February 24, 2023
Your next duck hunt or grouse foray may be months away (and feel like an eternity), but if you want to avoid the nightmare of a corroded mess staring back at you the next time you open your gun safe, it’s essential to take care of your shotgun now.
If your gun was completely soaked or dropped in the mud, visit your friendly local gunsmith for a full teardown and thorough cleaning. It beats trying to figure out where those leftover parts go when you re-assemble your gun.
For the rest of you, first pour a coffee and assemble your gear. Clear a space for big enough for the broken-down gun, tools and cleaning supplies. For the most part, we’ll use lube to prevent rust, not help moving parts function smoothly like a car’s pistons and crankshaft. Shotgun makers engineer most pieces to function best with the least amount of lubricant.
1. BREAK IT DOWN
Cover the work surface with a 1/4-inch-thick layer of newspapers. (Avoid reading the stories or you’ll give up on this project and the long-term prospects for mankind.) Ensure the gun is unloaded.
For a double gun, remove the fore-end and barrels, and set them aside. For pumps and semi-autos, unscrew the magazine tube cap and remove the fore-end; there may be a button to push as well. Be mindful, as a semi’s innards are literally spring-loaded. If stuff falls out of the tube, wipe it off and put it back in the same order. Next, pull the barrel away from the receiver (give a twist if needed). On some semi-autos, the fore-end may remain attached to the barrel until the pair is removed from the receiver.
2. START CLEANING
Begin with the guts. In a double gun, it’s the receiver. In a pump or semi-automatic, it’s the area around the action port, where shells exit the magazine and are guided to the chamber so that pellets can begin their glorious journey toward a greenhead with wings cupped.
Wet a brass-bristled brush in solvent, shake off the excess and push it around in there. Be gentle. You’re just loosening up powder, plastic residue and dirt before it wreaks havoc. Try to keep solvent out of holes or cracks that access the trigger assembly, the bolt and where the firing pins or cocking rod (on double guns) penetrate the receiver. Use a cheap paintbrush, toothpick or other soft, pointy thing to probe the nooks and crannies. Wipe it all out with a lint-free rag. Unless your gun doubled as a boat paddle last season, avoid the temptation to remove the trigger assembly.
On double guns, do the same for the slidey-springy things on the fat end of the barrels (the bars that push extractors or ejectors in and out). On pumps, ditto for the rails that the fore-end slides on when you rack in a shell.
3. SWAB THE BARREL
Run a solvent-soaked brass brush on a rod through the barrel until you can see “streaks” of gunk. It’s now loosened and ready to come out on solvent-soaked cloth patches. When the patch comes out clean, remove your choke tubes. With a paintbrush, dab solvent on the barrel threads, then the tube threads. While you have the brush in hand, push bristles under the rib. Wipe clean and dry, apply a bit of grease to the tube threads and exterior walls and re-insert. If your fore-end has moving parts, brush them clean.
4. LIGHTLY LUBRICATE
Grease, oil or nothing? Fred Bohm, owner of gun-care products company Sage & Braker, says grease is best where you can see metal-on-metal wear. That includes the tooled areas on the receiver end of the barrel or hinges on double guns. A coating of lighter lube on most other parts is OK, but even that could attract crud and booger up close tolerances. If you think it will function dry, leave it alone.
With a rag lightly coated in lube, wipe the barrel’s exterior and interior, the receiver inside and out, and even the trigger and guard. Don’t forget any metal in the fore-end. If you can tell there’s oil on a surface, there’s too much. Wipe again with a dry rag. Moving parts like the pump gun’s slide rails deserve a little oil and a dress rehearsal (once re-assembled) to ensure everything gets a dose. Keep lubricant away from the extractors/ejectors on a double gun’s barrels.
5. STOCK AND LOCK (IT UP)
Take stock of the stock. Wipe off mud, bird blood and dog drool with a damp rag. Touch up any new scratches by rubbing walnut meat or boiled linseed oil on them. Neither is a perfect solution, but they’re safe. Do not eat said walnut.
Now, put it all back together and handle the gun with a clean rag to avoid bare fingers on metal. Store it barrel downward to ensure excess oil doesn’t ooze from receiver to the wooden stock. Sleep better knowing Old Betsy is ready for the skeet range. You are going to work on those crossers in the off-season, right?
A next-level pull-through bore snake
Sage & Braker has taken the bore snake to another level. Weight, pull rope, long braided buffing rope and now—drumroll please—a removable brass brush. It’s the ultimate end-of-hunt (or season) 30-second ritual. Use with the brush attached to dislodge deep-down grime from your gun’s bore. For lighter cleaning, use just the buffing rope. Attach both in sequence for a one-pull total clean. ($25; sageandbraker.com)