How Do I Clean A Shotgun?

After a day of hunting, what do you like to do: Get your boots off and sit down with a drink? Make dinner? Relax and pet the dogs?

It’s safe to say cleaning your shotgun is way down on the list. Thanks to modern ammunition, that’s OK. Breaking down your shotgun every evening and cleaning it thoroughly isn’t necessary unless it has gotten wet during the day.

Old school shotgun shells used black powder and corrosive primers. Fouling left behind by the powder attracted moisture while the primers deposited corrosive salts. Both caused rust and required almost immediate attention. Failure to do so is why so many old side-by-side are as pocked marked as country roads.

Modern ammunition, with its smokeless powders and corrosion-free primers, solved these problems. For us, it’s enough to do to a quick clean at day’s end before returning a gun to its case and moving on to more enjoyable things.

Getting Started

To do a quick clean, you’ll need the kind of basic gun care gear found in most cleaning kits:

  • A two- or three-piece cleaning rod threaded for brushes and other fittings
  • A couple wool mops to swab bores with powder solvent and oil
  • A bronze bore brush for scrubbing the inside of the barrels
  • A soft bristled brush for cleaning grime and gunk from the action, chamber rims, and anywhere else you find it
  • Some brand of gun oil and powder solvent
  • A silicone impregnated cloth

For A Quick Clean

Start by laying out all your supplies on a table or workbench. Then break your shotgun down into its main parts and go through these five steps.

  1. Look your entire gun over for blood spots, fingerprints, mud and grime. If you see any, wipe it away.
  2. Push the bronze brush down the barrel (or barrels) a few times to clear away fouling and residue.
  3. Take a bore mop, add a few drops of powder solvent, and push it through the barrel several times.
  4. Take a second bore mop, add a few drops of gun oil to it, and push it through the barrels.
  5. Wipe the entire gun down with a silicone impregnated cloth or cloth with a touch of gun oil on it.

Rust Never Rests

At the end of the hunting season, you should give your shotgun a thorough cleaning. For this, lay out the supplies mentioned above. To them, add a finger-high stack of round, flannel gun cleaning patches, some steel wool, and old tooth brush, some Q-tips, and bore solvent.

Traditionally, people used a solvent called Hoppe’s No. 9 to clean their bores. But while No. 9 is great on powder residue (and smells awesome), it doesn’t work well on wad fouling. Today’s one-piece wads leave behind traces of fouling every time you fire your gun. Moisture can get under this fouling and lead to rust. To remove the fouling, you’ll need one of the special bore cleaning solvents available at any gunshop.

Back to the thorough cleaning. Once you have all your supplies, spread them out on a table or workbench. Then take break down your shotgun and with your cleaning rod, work the bronze brush through the barrel a couple times. Then pull it free, splash some solvent on a cleaning patch, wrapping it around the bronze brush, and run the whole thing through the barrel a couple more times. Pause to give the solvent time to work.

After a few minutes, it’s time to go after heavy fouling and residue in in barrels. To do this, wrap some fine steel wool around the bronze brush and ran the whole through the barrels several times. Then swap the steel wool for a clean flannel patch and repeat.

Your first patch will come out of the barrels black. Keep swapping and repeating until one comes away almost clean. Then put a bit of gun oil on a bore mop, attach it the rod, and run it down the barrel.

Then it’s time to give the exterior of the gun a good cleaning. Blood, sweat, and fingerprints can lead to corrosion, while dust and dirt are abrasive, especially when they work their way into oil and form a kind of lapping paste.

To get rid of all of it, grab the Q-tips, the toothbrush, and a cotton rag. Scrutinize the exterior of the barrel. On all types of shotguns, look over the action and the chamber rims. If you’re cleaning a side-by-side or over under, pay close attention to the ribs, forend loop, bites on the lumps and ejector rods. Wipe away anything suspect with a Q-tip or the cloth. If it’s stubborn, give it a gentle scrubbing with the toothbrush plus a teardrop of solvent. Wipe again.

Next, check the forend, stock, and checkering. All sorts of muck can end up on a stock and in the checkering— from pine sap to mud from a wet dog. While most won’t do much harm to the wood, they will do harm if they find their way onto the metal. Evict them with a few sweeps from the toothbrush.

Once your gun is clean, you’ll want to lubricate it. Do this wherever metal meets metal, and use a lubricant that’s waterproof and designed to stay put in all kinds of weather. Petroleum-based oils run off metal--especially if you apply too much. This can gum up your gun. It can also work its way into the wood and rot the forend and stock.

The final step is to wipe down the entire gun to remove any remaining residue or fingerprints. A silicon-impregnated cloth is great for this. It will clean the metal and wood while also leaving behind a protective, rust inhibiting finish.

After You’ve Come Clean

Once your gun is clean, there’s still another step one more step to take to prevent rust and corrosion: Properly storage. If you put gun away for months, dust and humidity can lead to rust--even if you put the gun away clean.

To prevent against this, always slip your cleaned gun into a silicone-impregnated sock before you put it away. This will keep dust and other particles from settling on it. And try to store your gun in an environment where you can control the temperature and humidity--like a safe in your basement. You can add moisture and humidity controlling devices to any safe, and if it’s in your basement, you can keep the whole thing at a constant temperature.

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