by M.D. Johnson
My father has a very simple theory when it comes to shotgun maintenance.
“If you take it into the field, it gets wiped down,” he’d say. “If you shoot it, even once, it gets broken down and cleaned.” How often, some would ask. Here, my father’s Czechoslovakian heritage would shine. “If you take it into the field…” Never did I hear him finish the statement a second time.
Fortunately, shotgun maintenance doesn’t have to rank logistically with the launching of the space shuttle. In fact, there’s only three things hunters need to know in order to keep their favorite scattergun looking good and performing at its best—what to clean it with, how to clean it, and how to put it away. Knowing these three things, there’s absolutely no reason why a 30-year-old shotgun like my father’s shouldn’t look as good as a 3-year-old gun.
The Ultimate Gun-Cleaning Kit
Putting together an effective cleaning kit is neither difficult nor expensive. For starters, the kit needs a good, quality set of screwdrivers. While screwdrivers may only come into play occasionally during routine shotgun maintenance, they’re indispensable nonetheless for performing the proverbial 1,001 other jobs that will inevitably come up during the process. My choice? The Wheeler Deluxe Gunsmithing Screwdriver Set. Period. (Available at online or in retails stores for about $80).
Next are the cleaning rods, patches, and brushes. Regardless of whether wood or aluminum, a cleaning rod should (1) break down into sections, (2) have a strong, secure handle that won’t twist, (3) feature half-inch-minimum threads and sockets for strength, and (4) have a selection of compatible needle tips and brass brushes. The needle tips are used with cloth patches; the brass brushes when heavy-duty cleanings like the removal of powder or wadding build-up in the barrel, breech, or on the bolt face become necessary.
On hand, I keep a selection of solvents and lubricants. For hunt-to-hunt cleanings and routine maintenance, Birchwood Casey’s Barricade works wonders, both as a rust inhibitor and as a lubricant. And for that end of the year cleaning, I use a penetrating catalyst such as Gun Scrubber, also from Birchwood Casey. This penetrating catalyst gets into every nook and cranny, flushing any unburnt powder and other residues from the gun’s interior.
Under accessories, I have several items, beginning with a small selection of brass drifts and punches. To accompany these tools, I have a small hard-plastic hammer and a short section of one-half-inch soft pine board, both of which can be used interchangeably for removal and reinstallation of pins. Three different toothbrushes—soft, medium, and extra hard bristle—get called on to remove debris from hard-to-reach places. My kit also contains a piece of fine grade steel wool, an excellent tool for removing the gas residues which form around the O-ring collar of my 11-87, as well as a Ziploc bag filled with Q-Tip cotton swabs.
Shotgun Cleaning 101
Shotgun cleaning itself is in reality a simple matter. With my Remington Model 11-87 autoloader, for instance, first the fore-end, the gas cylinder collar, and barrel are removed, followed by the O-ring and the gas pistons. Then the operating handle is pulled from the bolt, and the action bar assembly with the bolt pulled from the breech. Should weather or time of year dictate an in-depth cleaning, both trigger group pins are punched out, and the trigger group, along with the link, is removed. As each is removed, it’s placed on a clean white towel. After each part is cleaned, the shotgun is reassembled. Monotonous? Perhaps, but this method allows not only a thorough cleaning, but provides me with the opportunity to visually check each major operating part for signs of wear, a step that on more than one occasion has saved a hunt.
Year-end cleaning involves little more than a final in-depth going-over. Again using my 11-87, this means the trigger group, trigger group pins, bolt, gas pistons, and gas cylinder collar all go into the dishwasher. Once finished, the parts are removed and given a final drying. Now dry, each part is wiped with a clean, soft rag saturated with Barricade. The barrel is lubricated inside and out, and the gas ports reamed with a pipe cleaner. Before reassembly, the magazine tube and the breech—again, in and out—are wiped down and likewise lubricated. Once assembled, the shotgun is again wiped down, including the stock and fore-end. It’s been my experience that a light coat of Barricade on both stock and fore-end during the season and prior to storage helps prevent drying and cracking, and has had no ill effects on the color of the wood; however, some expensive woods might be discolored by such a process.
Shotguns prepared using the end-of-the-year method described above are ready for storage. After such a detailed cleaning, our firearms are slipped into a silicone-impregnated gun sock and stored in a hard-sided, locking gun case, two guns per case. Into the case, I place a clean, folded rag that has been lightly sprayed with Barricade, as well as two or three packets of crystal silica gel. Both the rag and the gel absorb any moisture that may get into the case, while the gun sock provides a final layer of protection. The cases are then stored in a temperature-controlled room. Once every two months during the off-season, the guns are checked, and the cases marked with the date of the inspection.
Is it a lot of meaningless work? I don’t think so, but if anyone needs a little more convincing as to the importance of these routines, there’s a 34-year-old 16-gauge Remington 1100 in the closet that looks as good today as it did in 1979 when my father bought it for me.
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