Taking Care of Business: Gun Cleaning Done Right
One of Elvis Presley’s favorite sayings was “TCB,” which stands for “Taking care of business.” While we’re not exactly sure what The King meant, we do know that for a shooter, taking care of business means taking care of your firearm.
As hunting season is just getting started, most firearms are still safely tucked away in the gun cabinet waiting for that first use. Unfortunately, many of those weapons were put to bed needing a bath worse than your five-year-old after he discovered the joys of a deep mud puddle.
That's why gun cleaning is a vital task BEFORE hunting season if you want a properly performing and accurate weapon. Without proper care, your weapon will eventually fail, often at the most inopportune moment.
Just like 14-year-old boys discussing women on a street corner, there is much disinformation, myth and misunderstanding about the act of cleaning firearms. Add in the manufacturers hype about cleaning products and you end up with many shooters who bewildered about the best way to remove the crud and grime from their blunderbuss.
First and foremost is safety. All ammunition should be accounted for, stored away from your workbench and the gun triple-checked to make sure it is unloaded. There is absolutely no reason for the old “I didn’t know the gun was loaded”-type accident. We consider all weapons always loaded, all the time!
As a health precaution, I also wear nitrile gloves while cleaning to prevent absorption of mercury and all those other toxic substances that end up on your skin while cleaning a firearm.
After your safety preparations are complete, you can then dismantle the gun. If you don’t know proper field-stripping procedures for your weapon, pull out that dusty owner’s manual or visit the Internet. With a bit of research, you will undoubtedly find a description of the proper technique regardless of weapon.
Once the gun is apart, we open the festivities with solvent. While there are literally hundreds of types on the market, we are big fans of the traditional Hoppe’s #9 for this part of the service. When buying a cleaner, be careful before purchasing any of the super-aggressive cleaners. I have seen rifle barrels ruined by using strong copper-removing chemicals because the solvent doesn’t really know when it is done eating copper and will continue onto the steel of the barrel, albeit at a slower rate. Abrasive cleaners and complete degreasers shouldn’t ever be used except in special, controlled situations and then only under the direction of a licensed physician or local religious leader.
The first order of business is to run a solvent-soaked patch into the barrel to soak. The longer exposure will help loosen the stubborn metal, plastic and powder fouling. Set the barrel aside and begin work on the action of the gun.
Be careful when it comes to slopping solvent around. While copious amounts should be used when scrubbing away dirt and fouling, you must use care to remove every trace afterward. One of my favorite cleaning accessories is a box of cotton swabs. They are perfect for wiping and soaking up chemicals from every nook and cranny so long as you take care to remove any lint that gets caught on sharp corners.
Pay particular attention to rails and bearing surfaces. These are the locations where even a bit of dirt or a stray metal shaving can slow things down enough to cause a malfunction. Also wipe out magazine wells and tubes with a dry cloth but never be tempted to give them a quick swipe with any oil because it will simply draw dust into a gun-stopping sludge. Don’t forget to give the overall outside of the weapon a good wiping to remove invisible skin oils and acids that will eventually cause rust, even to a stainless steel or polymer-coated gun.
Once the other parts are sparkling clean, turn your attention to the barrel. It requires a scrub with solvent-soaked patches, followed by a copper brush and then dry patches until they exit the barrel without any residue. Old-time shooters frequently admonish you to make a cleaning pass for every round fired. We don’t necessarily subscribe to this formula but we do frequently see shooters who stop working before the barrel is truly clean. Take the time to make a few more passes.
Work from the breech whenever possible and protect the muzzle of the gun. Should you damage the crown (the end of the barrel) of rifle or pistol, your weapon will never again shoot accurately. This is why steel cleaning rod and brushes should be used with exceptional care as they can easily damage this critical area of the gun.
After everything is clean, you need to lubricate before reassembly. This is a topic of considerable debate among shooters but experience has proven that “less is more.” Unless your weapon requires copious lubrication (such as the bolt carrier assembly on AR-platform rifles), you are better off to gently lube with a very thin film of product. Trigger assembles, unless directed otherwise by the owner’s manual, should be gently cleaned but not lubricated.
Don’t use WD-40 or “3-in-1 oil”. These are good products but not in guns; use oil specifically designed for the service requirements of firearms.
Another frequently misused product is “CLP” (“Clean-Lube-Protect”) or such similar one-shot items. While hosing out the gun with these wonder potions will indeed work, it is frequently an invitation to malfunction because no amount of squirting will ever replace good old-fashioned scrubbing. Since they are a "multi-purpose" product, you should also realize the lubricating properties aren't as robust as gun oil.
Before you take that gun out of the rack, and every time you bring it back in from the field, Take Care of Business by giving it a good, thorough and properly-performed cleaning. Your weapon will thank you.