Your shotgun will last a lifetime, and even longer, if properly cared for. The maintenance requirements are relatively minimal, but they’re critical to ensuring your smoothbore functions properly. Periodic cleaning may be required throughout the hunting season depending on how much you use your shotgun and under what field conditions. At the very least, your gun should be thoroughly cleaned once a year—and there’s no better time than during the off-season to get the job done. Here’s how.
Whether you carry a semi-auto, pump, single-shot or double gun, the barrel can be easily removed so that it can be thoroughly cleaned. Otherwise, powder residue and the remnants of plastic wads can eventually impact how your shotgun patterns.
There’s no shortage of excellent bore cleaners to handle the powder buildup; simply follow the directions for optimal results. Most recommend soaking a patch and using a wooden or aluminum rod to apply a thin film of cleaner to the inside of the barrel. Let the cleaner do its work for several hours, then use a bronze brush to scrape the residue away from the barrel wall. Follow this up with a series of dry patches until they come out clean.
Most bore cleaners don’t remove plastic buildup, however, so if you’re a high-volume shooter, you should also use a solvent developed specifically to dissolve plastics. Be careful not to let the solvent come into contact with any plastic components on your gun, as they will also dissolve.
If your shotgun has a choke tube, leave it in place when cleaning the bore, or you risk pushing grime into the fine threads. Once the bore is clean, remove the choke and clean it separately with solvent and a brush. Once it’s clean, apply a very light touch of tube grease to the threads to prevent the tube from rusting into place—they’re darn near impossible to remove from the barrel if that happens.
Most modern shotguns are easy to disassemble if you follow the directions in the owner’s manual. Once the action is removed, use compressed air—available at most hardware or electronics stores—to blast away any residue. If any buildup remains, use a bristle brush, cotton swabs or dedicated firearms cleaning products such as Swab-its foam swabs to get into all the little crevices. Baked-on debris may require an aerosol-based product, such as Birchwood Casey’s Gun Scrubber, to blast away the residue. Afterwards, use a brush or swab to clear away any remaining loose particles.
Once the action and all other exposed metal is clean, it’s time to lubricate—but don’t overdo it. Excess oil attracts dirt and other particles that can mire your shotgun’s action, resulting in failures to cock or cycle, or outright misfires. Only a dab or two of gun oil should be applied to the operating rails and the slot that the bolt travels through on semi-autos and pumps. For break-actions, a drop of oil on the pivoting points and a dab of gun grease on the hinge pin are all that’s generally required. In all cases, any excess oil should be blotted up.
Keep in mind that cleaning solvents can damage both wood and synthetic stocks, as well as rubber recoil pads. Plastic stocks are easy to clean with warm water and mild dish soap; you may need to use a bristle brush to remove dirt that has collected in the recoil pad. Wooden stocks are best treated with a dedicated gunstock wax, which protects the stock and provides some water resistance; and unlike oils, it doesn’t rub off or penetrate through the finish. Do all this and not only will your gun shoot well for years to come, it will also look good in the process.
Bonus tip: Storage smarts
Before storing your shotgun, ensure it is not cocked to avoid weakening the tension on the springs. Also avoid storing your shotgun in a sealed plastic case that can trap moisture inside, or in a soft case that can absorb moisture. In either situation, you may find surface rust the next time you pull out your shotgun. Locker-style gun safes are best, with the guns stored barrel down so any excess oil runs out rather than accumulating in the action.
Edmonton-based Ken Bailey is Outdoor Canada’s long-time hunting editor.