Whether you are a target shooter, a benchrest shooter, a varmint hunter, a general all-around hunter or merely own a gun for home or personal protection, nothing affects the accuracy of your firearms more than a clean barrel. A clean, well-maintained barrel leads to tighter groups and more confidence for you as a shooter, no matter what your target may be.
Any mechanical device, including firearms, demands regular and proper maintenance. For guns, a good cleaning and lubrication after each use ensures peak performance, but it does not mean that your firearm must be totally disassembled to clean it. Unless there are special circumstances like extremely dirty shooting conditions or exposure to bad weather, any firearm can get a good fundamental cleaning in five easy steps.
The first step may seem so obvious but is the most important one in the entire process. Make sure your gun is unloaded! Take out all the clips or magazines, remove the bolt from your rifle or lock open the action of a semi-automatic rifle, shotgun or pistol. Brush these parts with solvent until like-new clean and dry off completely. Bolts should be lightly lubricated with a fine gun oil.
While you are at it, examine the ammunition coming out of your gun. If you are a waterfowler, for example, everything you carry with you is at one time or another exposed to dirt, water and the worst shooting conditions imaginable. Putting dirty shells in a dirty gun makes for poor performance, as well as unsafe practices.
The next step is to brush the barrel with solvent. For guns that have been properly maintained and regularly cleaned, a nylon brush may suffice. For barrels that may have a buildup of carbon, powder, lead and copper, totally fouling the barrel, a stiffer bronze brush is ideal. Start from the breech end and work to the muzzle. This keeps the dirt from being washed back into the action. Repeat as needed, depending on how dirty the barrel is. Let the solvent sit in the barrel for 10 to 15 minutes to allow it to work, to soften and dissolve any fouling.
Now, run the brush through the barrel again and again, as often as necessary to remove all the softened gunk. Once you have removed the bulk of the dirt, run a cloth patch down the barrel to push out any excess carbon. Remove the dirty patch and replace it with a clean one for every pass through the barrel—again, working from breech to muzzle. Run a clean patch through the barrel as many times as it takes to clean out the residue. I repeat this process until the patch comes out clean.
Depending on how many rounds were shot through the gun since it was last cleaned, you may need to run through these steps another time. Six or seven shots through a deer rifle in a season is far different than 500 or so through an AR rifle or a semi-automatic handgun used in police training.
The final step to a clean gun is a very light lubrication. Too much oil is definitely bad; guns do not operate well swimming in heavy gun oil. In colder weather, especially, the oil can harden, clogging actions and affecting performance. Using a soft, clean, cotton cloth, wipe down all metal parts with genuine gun oil. Run another lightly oiled patch through the barrel.
Now, your gun is properly cleaned, ready for storage and your next time afield, or to the range.
When storing guns, do not store them in any kind of sealed case. Moisture can build up in these cases, causing rust to develop. Long guns should be stored standing up in a locked, secure place. For safety’s sake, keep the ammunition in a separate place from the guns. Check the guns occasionally to make sure no surface rust has developed. If you continue to maintain your guns after each use, they will be ready when you need them.