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Basic Shotgun Cleaning, Care, and Maintenance

Whether you're in the field or on the bench, you can take steps to ensure that your firearm is in top condition and protected from the elements.

Basic Shotgun Cleaning, Care, and Maintenance

With a little attention and work your shotgun will serve you for years to come. 

Modern shotguns are hard-working tools that benefit from improved machining technology and high-tech surface treatments. However, to keep your shotgun running like you should and preserve your investment, you need to develop a regular cleaning and maintenance routine.

There is not, however, one correct method or tool for shotgun cleaning. Instead, you need to understand the objectives of shotgun maintenance, recognize the types of tools that will help you achieve your goals, and avoid the pitfalls that can result in stoppages or damage to your firearm.

DON’T MISS THE VIDEO ON SHOTGUN CLEANING BASICS!!

The Three Steps to Shotgun Maintenance 

For the sake of simplicity, I break my shotgun cleaning routine into three key steps: Interior surface cleaning, lubrication, and exterior surface cleaning. To begin, I disassemble the shotgun completely. This is different than field stripping because during disassembly we will break the gun down into small parts and will clean components like the firing pin and trigger assembly, whereas field stripping is the simpler method of breaking the gun down into its primary component parts. Field stripping is what I do after a day’s hunt, a rudimentary cleaning that clears debris from the major moving parts. I’ll completely disassemble the gun for a thorough, detailed cleaning at the end of a long hunt or after the close of the season.


Interior Surface Cleaning 

Disassembly varies so much from one gun to the next that it would be impossible to provide operation on every shotgun but follow your owner’s manual and break the gun down into its components. Every one of the internal components will need to be cleaned, and for this I use either a gun cleaning solvent or alcohol. Alcohol swabs do a great job of wiping away grease, which is essential since build ups of grease and the debris that is subsequently trapped in that grease can lead to malfunctions and failures.

There are a variety of different methods to clean the bore of a shotgun, but generally speaking you’ll either utilize a push or pull method. “Pushing” involves the use of a cleaning rod, while “pulling” methods utilize ropes or bore snakes. I’ve used both methods and have found them equally effective, but each has their advantages. Bore snakes generally utilize a one-size-fits-all design so there’s no need to swap jags, brushes, and mops and bore snakes roll up for easy storage. However, cleaning rods can fit a variety of guns and gauges, and if you need to dislodge something from the bore, you’ll need a cleaning rod.

Using a Cleaning Rod

I begin by using a bore brush that matches the gauge of my shotgun. Most bore brushes are made from phosphor bronze, which is an alloy of copper. Some premium bore brushes have a nickel coating on the bristles, but the key is to find a brush that is stiff enough to loosen and remove debris in the bore but will not damage the gun.  

Plastic wads are one of the greatest shotshell innovations of the twentieth century, but they can cause a great deal of fouling inside the bore. That fouling, in turn, can lead to poor patterning and even damage to the gun. Be certain to use a bore solvent that is designed to remove wad fouling.

cleaning a shotgun
Use cleaning solvents or alcohol to wipe away grease and residue from the internal components of your shotgun. (Photo By: Brad Fitzpatrick)

Also, remove and clean screw-in choke tubes. Chokes tubes that are left inside the bore can, over time, seize, effectively turning a multi-choke gun into a fixed constriction gun. Generally, tight choke tubes can be removed with the supplied wrench, but that’s not always the case. To prevent this, it’s best to remove choke tubes periodically and clean them as well as gently cleaning the threads inside the bore. Some manufacturers recommend using anti-seize on the choke tubes, but I typically don’t do this. Instead, after every few trips to the range or the field you can remove and clean the chokes.

Every type of gun has specific cleaning considerations that must be given special attention. Single shot guns are generally the simplest to clean, and since there are so few moving parts there’s little to clean. Over/unders and side-by-sides are more complex, but only slightly so. For double guns, remove the forearm and barrel and clean away any internal debris carefully. Pump guns are also low-maintenance firearms.

Semiautos can be more complex, but this depends in large part on the operating system. Inertia-operated shotguns like those from Benelli, Franchi, Stoeger, and CZ-USA utilize recoil energy to cycle the action. As a result, fouling is generally expelled through the muzzle, and there are very few moving parts to disassemble and clean. Pay special attention to the lugs that lock the bolt into place when firing. Gas-operated guns usually require more maintenance, but that depends largely on the design of the gun. Gas guns channel gases through the operating system, and almost all utilize a piston system and gas ports. Both the piston and gas ports should be routinely cleaned. Excess fouling can block gas ports or disrupt piston operation which leads to malfunctions. Remington’s 1100 and 11-87 and some other semiauto gas guns use O-rings, and these should be regularly inspected, as these O-rings can dry rot and need to be replaced occasionally.

While cleaning, be certain to clean debris away from the small component parts. Most modern shotguns offer trigger groups that can be removed by pushing transverse pins out of the receiver. Brushes make excellent tools for cleaning small parts, but be certain that you have a way to store small parts so they aren’t lost or misplaced.

cz-usa shotgun on a cleaning bench
Spend some time on the bench to clean and maintain your shotgun in between uses to extend its life. (Photo By: Brad Fitzpatrick)

Lubrication

Moving parts create friction, and that friction can lead to malfunctions. To combat this, a light layer of lubricant needs to be added to any moving part. If you’re shooting a break-action gun, be certain to lubricate all the metal-to-metal contact points. The hinge pin should also have a light layer of lubricant. Pump-action shotguns require a light layer of lubricant on the bolt, rails, and slide arms.

Semiauto shotguns will need to be lubricated as well, and the key points here will depend on the operating system. Inertia guns require lubricant on the bolt and internal rails. I shoot inertia guns frequently, and there are three primary reasons that I’ve seen these guns fail to operate when there wasn’t a mechanical issue: Too much lubricant, too little lubricant, or shotshells that are too light to consistently operate the action. For semiautos, be sure that the bolt, rails, and the piston and magazine tube surface are clean and lightly lubricated.

A word of caution when it comes to lubrication: Excessive lubricants can trap debris and lead to malfunctions. The key to effectively cleaning a shotgun is a light layer of surface lubricant. Also, if you hunt in cold climates be certain that the grease or lubricant you are using is certified to work in the temperatures where you’re hunting. If grease or lubricant begins to gel it can impede firearm function.

black synthetic shotgun with clay targets
Proper and regular cleaning of your shotgun will not only extend its life, but it will also ensure its safe operation. (Photo By: Brad Fitzpatrick)

Exterior Cleaning

Cleaning the exterior of the shotgun depends largely upon the materials from which it is constructed and surface treatments applied to the metal. Wood stocks shouldn’t be exposed to harsh solvents, and blued surfaces will require more regular cleaning. Modern surface treatments like Cerakote, Perma-Cote and Benelli’s BE.S.T. treatments require less maintenance, but it’s a good idea to thoroughly clean the exterior of the gun periodically.


Storage is another important consideration for shotgun maintenance. It’s best not to store them in cases that can trap moisture and damage wood or cause blued metal to rust. Wood stocks are susceptible to changes in humidity and temperature, so storing these guns in a cool, relatively dry location is optimal. Most firearm museums regulate humidity at around 40 to 45 percent, which is ideal.

Shotguns are hard-working tools that require minimal maintenance to operate efficiently, but care must be taken to be sure that your guns remain to top-working condition. With a little attention and work your shotgun will serve you for years to come.

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