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Idaho Fish and Game

tight shot of a rifle with Windy Davis hunting for antelope near Salmon, Idaho October 2015

Never let the sun set on a dirty firearm


As big game hunting season winds down, don’t forget to clean up those firearms before stowing them in the gun safe.

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 your firearm’s had your back (literally), now is the point in the year when you have its back. Whether you hunted 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. Your muscles will recover with some time off; but stashing a dirty gun for months can cause all kinds of problems next time you go to use it.

tight shot of a rifle with Windy Davis hunting for antelope near Salmon, Idaho October 2015

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


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

Make sure your workstation is well-lit and has good air flow, since you’ll be working with cleaning agents.

A sturdy table is a must. Resting your prized firearm on a stack of cardboard boxes is a surefire way to break some expensive features. Also be sure that 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 your firearm on, say, the same table to process your 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 you 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 in to building that firearm, and you should dedicate the same amount of pride to caring for it.

Elbow grease

It’s time to get to work. Whether the bulk of your 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 you should have in your cleaning kit:

  • Cleaning rod
  • Bore brush (that matches the caliber of your 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
cleaning your firearm_shotgun_7093709

HOT TIP: You might want to consider picking up a cleaning kit specific to the caliber of firearm you own. Not only does it save you time picking out tools individually, but most come with a case that keeps your 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 you do 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 your firearm’s caliber, gently slide the brush or pull-through tool down the barrel from chamber to muzzle. Do this a few times and you will 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.

dirty shotgun bore fouling cleaning firearm_2975928

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 your 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 with a clean new one. Run the dry, clean patch down the barrel several times. You may have to repeat this process with additional clean patches. Continue running the cleaning rod through the barrel 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.

cleaning your firearm_shotgun_7093710

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

You may need to pick up some smaller brushes and tools specific to cleaning your firearm’s action, which can vary greatly. Be sure to check out your firearm’s 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 your firearm is part of being a responsible hunter. You’ll 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 your safe. Maintain a properly cared for firearm and it will have your back for many more hunts in the future.