Gun Cleaning Techniques

January is the time I perform the majority of checks and services on all the equipment and guns I’ve used afield since the opening of black bear season in late August. This helps me get reorganized after back to back hunting seasons and square away the residual disarray throughout the shop that inevitably follows. At the same time, I take the opportunity to inspect accessory items like rifle scopes, rings and bases, slings and the sum of other gear that gets put through the paces during varying weather conditions. Rain and snow are by far the biggest considerations as rivulets of moisture always find their way into the nooks and crannies of equipment. Daily wipe downs throughout the season keep the majority of moisture issues in check but nothing beats a complete detail cleaning at season close.

Of all the hunting equipment deployed during the seasons, guns and accessory items are the most susceptible to the elements. They also have the most overlooked areas during cleaning and maintenance. Trigger assemblies, bolts and points where two surfaces come together like scope bases and upper receivers are all spots where crud builds up over time and moisture seeps in. I keep a rather unorthodox set of cleaning tools to eliminate the junk I find there – a dental pick, a toothbrush and a pack of pipe cleaners.

Dental picks are great for areas like the face of a rifle bolt to get rid of brass and fouling found around the inner edges. Mud and dirt packed into the heads of screws and fasteners can be difficult to completely erase but the pick makes quick work of it. The point of the pick also provides a way to scoop out tiny globs from the trigger assemblies and other recesses that typically form when dust and dirt cling to gun oil.

I use the toothbrush topped with a spritz of CLP to get into voids I can’t reach with a cleaning patch. The space between the barrel and stock forend, sling swivels, safety lever and the underside of scope bases and rings all get the toothbrush treatment. Most of the uneven surfaces on my guns get the toothbrush treatment. If you hunt with an AR-15, you will find the toothbrush trick very handy.

Pipe cleaners can be used for any areas that have a pass through too small for traditional cleaning tools. One of the biggest, and often overlooked, offenders for oxidation build up is where your sling mount passes through your sling stud on the rifle – especially if the sling lives on the gun all year. I make it point to remove and check all slings and sling hardware just for this purpose. I spray some CLP on the pipe cleaner and pass it though the mounting holes on the studs to get all of that forming rust out of there. Then I’ll use the toothbrush on the sling hardware to clean away any buildup. This is also when I check the security of the sling studs in the stock. If they are loose, I’ll check for damage to the stock or any indication of wood stripping.

Ancillary equipment like ground blinds, tree stands and trail cameras all get the inspection and preventative maintenance routine as well. On ground blinds, I’ll go over all the seams and apply Gorilla Glue to seal up any spots that show daylight. All the zippers get checked, cleaned and treated to ensure smooth operation. Running the tip of a lead pencil along the zipper is an age old trick as the graphite acts a natural dry lubricant. Tree stands get checked for loose platforms and the presence of all hardware. The safety harnesses are checked for fraying, stitching integrity and the date they were put into service. Trail cameras that come in from the field get cleaned and new fresh labeling applied. I use a label maker for them and over time the print gets faded from weathering. Lastly, the batteries come out and the compartment is checked for corrosion. I’ll use the good batteries left over for my coyote call, which will see plenty of action right around the corner.

John is a Registered Maine Guide, an NRA Certified Instructor and is the owner of Tucker Ridge Outdoors in Webster Plantation, Maine. He also works as a freelance outdoors writer and is the author of “Life on the Ridge” for the Outdoors section. He can be reached at or on Facebook @writerjohnfloyd

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