As the shooting season draws to a close, our memories of the left and rights, extreme high birds, good company and great times may well blur our responsibilities with regard our trusty shotguns and shooting equipment. Its so easy to put everything away with the intention of getting it all out again at the weekend and give it all a good clean before storing it until the next season, or convince ourselves that this year we really will go to the clay range on a weekly basis so we are better shots next season. The weekend however, never comes, and our shotguns, boots, cartridge bags, slips and other equipment rest where they were laid until the start of the next season. We’ve all been there and suffered the consequences. Its easy to blame the tools when things aren’t working but although unfashionable in this world of ever more ‘rights’, we as individuals have to take responsibility for our own equipment.
Let’s start with the shotgun. It is likely to be the most expensive part of your shooting equipment With the vast array of pull throughs and snakes, rods, oils, and brushes available online or in your local shooting shop there really isn’t any excuse for not being able to give the shotgun a really good clean. There is a reason why the army instills, to a religious degree, the need to have a clean weapon so it’s a surprise to me to hear from experienced guns that they never clean their guns. There are the privileged few who are fortunate to have a loader to clean their guns at the end of each day’s shooting. However, for the majority of us we need to do it ourselves.
To clean your shotgun properly its essential you dismantle at least to the stage where you have the barrels, foregrip, stock, and chokes separated. To break it down further than this you really need to have a good understanding of what you are doing. If you really want the trigger mechanism and firing pins cleaned, I suggest you get your local gun dealer’s gunsmith to do it. To clean the parts properly I recommend you have both standard cleaning fluids such as Napier or Remington along with some bore cleaner from someone like Bisley.
With the gun dismantled, inspect it closely to try and identify any damage. Now give all the metal parts, less the barrels, a good spray from the cleaning fluid and let it sit for a few minutes. For the barrels use a bore cleaner fluid to coat the insides and leave to soak. Next, get a small brush (a stiff toothbrush will do) and make sure you get the bristles into all the nooks and crannies to ensure the dirt, grit, old oil and carbon is detached from the metal. Set aside the stock, foregrip and chokes and now turn your attention to the barrels. I like to use a bore cleaner wire brush attached to a cleaning rod which in turn is fitted to a cordless drill. The area that I really want to clean is about mid-way down the barrels where the explosion from the cartridges leaves a large amount of debris. Its much worse when the cartridges used were cold which is a reason why you should always try to use cartridges that have been warned at least to room temperature before shooting. I actually put mine in my boiler room or on my Aga warming plate to get even more heat in them (not hot, just room temp!). Anyway, back to the cleaning. A bore cleaner brush is denser than the standard brush. Using the drill, you can get a much more vigorous clean. Believe me its required as the coating of foreign bodies on the inside of the barrel will affect the performance of the shotgun as well as shortening the life of the barrels.
Once the inside of the barrel has been cleaned, use a snake pull though or cleaning rod to clean through the full length of the barrel. I recently bought a Magic Bore cleaning rod from one of my local gun dealer (McCloys in Toomebridge), or should I say I was sold a couple by Donal! I have to say however, it’s a great device. Once you are happy point the barrels up to a light and look through from the other end. Once they are glistening clean inside you have achieved your aim.
Now turn your attention to the wood. Firstly, clean it down with a damp, not sodden, cloth and then dry it with a towel. To treat the wood, I use beeswax. I’m fortunate to get this from my own hives – yeah, I know! If you don’t have beeswax handy use a good furniture polish which doesn’t have silicon such as Original Wood Silk Silicon Free.
Apply the wax or polish to all exposed wood and rub in with a lint free cloth. The polish may need some time to dry. Whilst the polish dries, return to the metal parts and apply a thin coating of oil to all exposed and recessed parts, especially those that move such as the ejector rods or swivel points. The best way to do this is use a lightly coated cleaning cloth such as Bisley 4x2 cleaning cloth and then wiping the surface of the metal work to transfer the oil. For the recesses simply apply from the bottle using the drop nozzle. The inside of the barrels can be oiled by coating a mop brush and running it through the barrel. With everything clean, reassemble the shotgun.
The final thing, which I seriously urge you to do before putting the gun away in the cabinet is to fit snap caps and fire off the action. Not doing so will leave your firing pin springs compressed reducing the springs tension. The first time you will notice this has happened is on a gun line when you pull the trigger and get nothing more than a click rather than the expected bang. Looking at your cartridges you will see a strike mark on the percussion cap, but the cartridge will otherwise be unfired. You might then blame the fact that you couldn’t shoot the bird as you had been sold ‘duff’ cartridges. However, you now know the real reason!
So, the gun is cleaned and securely stored. Job done. Not so quick! What about your boots, slips, cartridge bag, wax jackets etc. All of these need some thorough cleaning and preventative maintenance. The cleaning bit is easy – we all know how to do that. Re-waxing is a little trickier. You can re-wax your own jackets if you feel confident enough, but you may also want to outsource that task. Your boots however are much easier. The most important stage for me is to make sure you take out the laces. If you don’t you can’t get to the inside of the tongue and it’s the joints of the leather that are going to fail first so these are the areas you really want to apply that expensive boot wax you were sold when you bought the boots. The good thing about that wax is that you can use it on all your other leather apparel such as the gun slips, leather seat, and cartridge bags. Get stuck in! Whilst cleaning make sure you note down any repairs needed. Better still, carry out the repairs there and then if possible as it’s so easy to forget otherwise.
The whole process shouldn’t take you more than an hour. In fact, it’s likely to be less than that. Doing it now will, I guarantee, be a beneficial exercise. Look at it like insurance. Your efforts are effectively preventative maintenance. Through maintaining your kit, it will continue to serve you reliably without issue. Not doing so, it will leave you embarrassed on the gun line when you need to borrow a gun!