Want your guns in tip top condition?

Here’s the story of my journey to get the best out of gun cleaning.

   This is an article that has been over 30 years in the making. The story actually starts well before I fired my first real gun and during my youthful introductory period of BB guns and pellet rifles. As with all tools, my grandmother who was raised on a Pennsylvanian farm (who actually taught me to shoot) stressed how important it is to take care of them after use. This included the vintage Daisy model 25 pump action BB gun that she gave me back around age 15, if not before. That same BB gun is still in my possession and is in the same great shape (minus a very tired magazine tube spring from so much use). Now pushing a half century later, I use the same thoughts on preemptive gun care along great products and cleaning methods I have found along the journey. 

   My first real firearm was a Savage model 4C bolt action .22 caliber rifle that will fire .22 shorts, longs, and long rifle cartridges interchangeably. It was my grandfather’s rifle that he used to shoot rats at the local dump accompanied by his friends. It was given to me with the stipulation that I could never sell it. Today it is in better shape than it was back then with some needed maintenance and is part of the family and will forever be one. Let’s take a look at what this first rifle taught me about gun maintenance. This is before we dive into the following years of chasing the perfect firearm for hunting, target shooting and just fun plinking and the cleaning lessons I learned from them. 

   The first thing you need is a quality gun cleaning kit. While cheap kits might get you by in a pinch a better kit is cheap insurance keeping your firearm investments in peak operating shape. I prefer brass cleaning rods over the cheaper aluminum or steel ones for less rifling wear and damage especially at the muzzle. A solid non-sectional rod is even better than a takedown one. Remember the connection on each section could theoretically be a minute off and rub the inside of the bore wrong in use. Cleaning from the chamber end (if able on your specific firearm type) saves the more fragile rifling at the muzzle end. Remember that it is the last rifling your projectile will come in contact with as it leaves the barrel. If that area gets damaged, your accuracy might be severely impacted. If your firearm model does not allow this, carefully clean from the muzzle end preferably with the aid of a muzzle protector device if plausible. A pull through cleaning “bore snake” can also be used but I am not personally a fan of them.

After every hunt or target shoot, I removed the bolt and ran a correct size cleaning patch (the smaller ones are not useful and too large will jam in the barrel) with solvent, followed by some dry ones until all came out clean, and then ran a lightly oiled patch down the barrel. What solvent did I use? Well at the local gun shop I found small vintage military surplus gun cleaning solvent cans. These little green painted cans were marked “Cleaning Compound Solvent MAY 66”. Yes that old solvent had some years on it but it cleaned that old .22 well. After that, I wiped down all metal on the rifle with a lightly oiled cloth. The oil I used was light machine oil or good ole Hoppes. Now for a .22 rifle, cleaning the barrel is a hotly debated topic at every gun club, range, or shop I have been to. Some say it will destroy your accuracy, others say it is a great way to avoid corrosion in that incredibly important part of your rifle. Well, since my hunts and shoots are in the great outdoors and all types of weather, humidity and other issues make it a no-brainer for me to carefully clean the barrel after every outing. No matter if I was heading out with friends after using the rifle later that evening, I took time to properly clean it before I left the house. I had priorities and I continue to pursue safe guarding my family heirloom from corrosion. 

     Word of warning on taking your firearm apart to clean. Do your research from the maker’s instructions and use proper tools. Gunsmithing screwdrivers are the best bet to avoid damage when needed and never force anything apart or back together. Full disassembly is the best way to clean thoroughly but not necessary for every cleaning. Be careful, never lose any small parts, and wipe everything thoroughly afterwards with a rust preventing oil or other such proven product.  

    Stepping up to a pump action Remington 870 Express shotgun in the very next year was quite a power rush. Firing the 12 gauge took some getting used to for the whole idea of leading a running or flying game. Luckily for me #8 birdshot loads were cheaper by the case back then and the European starlings were thick in the local marsh. Much fun and practice was achieved with those evening walks after work targeting the invasive vermin. Once again, a cleaning was in order after every day’s shoot. I removed the barrel and swabbed it out with patches made from pieces of old t-shirts cut into proper sized squares. Military surplus solvent worked here once again, followed by dry patches and then an oiled wool jag protected the bore from rain, snow and times sitting idle when not in use. The forearm was removed and the bolt also removed from that Remington on occasion for a full cleaning. To this day 30 years later, that shotgun is in great shape. 

   Well my Ruger MK 2 .22 target pistol was not left out that I received as my high school graduation present. While this largely a stainless steel pistol was more immune to moisture, my hunts in the rain and blizzards required cleaning just the same. A full breakdown of the Ruger was in order along with a full cleaning. At this point, I discovered the product Clenzoil. Housed in the white squeeze bottle (currently now made in the color black), it was touted as pretty much a cleaner, oil and protector. I still used the regular cleaning solvents but finished with the Clenzoil for its protective qualities. I also became quite fond of the pleasant aroma. Keeping up with maintenance has kept this pistol quite happy and ready for hunt or target work. 

   When I got into the world of centerfire rifles and pistols, I started looking at improving my gun cleaning. Trips to hunting departments at stores and catalogs such as Cabelas gave me ideas on how to improve the necessary cleanings. Working at a local gun retailer for a spell also taught me other interesting tidbits. I amassed quite a pile of gun cleaning paraphernalia over the years. I discovered while solvent soaked patches clean well on occasion you need much more. Bronze bristle bore brushes were in order. This was especially important where lead fouling is present. In tough situations, the spun stainless steel bore brushes called “tornado brushes” work great. These are exceptional when lead rifled slug debris and plastic wad deposits are thick in a smooth bore shotgun barrel. They also work great in revolver cylinders where cast lead projectile build up can get a bit unpersuasive in removal. The key with any use of gun cleaning brushes is always to use solvent as a lubricant (don’t use the brushes in a dry bore) and easy does it! Over jealous cleaning might actually damage your barrel. A simple old toothbrush is your best friend for getting in those hard to reach areas. Other great solvents and oils I have had the pleasure to work with are the Hoppes Elite product line and also Iosso Products Gun Cleaning items. Flitz Gun Wax is another great product that will seal your trusty weapons from the elements on both metal and wood. They all get your firearms squeaky clean and protected easier with less mess than the old military solvent and machine shop oils I used in the past. 

   When I entered the world of black powder shooting my past lessons were useful but more attention was needed. The corrosive nature of black powder itself requires removal as quickly as possible. At the end of the hunt, you just don’t put that rifle away dirty or rust will destroy it. In this case hot water and soap are your best friends, along with rubbing alcohol. The first muzzleloader was actually gifted to me by my dear friend and adopted family member “The Grizz”. He is a seasoned shooter who prefers black powder only over any newer less corrosive substitutes. With it though, extra caution is needed for rust prevention. He taught me the old school way of using hot soapy water in a bucket and a well fitting patch method of cleaning that .58 caliber Hawken rifle. First you remove the stock. Then you remove the nipple and put it in a little container with its own very hot soapy water. Now put the receiver end of the muzzleloader barrel in the bucket full of very hot soapy water. When you pump the ramrod (or a flexible range rod that is a better choice and won’t break like a wood rod will) up and down with the patch on it will bring hot soapy water through the barrel effectively removing all water soluble black powder fouling. After that use dry patches until they come out clean. A spray bottle with alcohol is used to displace all leftover water in the barrel. It also evaporates leaving a clean and dry rifle. A clean patch with a little Bore Butter keeps corrosion away and lubes the bore for your next hunting or range trip. All metal surfaces are wiped down with bore butter or another suitable rust preventative. While on the shooting range I use alcohol in a small spray bottle as a solvent for quick cleaning between shots. With that method, I can keep shooting and avoid major fouling at the range or afield. 

   With the last paragraph fresh in our minds, what about the old cap & ball revolvers? Well these black powder burning handguns need special care also. Hot soapy water is the perfect solvent on all parts but the wooden grips. I like to use a container that will keep the grips out of the water but allow the all metal fouled areas a good soaking while cleaning. Remove the cylinder and scrub well. The barrel needs a good cleaning and once again rubbing alcohol is used as a final solvent and water displacer when the revolver is clean. Bore Butter is once again used to keep the rust away and to prep the cap & ball revolver for its next use. 


        If you live in a colder climate you will run into condensation on your weapons after moving them into a warmer area after a hunt or shoot. Many shooters might forget this and leave their firearm still in the case with all of that rust making condensation on the metal parts. Don’t ever do this. Bring the firearm into a warmer area and let it warm up naturally. Now do a full cleaning when it is at room temperature and you will never have rust or corrosion problems. Also be aware that the salt from body sweat will also act terribly on handled firearms not cleaned properly. Always wipe them down with a quality light oil or rust preventative.

    While some shooters and hunters might disagree with the above gun cleaning methods, or to the extent I pursue cleanliness of my shootin’ irons,  they have served me well and continue into the future. Use these tips to help streamline your own gun cleaning routines and keep those firearm investments and heirlooms in great shape for decades to come. Stay safe out there and exercise those Second Amendment rights.

Do you like articles about the outdoors? You can follow him @ericthewoodsman on Twitter, The Classic Woodsman on Facebook, The Classic Survivalist, and @theclassicwoodsman on Instagram, and The Classic Woodsman YouTube Channel.