Will Cold Weather Keep Your 1911 Out of the Fight?

By Alan M. Rice
Posted in #Guns
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Will Cold Weather Keep Your 1911 Out of the Fight?

March 13th, 2023

8 minute read

Living in the northeast, Labor Day is my reminder that cooler weather is on the way and it is time to put away the subcompact gun that I carry for the short season of warm weather in New Hampshire and put a Springfield 1911 back on my belt. This article will discuss ways to keep your 1911 in the fight in the cold, laying out some specific holster options, top carry techniques and necessary gun maintenance tips for cooler fall weather and colder winter weather.

1911 failure in cold weather
Can harsh, cold weather impact the reliability of your 1911? Image: Adobe Stock

Many consider the 1911 pistol to be one of the finest self-defense guns ever made. Springfield offers a variety of models for most every type of shooter and budget. But, they can be substantial guns. A fully loaded 5” 1911 weighs close to three pounds and is not an easy gun to carry concealed in summer clothing. However, for those of us who live in the northern half of the United States, we can easily carry a full-size pistol, fully concealed, for more than half the year.

keep your 1911 running in the winter
Here the author is firing a Springfield 1911 wearing a flip-back mitten. With the proper care, will the 1911 run reliably in all weather conditions?

In colder climates, criminal attackers wear layers of heavy clothing (just like everyone else). These layers can clog a hollowpoint bullet and reduce its effectiveness. Many modern bullet designs have overcome this shortcoming, but there is something to be said for basic, brute force. A 1911, chambered in .45 ACP, can help to overcome certain ammunition shortcomings. The large diameter (.451), heavier bullet (230 grains), gives the defender an edge when compared to a smaller bullet that might not expand.

Hiding Your Defense

In early to mid-fall when temperatures are in the 40s and 50s, a loose-fitting sweatshirt or an untucked button-up shirt can easily conceal a full-size pistol. For most people, the best way to conceal a full-size 1911 when wearing these types of garments is an inside-the-waistband (IWB) holster carried at 4 o’clock for a right-handed shooter or 8 o’clock for southpaws like myself. Sweatshirts and other closed-front shirts conceal best when worn a size larger than normal. This prevents the grip from “printing” while the rest of the pistol stays neatly concealed inside the pants.

carrying a winter 1911
The pistol, carried in a Muddy River Tactical kydex IWB holster, can be accessed quickly and easily when the support hand lifts the closed bottom cover garment.

Drawing a pistol carried under a closed front shirt is easy. Grab the bottom of the shirt with the support hand, lift the shirt and use the dominant hand to grasp the pistol in a firing grip and draw and present. Once the pistol has cleared the holster the support hand can release the shirt and join the dominant hand. (To see an article by Massad Ayoob on this very subject, click here.)

As the weather continues to cool and heavy coats are worn daily, an IWB holster might not be the best choice if the gun carrier is wearing a sweatshirt underneath a jacket or coat. Sweatshirts are thick and bulky and, in most cases, cannot be comfortably tucked behind an IWB holster. If the sweatshirt is placed over the holster, the gun is now doubly concealed — the shooter now must sweep the coat back and then lift the sweatshirt. The time required to draw and present the pistol is doubled! When a self-defense gun is needed — the need is immediate.

Another Option?

An outside-the-waistband (OWB) holster might be more appropriate when wearing a winter coat. Most OWB holsters can be worn farther forward than IWB holsters and will fit over a sweatshirt. OWB holsters which are positioned at, or slightly behind, the seam of the pants are comfortable and allow a fast draw. As an instructor, I learn something in every class I teach, and over the years I have learned that many females, due to the typical shape of their waists and hips, prefer OWB holsters.

drawing your 1911 from under a winter coat
The author demonstrates drawing a Springfield Armory 1911 carried under a heavy coat. The holster is a Safariland ALS (6378) OWB rig. Image: Harrison Rice

The most common way to draw a pistol from a strong side OWB holster, carried under a heavy coat, is to leave the front buttons or zipper completely open, then sweep the coat behind the pistol with the dominant hand and grip the pistol in a firing grip and lift it out of the holster. (To see an article by Massad Ayoob on drawing from an open-front garment, click here.)

Drawing and presenting a pistol from under a heavy winter coat should first be practiced at the range with an unloaded gun. Once this has been mastered, you can then consider moving to drawing and firing using live ammunition.

Does your coat have a two-way zipper? Can you pull up to open the bottom of the coat, or must you always pull down and completely open your coat to access a gun in a belt holster? Does your coat have buttons? How fast can you unbutton them? Plan and practice what you will do before the urgent need arises.

On the Other Hand…

An OWB holster used under a coat may be a disadvantage if you need to take your coat off when dining out or attending any sort of an indoor event — in this case, the pistol would now be exposed. However, if you plan to take your coat off when dining out or going to meetings and events and are comfortable having the gun exposed (and it is legal to do so), an OWB holster with some level of retention is appropriate.

carrying a 1911 in a thumbreak holster during the winter
Sweeping a heavy coat back to draw from a vintage Alessi DOJ OWB holster with a thumb break. Image: Harrison Rice

A simple thumb break (or a Safariland ALS that provides active retention — meaning there are no snaps to close after re-holstering) will all work. To allow some flexibility when dining out or shopping, some may decide to just wear an untucked shirt under a winter coat, even though the draw stroke will be slower. The decision to carry openly or concealed is a personal one that should be made after evaluating your lifestyle and applicable laws.

A pistol that is carried in a shoulder holster can be accessed quickly when the coat is partially open at the top. If a person is wearing ski pants with a bib, a shoulder holster is probably the best option. When seated in a car a shoulder holster will, for most people, provide a fast draw.

After some practice, drawing from a shoulder holster carried under a winter coat becomes quick and easy. The dominant hand snakes in, grabs the pistol in a firing grip and draws it. When drawing a pistol from a shoulder holster, the body should be turned so that the muzzle is pointed at the threat and not innocents when the pistol is drawn.

Don’t Forget the Details

The old adage of “train like you fight” becomes even more relevant when people are dressed for cold weather — including wearing gloves.

Do you have a plan to quickly pull your glove off (if needed) and drop it before you draw the pistol? Have you practiced that plan at the range? Do you intend to shoot with gloves on? Can you? Some gloves are thin enough to shoot with, but you should try it at the range first in a safe and controlled manner.

flip back mitten
In this photo, you can see the author’s flip-back mitten that he uses in cold weather. Image: Harrison Rice

Unless I plan to be outside for an extended period in cold weather, I prefer to not wear hand coverings. However, when I do, my preferred hand covering is flip-back mittens, which I find are faster to “flip back” than to remove and drop a glove. When “flipped back”, the fingers above the first knuckle are exposed, but the palm, thumb and lower portion of the four fingers remain covered. I regularly practice shooting with flip-back mittens at the range.

Gloves or flip-back mittens will change the distance to the trigger for you. Too much or too little finger on the trigger can cause the pistol to be “pushed” to the side, causing shots to miss wide. Can your gloved thumb take a 1911 off “safe”? For some, it may take a lot of practice sessions to get proficient at shooting with flip-back mittens or gloves. Others might acquire the skill after a few magazines through the gun. Part of your cold weather self-defense preparations should include practice sessions wearing gloves or flip-back mittens.

Are you able to access spare ammunition and reload your pistol with gloves or flip-back mittens on? Range practice should include reloading drills with gloves or the flip-back mittens on.

Considering the Tools

A self-defense gun must be 100% reliable. Even a well-made, reliable 1911 can be rendered useless if it is not properly lubricated.

grease on 1911 barrel for winter carry
A 1911 barrel with TW25B grease applied to the upper lugs and the area where the barrel passes through the bushing.

Cold weather requires a lubricant that is engineered for use in firearms that will work at all temperatures and humidity levels. Even though the 1911 design is well over a century old, there is no reason not to use modern synthetic lubes.

I apply a thin coat of Mil-Comm TW25B grease onto 1911 frame rails, to the upper and lower barrel lugs and around the barrel where it slides through the bushing. Any excess will get pushed out when the action is cycled; just wipe it off from the rear of the frame and around the muzzle before firing the pistol.

The author recommends the Mil-Comm MC2500 oil as a good cold-weather lube for your 1911 pistol. Image: Mil-Comm

I prefer to use grease because it stays put, but Mil-Comm also produces MC2500 oil for those who prefer to use a liquid lube. Mil-Comm says that TW25B grease and MC2500 oil both have an operating range of between -90°F to 450°F. I have had good results with both products through New Hampshire’s four seasons.

Concealed carry in the winter is easy, no matter what gun is chosen. But, my first choice will always be a 1911 chambered in .45 ACP.

And just as a reminder, practice drawing and presenting the pistol from concealment using an unloaded gun before carrying a loaded pistol in any of the holsters discussed in this article. Always remember to point the gun in a safe direction — a direction that can safely stop any bullets that might be fired.

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Alan M. Rice

Alan M. Rice

Alan M. Rice, a firearms instructor and proud resident of the “live free or die” state of New Hampshire, has worked hard to protect Second Amendment civil rights for more than 30 years. He is a co-author of Lethal Laws: Gun Control Is the Key to Genocide and has written many articles and research papers. Alan has a background in law enforcement as well as firearms training for police and private citizens. He is eager to learn about new gun and holster designs as well as new types of ammunition and accessory products (e.g., holsters, scopes, etc.), and is regularly called upon as a consultant about firearms technology and ballistics matters. Throughout the year, Alan hones his skills with pistols, rifles and shotguns, and is an avid reloader.

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