There are probably as many opinions on the proper way to clean a firearm as there are elbows in the world. I have read and watched every expert on the topic I can find, and after exhaustive research I have determined that the best way to clean a firearm is to not do it. Wipe off your sweaty fingerprints and put it away. Seriously, chances are pretty good that we clean our guns way too often. The drive to clean has been imparted into us by our ancestors who fought against the corrosive effects of the old school primers and powder that was very dirty and attracted moisture to rust and pit the barrels of their guns. The components we have today are inert and will not corrode your bore no matter how long you go without scrubbing it out.
Lets take a look at the bore of your rifle. No matter how expensive, all barrels have some imperfections and tool marks in them. When you fire bullets down a clean barrel, jacket material is torn off to fill in the imperfections in the barrel and smoothes out the rough spots, or “conditions” it. That is why everyone agrees that you need to fire a couple of shots from a clean barrel before you hunt or seriously compete with it. Until the barrel is conditioned by the passing bullets, it is going to shoot to a different point of aim. So why scrub it all out, just so you can put it back in before returning to your best accuracy?
Also, cleaning is not a benign activity. No matter what you use in the cleaning process, you are making changes to your barrel. And if poor techniques are used, you can cause serious damage. Cleaning rods can wear grooves in the barrel, and it isn’t very hard to mess up the crown of the barrel which seriously affects accuracy. In an interview with Long Range Shooters of Utah, available on Youtube, John Krieger of Krieger Barrels states that the less cleaning you do the better. George Gardner, builder of GA Precision Rifles agrees.
“Aha!” You say, bench rest shooters are notoriously fastidious about cleaning. That is true, but you need to remember that they also get pretty much unlimited sighters during a match to recondition the bore after cleaning. Also, the bench rest crowd change barrels more often than you change socks. Take a look at the Precision Rifle dudes and dudettes. They are trying to hit little steel plates way out there with no practice shots. They will go 1000 rounds or more without cleaning.
Sadly, the day will come when accuracy does begin to fall off. When this happens is individual to the barrel. Or, you will subject your gun to wet and nasty conditions and it will need to be properly cleaned to prevent rusting. When that day comes, there is a right way to go about it.
The right way to clean
As we all know, every good “how to” starts with a list of the proper equipment. If you are cleaning a bolt action a properly fitting bore guide is cheap and worth its weight in gold. If you have to clean from the muzzle, get a muzzle guard. A good quality, one piece, coated cleaning rod is a great investment that will last you a life time if your kids don’t use it to sword fight. The good old jointed rods are just crap and should be avoided like the plague. Quality jags, and or properly fitting bore brushes are worth the money as well. You can buy linen or cotton patches, but sometimes I cut my patches out of old cotton shirts. Finally, some cleaning solvent. Most of the solvents are the market today work just fine. I tend to shy away from abrasive and ammonia based solvents because they have the potential to damage barrels.
As I said last time, there are more than a few opinions on the best way to clean a barrel, and I will say right now that many of them are probably just fine. However, there are some things you need to keep in mind. First of all, whenever possible it is best to clean from the chamber end of the barrel. This minimizes the chance of damaging the crown. The crown is there for more than just good looks. It gives the last gentle guiding hand to the bullet as it leaves the barrel. If the crown has blemishes or burrs, accuracy will suffer. This is pretty easy to do with bolt action rifles, but some disassembly will be needed for semi auto’s and just isn’t possible on most revolvers, pumps, and lever actions, but you are going to use a muzzle guard and will be ok.
Soak a patch in solvent, and using a properly fitting jag, push it through the barrel. The patch should be snug enough to catch on the rifling and cause the cleaning rod to rotate as it passes down the barrel. It should not be so tight that it causes the rod to flex. The bowed rod will rub on the interior of the bore and do bad things. Now do the manly thing and read the instructions on your bottle of solvent. They will tell you how long to let it sit. Resist the urge to shove patch after patch down the bore. Let the solvent do its thing. While you are waiting, take the time to look over the action and other moving parts. Use a solvent soaked rag to wipe out any fouling you see. An old toothbrush works well to get in the hard to reach areas, and then wipe off the extra solvent and your sweaty fingerprints with a clean rag. Apply a VERY light coating of gun oil to bolt lugs and other moving parts. More is not better than less. When you come back, run a dry path down the bore and another solvent soaked patch and let it sit a while. Repeat until a dry patch doesn’t show the blue-green hue of copper, and you’re done. If you plan to store the firearm for an extended period of time it is a good idea to run a final patch, LIGHTLY soaked in gun oil down the bore before putting it away.
Rod Carpenter is an avid sportsman, certified registered nurse anesthetist and president of the Bear Creek Shooting Range. Contact the authors of this column at firstname.lastname@example.org.