One of my hunting buddies, Mark, cleaning the barrel of his shotgun.
Firearms were used by our ancestors to put food on the table and for defense. Many of us use them for that purpose today. One thing our ancestors knew, and something some people today have forgotten, is the importance of keeping your firearm clean and ready for use. If not well maintained, your rifle or shotgun is nothing more than an expensive paperweight.
I grew up in a household that had firearms, and I learned at an early age to both respect and to take care of them. I learned to shoot using an old .410 bolt-action shotgun and with that gun I helped put food on the table. I learned to break that shotgun down and cleaned every part after use. Today I only own one firearm, a Mossberg 500, 12 gauge pump, and it is the only one I need. I know that shotgun like the back of my hand. I know what it can do, and what it cannot. I hunt deer, upland game and waterfowl with that gun, and believe me, nothing says home defense like a 12-gauge. I rely heavily upon that shotgun, so I make sure it is properly maintained. I know that my shotgun is up to the task when I need it.
Cleaning your firearm on a regular basis is the easiest and least expensive way of making sure that it will work when you need it to. I know people who only clean their firearms a few times per year, no matter how much they use them. That could be a dangerous and a costly mistake. You have no idea how many times I have seen firearms, either on the shooting range or in the field, malfunction simply due to improper, or lack of, basic maintenance.
There are two types of maintenance for your firearm; field stripping and a complete breakdown. Consult your firearm’s manual before doing either one. Mossberg recommends that gun owner’s only field strip their shotguns and leave complete breakdowns to properly trained gunsmiths. Unless something goes wrong with your firearm, there should be no need to do a complete breakdown and if you clean your firearm regularly, there should be not be any major problems. Before I go any further, what I am about to say should be common sense, but I am going to say it anyway. Make sure your gun is unloaded before cleaning it. How many stories are in the news about someone shooting themselves or someone else while cleaning their gun? The excuse is always, “I didn’t know it was loaded.” That is ridiculous and that person should not even own a gun. Just make sure that your gun is unloaded.
Spray degreaser being applied to the receiver.
Before you begin cleaning, it is important to have all of your supplies ready. Bore brushes and patches, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners, and cleaning products should be gathered and within arm reach. About cleaning products; there are hundreds out there and some work better than others. Always use a high quality product on your firearm. I have found those products put out by Outer’s and by Shooter’s Choice work best for me. Hoppe’s also puts out a good product.
After a day in the field, whether I have fired a shot or not, I always field strip my shotgun and give it a cleaning. I start by laying a towel or newspapers on the floor. I prefer to work on the floor because you can’t drop and lose any pieces if you are already on the floor. Separating the barrel from the rest of the shotgun, I set it aside and begin to work on the receiver. The first thing I do is spray the trigger assembly and other hard to reach places with cleaner/solvent. The spray cleaner cleans out any dirt or fouling that may accumulate there. Then using a cotton swab or a pipe cleaner, I remove particles broken free by the cleaner. Using a clean cotton cloth I usually take some bore cleaner and clean the receiver. An old toothbrush works well to scrub the crevices. Once clean wipe off any excess cleaner and then put a light coat of gun oil on everything I can get to. I can’t overstate the importance of wiping off any solvent or cleaner from the firearm, especially from wooden stocks and forearms, as they will ruin the finish if left on.
Cleaning the choke tube
Setting aside the receiver, I then begin work on the barrel. If your shotgun has removable choke tubes, remove them and clean separately. I clean the choke tube first and then replace it. Mossberg highly recommends to never clean the barrel without the choke tube in place as doing so can damage the fine threads in the barrel. To clean the barrel attach the bore brush to your cleaning rod, dip the brush into the bore solvent and then run it through the barrel a few times to loosen dirt and fouling. A word of caution here. If you are cleaning a smooth bore firearm, it doesn’t matter in which direction to run the brush. If you are cleaning barrels with rifling, then you should run from the back to the front, or in the direction of the rifling. After the bore has been scrubbed, remove the brush and run clean patches through the bore. Do this until the patches come out clean. Repeat this process as needed. Don’t overlook the handgrips or forearm stock. Wipe these parts with a clean dry cloth. This is important as dirt does get trapped in these parts. Once clean, lightly oil and then re-assemble. As some parts can be put back wrong, double check your work often and then, when fully assembled, work the mechanical aspects of your firearm (without ammunition) to make sure all mechanical parts work properly. Lightly oil the entire outside of the firearm and you are done.
A firearm that doesn’t function properly when you need it to is basically worthless. A little time spent now is well worth the investment. There is no such thing as cleaning your firearm too much. A clean firearm is a safe one, for both you and those around you. Our ancestors knew the importance of a clean, well-functioning firearm, and so should you.