January 04, 2021
With age comes wisdom, and wisdom is often the product of mistakes from which you've learned.
That's why old guys who've been doing things for a long time know stuff. One thing I've learned after nearly a half-century of hunting with rifles is that it’s not a good idea to head out on a hunt without some tools you can use to service your rifle. I's not that rifles break down frequently, but they do often need some care during a hunt. Trying to work on a rifle with the hammer and pliers you keep behind your truck seat never turns out well.
Some years back I put together a toolkit that goes with me anytime I'm hunting. I'm not paranoid and I don't normally hunt with rifles that are junk, but things happen. I don't want a hunt ruined by a loose screw or a clogged barrel.
It's funny that no matter how well a rifle may work on the range, Murphy seems to find it when you need it most. Here's a look at my rifle toolkit with some suggestions on what you might want in yours.
Unless you end up engaged in combat, it's unlikely your rifle will become covered in blood or mud. However, it's not uncommon for rifles to get wet or for muzzles to be accidentally poked into snow or dirt. (I've seen guns dropped in worse.) Not only do you want to keep your rifle serviceable, but you've also spent good money on the gun and expect it to last a lifetime. In order to make sure that happens, you need to carry some basic cleaning supplies with you in the field.
A cleaning rod is a no-brainer. You have to keep the bore free of debris, and you want to be able to dry it out if it gets wet. The last thing you want to be doing on a hunt is cutting a switch and tying a piece of cloth to it. Find a good takedown military cleaning rod for an AR-15. It will work with almost any caliber of rifle and is easy to transport. Include some heads for the rod like a wire brush for .22 and .30 calibers, and a .22-caliber patch puller or jag. The latter will also work for larger bore diameters.
You're also going to want some sort of CLP (cleaner, lubricant and protector). Most manufacturers offer small bottles that can be carried afield, but the pre-soaked patches are much more convenient and easier to pack. I'm fond of Ballistol wipes. One wipe is enough to service a complete rifle, and the wipes can be cut to bore-patch size. Some small swabs and an old toothbrush for cleaning debris out of tight, hard-to-reach areas are also a good idea.
The next, and maybe the most important, elements of a rifle toolkit are a driver handle and bits. Years ago, a flat-blade and a Phillips-head screwdriver were all you needed to work on just about any rifle. Not anymore; today's rifles and scope-mounting systems require hex and Torx bits. I picked up a small 1/4-inch driver with a holder for 11 bits, and stocked it with size 10, 15, 20, 25 and 30 Torx bits, a 1/2-inch socket, two flat blades and a Phillips head, and 5/32 and 7/32 hex bits. With that array I can work on just about any rifle. In my kit I also keep a very small screwdriver with miniature bits in case I need to repair something delicate and small like a trigger or eyeglasses.
Items for Optics
I include lens-cleaning and anti-fog cloths that can be used on riflescope, binocular, rangefinder and spotting scope lenses. You may already keep these in your pocket, but it's nice to have an emergency stash. You must protect your glass; don't wipe lenses with your wool hunting coat. I also pack an extra battery or two for illuminated riflescopes and rangefinders. Those small batteries can be hard to find when you’re a long way from civilization.
What do you put all of this gear in? Go to a gun show and pick up a military-surplus AR-15 cleaning kit pouch. Alternatively, do a search online and you’ll find several companies that offer similar-sized pouches. You may even find a kit partially stocked with some of the stuff you need. However, if you really want to be prepared, you’re going to have to customize your rifle toolkit to best fit your needs. Just remember to keep the kit small so you'll carry it with you on every hunt. The good news is, now you don't have to grow as old as I have or make as many mistakes to learn all this.