Boomershoot country in the winter

Last weekend I visited the Boomershoot site to get the weather station (see also here, it seems I always have to work on it in January) and webcam working again. The webcam had been down since November 8th and the weather station went down on December 31st.

I figured there was a good chance the power went down. The power supply is two deep cycle batteries charged by two solar panels and in the winter there is a risk of not enough solar to keep the batteries charged. The math says it should be enough as along as the batteries are not at end of life. But the batteries are getting old.

I took my 2 KW generator and a battery charger and arrived at my new gun range a little before 4:00 PM. It looks a lot different with 20+ inches of snow over it:


After taking a few pictures there I drove to the driveway at the Boomershoot site. As I expected the driveway was impassable. I loaded up the toboggan I borrowed from Brother Doug and went out to the shooting line where the weather station is:


I opened up the underground “vault” where the batteries, charge controller, ethernet switch, and power supplies are:


I measured the battery voltage. The 12 Volt batteries only had 3.7 Volts. That’s not good. That’s a real problem.

I hooked up the charger and generator and the smart charger quickly brought the voltage up to six volts and went into “maintenance” mode. Crap! It thinks these are six Volt batteries rather than 12 Volt. There was no manual switch to convince it to charge to 12 V.

I went back to my car and found the direct battery charging cable for the generator. I almost left this home because I didn’t think I would need it as I had brought the smart charger. I’m so glad I brought it.

Back at the shooting line I hooked up the direct cable and in a few minutes got the voltage up to about 10 Volts where the smart charge, with a power cycle, became convinced these were 12 Volt batteries.

It was getting dark but there was a nice sunset fading away:


The next morning I came back to refill the gas tank and check the charge on the batteries. Things were a bit frosty:


The charger said the batteries were fully charged. That’s not good. These two batteries should have a combined 400 Amp Hours of storage. The charger puts out a maximum of 12 Amps. After being on the charger for about 16.5 hours that is a maximum of about 200 Amp Hours of charge (including the consumption from the electronics and contribution from the solar panels that morning).

For all I know they could have stopped accepting charge after eight hours. There was nothing I could do about it. The only solution is new batteries. And I do not want to do that in the winter. The batteries are just too heavy to make the trip on the toboggan and be lowered into the “vault” with all the snow making access difficult. I’ll go back in a month or two and recharge them.

I couldn’t get the webcam to come back online. It is dead. I confirmed that after bringing it home. It doesn’t even turn on the ethernet switch lights. It seems to be a frequent occurrence at this site. I suspect low voltage to be a contributor. I have a new webcam but I forgot to take it with me. I’m thinking I will make another trip to Idaho in late February and put up the new web cam and charge the batteries then.

I will be spending some time on site a week or two before Boomershoot 2022 (April 29th –> May 1st, sign up here!). I’ll install new batteries, get the local Wi-Fi working, etc. then.


8 thoughts on “Boomershoot country in the winter

  1. nice sunset. we get those same colors here in n.e. oregon when it is very clear and very cold. my computer weather thingie says it is 30-degree f. and “partly sunny.” it’s been foggier as all get around here, so i guess “partly sunny” means “pretty foggy.”

    go figure.

  2. Let me know if you need another set of hands. If my schedule permits, I would love to help out! Might be able to rally some of the other local folks in position 43 too.

    • Interesting. I’ll think about that. Some of the stuff is kind of technical like Wi-Fi repeaters and stuff. I know how to do it and it would take me longer to explain it than to just do it myself. But other stuff, some not previously mentioned, I might be able to delegate. I need to have a couple fence posts driven in the ground and plastic pipe put over the fence posts to get additional elevation and a better surface to mount stuff on. Then there is the 3/4 cubic yard of sand I need to get from Ahsahka to the Boomershoot shooting line piled up for the fireball.

  3. I’m fairly certain that the cold isn’t helping your batteries. What type are you using, Lead Acid? LiFePO4 batteries would be great for that application, if you could keep them warm, but they won’t charge at lower temperatures.

  4. Good to see that snow. You folks going to have enough water for the crops this year? Is your brother Doug and friends able to get fertilizer? Or were shortage rumors just BS?
    Be good to hear about the general health of the local farm industry firsthand.
    Maybe try some hard foam insulation around your batteries?
    Water might be a problem. But if you can get them down lower to the standard 50 degrees earth temperature. And shield them from the cold up above. They might work/charge/hold a charge better?

    • There is no irrigation so the water issue depends on the rain in the late spring and early summer. The snow pack is sufficient for the early spring.

      I don’t know about the fertilizer. I know he has all the fuel he needs paid for and delivered last fall. But I don’t know if he has purchased the fertilizer. He doesn’t have any storage facility for it.

      The batteries are sealed AGM. They are five years old and until a year ago were housed in thin plastics boxes. This exposed them to sub-zero temperatures in the winter and 100+ temperatures in the summer. They were specifically put underground to keep them closer to a less hostile temperature range. I haven’t, but will, include some insulating foam next spring when they are replaced. They are not nearly deep enough to be in the 50F range. My guess it’s 20F -> 70F. It will be better than what they experienced for the first four years.

  5. Traditional lead acid batteries lose energy storage capacity every time you kill it. IIRC, the first time is ~25%. The AGM battery sellers websites don’t cover this particular issue, it seems, which makes me wonder if there is no real change, since they have the same chemistry.

    It might help if there was some heat tape in the battery box, with a controller to limit how much it lets the batteries discharge. Probably need a bigger solar panel setup to ensure the batteries get a full charge every day. The cost of the new Lifpo batts makes them way too expensive for your system. (~$1k each for car battery size)

  6. Pingback: Boomershoot country in the winter — The View From North Central Idaho | Vermont Folk Troth

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