Coming Clean

Coming Clean

By Ralph M. Lermayer

Gun cleaning considerations and tricks beyond the norm.

Photo: Complete cleaning kits like this one from Hoppes come with everything you need to keep your guns in top shape. Note the Bore Snake, for one-pass field cleaning

If you are one of those rare individuals who enjoys cleaning guns, then drop me an e-mail, I’ve got a pile of fun waiting for you. If you’re like most of us, you find cleaning a chore. There is no way to make it fun.

Most hunters have a basic gun cleaning kit. Using them is pretty straightforward, but there are certain cleaning considerations and tricks that go beyond the norm.

Dirty vs. Dangerous

Dirty tactical firearms can cost lives. For the rest of us, dirty guns rob accuracy, ruin hardware and cause cycling problems — a nuisance, but rarely dangerous, with one exception: barrel leading.

You may choose to be lackadaisical about other cleaning, but if you shoot non-jacketed lead bullets, mostly in hunting handguns (although .22 rimfires are not a problem), buildup of lead in the barrel can ruin a gun, cause injury, or worse.

Coming CleanAs lead accumulates, the bore gets tighter and pressure can skyrocket. Revolver forcing cones start spitting lead, and things can get dangerous fast.

Most bore solvents like Hoppe’s #9 will get the lead out. Mechanical devices like the Lewis Lead Remover available from Brownells and MidwayUSA can dig it out fast. If you shoot lead bullets, pay careful attention to lead buildup.


This is the one class of firearms that has no tolerance for accumulated crud. Semiauto rifles, shotguns and rimfire rifles and handguns start giving you grief when left uncleaned. The fix is a complete takedown, scrub and reassembly.

That’s not an option on a dove or duck hunt, prairie dog shoot or long days at the skeet range. Spray cleaners for semiauto actions are widely available and offer a fast fix in the field.

Don’t be tempted to use carburetor cleaners. They will eat up some parts and stock finishes. Sprays like WD-40 lubricate well, but don’t cut crud. Gun oils and spray cleaners designed for firearms are a better choice.

Spray liberally, and follow with a very light coat of oil. That can keep you going until you can clean the firearm thoroughly.

Coming CleanCopper Fouling

This sneaky accuracy thief gets harder to deal with the longer you ignore it. The trouble is, you can’t always see it without a borescope. The biggest giveaway is telltale reddish smudges around the muzzle crown or red streaking in the bore.

I can’t tell you how many rifles I’ve picked up dirt cheap over the years because they just wouldn’t shoot because of copper buildup. If accuracy in a good-shooting gun goes south, put copper fouling at the top of the suspect list.

You can scrub copper fouling until you’re blue in the face to no avail. You’ll ruin a barrel crown before you get copper out this way. Chemicals are your best answer.
Copper removers are widely available, some mild and some very aggressive metal removers that will eat your bore if left in too long. I prefer Sweets 7.62 Bore Cleaner for mean stuff and Montana Extreme Copper Killer for moderate fouling.

Coming CleanBrushes & Patches 

The right tools make a big difference. For brushes, get the proper caliber and buy them in bulk from your local gun shop or mail-order supplier. Buying them in small quantities at a time at a time gets real expensive given how fast you go through them.

Brushes wear out quickly, especially with aggressive solvents, and if they don’t tightly fit the bore, you will have to do a lot of unnecessary cleaning.

Toss the worn ones, or use them for a smaller caliber. Worn .30-cal brushes work well in .270s, and worn .270s work in 6.5 on down. Just keep ’em tight.

Tight is right, even with patches. When swabbing a .30-caliber bore, try wrapping your patch around a .243 bore brush, another great use for the worn brushes. The wire fingers will push that cotton into the corners of lands and grooves to get solvent in or out.

Buy patches in bulk in the biggest size you need, then cut them down for smaller bores.

Pull It or Regret It

While many hunters cringe at the thought, the stock must be pulled from the action at least at the end of the season.

This includes removing a shotgun’s fore-end and the sideplates from handgun grips. That’s where moisture collects and rusts barrels.

You’ll have to check your rifle’s zero after removing the stock, but that’s a lot better than a ruined barrel.

Periodically break the firearm down and clean and lightly oil the parts you can’t see from the outside.

Coming CleanEasy Oil

More gun problems are caused by too much oil than too little of it. Oil attracts and holds dust and dirt, and seeps between wood and metal where it can eventually soften and ruin wood fitting.

Oil sparingly, and use dry lubricants or silicone based options where   possible. Products like Kroil, Tipton TR, Ballistol and Rem Oil go a long way with just a drop, and some like Kroil and Ballistol will actually lift fouling and minor rust.

The Last Wipe

A silicone or oil rag kept in a plastic bag in your gun case will save you a pile of grief. Sweaty fingerprints soon turn to rust if not wiped off, and nothing beats a final wipe with a soft silicone rag to get them off the rifle, handgun or shotgun. Don’t put them up without it.

Most of us grew up with the smell of Hoppes #9. It’s still a great choice for general gun cleaning, but fouling from modern loads often takes extreme measures to remove.

Cleaning is a chore, but well-maintained guns last several lifetimes while neglected ones go to the scrap heap. Keep them clean, and they’ll keep you in the hunt.

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This article was first printed in the October 2011 edition of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine. Subscribe today to have GunHunter delivered to your home.

Copyright 2021 by Buckmasters, Ltd.

Copyright 2020 by Buckmasters, Ltd