Gun Cleaning 101

A patch or two down the barrel doesn't cut it for successful gun hunters. Fouling left alone will mess up your next hunt.

Those salty tears you cried as deer season came to a close are warranted. Your life is pretty much over except for pulling stand sets and shed hunting until turkey season starts. Maybe you'll get some coyote hunting in there. But this is no time to sit back and relax. Those tears will ruin a firearm without an after-season maintenance session.

Push solvent-soaked patches down the bore until they come out clean. This one is almost there. Photo by J. Guthrie.

While most every rifle will still work with some surface rust, ignoring a rifle's bore is the sure path to ruination, and it's a sensitive place since there is no bluing or fancy finish to protect it.

As that copper-clad bullet goes screaming down the bore, it leaves a smear of copper inside. The degree to which bullets foul a bore and how that fouling affects things like accuracy and function vary from rifle to rifle. Snipers clean their rifles after every shooting session in an effort to make the bore as consistent from shot to shot as possible. As a general rule, I clean my rifle bore every 20 rounds and occasionally that means the bore will make it through a zero session and deer season without cleaning. In those cases, I simply maintain the bore with a rust preventative.

At season's end or 20 rounds, whichever comes first, I do a complete cleaning, starting with a copper-solvent. With a bore-guide in place and starting at the breech end of the rifle, I push a solvent-soaked patch down the bore and let it sit for 10 minutes. I follow up with more solvent-soaked patches until they come out clean. Occasionally I use a bronze bore brush. Foaming bore cleaners have added a new wrinkle, and I have found them to work pretty well, especially with muzzleloaders.

A bore scope is the best way to see if all that nasty copper is gone. But most of us do not have one of those in our back pockets, so just watch your patches. They quit turning green when the copper is out.

Take 20 minutes, enjoy the smell of gun oil, and clean up that favorite shooting iron. You'll be able to sight it in more quickly the next time you pick it up. Photo by J. Guthrie.

After working hard to get copper solvent in the bore, I work just as hard to get it out with dry patches. Prolonged exposure to a solvent that can melt copper out of the rifling is probably not a good thing to let sit around too long.

The last step is to treat the bore with a rust preventative. A liberal dose of Birchwood Casey Barricade, Gunslick Pro Gun Seal, Hoppe's No. 9 MDL Rust Preventative, Rem Oil or Break Free CLP will keep you rust free. I never spray the preventative in the bore, rather soak a patch and let it deliver the goods to the bore's nooks and crannies. The last step is to turn the rifle on end and let any extra drain out of the barrel. A small patch of cloth under the muzzle will help ensure the carpet isn't stained permanently.

The process is pretty much the same for shotguns and muzzleloaders, though you need to remove any plastic fouling from wads and sabots from the bore just like you need to remove copper from rifle bores. There are some specialty products for plastic fouling, but most standard solvents like Gun Scrubber handle plastic just fine.

When you store your muzzleloader, keep it muzzle down so the any residue drips out the muzzle.

At season's end, whip out the manual, and break the firearm down to its basic components.

All you need here is a standard solvent-lubricant like CLP or Rem Oil, a nylon-bristle brush and old T-shirt. Anything that is not a gun part, like carbon fouling or feathers, should be brushed or scraped away without damaging any finish applied to the parts. Letting the parts soak for an hour after a liberal application of solvent will make the job easier. If your favorite shotgun has a magazine tube, be sure to clean inside -- grit can lock a follower in place. Remove the rifle action from the stock because that's a favorite place for moisture to hide. Be sure to torque the action screws to their specified weight, otherwise accuracy problems when you put it all back together.

Your conscience is now clear and clean. Sleep easy. That favorite hunting gun has been put to bed for the year and will be right as rain when the season rolls back around.

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