Gun Cleaning, Part 1: Powder Fouling

Cleaning a gun is about as much fun as scrubbing the bugs off your windshield, picking up after the puppy, or covering Hillary Rodham Clinton on the campaign trail, but someone has to do it, and that someone is you. I get lots of questions about it, and what follows is a technique I’ve evolved after 50 years of experimentation, whining at gunsmiths, etc. It errs on the side of thoroughness. You can do less and probably live a normal, productive life.

If you're a shooter who burns half a box of ammo a year you can say, "What, me worry?" shove an oily patch through the bore at the end of hunting season, and it will be 20 years before your rifle starts to screw up. I know competitive shooters who buy six barrels at a time because they're forever burning them out, and since most of these guys are machinists, they do their own rebarreling. For them, this process is excessive. But for the rest of us, pay attention.

Barrel cleaning is done in two phases because there are two substances in a dirty bore that have to be dealt with separately. They are powder fouling and copper fouling. Powder fouling comes first. Here’s what you need:

Cotton patches of the proper caliber. Don't try to make do with .25 patches in a .30 bore.

Shooter's Choice powder solvent. I don't know of anything that works better, and damned few solvents that work as well.

Phosphor-bronze brushes. Steel or plastic is worthless.

Two good one-piece rods. One piece. You hear me? One rod is for brushes, the other for a pointed or jag tip for patches. Do not use a slot tip. Dirty patches get one trip through the bore. One.

Birchwood-Casey gun scrubber. For cleaning off your phosphor-bronze brushes. Also drops wasps and hornets in mid-flight, although I'm probably not supposed to say that.

A roll of paper towels for wiping off your cleaning rod. Keep that rod clean and it will not abrade your barrel.

A bore guide, unless you're confident in your ability to keep the cleaning rod centered in the barrel without it.

For starters, wet a cleaning patch with Shooter’s Choice (not soaking, since you don’t want the stuff getting on the stock and in the action) and run it through the barrel. Fun, huh? Now do two more.

Next, screw a bristle brush onto your other cleaning rod and dip it into the bottle of Shooter’s Choice (I use the pint bottle, by the way.) NEVER DO THIS WITH A DIRTY BRUSH. YOU’LL POLLUTE THE WHOLE BOTTLE. Give the brush a dozen strokes each way. Why a dozen? How do I know? It’s a nice number. You get a dozen eggs at a time. What do you want from me, anyway?

Powder fouling is baked on under tons of pressure and thousands of degrees of heat, and if you think you’re going to break it up with patches alone, you’ve got another think coming.

You’ll notice that your rod is now covered with filthy Shooter’s Choice. Wipe it off with a paper towel. Then hose down your bronze brush with Gun Scrubber and let it dry.

Start putting Shooter’s Choice patches through the bore and keep at it until they come out clean. If you put through a half-dozen patches or more and they still come out gray, it means you have to re-brush. It also means that your barrel is really filthy, and you deserve to suffer. When the patches do come out clean, put a dry one through and you’re ready for Phase Two.

Next: Dealing with copper, and how to make a killing on the market using the Mayan calendar.