By Chris Batha
Proper preparation prevents poor performance. This oft-used quote perfectly sums up the need for a regular regime of cleaning and maintenance of a shotgun for both safety and function. The neglect of anything mechanical eventually will lead to its failure, your frustration and—with firearms—possibly even a dangerous situation.
Imagine you are sitting in a blind when the ducks commit to the decoys, and you rise and fire! You miss with the first shot, your shotgun fails to cycle properly and the next cartridge causes a hang-up. Trying to clear the jam could not only spoil your hunt, but it also could lead to an accidental discharge.
Jams can be mechanical, but they usually are the result of poor maintenance. An accumulation of powder residue mixed with gun oil creates a sludge that can gum up the action, causing a hang-up. Double guns, too, require regular and thorough maintenance to function correctly. Sticky ejectors that fail to throw spent cartridges clear, light strikes on firing pins—these can be caused by the same buildup of powder-and-oil residue.
The excessive application of grease can be equally bad. Grease collects debris and can even dry out, creating poor protection on the bearing surfaces. Both grease and oil need to be completely removed and replaced at the same time.
Seasonal Strip & Clean
In the UK guns are given an annual strip & clean at the end of a busy season, though they are cleaned every day after use. The whole shotgun is dismantled into its locks, stock and barrels. The stock is checked both inside and out for any stress fractures and moisture. Any dents and dings are addressed, and the stock finish is repaired or redone, if necessary. Also, if needed, the checkering is re-cut and refreshed. The forend receives the same treatment.
The action and locks are taken apart to see if any remedial work is required. The metal is thoroughly cleaned using a solvent, grease is applied to the bearing surfaces and oil is put on the moving parts before the shotgun is reassembled.
The barrels are placed on a lapping machine—a lathe with laps the same diameter as the bore of the shotgun on long rods—and polished, to remove plastic and lead fouling.
The shotgun is then reassembled, test fired, and cleaned and lubricated once again before being placed in its case and returned to its owner or stored in a humidity-controlled gunroom until the next season.
I would not advise anyone to take his or her gun apart without the proper tools and knowledge. This process requires not only special tools that have been made to fit the screws and pins, but also a time-served craftsman to use them. For the uninitiated, disassembling a gun is a recipe for disaster, and I would strongly recommend using a competent gunsmith. It is money wisely spent.
The action seems to be a magnet for burnt powder and dirt glued together by a smear of grease.
Gun Oils & Solvents
Oil lubricates and protects from moisture, but it will not dissolve plastic fouling or help remove lead in the barrels. This requires a solvent. There are a variety of options available, but my favorite is Hoppe’s No. 9 Gun Bore Cleaner.
Many make the mistake of running a soaked patch down the bores, and then immediately swabbing them out before the solvent has had time to dissolve the fouling. Many think that a solvent will dissolve lead, but it will not. If you give it 30 to 60 minutes in the barrels, it will dissolve the plastic and powder residue and also get between the lead and the barrel wall, making it easier to scrub out the lead with a wire brush.
I recommend using bronze brushes, though stainless steel and nylon brushes are effective as well. You will need two: one for the barrel and one for the chamber, which has a larger diameter than the barrel.
For choke tubes and the pistons and parts of a semi-automatic, I recommend Carlson’s Choke Tube Cleaner and Carbon Cutter. It is non-hazardous and biodegradable and great for cleaning out carbon and plastic-wad fouling.
Simple & Efficient Cleaning
Take the gun apart, placing the action and forend to one side. If choke tubes are installed, remove and place them in the Carlson’s solvent jar.
Using a rod and patch soaked in solvent, run the pad through the barrels several times and place them to one side to allow the solvent time to soak in.
Spray or brush the action with solvent, being careful not to get oil or solvent on the wood. The process is the same with a double gun or a semi-auto, except that with the semi-auto the piston is also placed in the Carlson’s solvent. The action seems to be a magnet for burnt powder and dirt glued together by a smear of grease. For the semi-auto you’ll need a compressed-air line or an aerosol solvent to blast and soften the buildup. Then use a toothbrush to sweep the residue out of the action. Finally, dry off the action and apply a light coat of oil.
Repeat this process with the forend iron, using the toothbrush and a feather to get into the tight spaces. Once again, protect with a light coat of oil.
Using the bronze brushes, scrub the chambers and barrels, then push cleaning patches through the barrels until they appear clean. Next clean the breech end of the barrels, being sure to remove all of the dirt and debris from under the ejectors. Then wipe off the barrels and use the toothbrush and feather to remove all of the debris from between the ribs.
The woodwork should be wiped off with a soft cloth and the checkering cleaned with the toothbrush. Apply a light coat of stock cream or oil, polish it in with the palm of your hand, and then buff it with a soft, lint-free cloth.
The gun is now ready to be reassembled. Apply a light smear of grease on the bearing surfaces, action knuckles and forend iron, then place the barrels on the action and install the forend. Apply a very light coat of oil to the metalwork, and the shotgun is ready to be placed in the safe.
A Proper Cleaning Area & Equipment
Every shooter should have a dedicated gun-cleaning area, as using oils and solvents can get messy. A rubber mat is a good idea as well. (If you drop a gun part, you do not want it hitting a concrete floor.)
You will need:
- A bench with either a vise with padded jaws or one of the plastic or wooden gun vises or rests.
- Rods, brushes, a toothbrush and a feather, the tip of which lets you get into small nooks and crannies.
- Rags, gun cloths and cleaning patches.
- Solvents for barrels and choke tubes.
Gun storage needs to be secure and dry, with a consistent temperature. Installing a Golden Rod or other dehumidifier is an excellent idea. If you use silicone-gel beads or sachets, be sure to dry or change them regularly.