The very first and probably most important thing is to secure your weapon against becoming jammed with snow. The manuals all just say “be careful”. I say do everything humanly possible that you can. A muzzle cap, a piece of tape over the muzzle, or the old WWII GI expedient of a condom is a must to keep even small amounts of snow out of the barrel. If you have a weapon with a dust cover, keep it closed. Keep a magazine in the well. If you have optics, get and use scope covers or caps.
Carrying your weapon on skis or snowshoes presents some unique problems to solve. The Gebirgsjaeger manual suggested:
“On skis and snowshoes weapons and equipment must be arranged in such a way that the ski trooper can take long, sliding steps and move his arms freely. The rucksack or the pack must be packed as flat as possible, with most of the weight in the bottom. No hard objects should be carried in the trouser pockets. The manner of carrying weapons depends on the degree of readiness for action required by the situation: changing from one method to another sometimes must be executed quickly and therefore must be practiced. With conventional slings, the rifle is generally slung across the back, the barrel pointing upwards to the left.”
The slung crossways-on the-back method is not much good if you have a ruck on your back. I can get by with just the crap on my LBE most of the year, but then I don’t use skis or snowshoes then anyway. In winter I have to have a ruck for over-nighters or multi-nighters, merely to combat Ma Nature, who can be quite a bitch sometimes.
Another idea: “To prevent the rifle from swinging during the march, it may be tied to the side of the pack with an auxiliary strap or carried with a double sling as shown in figure 4. When the double sling is improvised, the auxiliary strap, which leads under the left arm and across the chest, should be arranged to enable adjustment without unslinging the piece.”
I personally found a couple of solutions. With the above method, I attached camping-style bungee cords to the LBE with a D-ring carabineer. When skiing, you really do need a strap on the butt end even if you have the muzzle end of the rifle pulled over and attached. Otherwise, it doesn’t stay up on your shoulder during movement and eventually slides down where the rifle butt interferes with things.
Assault sling are also a benefit. I only use mine for slinging the weapon diagonally across the back. I’m not sure how well carrying the weapon conventionally on the front of the body with an assault sling would work. I’ll leave that for someone who doesn’t have four bad discs in his or her neck.
If you’re carrying a ruck, the first double-sling method is about the best, unless you can carry the weapon in front of the body on the assault sling. I’m sure one could find a way to keep it secure during movement with a strap/bungee and a D-ring.
In a similar note, the old school solution with a conventional sling was: “In case of an urgent battle alert, the rifle is slung around the neck in front of the body (upside down), with the barrel to the right. When in contact with the enemy, the soldier carries the rife in his right hand, ready for firing; the ski poles are carried in the left hand.”
The following is an interesting article written by a colonel in the Swiss Mountains Brigades, dating from the days of the K31 rifle:
Reduced Pack for Patrols
The successful execution of certain missions at times demands great mobility and speed. The complete pack of our modern infantry tends to be so heavy that it interferes seriously with the accomplishments of a difficult assignment.
By taking along only those objects which are indispensable to the combatant for fighting, nourishment, and shelter for a certain period of time (24 to 48 hours, for example), it is possible to cut the pack down to a reasonable weight (22 to 33 lbs, including arms and ammunition).
Our problem is to make up a simple and practical pack which is well balanced on the back of the man carrying it, making use only of the equipment employed by our army.
In offering the following solution, it seemed well and even necessary to us that both of the carrier’s hands should be free for use in skiing or climbing over rocky surfaces with the greatest possible degree of safety.
The only difficulty confronting us was how to attach the gun on the pack so that the man would be best able to bring his weapon into use, fire, and reload with the utmost speed and accuracy.
However, the solution we offer possesses one disadvantage which is of no great consequence; the soldier is able to fire only in a prone position after having removed his pack. But this disadvantage is compensated by one definite advantage; the possesses and excellent rest in any terrain, especially in snow, and the man, out of breath and exhausted by a long climb, is able to fire in a more accurate and surer manner.
The pack is very flat and rests uniformly over the whole surface of the back. The carbine does not interfere with movements of either head or legs. The construction of the pack does require, however, a little practice and care if a bad surprise is to be avoided during the course of the journey.
It will be an excellent chance for the sergeant major and the patrol commanders to check the degree of preparation of each man. “As the pack is—so is the man.”
The tests carried out while training infantry recruits in the winter on military ski patrols were entirely satisfactory from the point of view of the march as well as from the point of view of fire results.
A. Fasten the carbine and tent case firmly together in the form of a cross with the aid of a strong piece of cord. (Figs. 1 and 2).
B. Make up a pack with the 2 shoulder straps of the “mountain bag”, the 5 small straps, coat made into a roll, the tent square (containing kindling wood and paper), bread bag (containing a change of shirt, 1 pullover sweater, 1 or 2 pairs of socks, the canteen, and a little food), mess tin containing food (bread, Ovos, tea, sugar, cheese, dried fruits). The ammunition (a maximum of 48 cartridges) will be carried in the cartridge cases.
C. Fasten the tent case with the 2 upper straps of the pack. Fasten the carbine firmly to the pack with the tent rope. A slip knot will permit a quick removal of the pack.
The total weight (not including ammunition and food) is:
Mess tin, canteen and bread bag………. 2.86 lbs.
Tent square……………………………….. 3.08 lbs.
Tent case…………………………………..1.54 lbs.
Straps, etc………………………………….0.88 lbs.
In certain cases, the patrol will be provided with a snow shovel or engineers’ equipment, a first aid kit, repair equipment, ropes, an ice axe, etc., depending on the mission or the terrain.”
While I think the author over-stated his case and under-stated the true weight, one does have to strive hard to reduce weight by any means possible. The old backpacker saying is, “Take care of the ounces and the pounds will take care of themselves.” The “snivel” gear must be separated from the survival gear, although I don’t personally subscribe to the old Ranger adage, “Pack light; freeze at night.”
Now, the last question is, what kind of rifle do you want to carry out there in the snow and wind? In mountains, snow-covered plains and farmland, and across the tundra and taiga, range is king. Anyone who’s known me for over five minutes will know I prefer the main battle rifle over the assault carbines. Unfortunately, range usually equates with weight.
A British brigadier summed it up best in a study on mountain warfare: “The rifle and ammunition of the soldier weigh about 15 pounds, and that can scarcely be reduced. A light rifle or carbine would not be sufficiently accurate for the long ranges that obtain in the mountains.”
There really is no perfect solution, but only an adjustment of the best compromises possible.