There have been literally thousands of articles written on how to clean your rifle barrel; after all, the barrel is the heart of your rifle, and cleaning it will influence how long it will last and how accurately it will shoot. So we could expect that how to perform such an important part of your rifle maintenance would be common knowledge couldn’t we?
Sadly, I don’t think so. What I see at rifle ranges and what I discuss with fellow shooting colleagues includes everything from no cleaning to, dare I say it, over-cleaning.
First of all: there is no one perfect way to clean a rifle barrel, but there are some methods that have proven better than others. All methods revolve around the cleaning rod and this should be the basis of your cleaning kit. One-piece stainless rods are best; brass and alloy rods snap, especially in the smaller calibres. Multi piece rods are handy but each join is an edge of some sort and that edge rubs on the rifling in your barrel, so we should avoid that. So: start with a good one-piece stainless rod and buy the appropriate spear tip jag for the calibre. My preference is for jags that are not made from brass, because then they won’t react with solvents that have copper remover in them. You can cut your own patches to size or buy them pre-cut.
Next we need a cleaning solvent and some oil and. if your wallet permits, a bore guide. A bore guide is a good investment; it fits into the rifles action and goes into the chamber. The cleaning rod passes through it and it centres the rod in the middle of the barrel, it helps reduce wear by stopping the cleaning rod rubbing the inside of the barrel.
What we are trying to achieve when cleaning a barrel is to remove the build-up of material that is deposited from the firing process. The two main culprits are copper and carbon.
Carbon is the fouling that causes the most problems; it’s also the easiest fouling to remove. All modern solvents have a strong focus on carbon removal and they will all, with the exception of copper-specific solvents like Sweets 7.62, remove carbon. There are some ways to make this job easier, though.
The first is to use penetrating oil in the barrel for a period of time to get between the carbon and the barrel steel. I apply all solvents and oils via the patch. I prefer solvents and oils that have tubes for applying the liquid to the patch in drops; I don’t like dipping the patches in a bottle as the patches always seem to fall off. I usually let the oil soak overnight - this has the added benefit of displacing any water that may be in the barrel, because even stainless steel will rust. Some less-aggressive solvents are fine to be left in the barrel for extended periods - but read the instructions carefully.
CLP (Cleaner Lubricant Preservative) solutions are also useable here.
The next day I will use the bronze brush to scrub and physically remove the carbon fouling that has been loosened by the solvents or oils. I then follow up with some clean dry patches, continuing until the patches only have a light grey trace on them. At this stage I’ll often call it done.
This may be a surprise to many, who will be saying “What about the copper in the barrel?” If you have used solvent rather than oil it’s likely some of the copper fouling will also have been removed but the question remains: what about the rest of the copper?
Traditional thinking is that cleaning all the fouling out of the barrel is the best solution; but the fact is that some barrels will actually shoot better with some copper in them. Copper can build up in the micro fissures in the barrel’s surface and actually provide a smoother surface for your bullet to pass over. Most modern barrels are very well-made but, like all mass-produced items, some are better than others.
Unfortunately there is no way to know how your rifle will respond unless you shoot it at a target range using a rest.
The difference may be nothing, or it may increase your groups a little - or a lot. If it’s a lot it’s just as likely to be carbon fouling, and you may have to clean it a few times to get it out. Fouling tends to go on in layers – copper, then carbon and so on as they build up on top of each other - so if your cleaning regime has been neglected it’s probably better to be safe than sorry and clean the barrel back to bare metal.
And if you’re going to do this, a specific copper solvent is also needed. Traditional solvents like Hoppes No 9, and Breakfree CLP are good day-to-day products but they won’t attack copper, so look on the label of the cleaner and see if it specifically states that it removes copper. Some solvents like Bore Tech Eliminator, Shooter’s Choice and Butches Bore Shine will do both, but there are quite a few others too, so do some research. If your barrel is neglected or if it is a barrel that just fouls very easily then cleaning back to bare metal may take a while and you may have to let the solvents work for a few hours or even overnight. I use a product called Kroil which is a super-penetrating oil; I apply it after shooting, with a couple of well-moistened patches, and let it sit overnight; I find that the next day I can brush out a lot of the carbon fouling. I then patch the barrel out until it is dry and start with the copper solvent. Even though Kroil won’t attack copper the copper-specific solvents seem to work more effectively when the barrel has been cleaned and brushed with Kroil first. The amount of blue and green streaks on your patches will indicate the amount of copper left in your barrel from the reaction with the copper solvent; as these fade you know the amount of copper left in the barrel is reducing.
In some situations a barrel abrasive or polish will be needed especially if you are trying to get rid of stubborn fouling. As above, clean the barrel to remove as much of the carbon fouling as you can, then apply a patch of light oil (Kroil), apply your polish to the patch and fit the patch to the jag. A bore guide is recommended here as you will be moving a rod up and down a bore that has abrasive in it. The rod will flex and come into contact with the rifling which is what we don’t want, but the bore guide will help reduce this. The most popular polishes are JB Bore paste, Flitz and KG12. Always follow the instructions, as over-polishing with some abrasives can remove barrel material.
The final part of cleaning is rust prevention. Here I use oil - Kroil and Eezox are my favourites but other products are capable of doing the same job. I push a fairly moist patch down the barrel and leave it in, leaving the rifle barrel down so the oil doesn’t seep into the action and bedding area.
Before I fire the rifle I always push two clean patches through to remove any oil; in the case of Kroil I find that this helps with cold bore accuracy. Copper and carbon affect the passage of the bullet down the bore, and this in turn affects the barrel harmonics. The slight residue from the Kroil, after the majority has been removed with dry patches, allows the first shot after cleaning to slip down the bore with similar resistance to a slightly-fouled barrel. While I must stress that every rifle will behave differently, the Kroil method has allowed me to keep my cold bore point of aim the same (as if it were slightly fouled) with a number of rifles.
The last thing worth mentioning is the use of the ‘Pull-Through’. The pull-through, or in its modern form the ‘Bore Snake’, is a useful field tool: it helps clear obstructions that might get in your barrel when out hunting, and it takes up very little room in your pack - but it is limited in what it can do. If you do use a pull-through make sure that you pull it straight out the barrel and not on an angle. If you pull on an angle you will be rubbing against the rifling at the end of the bore and this will wear the rifling and eventually affect accuracy.
Remember your rifle is an asset and if you want it to perform for you, you have to treat it right. Cleaning products, especially your cleaning rod, are an investment in your future hunting success.
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