How to Care for Your Shotgun

Aug 22, 2018 | Shooting Tips | 2 comments

Author:  Luther Cutts, Head Instructor (NSCA Level 3), Competitor 

Care for a firearm is an important enough topic to warrant its own chapter in the Canadian Firearms Safety Course.  There are several reasons for this – proper care and maintenance will ensure the firearm is in good condition the next time it is put to use, and it will help maintain the investment in the firearm.  Cleaning the firearm helps the owner/user retain their familiarity with the firearm, and it can reveal potential problems before they manifest themselves are big issues.  It is far better to find a lose or cracked part when cleaning than to loose it while shooting, or have it break and leave you with a non-functioning firearm.

When a shotgun is discharged, the primer explodes and causes the smokeless powder in the cartridge to ignite.  This powder burns very quickly, creating a large volume of hot gas, which forces the wad and the shot within out the muzzle.  All of this causes things to happen inside the firearm that will eventually require intervention if they are not going to hamper the performance of the firearm.  The primer and the powder both leave a residue, primarily in the form of the products of combustion.  The wad, being driven down the barrel, will leave trace amounts of plastic in the bore, and the heat from both the burning smokeless powder and the friction will normally “cook off” any lubricants on the firearm, which may make it vulnerable to corrosion.  The good news is, dealing with these issues is relatively easy and painless.

Daily shotgun care, at a glance

Daily cleaning is the basic cleaning of your shotgun, with the primary objectives of keeping the firearm functioning and to prevent corrosion.  It is not onerous and usually takes about five minutes to complete.  At a minimum, the following should be done at the end of each day of shooting:

  • Ensure the firearm is unloaded
  • Remove, clean, re-lubricate and re-install chokes
  • Draw a bore snake through the bore(s)
  • Remove all grease from the action and re-grease
  • Wipe all metal surfaces with a lightly oiled rag

Annual shotgun care, at a glance

Annual cleaning of the typical shotgun is normally done at the end of the season.  This is a bit more involved, and will take the average individual about 20 minutes to complete.  For high-volume shooters, this might be done several times in a season, roughly every 10,000 rounds.

  • Ensure the firearm is unloaded
  • Field strip the gun
  • Remove, clean, re-lubricate and re-install choke tubes
  • If the gun is a pump or semi-automatic, remove the trigger group and the breach bolt
  • If the gun is double barrel, remove the butt stock from the receiver (or remove the triggers if the firearm is designed as such) and the extractors from the barrel assembly
  • Clean the trigger group (described below)
  • Using a bronze brush, brush all surfaces that appear to have carbon deposits, paying particular attention to the extractors, the breach face and the rear of the barrel assembly
  • Using a rigid cleaning rod, a proper brush (for instance, a 12 gauge brush for a 12 gauge barrel) and a suitable solvent, clean the bore(s), alternating between the brush and a clean, moderately tight-fitting patch.  When the patch comes out of the bore clean, the bore is clean

Shotgun care

The first step in caring for your shotgun is to ensure that the firearm is unloaded.  This involves applying the principles of ACTS and PROVE, as taught in the Canadian Firearms Safety Courses.

Using a ‘bore snake’

A quick, cursory cleaning can be delivered with a ‘bore snake,’ which does not require any disassembly of the firearm at all, provided of course the firearm is unloaded.  This cleaning of the firearm is the absolute minimum, and it simply involves pulling a ‘bore snake’ cleaning tool through the bore. This process will remove unburned powder and large, visible pieces of debris from the bore, but very little else. Most serious firearms owners consider the use of the bore snake alone an intermediate and expedient step, one that would not rise to the level of “cleaning” on its own.

Field stripping

Depending on what kind of shotgun you have, you will more than likely be required to at least partially disassemble the firearm, a term usually referred to as “field stripping.” For instance, an over/under or a side-by-side shotgun will normally be taken down into three parts – the barrels, the forend and the butt stock/receiver.  A pump action or a semi-automatic shotgun normally requires the removal of the barrel, but most users also remove the trigger group as well.

Basic care

Once field stripped, most shotgun shooters will do the following actions, which are listed in no particular order:

  • Draw a bore snake through the bore
  • Remove, clean, lubricate and re-install any chokes used during the day
  • Remove any grease from the action, degrease and re-grease
  • Wipe away any visible carbon deposits, particularly around barrel vents and gas vents on gas operated semi-automatic shotguns
  • Wipe down all metal surfaces with a lightly oiled rag
  • Check all screws to ensure they are secure
  • If the trigger group has been removed, use a light solvent to wash it out and lightly oil it

Cleaning the trigger group

Over-lubrication of the trigger group is something that should be avoided.  Not only can it lead to trigger problems such as doubling and fan-firing, but it can lead to premature wear on the trigger.  Almost all good lubricants have a tendency to draw dust and other surface contaminants, and these particles can lead to increased wear.  One of the best ways to clean a trigger group is as follows:

  • Using a light solvent, such as Varsol or brake cleaner, wash the trigger group out. This typically involves a very generous application of the solvent, which will remove all oil and grease and leave the trigger clinically dry.
  • Use compressed air to blow the trigger dry.  This step is quite rigorous and the intent is to remove all of the solvent from the trigger group
  • After the solvent has been removed, a very light gun oil can be applied to the trigger group. Products like RemOil, Blue and G96 are suitable for this purpose.  
  • Using compressed air, the trigger group is then blown out.  This process will remove the excess oil and leave the proper amount of lubricant on the trigger group.  This step is less rigorous than when removing the solvent – the intent at this stage is to remove the excess oil, but leave trace amounts 

Choosing a solvent

Shotguns differ from rifles in the type of solvents that work best.  Rifles will often require a copper solvent to deal with bullet jacket materials left in the bore.  This is not an issue with shotguns, so cleaners like Sweets 7.62, Bright-Bore, Wipe-Out and Patch-Out are not required for shotgun cleaning.  Nitro solvents, such as Hoppe’s No 9, G-96, MPro-7, Q-Maxx Blue and Black as well as others are better suited to cleaning a shotgun.

Special attention to working parts

Throughout this cleaning process, particular attention should be paid to the working parts of the firearms.  Carbon deposits can build up and lead to bigger problems if allowed to accumulate. One example of this is the extractors/ejectors on double-barrel shotguns.  These are the parts that left the unfired rounds out of the chamber and that eject the spent hulls from the gun after firing.  These pieces of steel are fit with very tight tolerances and should normally last a long time.  However, if carbon is allowed to accumulate under the face of the extractor, when the gun is closed the extractor is flexed.  This continual flexing will lead to the eventual failure of the extractor.

Storing your shotgun

If the firearm is going to be stored for several months, ensure that an oily patch is drawn through the bores and all metal surfaces are wiped with an oily rag.  It is important not to use too much oil, as gun oil can leach into the wood, which will soften the wood and create its own set of problems. A very light coating of oil is all that is required.