Post-season is the ideal time to show your kit some care and attention. Graham Downing explains how best to prepare your gear for storage.
The season’s over now, and we have another seven months before low-ground shooting opens once more. But that does not mean that shooting kit should simply be abandoned until the autumn. This is the ideal time to scrutinise our kit carefully and thoroughly, service shooting gear if necessary and ensure it is put away in good order. (Read more about how to look after your shooting clothing once the season is over.)
Service shooting gear – a checklist
Take a look at your gun. Did it misbehave itself during the season? Did the ejectors not work as they should have done or is the action less than perfectly tight? Did you perhaps suffer the occasional misfire? If so, then now is the time to take it along to your local gunsmith and get it fixed. He will have plenty of time in which to work on your gun, order and fit any spare parts, raise any minor dents in the barrels, give it the loving care that it deserves and have it as good as new by the start of next season. (Read How can I restore the shine to my gun?)
Even if there is nothing actually wrong with your gun, it should ideally have a full strip and clean once every two or three seasons so that all the internal parts can be properly attended to. The correct place to get this done is in the hands of a skilled and competent gunsmith. Do not be one of those who tries to get a faulty gun fixed two weeks before their first big driven day, only to find that their gunsmith has a mountain of work to attend to and is unable to help. (You might also like to read how to store shotgun cartridges correctly.)
At the very least, clean your gun thoroughly before putting it away. We all skimp on cleaning from time to time during a busy season and, while a few passes with a Paradox cleaning rod and a quick wipe with an oily cloth may suffice if you are out shooting again the following Saturday, it is important to do the job thoroughly once guns are ready to put away at the end of the season. (Read how to clean a shotgun.)
Use a cleaning rod, jag and oiled patch to leave a thin film of oil on the inside of the barrels as well as wiping them down on the outside. And remove all the caked-on deposit from behind the ejectors. I keep a box of cotton buds in my gunroom for this and a quick spray with an aerosol gun cleaner plus a few minutes’ careful work with a cotton bud will have this oft-ignored part of your gun clean again. (Find our list of the best gun oils.)
Wooden stocks can also benefit from some attention. A light dab of linseed oil rubbed well into the grain will bring it back to life, especially after a series of wet shoot days or a season’s foreshore wildfowling. Do not use mineral oil that is designed for your gun’s metalwork, and do not allow an over-application of mineral oil to drain into the woodwork of a gun that is stored barrels-upwards.
Some friends have already booked days next season and been told that they will be expected to shoot lead-free, so if you are taking your gun for a full post-season check-up, it might be wise to ask your gunsmith’s advice on what non-lead cartridges would be suitable for use with it. And if your elderly short-chambered English side-by-side does not cut the non-lead mustard, you still have time to start thinking about — and saving up for — something more up to date. (Read “Will my shotgun be safe with steel shot?”)
It’s not only guns that can do with a bit of TLC at this time of year. With little more than 17mm in my rain gauge over the past month, it was certainly the driest January in these parts for a decade. But my gunslip, cartridge bag and cartridge magazine nevertheless show signs of muddy usage across a busy winter. Being a bit of a traditionalist, I prefer leather gear, so a sponge down with a damp cloth followed by an application of old-fashioned saddle soap gets the dirt off my gunslip and makes my cartridge bag look smart again. Propert’s saddle soap is excellent for all leather accessories and can be bought from any equestrian supplies outlet. If your gear is made from canvas or other fabric, the same applies: sponge off the mud with warm water and let it dry thoroughly before putting it away.
Storing shooting clothing and accessories
When storing shooting accessories for long periods, make sure that they are kept in a dry place. It is not unusual to find that, when a gunslip or cartridge belt has been stored in a damp, musty cellar for the duration of the close season, it is covered with mould when it is retrieved come the autumn. While mould can often be removed from leather fairly easily, canvas and other natural fabrics may be stained or damaged for good.
If, like me, you are a wildfowler, take special care of your waders. Wash them off after the last expedition of the season, then store them by hanging them up, feet uppermost. I make a couple of loops from a piece of baler twine, push the feet of my waders through them, and then hang the boots up in the utility room. If you leave waders flat or folded for a long time, they are liable to crack along the creases. (Here’s our list of the best waders for wildfowlers.)
Should your waders have developed any leaks during the season, now is the time to repair them. A tube of Aquasure is the best stuff for doing this job. It works both for rubber and neoprene, it is very easy to use and dries overnight.
It’s also a good time to go through your shooting wardrobe. Traditional tweed breeks wear out after a while and start to look sad. At the very least, get them dry cleaned, and make sure your shooting stockings are washed before they are put away and protected against moths over the summer. Overtrousers and jackets can take a real battering, especially if yours is a walked-up or walk-and-stand shoot. If you are still wearing waxed cotton, reproof your gear before hanging it up in a cool, dry place for the close season.
Taking time to service shooting gear and then taking a full inventory of your clothing now will enable you to plan for when you amble around the Game Fair this summer, replacing items that are worn out, damaged or frankly too tight to continue to wear with any degree of comfort.
Finally, with most shoots now planning their programmes for next season, this is the moment to contact estates, shoot managers and organisers, or to renew your club or syndicate membership. The new shooting season will be upon us sooner than we know it, and the sense of anticipation will be all the keener if there are some dates in the diary to look forward to come the autumn.