Formerly a SWAT Sniper Team Leader, I began instructing in the private sector. I compete, even though my fellow shooters do not believe me to be very competitive, in Benchrest matches and tactical long range matches (600 to 1250 yards). I am not a “mechanical” or detail oriented kinda guy. I enjoy working with a team of great instructors, some of whom are also armorers and gunsmiths. They do most of our firearms maintenance. I am offering this article to other folks, who, like me, do NOT have an “engineer’s mind.” -Shepard Humphries
Experienced shooters have long debated cleaning firearms. This article will focus on precision rifles used for mid-range and long-range shooting. I suggest that you first evaluate honestly what your needs are and how much time, effort and money you want to invest into rifle shooting and cleaning.
- A friend of mine has a .338 Lapua custom rifle, scope, suppressor, chronograph, reloading press and has placed targets at 800yds, 1,200yds and 1,800yds at a hidden place in a nearby national forest. He lays in his hallway at night practicing his smooth trigger press, reads articles about exterior ballistics, competes and attends trainings. He is VERY serious about his hobby.
- Another friend is not a “gun guy” but he owns a 300 win mag for hunting elk each fall. He buys factory ammo and shoots less than 10 shots each year, typically 5 to make sure he is sighted in, 2 shots at the 200 yard gong, and then a shot or two in the field.
These two friends have very different situations. This article is for those of you that are more interested in being like the first guy. For those of you that are less interested and dedicated, no problem! Don’t waste your time on this article! 🙂
One of the biggest debates is on “breaking in” a new barrel. Some very good shooters with many years of experience say it does not matter, others say that it is very important. I don’t do a full “break in.” In shooting sports, BENCHREST shooters are second only to rail gun shooters, and the benchrest folks spend much time, money and brain power coming up with solutions. Many tactical precision shooters, High Power, long range hunters, Palma and other shooters often look to the benchrest crowd for advice. They “break in” their barrels. Nuff said. Check out THIS ARTICLE for more on this topic.
So, firstly, you will need some supplies. I will suggest some that have worked well for me. If your gunsmith or uncle or neighbor swears by a different brand, and you have seen them shoot a 5-shot sub MOA group at 100 yards; go with their recommendation, I am sure it will work well.
Buy two or more one-piece cleaning rods. I prefer the carbon fiber Tipton rods and the Dewey brand is also good, as are several others. You should plan to spend at least $30 per rod. Make sure you get the proper diameter size for your caliber and I suggest getting the extra long rods. Even if you do not yet have a long barreled rifle … you will soon, right? The reason I suggest two rods is that you will be using one for a brush and one for patches. It makes things easier to have two rods.
A cleaning vise is a great idea, but if this list moves beyond your budget, you can make do without. Many shooters build their own vise/rest out of wood. If you do so, I suggest making sure the muzzle end of the barrel is sloped downward. If you plan to buy, THIS VISE would be a good choice.
Bore brushes can be nylon or metallic, but if you clean frequently enough, the nylon should work well. These can be found on Amazon, at Midway, Sinclair or at your local gun shop. You will also want a bore guide.
Cleaning solvents, copper remover, grease etc… Oh my, this is where all of your shooting friends will offer you much conflicting advice. Go with it! If they don’t have opinions, here are some of my favorites:
- KG-12 Copper Remover – heavy duty for those times you shoot many rounds without cleaning.
- KG-1 Carbon Remover – for removing burned powder residue.
- Bore Tech Eliminator – excellent quality copper remover for regular cleaning.
- Gun Grease – for the locking lugs.
- Rem Oil Spray – for general lubrication.
- Brake Cleaner from your local WalMart or auto parts store. Be careful with these though, as some contain chemicals that react with plastic in an adverse manner!
A cleaning jag for patches is important. Buy several different brands and see which work better. Be aware that jags are caliber specific and that the threading can be either male or female … make sure your cleaning rod is the right match.
Patches for your bore are necessary, you can either make them from old t-Shirts or buy a thousand for less than $20.
a) Make sure your rifle is unloaded.
- Double-check to be sure your rifle is not loaded.
- Make sure there is not any ammunition in your cleaning area.
b) Secure your rifle in the vise, keeping in mind that “stuff” will splatter, so make sure you are setting up in an area and on a surface that is appropriate. Based on my experience, I suggest that doing this incorrectly is not good for one’s marriage.
c) Remove the bolt. You might need to check your owner’s manual or Google for instructions.
d) Insert your bore guide. (You MUST have a bore guide)
e) Soak a patch in KG-1, and pierce it with the jag that is attached to a rod.
f) Run the patch through your bore from the chamber end. You will see some soiling of the patch.
g) Run a dry patch, then another dry patch.
h) Run a KG-1 patch through the bore. Solvent is now soaking into the pores of the bore.
i) Using the appropriate bore brush, hold it facing upward and dribble KG-1 down from the top, watching it spiral down the brush. Make sure the brush is good and wet!
j)Run this brush through the bore, and then back again. Repeat 9 more strokes. (There are some that prefer to remove the brush when it exits the muzzle end, withdraw the rod, clean the brush, reapply KG-1, and then stroke through again. If you have the time; go for it! Not me.) The brush has now loosened particles. Spray the brush clean with a cheap Brake Cleaner into a trash can, being careful not to inhale the fumes.
k) Run a dry patch through the bore, then a second dry patch.
l) Soak a patch in Bore Tech Eliminator, and run it through the bore. Allow it to soak for 5 minutes to 5 hours. 10 minutes is perfect.
m) Run a dry patch through. Notice that it is blue. The blue comes from the Eliminator mixing with the tiny pieces of copper that rubbed off of the bullets you fired. Run a second dry patch.
n) Perform h through k again.
o) Perform l & m again. Notice that there is less blue on the patch? That is good news! Your goal is to have a perfectly white patch. If you have fired more than 50 shots between cleanings, you might substitute KG-12 for the Eliminator. Do NOT let it soak in the bore for more than 6 minutes.
p) Perform h through m until the bore is clean.
Meanwhile, perhaps during bore soaking phases, you may begin cleaning your bolt.
Spray a bit of Rem Oil on your bolt, not soaking it, just a small bit. Use a rag or shop towel to wipe away all grease and grime you are able to find. (Disassembling the bolt should be done every 500 to 1,000 shots, but this will be covered in another article.) Examine the bolt closely, do you see where the wear is? Notice especially the area of the locking lugs. That is exactly where you need to add little smears of grease. Using the tip of a toothpick or the grease syringe is perfect. Depending on your environment, you will add greater or smaller quantities. If you are a benchrest shooter, you will be very generous, but if you plan to trek through the outback for a few weeks in blowing sand and dust, you will likely use less.
The chamber and receiver portions of your rifle should also be cleaned after removing the bore guide. I like to use a nylon 12 gauge shotgun bore brush with a small bit of Rem Oil to run through this area. Then, clean the brush off with Brake Cleaner, then dry with a towel. Wrap a piece of a paper shop towel around the brush and mop out the Rem Oil and any grime.
Take a look through the receiver down the bore to be certain nothing foreign exists, then replace your bolt. Cycle it a few times.
You are all set!
I suggest that you show this article to the most knowledgeable precision rifle shooter you know. I promise that they will add a couple steps, remove a couple steps, suggest different brands or orders of steps, and will teach you some new tricks. That is perfect! This is not rocket surgery, and if you find yourself without all of the listed supplies, some weed-trimmer string, gasoline and margarine can work. 😉