Rifle seasons have wrapped up in most states, which means it’s time to stash your deer rifle in the safe and forget about it until the Fall.
Whether you filled a tag or earned a Ph.D. in Squirrel Observation, your rifle deserves a little TLC. It stuck by your side through the rain and snow, the cold days and the humid hunts, and now it needs a little loving.
Hopefully, you’ll spend your summer honing your rifle skills, and your long gun will see the light of day before next season. But whatever your offseason practice sessions look like, now is a great time to make sure your deer gun stays accurate (and faithful) for many years to come.
After double- and triple-checking that the gun is unloaded, give it a good once-over.
Look for dirt and debris embedded in the action or between the barrel and the stock. Be especially careful to look for areas of rust on any of the metal parts. A long gun can easily outlast you, but rust will shorten its lifespan more quickly than anything else. Even if you were careful to wipe down your rifle after every trip to the tree stand, moisture can still penetrate into the action, trigger assembly, and underneath the barrel.
To make sure you spot any problem areas, it’s a good idea to remove the stock from the action and inspect everything with a flashlight.
Lastly, do your best to look inside the bore. This is easier said than done, but bore lights can illuminate some corrosion and pitting.
If you really want to get up close and personal, you can use a borescope. Amazon offers inexpensive options, but I wouldn’t waste my time with those. A high-quality borescope specifically designed for firearms can produce images you can actually use. It takes practice to learn what to look for, but it can be a great tool to track a barrel’s erosion.
Alternatively, some gunsmiths offer bore scoping services. If your rifle isn’t shooting as accurately as it used to and you’re concerned about pitting, see if a local gunsmith will take a look for you.
Whatever tool you use, pay special attention to the last two inches of the barrel towards the muzzle. This is the section most likely to get wet and damaged in the elements, especially if you’ve shot the gun and haven’t oiled it since.
Once you’ve inspected the firearm and identified any problem areas, the next step is to give the gun a good scrubbing.
If you’ve identified any areas of rust, use some oil and soft steel wool to scrub it off. Don’t scrub too hard, as you can also remove the metal finish underneath the rust. But if it’s just flash rust on the surface of the metal, the gun won’t be any worse for wear. This is also why it’s a good idea to occasionally use a metal cleaning brush on the inside of your barrel. A nylon brush can usually clean out lead and copper, but a metal brush can scrub away surface rust. You can also purchase products (like this one) designed to remove rust without damaging a rifle’s finish.
If the rust has eaten away the finish and leaves pitting in the metal, the metal may need to be refinished depending on its location on the gun. If the rust is on the outside of the barrel, for example, you can re-blue it at home (if that’s the appropriate finish).
If the pitting is inside the barrel, you may need to take a trip to the gunsmith or try cleaning it with J-B Bore Cleaning Compound. This slightly abrasive paste polishes the bore as well as cleans it, which can smooth out irregularities in the bore. Don’t expect it to magically fix a badly damaged barrel, but it can help.
If you’ve taken care of your rifle in the field and stored it in a dry place, you’re unlikely to find much serious rust damage. Give the firearm a deep cleaning by disassembling the firearm as much as is reasonable and removing all the fouling from lead, copper, dirt, carbon, etc. Clean the bore according to the directions on your favorite gun cleaning products until the patches start coming out squeaky clean.
Put the firearm back together, and you’re ready for the final step.
No matter where you store your firearm, it’s important to apply a light coating of oil to all metal parts—inside and outside the bore. As you probably learned in grade school, oil and water don’t mix, so this layer of oil will keep water from reacting with metal and creating rust.
Gun owners often overlook proper firearm storage. A friend of mine has a beautiful Henry Golden Boy lever action rifle, but he used to keep it in a gun case in his garage. When I asked to see it recently, he pulled it out and found rust along the barrel and on the iron sights. I probably shouldn’t talk. I’ve also kept a .22 LR lever action rifle in my shop to deal with the occasional pest, and I just recently had to clean some flash rust from the barrel.
Your garage or shop isn’t a great place to keep your guns. Even if you live in a relatively dry area (unlike East Texas), humidity will, if given enough time, damage your firearms. That’s why you should always keep your guns in a safe with a dehumidifier installed. Safes aren’t airtight, but they’ll protect your guns far better than a gun case (which can actually trap humidity and exacerbate the problem).
If you have a fancy safe with an electrical outlet, there are tons of plug-in dehumidifiers that do a great job keeping the air dry. For the rest of us, these silica gel dehumidifiers work just fine. The silica beads absorb moisture in the safe, and the unit can be plugged into the wall to dry out the beads when they’re saturated. I’ve had these in my safe for years, and I’ve never had any problems with rust.
Firearms can be some of the coolest family heirlooms. If you want to ensure your rifles, shotguns, and pistols last long enough to pass down to your children, take some time this post-season and make sure they’re taken care of. It’ll take a few hours and a little elbow grease, but it’s worth it to have firearms that remain accurate and functional for decades to come.