Preseason Prep Part 1 - Rifle Cleaning
It's never too early to think about equipment maintenance. In fact, this is precisely the time of year we should be getting both our bodies and our equipment primed for the upcoming season. Getting the miles in, paper tuning the bow, making adjustments to our packs, cleaning and treating the boots, and getting the rifle dialed in.
With that in mind, I reached out to my buddy, Jared Walker, owner of Flint Ridge Rifles, builder of custom firearms, for some pro tips on proper gun cleaning. Enjoy.
How often do you clean your barrel? This is a question that I frequently receive. My typical response, “as little as possible.” I’ll explain in greater detail later, so hear me out. I’m definitely not in the camp of returning from the range and scrubbing the bore until it’s squeaky clean. So, here’s the next question: how do I know when I need to clean? Now, this is an easier question to answer and thus will reveal my process.
Now, I’m going to make a gross assumption this is not a new rifle out of the box. If so, I’ll cover that in a later article around barrel break in process. One thing that you will need to establish is what is my rifle’s accuracy baseline.
With many modern rifles you will see a “MOA guarantee” meaning that it will produce a consistent 1 inch, 3 shot group at 100 yards. Many rifles of yesteryear are not in this category and that’s okay. You just need to know how your gun shoots with your load or your factory ammo. It’s okay if its 1.25 to 1.5 MOA.
How do you go about determining this? Take your rifle and shoot a 3 shot group at 100 yards. Let your barrel cool for several minutes and do it again. You can measure from the outside of the 2 holes farthest apart and then subtract your bore diameter (caliber). So if your distance is 1.25 inches and you’re shooting a 300 Win Mag (.308 caliber) your group size would be 0.942 inches. This would be a just under a 1 MOA group. Another method is to measure the same distances using the centers of the holes. In this method you “do not” take into account the caliber.
Alrighty, now that we have that establish let’s get to hunting and shooting. Let's say over time you notice something looks off or you may not be hitting your mark like in the past. Go shoot that 3 shot group and get to take a measurement. What you may notice is that your 1 MOA rifle is now printing 1.75 to 2 inch groups. One common cause here is probably copper fouling or a real dirty bore. Now’s the time to get to cleaning…
Here’s my setup and some items that I recommend:
A high-quality cleaning rod. Please don’t use one of those kits where you screw together the brass rods. Spend around $35-$45 and buy a Tipton or Dewey carbon fiber or nylon coated cleaning rod. I prefer nylon brushes vs. brass. The reason is I don’t like to use another metal surface to remove metal from the bore.
My go to cleaning solvents are Butch’s Bore Shine and Kroil. Butch’s does a great job of removing the copper fouling and the Kroil penetrates very well to remove the carbon build up. Here’s a quick tip. Do Not use a solvent with ammonia. Think of the inside of your barrel like a porous surface. If the ammonia sits in your barrel for an extended period of time it will continue to penetrate into the tiny portions of the steel and potentially cause some major issues down the road.
While cleaning I wear nitrile glove to keep my hands clean as I will be continually handling suturing patches that will be getting pushed down the barrel with jags.
Now that you have all the supplies ready to go put your rifle in gun vise or caddy. Remove the bolt and insert a bore guide. I use Pro-Shot Stopper which can be used from 22-30 caliber just by removing the end pieces and screwing on the appropriate diameter. If you have enough room, put a cover over your scope or take advantage of those wonky elastic or stretchy covers that rarely leave the box of your scope. This will keep your eyepiece free from any fluids during the process. Once you have your bore guide set, it’s now time to saturate some patches and get to work.
Next up, I will saturate a about 6 to 8 patches of both the Bore Shine and the Kroil. I will also have an adequate supply of dry patches readily available. I will start out by taking a wet Butch’s patch on a jag and pushing completely through the bore.
As you can see there is both a black and blue tint on the patch. The blue is the copper and the black is the carbon from the powder.
After pushing the patch through, I remove the dirty patch and I also remove the jag. One of the most important pieces of your barrel is the crown. This is the last thing that your bullet touches as it exits the muzzle and it needs to be in good shape. I’m not going to sacrifice a few seconds of time on both ends when accuracy comes into play.
Here’s another visual representation of the copper fouling that is being removed. Notice the dark blue tint. This is what we are trying to eliminate.
As you move from the top left to bottom right you will see the progression of the cleaning process. I ended up running three patches of the Bore Shore, three patches of the Kroil and then four dry patches through the barrel. By patch number 10, I could tell that this bore was pretty clean. I am going to say that these results are from a match grade barrel that was broken in. However, I will also say that I had put well over 100 rounds down the tube since the last cleaning. This rifle was still shooting around 0.5 MOA. However, the baseline on this one was around 0.25 to 0.3 moa. Either way I’m splitting hairs and let’s be honest I needed some content (and a dirty barrel) to write this article.
A couple things I’d like to mention.
Pay attention to your rifle and its temperament. I think of rifles like horses. They all eat hay but some are just pickier about what hay they like. Same goes for rifles. If you notice that you aren’t seeing results with a handful of patches, it may be time to pull out the nylon brush and get to scrubbing. You may have to do 40-50 passes of the brush to thoroughly remove and residual copper or carbon. If you are shooting a bullet that has long bearing surface, say a Barnes Tipped Triple Shock or another mono-metal, copper bullet you may copper foul faster than a Berger or Hornady bullet that has a much small bearing surface (the actual amount of bullet contacting the rifling as it passes through the bore).
A common approach to many folks who do decent amount of shooting each fall would be to cleaning their rifle at the end of the season. This means that’s you don’t plan on taking it out of the safe for an extended period of time. What I would suggest is follow the approach as mentioned above. Once the bore is clean, take a final patch with a drop or two of Kroil and push it through your barrel. What you have done, is protected the inside of your barrel from rust that could have possibly formed. This is especially true in wet climates or near the ocean.
I like to compare many aspects of rifle care to archery. A proficient bow hunter will spend the hours making sure every aspect of their bow and arrow is combination is dialed before setting afield. Give your quarry the same level of respect and justice by properly taking care of your rifle to ensure that you hit your mark when the moment comes.
If you'd like more tips from Jared or want to talk custom builds, you can visit his website at https://www.flintridgerifles.com or drop him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.