Wednesday, February 3, 2010

To Clean or Not To Clean?

Here are my thoughts 280 rick:

A month ago, 31 Dec 2009, a reader--280 rick--left the following comment on my 270 Winchester for Elk Hunting post:

Anonymous said...

dennis, happy new year to you too. call me (anonymous) 280 rick. do you have any tips or can you refer me to a page that has reliable, practical info on rifle cleaning after a day at the range? i'm reading that more damage is caused by cleaning than by shooting and am developing a flinch when i pick up my rod

I have heard the same thing, but don’t totally believe it. Why do shooters clean their rifles? Two reasons: get the crud out and keep the bore from rusting.

All rifles will accumulate bullet and powder fouling. If you have been to a black powder shoot, you have seen the worst. Black powder and to a lesser extent Pyrodex leaves more residue than smokeless powder. Traces of lead are also left behind in black powder barrels. During the normal course of fire black powder shooters don’t have time to clean the barrel of the crud, and some have developed a method of keeping the crud moist so that it doesn’t hinder accuracy as much. This is were they use the breathing tubes to introduce moisture leaden breath to the bore.

Smokeless powder and copper bullets are not as bad, but still leave behind gunk. The actual gunk usually isn’t a great detractor to accuracy, but left in the barrel, it attracts moisture and will be a site for rust to develop. Ever look through a barrel that doesn’t get much cleaning and see all those black pits and not a shiny rifled barrel? I doubt that cleaning would have done as much damage to the bore as not cleaning had in that instance.

Having said that, cleaning improperly can damage a barrel. To lessen the damage use good cleaning tools and procedures.


  • One piece coated rod
  • Bore guide or muzzle guide
  • Use a wrap patch or pierce-type jag
  • Use a relatively “tame” solvent during routine cleaning
  • Use the copper-cutter type solvent sparingly and correctly
  • Lubricant for bore

Break Free can be used for solvent and lubricant; Hoppe's is old school, but works; be careful with the copper remover!

Procedures after a day of shooting:

1. Clear you weapon--really

2. Place it in a caddy correctly. If you shoot an M-14 type rifle it should be placed upside down to keep solvent from bleeding into the gas system. This can have a “dieseling” effect on the first round fired after cleaning. Not good.

3. Install the bore guide or muzzle guide. Damage can be done to both the beginning of the rifling in front of the chamber and to the muzzle by not having the rod aligned with the bore. Without a bore scope you may never see the damage done to the rifle in front of the chamber. Hot powder gases from the cartridge damages the rifling throughout the bore, but it is usually concentric, effecting top, bottom, left, and right equally. Rods that are misaligned with the bore can leave nics and mashed spots in only one place. I like Sinclair All-Purpose Rod Guides. They have a cone shaped end that fits many chambers, an adjustable lock that fits different length actions and a solvent port.

4. The bore guide also keeps solvent, dirt, grime and residue from leaking out of the patch, chamber and locking lugs and into the stock and trigger mechanism. A clean rifle with a sticky trigger is no fun, especially in a cold climate like Montana. (Link to Trigger: Heart of the Elk Rifle)

Selection of bore guides: Sinclair, AR15 type, MTM.

Sinclair bore guide in Winchester M70. Note the solvent port.

5. Use a one-piece coated rod. If you are in the field and need to make a quick cleaning go ahead and use the sectioned “GI” type rod, but remember that each edge of each section will bump the rifling at the muzzle and at the breech. I like Dewey one-piece rods with a length and diameter to match the bore.

AR15 with bore guide and one-piece coated Dewey rod.

GI sectioned rod. Notice bright mark where sections meet, indicating wear on metal somewhere!

6. Use a wrap-patch or pierce-patch type jag that protects the rifling from the jag with a layer of cotton patch. Pay special attention to the end of the jag that will contact the bore first.

Wrap-type jag.

7. If you have a solvent port on your bore guide, add the solvent here.

8. Push the patch all the way through. Do not try to reverse direction half way through the bore. Tangent: The first day that we shot at 6th Army MTU one of the shooters reversed direction and got his rod stuck. We tried dumping cold water on him, but it didn’t work. The gunsmiths were away, so for a week he had to take his M-14 everywhere he went with a bright yellow rod sticking out the muzzle.

9. Remove the patch at the muzzle, or breach if a lever, pump, auto, etc.

10. Pull the rod back carefully. Dings on the muzzle will happen if the rod is casually pulled back.

11. Attach the bore brush. If I had just shot a round or two at an elk, I would dispense with the bore brush, but if I have shot a full National Match Course, or more, I would run the brush through four or five times in both directions--never reversing direction in mid-bore.

12. Reattach the jag and swab one way with multiple patches until the patches come out dry and clean. If the rifle is to sit for more than a day, run a lubricated patch through to protect the barrel from rust. If you have done this step, remember to swab the bore once or twice before shooting!

Before I started shooting moly-coated bullets I would use a copper-cutter solvent on my rifle two or three times a year. This is on a rifle that shot several thousand rounds a year. After I switched to moly bullets I still use the copper-cutter once a year--if it has been shot a lot. Remember to follow the directions on the copper-cutter solvents. DO NOT LEAVE THEM IN LONG!!! They don’t just eat copper, they eat METAL.

These are the procedures I, and everyone else on the Army team used, when shooting in competition. I have adjusted them a bit for use on hunting rifles that are usually shot less then 200 rounds per year. Although, if you are a dedicated hunter and shooter, you will want to shoot something much more than 200 rounds a year. Smallbore, air rifle, silhouette.

There is an old mantra that goes something like this, “A soldier can take heat, cold, rain, snow, ice and lack of sleep, but a soldier’s weapon need more care than that.” Take care of your weapon soldier, or hunter as the case may be!

1 comment:

280 rick said...

thanks for the info. i was using a sectioned rod w/o a bore guide. for the price of a bore guide i purchased an otis rodless system which supposedly has superior patch contact. fortunately i hadn't cleaned the rifle too many times. live and learn