How to Clean Your Rifle

News & Tips: How to Clean Your Rifle

Before we get started, I'm going to make a disclaimer: There will be one group of people that do not go to half the work that I'm going to suggest. Then there will be another group that totally flips out and thinks that I barely touched the subject. By all rights, the method that I'm going to detail below will be somewhat a middle of the road approach. I'll tell you where I started and where I have ended up.


Rifle Cleaning Tools

It's important to keep your rifle clean in order to prevent hang-fire, which is when the firing pin hangs after pulling the trigger.

Fifty years ago, if you ordered a gun from the NRA it arrived packed in some kind of gooey grease that was a mess. We'd stick them in a tub of hot water to remove it., but a lot of the new guns would have some kind of a thick grease in them.


Now when you buy a gun, most of them come pretty much shoot ready. But my gunsmith buddy Jim Combe in Nampa, Idaho, strongly recommends that I let him hand lap my new factory guns. He says that the custom guns will be hand lapped but not the factory ones. He uses an abrasive compound in grease which will polish the barrel. The reason that he does this is to remove any minute burrs.


In the old days we'd run a patch with a few drops of oil down the barrel every night after hunting. Then we'd run an oiled rag over the outside and call it good. We've come light years in the last 50 years.


Fifteen years ago if you asked someone how to properly clean your rifle they would have recommended running a rag down the barrel with some Sweet's 7 on it; let it set for 15 minutes to work and then run a brass brush down it to break loose any fouling. Then run a rag down it to clean it up and repeat until the rag came out clean. You want to remove all fouling. Copper will leave a bluish green on the rag.


I once went on an unbelievable prairie dog hunt with three guys over in Wyoming. They all had custom made rifles a lot nicer than mine. One guy I bet would run 20 rags down his barrel every few hours. Some people are fanatics.


Years later my brother-in-law that is a lot better shot than I had a few guns made by Speedy Gonzales that I think was a six-time bench rest champion shooter. Somewhere in this time period it seemed that people soured a little on Sweet's 7. If you don't remove all of it after cleaning it can actually hurt your rifling they say. It can also discolor your stock if you drip some on it. Speedy recommended a concoction of half Sweet's 7 and half Hoppe's 9. That's what I use now. So to play it safe, after you have cleaned your barrel, run a few dry rags down the barrel. I then run a few patches with Hoppe's 9 and call it good.


But, let's back up a little. Years ago we'd pile some blankets on the kitchen table and lay our rifle on it to do our work. Take my advice and make it a lot easier on yourself. Buy a portable maintenance center to clean your rifles and shotguns on. I bought an MTM Case-Gar RMC-1 and love it.


Gun Vise
A gun vise makes it much easier to clean rifles.

It has a "V" to hold your rifle stable, slots for your cleaning rods and drawers to hold cleaning supplies. I use an old ammo can to hold most of my supplies, but I also have a Hoppe's case that is nice. For cleaning your rifles you'll want a one-piece soft metal coated rod. You don't want a hard stainless rod because it could damage your rifling. A few years ago I got a Hoppe's Elite cleaning rod. It's nice. It has a swivel handle that is removable and I can use it on my pistol and shotgun rod. To clean your .17 HMR you'll need to purchase an extra thin rod.


Brass brushes are relatively cheap. Use them until they can be easily pushed down the barrel which indicates that they are worn out. You don't have to use store bought patches. You can use old sheets or flannel shirts but it sure is handy to have store bought ones that are pre-cut for your various sized calibers.


The crown of your rifle is the last spot that the bullet touches as it leaves your rifle. You want to make sure that you don't damage the crown. For this purpose you clean your rifle from the back. Remove the bolt and put in a bore guide. A bore guide slides in your action like a bolt but it has a hole through it which allows your rod to slide through it.


Again, some people are fanatics. I have one buddy that pushes his brush through, unscrews it when it exits the end of the barrel and pulls it back out, screws back in the rod and then repeats. He does this because he's worried about damaging the crown. I don't think that this is necessary. I run it back and forth.


Of course on automatics you must enter from the opposite end. Be careful so you don't damage your crown. You must also enter the business end on your revolvers as well.


So to make sure that you're with me on the process, I make sure that my gun is unloaded, lay in in my gun holder, remove the bolt and slide in the bore guide. I then run a patch down the barrel with half Sweet's 7 and half Hoppe's 9 and let it set for 5-15 minutes.


Now I run a patch down it to remove any loose fouling. Then run a brush back and forth 4-7 times. I then run a patch through it. Then run a brush again with some Hoppe's 9 on it. You may want to brush it once more. Then run a few dry patches through it. Then run some patches with Hoppe's 9 through it until they come out clean. I then run a few patches through it with Hoppe's 9 to ensure that I've removed all of the Sweet's 7.


Then I rub a patch with a few drops of Hoppe's 9 over the outside of the gun. After you've cleaned it, don't touch the metal. Your fingers have salt on them and can rust it. It should now be clean and ready to store or use again.


But whoa, what about the action and breach? You need to remove the bore guide and slip in a big rag into the action and the chamber. Clean it out good. Then I put a drop of oil on a rag and wipe down the bolt. The bolt gathers a lot of dust while hunting and you don't want that grinding into the action.


On my auto pistols I use a drop of Tetra Grease on the slide to keep it lubricated. Now you should be good to go.


To clean your scope, blow the dust off the lenses and then rinse them off with a good lense cleaner. Don't use toilet paper or paper towels because they will scratch them and wear off the protective coatings. Use a lenses rag. Leupold also makes small pen sized scope cleaning brushes.


RedHeadDeluxeGunCleaningKit 2012
A gun cleaning kit, like this RedHead Deluxe Gun Cleaning Kit, is an easy way to get all the cleaning supplies you need.

For backcountry cleaning there are also bore snakes which are like a string that you drop down your barrel. They have a built in brush. You apply a few drops of oil to the string and it will get you by until you get back to town.


One time I took my 87-year-old buddy bear hunting. We didn't get 10 yards out of camp the first morning and I spotted a bear. I told him to shoot it. He threw up his rifle and nothing happened. He started to lower it and it shot off and hit about 6-feet below the bear. Even though he's old, Roy is a good shot so it surprised me that he had missed. He said it had hang fired. Hang firing is when you pull the trigger and the dropping of the firing pin is delayed due to being dirty and greasy.


We went home and a buddy helped me work on it. Gee, the bolt was horrible dirty. We got it cleaned up where it was working fine. I took it by Roy's house and asked him how long it had been since he'd cleaned it. He looked at me kinda puzzled and said, "Well Tom, you don't have to clean smokeless guns." wonder. No, they're not corrosive like blackpowder but you still have to clean them. So he missed a bear due to an unclean rifle.


One time we went chukar hunting in some super cold weather. Right away I stepped into a covey and dropped one, swung around to another one and nothing. The oil that I had used to clean it last time had gummed up in– the cold weather, and I had to hunt the rest of the day with a single shot. From now on when bird hunting I always carry a spray can to lubricate autos in case anyone has a jam-up. For a time period some of the spray cans had an ammonia base. You don't want to buy a spray oil with ammonia in it. Also use a low viscosity oil so it doesn't gum up in cold weather.


Moral to the story: If you properly clean your guns they will function as designed and last for many generations. If you don't, then even a good gun won't last for your lifetime. Take care of your guns. They're a valuable investment.