Avoiding Rifle Deterioration

Avoid rifle deterioration! Take proper care of your rifle, and it will last you a lifetime.

The time between hunting seasons is a great time to not only wistfully ponder that new rifle you want to purchase — but also how to care for it after you have it safely tucked away in your gun safe. But if you have purchased — or are about to purchase — a new firearm, there’s an important first step — the break-in period.

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The Break-In

It’s vital to break-in a new rifle in order to maximize its performance down the road. Most custom rifle- or barrel-makers recommend a break-in period that varies only marginally. This initial break-in is designed to ensure that later on the barrel is easier to clean as well as potentially assisting in maintaining accuracy longer between cleaning. The process is often patterned after a 20-round break-in with a thorough cleaning after each round for the first five shots and then after each three-shot group for the next 15 shots.

I have seen some manufacturers recommend an even more demanding break-in session, involving cleaning after each shot for the first 10 and then a follow-up cleaning after each of five two-shot groups, concluding with two five-shot groups. Despite the fact that many off-the-shelf factory-built rifles do not provide the buyer with a break-in regime, either of these regimes will get the job done. If a particular manufacturer’s recommendation varies, stick with their prescription, as they are unquestionably on target for their particular rifle.

Clean-Up Time

Your rifle has three principal enemies. They are excessive fouling, moisture and wear-and-tear. First, I can’t overemphasize the fact that a clean bore will out-shoot a barrel congested with copper fouling or powder residue. Unfortunately, there is also no simple way to determine the rate of fouling by the number of shots fired, as every rifle will accumulate copper buildup at a slightly different rate. I have had some that necessitated cleaning after as few as five shots while others would go for a whole silhouette match of 40 rounds without showing any signs of significant fouling. Thus, in addition to cleaning after every use, keep a watchful eye on the muzzle and throat of your rifle. If you begin to notice copper starting to build up on your lands, it’s time to get the cleaning gear out.

There is a multitude of rifle cleaning products out there to choose from, so here are my recommendations. I highly recommend one-piece coated rods, a bore guide, phosphor-bronze brushes, appropriate jags for each calibre, commercially cut and sized cotton flannel patches for the calibres to be cleaned and a quality solvent.

Additionally, for those rifles that cannot be cleaned from the breach, such as many autoloaders and lever actions, I would recommend the use of a muzzle guide that fits into the muzzle much like a bore guide. It not only centres the rod but also protects the lands at the muzzle during cleaning.

When choosing a rod to clean your rifle, look not only for a coated one-piece rod but also one that is as close in diameter to the bore being cleaned as is possible. Too thin a rod and it may flex in the barrel, which could cause some scuffing of the lands that over time can result in a loss of accuracy. I carry a half-dozen one-piece rifle rods in three diameters and another three or four take-down rods of various diameters. The latter I reserve for hunting trips where a one-piece rod is neither practical nor convenient.

Next, let’s discuss solvents that are best for a rifle or shotgun. I actually keep a number on hand such as Shooters Choice, Hoppe’s # 9 and even a couple of ammonia-based solvents such as Barnes CR-10 so that I can match the solvent to the cleaning level required. I do however stress that while ammonia-based solvents are great for the tough jobs, be cautious as extended exposure can be harmful to wood and metal finishes. Barnes, in fact, does not recommend leaving CR-10 in a barrel beyond 15 minutes. This is good advice. I usually break up my solvent use into three categories.

One, I use Hoppe’s #9 for the lighter cleaning jobs where powder fouling is the principal concern, such as when cleaning my .22 calibre rifles. Two, when cleaning most of my centrefire rifles, I stick strictly to Shooters Choice as it will gently remove most copper fouling and can be left in the barrel for longer periods to slowly remove tougher copper fouling. Three, I only resort to an ammonia-based product if I have either excessive fouling or if I happen to be in a situation where time is of the essence.

After inserting your bore guide, run a proper-sized jag, which is fitted with a flannel cotton patch soaked with solvent, through your barrel from the chamber to the muzzle in order to remove residual powder fouling. Do not bring the fouled patch back through the barrel. If there is excessive powder fouling, you may want to repeat this process until the barrel is free of powder residue.

After allowing the barrel to soak for a minute, soak a calibre-correct bronze brush with solvent and run it back-and-forth through the barrel at least 10 times. Keep a watchful eye on your brushes and replace them as soon as they become worn.

Allow the barrel to then soak for 10 minutes or longer, depending on the level of fouling, and then run two dry patches through the barrel — check each for the telltale blue residue of copper. The first of these dry patches should be run through the barrel in one long stroke. The second should be pushed through more slowly to pick up any remaining fouling. Repeat this process until the patches come out free of any copper residue. Between each cleaning process I additionally wipe down the rod with a cloth to remove any lingering residue. This is also a good time to check the muzzle and throat to ensure that your barrel is copper free.

Once you are satisfied that your rifle barrel is clean, wipe away any remaining solvent from the muzzle and action area and then run a patch lightly lubricated with gun oil through the barrel.

Last, clean out the lug recesses and lightly lube the bolt and lugs with high quality gun grease. I additionally apply a thin film of oil to the exterior of the barrel and action with a lightly oiled cloth and, if the rifle has a wood stock, I also apply a light application of lemon oil to the stock. The rifle is now ready for storage. Just remember to run a dry patch through your rifle before the next time you shoot it.

This is a good time to check that your scope lenses are dust free. If not, using a clean cloth or a lens cloth carefully clean both lenses. Failure to do so can mean excessive sun flare or a distorted sight picture. I then always cover both lenses with scope covers so I can rest assured that when I next head off into the field I’m getting the quality of sight picture I paid for.

Storage Know-How

Now let’s examine moisture and rifle storage. Simply put, never put a rifle away wet even for one night and don’t store it in a damp place. I not only ensure that my rifles are protected with a coat of oil during storage but I also maintain a dehumidifier in the form of reusable Silica Gel boxes in my gun safe. The old adage of “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” certainly applies here, as moisture can lead to rust, an absolutely preventable devastator of exposed metal. If you are planning long-term storage of one or more of your rifles, you may also want to consider one of the new gun cases or gun sleeves that Birchwood Casey introduced in a few years back that provide absolute protection from rust for up to 20 years.

New Products

Two of the best rifle products for minor repairs of scuffs, nicks and scratches I have found are from Birchwood Casey. The first is Stock Sheen & Conditioner, a compound that will not only readily bring back its original luster, but will also remove minor rubs and scratches from the stock.

Next is their Presto Gun Blue Pen. With it I have repaired more minor nicks, rubs and scratches on barrels and actions than I care to remember. It is remarkable how quickly and efficiently these minor imperfections resulting from use can be eliminated, restoring the bluing on your rifle to its near original condition. www.birchwoodcasey.com

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