George Wallace offers some top tips and a step-by-step guide to keeping your rifle in good working order, from the best cleaning technique to how much cleaning is too much?

A rifle is a precision instrument and such things really do need to be kept clean if you expect them to work properly. But – and it’s a big BUT – I have seen as many rifles damaged by over- cleaning as ruined by lack of it. As always, there is a happy medium.

I am a simple soul and always look for similarly simple solutions to problems. I really cannot be bothered with the obsessive cleaning regime of some target shooters – and unless you really know what you are doing and are extremely careful, it is easy to overdo it and damage the muzzle crown, chamber or lead – or all three. Too much oil can ruin a wooden stock or damage the action’s bedding material, so a little care and caution is required if you want your rifle to last.

When we talk about rifle cleaning, everyone’s first thought is the rifle bore, so let us begin with that and ask, first, whether we really need to clean it at all? If that question seems ridiculous, let me say that I know a chap in America whose .22 Hornet had, the last I heard, fired 500 rounds since the bore was last cleaned. Accuracy was still superb and he has found by experiment that he does not need to clean any of his centrefire rifles until a falling off in accuracy indicates a build-up of copper fouling.

Damp damage

Some rifles pick up fouling much more quickly, of course, if their bores are rough or corroded, but the removal of copper after every firing is probably unnecessary.

What is necessary in our British climate is to make sure there is no rust-promoting damp left in the bore after an outing, so a dry cloth pushed through, followed by a spell in the airing cupboard should solve that problem. If the cloth comes out really mucky, a bit of powder solvent on a piece of four-by-two will sort it.

If and when you do need to shift copper fouling, there are all sorts of chemicals available. I really don’t know whether one kind is better than another, so just choose whichever suits you.

Over my 60 years of cleaning rifles I have used all sorts of things from Young’s .303 cleaner – which doesn’t remove copper fouling, but don’t you just love the smell? –- to Hoppe’s 009, Forrest Bore cleaning Foam, Butch’s Bore Shine, Napier’s gun clean etc. Oh, and several varieties of magic snake oil which were guaranteed to improve accuracy, increase velocity and prevent fouling. Yeah! Right!

Apart from the snake oils, they all work very well, but nowadays, being, as I said, a simple soul, I primarily use Ballistol. Some say they can’t stand the smell, but my new Belgian Malinois, whose nose can detect a crumb of cheese at a hundred paces, doesn’t seem to mind.

I also use it for cleaning the outer surfaces of the metalwork, wiping the woodwork, keeping leather slings in good nick and lubricating bolts and actions.

The only caveat is not to flood the place with your cleaner so it soaks into the stock. Just a wipe or a little squirt and then leave bolts etc to drain on a piece of kitchen roll before reassembly.

Rifle cleaning technique

A word on the technique of using a cleaning rod or pull-through. Keep everything in line with the bore and make sure that neither rod nor pull-through rubs the muzzle crown or goes off-centre in the chamber. It may not seem much but over the years it will ruin accuracy.

This is just my own simplistic approach, but if you want the real low-down may I recommend getting hold of Lewis Potter’s book, Riflesmithing, a Comprehensive Guide. It is published by Crowood Press and is not nearly as technical and frightening as the title might suggest. I don’t care how much or how little you think you know, there is stuff in Lewis’s book that will brighten your day and make you a better and more knowledgeable rifle owner.

Watch a step-by-step video guide to how to clean your rifle here.