Author: Luther Cutts, Head Instructor (NSCA Level 3), Competitor
With winter finally winding down and relaxing its icy grip, many of us were eagerly anticipating a return to the clay target range. Those plans, however, were put on hold as the coronavirus pandemic swept across the globe, and we are still awaiting the green light (some patiently, some not so much) to be able to get back to the business of smashing clay targets.
As we wait for the provincial government to lift the restrictions on our social activities, this does not have to be ‘dead time’ – there are some activities that we can engage in that will not only help with passing the time, but may prove to be beneficial for when we are back on the courses.
Handling your shotgun
If you have not been handling your shotgun over the winter, it is likely that the muscles you use to shoot your shotgun have not yet woken up. It is never a bad idea to warm up before any form of exercise, and shooting a shotgun is no different. While it is not likely that someone will suffer an injury if they don’t warm up, warming up does serve more than that one purpose.
Handling one’s empty shotgun at home in advance of the season, with dedicated practice sessions, of handling the shotgun as you would during a trip around the course, will pay dividends when you are finally out there, calling for your targets.
Opening and closing the action multiple times, raising the gun up to the firing position and just handling the gun will get your muscles back into the form required for shooting. You will likely perform better throughout your first few rounds of clays, and you will less likely be sore the following day.
Servicing your shotgun
Spring is a great time to give your favourite shotgun a good once-over to ensure it is fully functional for the upcoming clays season. The fundamentals of a spring tune-up for a shotgun includes degreasing and re-lubricating the firearm, as well as ensuring that all parts and surfaces are clean, in good condition and appropriately fixed to the firearm. This is a good time to do a deep-clean on your gun, something that should be done at least once a year. Typically, this will include:
- Confirming that your firearm is completely empty and that there is no ammunition in the area you are working in
- Disassembly of the firearm for cleaning, sometimes referred to as ‘field stripping’
- Removal of the residue produced during the firing sequence requires a solvent that will soften and dissolve the gunpowder residue on the firearm, and in particular, in the bore
- Most gun cleaning solvents are suitable for this task. Copper solvents and solvents for centre-fire rifles and will work, but they are not ideal
- Some of the better solvents for routine cleaning of a shotgun include Hoppes No. 9, G96. Silver Willow has these products and many more for your gun cleaning needs. They are offering curbside pick up on Saturdays during this lockdown.
- The very aggressive copper solvents with Ammonia, such as Sweets 7.62 solvent, will damage the bore if left on the bore for more than about 30 minutes
- A patch with some solvent on it is passed through the bore(s) of your shotgun, and left for a few minutes, to allow it to work chemically on the residue in the bore. Areas exposed to the gasses generated during firing, such as the chokes, the muzzle area and the breech area of the firearm should also be wiped with solvent.
- After a few moments, a brush can be run through the bore a few times to remove any stubborn deposits. A nylon or bronze brush is perfectly adequate – a stainless steel brush can damage the bore and is not required for most cleaning activities
- Clean, dry patches are then pushed through the bore until they come out of the bore clean
- The better cleaning products have CLP properties – Clean, Lubricate, Protect – and if you are using one of these, there is no need to take any further action
- If your cleaning solution is not a CLP, it is a good idea to add a very light layer of gun oil to the bore
- Using a soft, clean rag, or a nylon brush, clean the other areas exposed to the propellant gasses, namely, the breech, the muzzle and the chokes
- Remove all solvent and debris is a soft, clean cloth, and if required, wipe with a very light layer of gun oil
- If the trigger can be removed from the firearm, it is desirable to do so, as it typically allows better access to the trigger assembly
- Wash the entire assembly liberally with a light solvent
- Use compressed air to remove debris and solvent from the assembly
- Apply a light gun oil to the trigger
- Use compressed air to remove excess oil – that oil remaining is the correct amount for the trigger group
Extractors (on double-barrel shotguns)
- Extractors will usually last for a very long time, as they are hardened steel and they are typically not subjected to great stress. They do break, however, when residue builds up underneath the exposed surface. When the action is closed, enough residue can cause the extractor to bend, which leads to metal fatigue and failure. One of the easiest ways to avoid a broken extractor is to remove the extractors from the barrels and clean both the extractors and the associated recesses in the barrel. It is remarkable how much gunk will accumulate under the extractors on an otherwise clean shotgun.
- Extractor removal is different for most of the major brands – YouTube will most likely have an instructional video that can guide you through the removal of the extractors.
- Wear safety glasses and drape a towel over the extractor as you remove it – if it gets away from you, parts can go flying all over the place. The potential for lost parts or injury is significant.
- Removing the stock from the firearm
- Using a paint brush, and liberal amounts of a lighter-end solvent such as Varsol or lacquer thinner, degrease the metal surfaces – these solvents can be harmful to your wood stocks and accents, so limit their use to metal surfaces only
- If you have a compressor, use a stream of compressed air to remove everything from the metal surfaces
- With a lightly oiled rag, wipe all metal surfaces down. A good wash with a solvent such as Varsol will leave the metal clinically dry, and therefore, without corrosion protection
Now that your shotgun is pristine and ready for use, the last step required is lubrication before the firearm is reassembled. Most people apply too much grease to their guns, which can be as bad as not enough. Grease allows metal surfaces to be in contact while minimizing the stress caused by friction and by the pressure generated when the firearm is discharged. But too much grease can attract debris and hold it against the metal surfaces we are intending to protect. Very small quantities of grease are required for a double-barrel shotgun, and it must be frequently removed and replaced with clean grease.
- Grease is required on the hinge pins and trunnions. A tiny amount on each shoulder is adequate, as the tolerances are very tight in this area of the gun and any grease not on the bearing surface is typically not beneficial
- Grease is also required on the front of the receiver, where the receiver and the forend are in contact. This area of the firearm is under severe stress at the moment of firing, and grease minimizes the wear along the area of contact.
- The cocking lever, which on most double-barrel shotguns is a metal bar extending out from the bottom rear of the forend, and a corresponding bar at the front bottom end of the receiver. As the action is opened, the leverage of the bar in the forend pushing on the bar in the receiver re-cocks the hammers. A small amount of grease should be applied to the end of these two bars.
- The final place for grease is on the choke tubes, assuming of course your shotgun has choke tubes. A very light layer of grease on the threads and body of the choke make the chokes easier to remove, and to clean as the grease seals the threads and reduces the amount of high-pressure gas getting between the choke and the barrel wall.
- Be careful not to use too much grease, as every effort must be made to prevent grease from getting into the bore
How much grease does one need? I can completely grease any of my double barrel shotguns with a tiny dab of grease on the end of my pinkie finger. If you are wiping grease off after it oozes out of the joint that you lubricated, then you are using too much.
I wipe the grease off my gun every time I use it and apply clean grease, the three-ounce jar of grease I have is over a decade old. And be sure to use petroleum grease, rated for high pressure and high heat. Lithium grease is not suitable for use on shotguns.
The more we can do to be prepared for the opening day of clays season, the more enjoyable it will be. All indications are that 2020 is going to be a much-curtailed shooting season – we should do everything thing we can to wring every last bit of enjoyment out of it.