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Will gun cleaning affect the accuracy of my .22 rimfire?

A reader with a question about rimfire maintenance

Man shooting semi auto

Q: I have been told that cleaning a .22 rimfire will affect its accuracy. Is this true or false?

A: There are two schools of thought on the subject of cleaning a .22 rimfire and both have their adherents. (Read how to clean a rifle.)

Here’s what you need to know.

Not cleaning a .22 rimfire

To begin with, most lead .22 rimfire rifle bullets are lubricated, traditionally with tallow but nowadays almost certainly with a substitute grease.

This grease gets into the rifling and prevents build-up of lead as well as combating corrosion.

Therefore you are not doing the rifle any harm by not cleaning it.

I first heard the “never clean” argument when I took up competitive rifle shooting at the age of 15.

We weren’t allowed to clean club rifles more often than about once a year because, senior members said, we would spoil the accuracy.

Consequently, I followed a similar regime when I got a rifle of my own.

cleaning a .22 rimfire

The fact is that there are two schools of thought, and both have their adherents.

The argument for cleaning

Then something happened that gave me pause for thought and I reconsidered.

In the early 1980s I wrote a series of magazine articles with members of the England Commonwealth Games and Olympics team, and discovered that most of them cleaned barrels after every session on the range. That interested me.

However there was a significant difference in the reason why. At the beginning of a session they fired at least half a dozen barrel-warming shots into the bank, followed by a number of “sighters” for sight adjustment, before the serious stuff began.

A field shooter does not have that luxury – in fact, he or she expects the first shot from a cold barrel to be accurate.

So where does this leave us?

For field shooting, I suggest infrequent barrel cleaning, followed by zeroing checks to get the barrel “shot in” again. I hope that answers your question.