As modern technology proliferates, seemingly by the day, so too does an ever-bewildering array of rifle cleaning products. Whether you believe the hype or not, one thing is true: you will not achieve optimal accuracy if you don?t clean your rifle correctly. There is no miracle product for perfect cleaning, so I?m afraid you?ll still have to put in the effort and use the correct solvents and equipment, as well as establish a good cleaning routine for each of your guns. This last point is key: two rifles seldom require the same cleaning routine, mainly due to the differing materials used in their construction. In the same way as you would handload ammunition in order to achieve peak accuracy from your rifle, so too should you draw up an individual cleaning regime for that firearm.
Copper cause and effect
Regardless of whether it is a hard-used stalking rifle, fox gun or long-range varmint rig, the detrimental effects of copper fouling in rifle bores are well documented. The internal surfaces of any rifle bore undergo intense and aggressive erosive forces: a bullet travelling up the barrel generates pressures of close to 50,000lb/in², undergoing a controlled swaging as it engages the lands of the rifling. It is hardly surprising that copper residue from the bullet?s jacket is deposited inside the barrel ? and that?s only the first bullet. On top of that lies the unburned powder residue and, as the second shot is fired, another layer of copper fouling compacts the first. Remember, all this happens under high pressure and temperature, and without routine cleaning such fouling will certainly be detrimental to a rifle?s accuracy.
The fact that stalkers take one shot at a time doesn?t mean that firearm cleanliness shouldn?t matter as much as to a shotgun owner. The harsh environments that most stalkers find themselves in, crawling through bogs and burns and in all weathers, serve only to exacerbate any deterioration inside the bores of their rifles. Over time or overnight, deadly rust and pitting occurs, which is irreversible. Careful routine cleaning does take up time and is probably the last thing on your mind after an arduous stalk, but if you treat your rifle to a regular clean it will reward you in the long term with consistent accuracy and reliability.
Just the job
Of paramount importance is choosing the correct cleaning equipment for the job with poor kit you can wreck a barrel as easily as maintain it. The cleaning rod is the most important tool when cleaning a rifle. It must always be of one-piece construction and coated in a synthetic material, which will cause far less wear on the barrel during cleaning. Every rod flexes as it cleans, but it is important that contact with the all-important rifling be kept to a minimum ? uncoated rods last longer but will wear a groove in the rifling. Keep a rag handy to wipe the uncoated rod periodically, as they can suffer from a build-up of dirt. I use rods made by Dewey or ProTech, which are available in all calibres from .17 up to the .35 and above.
Often forgotten, but just as important, is to use a quality bore guide. By centring the brush/jag within the bore, bore guides serve to protect the throat of the rifling from damage and stop the rod?s protective coating from being damaged by the rifle?s action. Most bore guides are no more than a synthetic tube that replaces the bolt and seals in the rifle?s chamber with ?O?-rings, the solvent port extending from the rear of the action. This stops any loose debris or solvent from seaming into the action and stock areas. I use either a Sinclair custom fit or the more universal and adaptable Stoney Point model, which comes with a changeable bush that can be matched to your rifle?s action size. I also always fit a stock sock, a simple slip-on protective cover that stops solvent spillage from stripping that beautiful walnut finish.
Patches are usually flannel and serve to push out any debris while carrying the cleaning solvent into the bore. Buy the right patch to fit your cleaning jag; most manufacturers have a guide chart to achieve a good safe fit. Jags to hold your patches are commonly of the pierced variety, wherein the patch is speared to the jag. There are many types, but I prefer to use Dewey or Sinclair pierce-style jags, with either male or female threads, depending on the calibre of rod used.
Whereas jags and patches are used to carry the solvent, brushes are used for the actual cleaning. Be sure to buy only a brass-cored and bronze-bristled type and not stainless steel brushes, otherwise internal damage may occur. Brushes will wear; discard them as soon as they become loose. Nylon brushes can also be used where a particular solvent may attack the bronze bristles, but they are not as effective as bronze bristle brushes. Finally, a wool mop is used simply to soak a barrel solvent where stubborn copper persists, or, after the barrel has been cleaned, to coat it against rust in a lubricating oil. One really useful addition to your kit is of a sort of gun-cleaning cradle. This allows for hands-free cleaning, the rifle generally being supported in an angled position. I really like the MTM Maintenance Centre, which is tough and cheap.
Finally, the cleaning solvent itself. As you would expect, there is a myriad of choices: some are copper solvents, some are copper and powder residue solvents, while others simply target lead fouling. My personal choice is Butch?s Bore Shine, which can be left in the bore to soak in cases of bad fouling. I also like the KG products: KG1, 2 and 3 are a simple, all-inclusive range of cleaning products, while KG12 can be used for really stubborn copper fouling. A protective lubricant must be used to protect the bore between shooting outings. Most work equally well, but I use Butch?s Gun Oil to complement the solvent product, or Inhibitor V80, which really soaks into all the crevices. With the hardware sorted you need to establish a set procedure for cleaning your rifle. There is no hard and fast rule here, but what follows (panel right) is the routine I have used over the years and it works for me.
Cleaning firearms is a real rigmarole, but it will keep your rifle in tip-top condition and ensure its accuracy is maintained for its natural life instead of being dictated by neglect. After a day?s stalking you should, at the very least, clean the rifle with a pull-through, such as the Bore Snake, to get most of the dirt out and then clean it properly when you have the time.
10 STEPS TO CLEANLINESS
Pre-clean. Set up rifle in its rifle cradle, muzzle angled down. Attach a stock sock and insert the bore guide.
1. Soak a correctly sized patch in copper solvent and run it through the bore. It will be quite a tight fit and come out black.
2. Repeat and allow to soak for 10 to 15 minutes.
3. Soak a bronze or nylon brush in copper solvent and pass through the barrel 10 times. Use even strokes, removing the brush at the end of the stroke and reattaching it for the next pass; if you don?t, as the brush fully exits the bore at the muzzle it can scuff the crown of the barrels on re-entry and wear a groove.
4. Wipe the rod between applications to stop contamination.
5. Soak another patch with copper solvent and push through the bore to remove debris.
6. Wipe the rod and repeat Step 3.
7. Soak two patches with copper solvent and pass through the bore, one after the other. Wipe the rod.
8. Run clean dry patches through the bore until they come out clean.
9. Soak one patch or wool mop in rust-inhibiting oil and pass through the bore.
10. Sit down and have a coffee! Clean all the rods and brushes ? soak in boiling water if using ammonia-based solvent or it will eat the bronze in the brushes, hence nylon use.