How to Disassemble and Clean a Semi-Auto Shotgun
Follow these 10 steps to thoroughly clean a semi-auto shotgun at the end of the hunting season
When the season wraps up and it’s time to put your hunting gear away, take a little time to disassemble and properly clean your semi-automatic shotgun for storage. On September 1, 2021, when doves are flying fast and it’s helpful to have a gun that shoots more than once, Future You will be grateful that Present Day You spent 30 minutes taking care of your most important piece of equipment. Here are the steps you need to take.
Step 1: Disassemble your shotgun.
Take your gun apart as far as the manual suggests and if the manual isn’t clear, you can find Youtube videos that cover the disassembly of almost any gun down to the molecular level. At the very least, taking the gun apart means removing the barrel, any gas system parts, the bolt and link, and the trigger group.
Step 2: Scrub and oil the trigger group.
I use a nylon brush to clean out debris and powder residue, but some use a can of compressed air. After that, oil the trigger group lightly. And by “lightly” I mean give it the briefest spritz of oil from 10 to 12 inches away, and then wipe off most of that oil with a rag. Too much oil collects debris and turns into sludge that impairs the gun’s function. That’s true any time you use oil, not just on the trigger group.
Step 3: Clean the bolt.
If you feel comfortable taking the bolt apart, remove the firing pin, wipe off any accumulated gunk that can slow it down and cause misfires, especially in the cold. Give it a tiny drop of CLP. If you don’t want to disassemble the bolt, put that tiny drop of CLP down the firing pin hole. Wipe the bolt clean, oil it lightly, and put it back together.
Step 4: Wipe down the receiver.
While you have all the parts out of the receiver, take a minute to clean out any bits of debris, powder residue, old oil, and anything else that has found its way inside your gun during the season.
Step 5: Clean the gas system.
If you have a gas gun, the parts of the gas system accumulate the worst crud buildups. I have a friend who dunks his into an ultrasonic cleaner, which is fine for metal, but not so much for some polymer parts. A lower-tech friend simply runs the rings and pistons of his 11-87 through the dishwasher. Personally, I use elbow grease and a wire brush.
Step 6: Scrub the magazine tube.
While you’ve got the gas system parts off of the magazine tube, give the tube a good scrubbing with very fine steel wool. If you can, take out the spring and follower and clean the inside of the tube. A 10-gauge brush works well for this job and it will help shells feed cleanly.
Step 7: Swab the barrel.
Clean the barrel thoroughly to remove plastic wad buildup. I like the various foamy bore cleaners that you let sit in the barrel for a few minutes. Scrub first with a bronze brush, then with an oil bob, although if it’s not too dirty, a bore snake is okay. Fine drill bits work to scrub carbon buildup out of the barrel’s gas ports, which are found in the barrel ring of most guns. Inertia gun owners can smugly skip this step, which can be a pain, as their guns have no ports.
Step 8: Brush and grease the choke tube.
Remove the screw-in choke tube, and use a wire brush on the threads—both on the tube and in the barrel—to get grease and fouling out. Grease the tube and put it back in. This is critical. If you skip this step, you risk a tube stuck so tightly in the barrel that you can’t get it out. A gunsmith usually can, but the tube is often ruined, and even if it’s not, this is a surprisingly expensive fix.
Step 9: Consider inspecting the action spring.
Many semi-autos have an action spring in a tube in the stock while some, like the Franchi and Stoeger inertia guns, have their spring on the magazine tube. (Target shooters replace these every 10,000 rounds, which is a long time in the life of a hunting gun.) You may never need to inspect or clean your spring, and some hunters go through life quite happily without even knowing their gun has one. However, if your gun gets dunked in water and muck a lot, you should probably check it, as the spring can get dirty and rusty. You’ll have to pull the stock off to get at the tube. It’s usually easiest to put the receiver in a padded vise to unscrew the nut that holds the spring in place. Some gunmakers, like Beretta, use Loctite on the nut at the factory so you may need to heat the nut to loosen it. Most guns will have a little bar that runs through the tube and holds the spring. Carefully push that out while holding your hand over the tube. Clean the spring and tube if necessary, put it back, and forget about it for a few years or until the next dunking.
Step 10: Reassemble and wipe down your gun for storage.
Put the gun back together, being careful that any rings and pistons are in the right order and facing the right direction. Wipe the outside surfaces with a lightly oiled rag and you’re done. Flitz, a soft-scrub product, is good for removing any rust spots you might find. Try Flitz and a rag first, before going to Flitz and fine steel wool. Finally, after you’ve got your gun clean, don’t undo your good work by zipping the gun into an unbreathable soft case or shutting it into a hard case, or you may find it rusted when you take it out several months from now. Put it, uncased, into a safe, and start looking forward to fall 2021.