How Does Cold Weather Affect Accuracy In Precision Shooting

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Cold weather can affect accuracy in long-range shooting in the name of external ballistics.

It is like rocket science if you decide to dig deep, but here are some few simple things you can take with you after reading this post.

How Does Temperature Affect Ballistics?

In physics, material shrink and expand under our naked eyes due to air temperature changes.

This change happens quite often, and that’s why engineers take that into account when designing cars, airplanes, firearms and rockets, so they can handle the lowest and the highest temperature threshold.

  • Air temperature does affect gun powder burn rate
  • Air temperature does affect bullet trajectory by the change in the air density
  • Dramatic air temperature changes do affect bullet drop
  • The longer the range, the more significant temperature-induced difference in points of impact.

How Does Humidity Affect Bullet Performance In Cold Temperature

humidity affects bullet speed

When air density increases, the bullet has more air resistance during flight. Humidity is basically the term used to describe the amount of water vapor in the air.

Cold Temperature & Constant Vapor Content = Higher Humidity = Slower Bullet Speed = Hitting Low On Target 

The humidity varies along with the altitude and temperature, so when the air is cold and the water vapor content stays the same as relative humidity increases. This is because colder air doesn't require much moisture to become saturated as warm air.

Higher humidity equal thinner air despite the common belief that the air feels thicker, which means the air is less dense. Therefore bullet travels easier and faster through the humid air.

Before I get too deep into this, I want to clarify that the humidity is not the biggest influencer on ballistics and it can be ignored in most cases. 

Even though that's the fact, but the actual change in impact points are insignificant from 100 meters up to 1000 meters.

Why Use A Ballistic Calculator In Cold Weather?

A ballistic calculator collects the important info which is the net effect of air pressure, temperature, and humidity to make your life on the range a lot easier.

There are many ways to do it including the old school ways of testing on the range for hours, but it's not the most convenient method.

The easier method is to use a ballistic calculator such as the Kestrel 5700 Ballistics Weather Meter that can link up with your smartphone.

Besides that, it can also correct for aerodynamic jump, spin drift,  Coriolis effect and much more to achieve accurate long-range shots.

To learn more about ballistics please check out this awesome guide on our site: 28 Weird External Ballistic Effects Explained With Pictures

How Does Temperature Effects On Rifle Zero

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When the cold weather drop from 10F to -20F. I have to say my guns do get cool down faster, so that's a plus. But what about accuracy?

How Cold Affects Barrel Accuracy

Variation in barrel temperature can lead to various bullet impact points because a hot barrel will warp at least a little bit, and that's just science. It all depends on how much and how quickly it warps.

The best way to tell if your barrel is accurate is to zero your impacts when fired through a cool barrel, the industry calls it "cold-bore zero".

As a rule of thumb: fire slow enough that your barrel never gets too hot.

This is precision shooting, not dumping magazines!

How Does Thermal Expansion And Shrinkage Affect Rifle Accuracy

HIGH ANGLE SHOOTING Ballistic Trajectory

Thermal expansion is the change in shape, volume and area of matter in response to a change in temperature. Temperature is a monotonic function of the molecular kinetic energy of a substance. What the heck does this mean?

In layman’s term, an object depending on what material it’s made out of will expand or shrink based on temperature. Each material type has its coefficient of thermal expansion that engineers use to predict expansion.

Aircraft, railroads tracks, buildings, mechanical parts, door frames all have thermal expansion accounted for when they’re designed for fitting.

When you shoot a gun even in cold temperatures, the barrel will get hot no matter what, if not then it will get warm. Each time a shot is fired, the barrel melts and expands just a little bit that lasts a millisecond, and it can affect the accuracy if it gets too hot.

Can Riflescope Maintain Zero In Cold Temperature?

Unlike the rest of the gun such as the barrel, which experiences from hot to cold back and forth. The riflescope's ability to hold zero is depended on its build quality and the mount, therefore, the temperature has no direct impact on maintaining zero.

The only thing that could be affected would be the adjustment knob feeling a little stiff to dial in the cold. That's why buying a high-quality scope is super important, you can check out those long-rang scopes under $1000 here that a lot of professional shooters are using and I guarantee you get the best and will not disappoint.

If you’re the long-range shooter who wants to take everything into account for an accurate shot, then you might want to pay attention to this because it’s hard to isolate the test without proper lab equipment.

Let alone bullet weight, wind speed, wind direction, powder grain weight, and much more elements can deviate a shot. Most people are more concerned about optic lens getting condensation due to extremely low temperatures. The answer is it could.

Is Temperature Effect On Bullet Drop Neglectable?

36 yard zero 1 3 co witness height

Yes. So far I think the extremely cold temperature doesn’t affect accuracy that much up to 200 yards. If you’re doing medium range or close range shooting, it should not affect your point of impact as long as you have a quality optic and mount. Most importantly, check the temperature spec of your optic from the manufacturer.

Wrap Up

The extremely cold temperature that significantly involves elevation and air pressure would definitely affect the ballistics.

  • Make sure optic is mounted properly before doing anything else
  • Ambient air temperature has an inverse effect on air density
  • Air temperature affect gun powder burn rate
  • Air temperature affect bullet trajectory by the change in the air density
  • Dramatic air temperature change affect bullet drop
  • The longer the range, the more significant temperature-induced difference in points of impact.



I thoroughly test every firearm product before recommending it for civilian use. This involves personally purchasing or borrowing each product and rigorously using and testing them for content creation.