How to Correctly Clean a Shotgun

How to Correctly Clean a Shotgun

The shotgun is often the forgotten firearm when it comes to cleaning. Maybe it’s the simplicity or lack of rifling, but when cleaning day comes around, the smoothbores are usually last to get the grease. That’s not smart if you want your rig to keep dumping gobblers and greenheads for decades to come.

So, let’s show that shotgun some love. Whether you have a semi-automatic, pump, or over-under, the basics are the same.

The Five-Minute Wipe-Down
The No. 1 rule for gun maintenance is to give them a five-minute wipe-down each time you shoot. It’s the best way to prevent rust and corrosion and ensures your gun always has some level of cleanliness. Let’s face it—if you wait around for those “deep cleaning” sessions, it will rarely get done. We simply don’t always have the energy to rip guns apart after a long day of hunting.

You’ll want to carry a microfiber or other soft cloth and gun oil in your range bag. After you’re done shooting, lightly oil a cloth and wipe down all exterior surfaces. Pay special attention to the barrel and vent rib. The vent rib is always the first to rust, so run a bead of oil down it to get into the ribbing and rub it in. Wipe down the trigger, receiver, and put a couple drops on the bolt. Function-test the bolt to work in the oil and you’re done.

The Deep Clean
A deep clean entails taking the gun apart and getting intimate with all the parts. Don’t stress, shotguns are relatively simple. Make sure to do a thorough cleaning once or twice a year, or after multiple boxes have gone through your gun. I typically do an intensive scouring after residue build-up becomes visible.

Here’s what should be in your shotgun cleaning kit:

  • Microfiber or other soft cloth
  • Gun oil
  • Bore snake in the correct size for your gauge
  • Q-tips
  • Nylon and brass cleaning brushes
  • Grease, but only if you are in warm weather climates. In cold weather grease will freeze.

For pumps and semi-autos, first unscrew the magazine tube. The spring inside holds a lot of tension, so go slow so it doesn’t pop out like a snake in a can. The plug may or may not come out with the spring, but make sure it is removed as well. You can then remove the barrel; it will pull right out from the receiver.

Next, pull out the bolt handle (if there is one) and remove the bolt. You can then push through the pins that hold the trigger group in place using a small screwdriver, then pull out the trigger assembly and hammer. If your shotgun runs on a gas system, pull out all the springs, piston, etc. and lay them out in order.

Once you begin to clean individual parts, do not use too much oil. It attracts dirt, so more is not better in this instance. When cleaning a gun, only apply drops of oil directly to the parts that move; everything else should just be wiped down with a lightly oiled cloth.

Next, lightly oil a bore snake and run it through the barrel until all the debris is gone. Remove the choke and run the snake through one last time. If the choke threads are gritty, press your thumb on a cloth and run it in the direction of the threads to work out the debris. If you wipe up and not around, debris might get left behind. Rub a little oil or grease into the threads. Using the same technique, wrap another cloth around the threading on the choke and spin it in your hand.

Wipe down the bolt and use a Q-tip to get into the nooks and crannies. If it’s very dirty, take a brush to scrub off the carbon build-up. Lightly oil it to finish.

With your cleaning cloth, brush, and Q-tips, remove all the carbon and debris from inside the receiver and the trigger group.

Inspect the magazine tube. If the it’s dirty, run the bore snake through it. The mag tube is often forgotten, but if you’ve loaded rounds that hit the ground, it will collect that dirt and feed it into your system. Reassemble, function test, and put the gun in your safe for storage.

Gas system note: The piston is the heart of your gun. Take extra time to scrape off the carbon build-up. This can require a brass brush and an ice pick depending how bad it is.

Pump-action note: Run a bead of oil along the slides.

Break-action (over-under or side-by-side) note: This is the easiest action to clean. If you’re in warm weather, apply a light coat of grease to the sides of the receiver where the barrels lock in.

When cleaning any gun, make sure to keep track of the order in which you disassembled the parts. This is the time to inspect for wear and note any parts which might need replacement soon. If you do a considerable amount of shooting, consider getting your shotgun an ultrasonic cleaning once a season. Ultrasonic baths will remove grime you didn’t even know existed and make the gun like new.

Shotgun cleaning is not complicated, but is important. These tips will ensure your gun is in tip-top shape for years to come. Remember to do your five-minute wipe-down after each outing and give it a deep clean after a few boxes of shells or a dunk in the mud.

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