Sunday, March 03, 2024

Never let the sun set on a dirty firearm

by CONNOR LIESS/Contributing Writer
| November 30, 2023 1:00 AM

Another season in the books. You and your trusty firearm spent countless hours roaming the mountain slopes and drainages that Idaho is known for and likely in all kinds of weather.

For all the times a firearm’s had your back, now is the point in the year to have its back. 

Whether finishing up a hunt through the forests of the Panhandle, the dry sagebrush seas in the southern portion of the state, or somewhere in between, you and your firearm earned some much-needed R&R. Muscles will recover with some time off; but stashing a dirty gun for months can cause all kinds of problems next time it’s needed.

Here's a quick and easy guide (and reminder) to clean firearms and condition them for next season.


Before taking every clamp and screw off a firearm, do a little housekeeping. Pick out a suitable, clean work area with ample space to set aside parts and tools.

Make sure the workstation is well-lit and has good air flow to air out cleaning agents.

A sturdy table is a must. Resting a prized firearm on a stack of cardboard boxes is a surefire way to break some expensive features. Also be sure the table is not one that hosts the family at dinner time. Gun cleaning solvents are greasy and can be toxic, so don’t clean a firearm on, say, the same table to process game meat.

Know how your firearm works

Being a responsible firearm owner is more than just knowing where to point the muzzle and when to squeeze the trigger. Firearm assembly can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, so making sure to have an updated copy of the firearm’s manual is important in understanding how to take things apart, or even more importantly, how to put them back together. A lot of pride went into building that firearm, and the same amount of pride should be dedicated to caring for it.

Elbow grease

It’s time to get to work. Whether the bulk of time was spent hunting deer with a rifle or grouse with a small-gauge shotgun, the principle is always the same. Different firearms, however, require different strategies when it comes to cleaning, but the tools and concept is roughly the same.

Tools in a good cleaning kit:

  • Cleaning rod
  • Bore brush (that matches the caliber of the firearm)
  • Pull-through bore cleaning tool
  • Cleaning jags (slotted and form-fitting for holding patches)
  • Cloth patches
  • Utility brushes
  • Cotton swabs
  • Gun oil
  • Cleaning chemicals, including bore cleaners, action cleaners, and lubricants

HOT TIP: Consider picking up a cleaning kit specific to the caliber of firearm. Not only does it save time picking out tools individually, but most come with a case that keep tools tidy.

Cleaning a firearm can differ pretty greatly depending on the type of firearm, the type of ammunition fired through it, the length of the barrel, type of receiver, etc. But to keep things simple, here’s a boiled down guide focusing on the basics using common cleaning tools. 

1. Before doing anything, make sure the firearm is unloaded. Then remove the magazine.

2. Clean the firearm’s barrel and chamber. Using either a brush or pull-through bore cleaning cable that matches the firearm’s caliber, gently slide the brush or pull-through tool down the barrel from chamber to muzzle. Do this a few times and notice flakes of carbon and metal fouling — the result of pushing relatively soft metal or metal-cased objects down a relatively hard bore — exiting the barrel at the muzzle.

3. Now the barrel is clear of metal fragments and debris but still needs to be cleaned. Apply a few drops of bore solvent to a fresh patch (a square piece of lint-free fabric, usually made of cotton). Slide the moist patch through the barrel using a cleaning jag that matches the caliber of the firearm until it comes out the end of the barrel. Do not pull the patch back through the barrel, as this brings dirt and debris back into the now-wet barrel. The jag holds the patch in place like a scrunched up bowtie while the patch slides down and cleans the barrel.

4. With the barrel moistened by the cleaning solvent, give the firearm 10-15 minutes for the solvent to break down any remaining sediment.

5. Once time has passed, take a bore brush and scrub the inside of the barrel.

6. Toss the old, dirty patch and replace it with a new clean one. Run the dry, clean patch down the barrel several times. Repeat this process with additional clean patches if necessary, until the patches no longer show any dirt.

7. Next, apply light lubricant to a bore cleaning tool and run the tool through the barrel to further clean and prevent corrosion.

8. The firearm’s barrel should now be cleaned. Be sure to wipe down the outside of the firearm as well, including the barrel’s exterior and the feed ramp.

9. Carefully inspect the action and remove any debris, gunk, oil residue, etc. so it’s clean and operates smoothly. Re-oil with a light lubricant if needed, but don’t over do it or it could gum up the action, especially in freezing weather.

Once the firearm’s barrel is tidied up, repeat the same steps above for the firearm’s action. Whether the firearm is a pump-action, bolt-action or slide-action, cleaning the action is just as important as cleaning the barrel.

Cleaning the action may require a smaller and more specific set of tools, which can vary greatly. Be sure to check out the manual for the best instructions on cleaning its action.

Until next season

Most hunters don’t care if their firearms look pretty, they just want them to shoot right. Taking pride in a firearm is part of being a responsible hunter. It’s easy to feel a lot better heading into the off season or reaching for that trusty firearm come next season with a clean, well-taken care of rifle or shotgun sitting in the safe. Maintain a properly cared for firearm and it will have your back for many more hunts in the future.

Connor Liess is a public information specialist with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

    A cleaning kit and some elbow grease can go a long way to maintain a reliable firearm that lasts for centuries.