Clean rifles and sweet dreams

Paul Smith
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Those who know me will agree that I’m not an overly fussy or particular sort of individual.
I’ll wear a shirt that’s a little wrinkled; heck, on a few occasions I’ve worn the same shirt for two days in a row. I’ll eat my eggs even if the yokes aren’t of precisely the correct consistency. If a blackfly lands in my tea, I pluck him out with my fingers and sip on.

My quad is never clean. I’ve been known to go a full day without sweeping the cabin floor. Note I said cabin — woods cabin, where the boys and I hang out. My wife keeps me in line around the house.

There are, however, a few neatness, cleaning sorts of things in life that I’m a tad obsessive about.

I cannot abide a dirty rifle or a hair out of place on a salmon fly. I know the salmon aren’t that fussy. They have been known to snap at less-than-perfect offerings of tinsel, fur and feather. But that’s not the point.

In my mind, there’s a mental image of how a Blue Charm must appear in both colour and proportion. And that’s the only form and function I’m happy to swing across a salmon’s nose.

I know this seems like nonsense to many, but it’s part of what makes salmon angling special to me, and many others. It’s not like catching cod to fill the freezer. I don’t care what’s on my cod line as long as the fish bite it. Fly fishing is different than fish getting.


My compulsion to shine, tinker, oil and further detail shotguns and rifles is far more practical. A well cared for quality firearm will function flawlessly and serve its master for a lifetime. Then you can bequeath it to a favorite niece or nephew and it will keep on shooting for another generation or two.

I have several guns that belonged to my father: two 12-gauge shotguns, a Winchester and an Iver Johnson, and a bolt action Savage model 340, chambered in 30-30 Win.

Bolt action 30-30s are a rare breed. I don’t use either of these guns anymore, but they are well oiled with shiny bores and are stored away, for what fate, I’m not quite sure. But they are like family to me.

At 16, I shot my first duck with the 36-inch Iver Johnson. Then I busted the butt plate testing thin ice while trying to retrieve my prize. I had a tough time sourcing a new butt for the old clunker. I want to pass on my guns to someone who will appreciate and care for them.

Enough about my emotional attachment to tools of my avocation. Let’s talk about how to properly care for a rifle.

In my world, a firearm must be cleaned after each adventure in the woods. Even if the sun is shining and the gun comes home perfectly dry, I still give it a quick cleaning. Modern smokeless gunpowder is non-corrosive and isn’t supposed to hurt a rifle’s bore during storage; regardless of doctrine, I don’t sleep peacefully with burnt powder residue in one of my gun barrels. I think a gun barrel should be shiny and clean while it sits in the locker.

There are two sorts of maintenance sessions: a quick touch-up, and a complete and thorough strip down cleaning.

To perform the latter, you must be comfortable with breaking down the gun to its raw functioning components. This is much easier with some firearms than others. I like guns that are simple to take apart. That’s why I prefer the Marlin lever gun to the Winchester.

If you aren’t happy taking apart a gun you should bring your shooting iron to a gunsmith, or gun-handy buddy, for a complete cleaning every year or so, depending on how much you use it. Strip down often requires tools that only a gunsmith or serious hobbyist might have on hand.

If you own a rifle, you should at least be able to do a quick touchup cleaning on your own. All that’s required is a swabbing of the bore, and an oily wipe down of external exposed parts. The wipe down is dead easy. Just take a cotton rag and mist it with quality gun oil. Then wipe everything you can reach.

Bore cleaning is more of a challenge.

Standard practice has always been to clean the bore with cotton patches held by some means on a metal cleaning rod. A few do nots are in order.

Never clean from the muzzle end, where the bullet leaves the barrel. Two reasons: you can damage the muzzle crown, and gunk gets pushed into the action of the firearm.

Secondly, don’t use cheap department store cleaning kit sort of rods. Only metal rods coated with plastic should be used. Uncoated rods can bend under strain and damage the rifling in the bore. Better to leave it alone and get it cleaned less frequently by a buddy with the right gear than to do it yourself with junk.

Assuming you have a decent cleaning rod, here’s how it’s done. You have to disassemble the rifle just enough so that you can push the rod through the barrel from the chamber end. With bolt action or single shot weapons, this is simple.

Lever guns and semi-autos are another matter. Then you push the rod through with a cotton patch soaked in a solvent designed to clean away shooting residue. Repeat until the patch comes out the muzzle nice and clean.

Then make a couple of passes with dry patches to clean out the solvent. Finally push through a patch soaked in gun oil to preserve and inhibit rusting or pitting. That’s it — sweet dreams.

Some folks don’t like pulling the bolt to access the chamber end for cleaning. If you fall into this category, there is a solution. It’s called a Boresnake, manufactured by Hoppes, the gun oil people .

I’ve just started using them recently. I picked up a .22 caliber version while I was browsing a Wal-Mart sporting goods section in Florida. They stock a lot of gun stuff that you don’t see on the shelves here in Canada. Anyway, I liked the look of the Boresnake and decided to give it a try.

I’ve been using the snake for a couple of months now on my .223 centre-fires and .22 rimfire rifles. It works, and saves a lot of time. And there is no need to remove the bolt, handy dandy, particularly for semi-autos and lever guns.

The Boresnake consists of a cotton cleaning rope, about a foot or so long, with a thinner string and brass weight attached. You simple drop the weight in the chamber and feed it through the barrel by gravity.

Then you hold the string firmly and pull the rope, previously soaked in gun oil or solvent through the bore. After many uses in dirty guns, you can even give the snake a washing in detergent.

For a super dirty neglected rifle, the Boresnake might not be as effective as the time honoured rod and patch, but if you use it after every outing, it should keep your bore shiny as new. It’s a whole lot better than nothing, and you will sleep so much better. Right now, I’m thinking along the lines of cleaning after every use with a Boresnake and doing a complete strip down including rod and patch cleaning once a year; maybe on a stormy winter day with a rousing fire in the garage.

Happy gun cleaning, and please email me tips and comments.

Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay, fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at

Organizations: Wal-Mart

Geographic location: Florida, Canada

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