Let’s air the dirty truth: there are shotgunners who never (or hardly ever) clean their guns. Some consider it a badge of honor, a nod to days gone by.
So if you’re looking for permission to shoot a dirty shotgun, you have it. And you’d be in pretty good company because many of these diehards are mighty fine shots and very comfortable in their own skin.
On the other hand, if you prefer a clean shotgun, there are more products than you can ever imagine to help you get the job done right. Some products are specific to a gauge (like bore snakes, tornado brushes and wool mops.) Others are universal (solvents, patches, polishes and lubricants).
Among them are the legends, such as RustePrufe, Hoppe’s No. 9 Nitro Powder Solvent and Cleanzoil. Walk into a gun shop aromatic of the legends and you’ll immediately sense a warm feeling of authenticity -- a place of tradition, integrity and that rare side-by-side you’ll notice on the rack.
While a good cleaning is great for your gun, it can also be pretty nice for your state of mind. Down in your basement, or in your garage, you may find yourself cleaning your shotgun simply because it’s relaxing. As the barrel shines under your cloth and the action comes clean with some Hoppe’s and cotton patches, there’s a small sense of gratification that can becomes more elusive as the world turns digital.
Still, some shotgun cleaning jobs can be a little more demanding than others.
Read the Manual
If you’re cleaning a pump or auto-loaders, you may find that your shotgun cleaning becomes more of a puzzle than a stroll in the park.
Eventually, you’ll be able to clean them in a snap, but it’s important to read the manual before cleaning your gun for the first time. Just because you know how one pump or semiautomatic works doesn’t mean that much when it comes to other shotguns.
New shooters may be surprised at the pump and semiautomatic parts that should or should not be cleaned. The biggest risk faced by cleaning these guns is applying too much lubricant and literally gumming up the works.
The Wrong Oil
Another common error in shotgun cleaning is the application of the wrong lubricant. Guns get hot and gun oil is specifically formulated to deal with the heat and residue of guns. Also, don’t apply gun oil to the wood. This type of oil is designed for metal. If you want to clean your wood you can use something as common as spray-on furniture polish or find a wax specifically designed to protect your stock and fore-end.
When it comes to wood or steel, your number-one priority is to eliminate moisture. Wet wood will crack and wet steel will rust. You can shoot your shotgun all day long in the rain providing it is well-cleaned and adequately oiled -- and that you dry it immediately before returning the shotgun to its case.
A good rule of thumb when it comes to lubricating your gun is to apply oil any place metal touches metal. Hinges, trunions and ejectors seem like the obvious places. But there’s also the “ears” where the barrel joins the receiver, the locking lug often deep in the receiver or the fore-end lock.
Now some shooters think that by virtue of cleaning their bores that they are also cleaning their chokes. Well, that’s only partially true. If you unscrewed your choke and cleaned it, you’d be shocked at the layers of grime it collects. Leave a dirty choke in the barrel long enough, and the grime build-up could allow rust to creep in -- locking your choke to the threads in the muzzle.
There are plenty of good choke solvents on the market. Use them. And make sure you also use either gun oil or choke-tube lubricant when screwing the choke back in. You don’t have to lather it on. Just a dab at the beginning of the threads will do the job.
Can you be too diligent about cleaning your shotgun?
Strip It Off Periodically
Well sort of. Make sure that you periodically strip off the old lubricants and replace with a fresh application. Excessive grease can collect residue and dust, creating a gritty compound abrasive to steel.
You should give your shotgun a thorough cleaning every 200 rounds or so. That bigger job is complemented by a regular bore cleaning, choke tightening and wipe-down at the end of your shooting day.
Wingshooters who only use their shotguns during the hunting season should remove field debris from the magazine tubes, wipe down the wood, remove any moisture and clean the gas system, gas ports and action springs before packing away your shotgun. Put it in a childproof, moisture-proof case.
The Best Way to Ensure Safe Shooting
You may also want to go the extra mile in this case by removing the gun every 30-45 days from storage and wiping down the parts with an oil-impregnated cloth.
When the next opening season rolls around, what you don’t want to see is rust or crud when you open your case.
New shooters may want to start with one of the fully loaded cleaning kits that often include brushes, patches, rods, solvents, waxes -- anything you need to keep your shotgun clean.
Perhaps the biggest benefit to cleaning your shotgun is safety. How many times have you seen someone struggle with a semiautomatic that jammed. The shotgun is pointed in the wrong direction, safety falls by the wayside and next thing you know a shell is accidentally discharged.
Keeping a clean shotgun only takes a few minutes. It’s the easiest way to keep your sunnyside up on those beautiful shooting days.