffs, unless you have the kind that go behind your head, or can roll up the brim while you shoot.
I wear shorts when shooting, but if you will be venturing into dry brush, or your legs are susceptible to sunburn, consider lightweight BDUs or other long pants.
Drink plenty of liquids, before during and after you shoot. Start the night before, and continue drinking during and after the shoot.
Here’s one place I have changed my thinking. I used to feel that I didn’t need full strength sports drinks, as they have way too many electrolytes and calories for what I do. They were designed for football players and runners, who are burning a lot more calories that I do shooting.
So, I drank only water, and I found that by the end of the day my legs were sore. Then one match I tried diluting sports drink to half strength, and I found that I wasn’t sore. It’s almost like the makers of the sports drinks know what they’re doing. Hmm.
Consider a bladder backpack, like the Camelback, if your shooting allows it. I don’t take mine to matches, because I would be taking it on and off all the time, but I have worn it for casual shooting.
Now, here is why I mentioned urine. One way to know if the process is working is to know if the inputs are matching the outputs. So, you need output. There is a saying I have heard from someone who is currently being paid to work in the Middle Eastern sun – “If you’re not peeing you’re not drinking enough.” You should be visiting the bathroom at least once an hour if you're correctly hydrated.
I have a neck “snake” filled with a water absorbing gel, that I soak in water and put around my neck when I’m waiting my turn to shoot. I bought mine at a state fair about ten years ago, but Miguel pointed us to some on Amazon.
Take a chair and rest when possible. This reduces the amount of heat you generate internally.
If you collect fired brass, and it’s been sitting in the sun, consider wearing gloves. Those suckers can be very hot. I say this from experience. Store your guns in the shade when not in use, for the same reason.
I hope you find this useful, and I welcome other suggestions.