How a bit of firearm first-aid can save your hunt

A waterfowl hunt in Quebec late last November brought many challenges, not the least of which was keeping my autoloader functioning under freezing, wet conditions-including an ice storm on the first day. With a bit of preventive maintenance, however, my shotgun performed flawlessly. At the end of each day, I disassembled it, then dried and lightly re-oiled the components, including the trigger group.

The unexpected can always happen, but with proper preparation you can solve many firearm problems yourself while afield. And even if your rig gets damaged and ultimately requires a trip to the gunsmith, there are several ways you can keep it working at least until the hunt is over.

Indeed, most field maintenance and repair is relatively easy-all you need are proper cleaning supplies, a pin punch, a sturdy screwdriver set, some Allen keys and a basic understanding of how your firearm is put together. With rifles, there are three main component groups to consider: the stock, the barrelled-action and the sighting equipment.

A shattered or severed stock is usually unsalvageable, but a cracked one can be saved-at least long enough for one or two crucial shots-with superglue and a roll of duct or fibreglass tape. The tape, which acts as a clamp while the glue sets, also protects your hands from splinters.

Aside from accidents, most cracked stocks can be traced back to loose guard screws. These two large screws hold the barrelled-action to the stock, and if there's any play, the recoil can crack the stock. To prevent this, make sure the screws are tight. Likewise, regularly tighten the sling swivels. If one pops out, your rifle can fall to the ground, damaging the stock, scope or both.

As for barrelled-actions, rust is the main culprit affecting performance. To prevent rust, regularly wipe down and lightly oil the exposed portions of your rifle, as well as the bore. A breakdown rod, bore solvent, patches, gun oil and a jag suited for your rifle should be in your travel kit. If you accidentally immerse your rifle in water, remove the barrelled-action by taking out the guard screws so you can access and clean the entire mechanism.

With sights, always ensure that the scope, rings and mounts are tightly secured. And protect your valuable glass with scope covers. If you break your scope while hunting, there really aren't any quick fixes. Instead, either carry a backup or use the open sight found on most rifles.

It's considerably easier to repair shotguns in the field than rifles because, by and large, they're easier to take apart. Shotgun stock repair is the same as that for rifles, and as with all firearms, rust is what does in most shotguns, particularly those belonging to waterfowlers.

If you're gunning near water, especially along the saltchuck, you should disassemble, thoroughly dry and lightly oil your gun at the end of each day. The cleaning requirements are similar to those for rifles, except for exchanging the jag for a swab of the proper gauge.

Getting to the guts of most pump-action and auto-loading shotguns, meanwhile, is relatively easy-just remove the two pins holding the trigger assembly in place with a pin punch. With double-barrelled shotguns, however, you'll have to stick to cleaning just the external components.

Finally, you're more apt to lose shotgun trigger group parts than to break them while cleaning your firearm. That's why many experienced shotgunners travel with a small bag of spare parts.

Maintain you firearm and, hopefully, you'll rarely need these basic field repair tips. But when you do, they just might save your hunt.

Think ahead

Many accidents can be avoided by thinking ahead. When travelling, for example, always carry your firearm in a sturdy case. And when hunting, don't set down your gun where it can be easily knocked over. Also, read the manual that comes with your firearm. It should provide clear instructions on both maintenance and repair.