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Old March 17, 2014, 09:55 AM   #1
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What's the deal with gun cleaning?

I've recently started shooting again for the first time since I hunted as a kid 35 years ago. I remember that my grandfather was always very insistent about the need to keep one's firearms clean. We just had pump and break-action shotguns, but after every day in the field, his parting words were something along the lines of, "go home and run your brush through the barrel with some Hoppe's, then run patches through it until they come out clean, or you'll ruin the barrel."

Now that we have the internet, I can scan the various boards and see what everybody else does. Here's what I've noticed:

1. Owners of semi-automatic, centerfire rifles and pistols appear to be the most persnickety, giving their weapons a field-strip and cleaning after every trip to range or field.

2. Although rimfire powders are said to be "dirtier" than centerfire, owners of .22LRs, including semiautomatics, do just the opposite, with many experienced shooters claiming they rarely run a patch through their guns, much less give them a full cleaning. Some even claim their guns shoot better dirty!

3. Semi-auto shotgun shooters fall somewhere between nos. 1 & 2.

4. Pump and break-action shooters run patches or a boresnake through their barrels after every session, but only rarely disassemble their guns for cleaning.

So, how does one reconcile all this? If modern powders are non-corrosive, why do we need to clean our guns at all? Was granddad just passing down folk wisdom from the black powder era? Why would cleaning be good for a Glock, but totally unnecessary for a Ruger 10-22?

Please explain! I don't want to do anything unnecessary, but every time I put my 22 away without cleaning it, I feel like a traitor to my ancestors!
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Old March 17, 2014, 10:55 AM   #2
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Gun cleaning habits are, like other things, very personal. And there is a huge volume of "institutional" lore, dating from the black powder era. You are seldom "wrong" to clean a firearm. However, you can be wrong with over cleaning, and definitely wrong if you clean it improperly. Damage can result.

Black powder residue traps moisture from the air, and holds it against the steel. Result = rust. And very rapidly in a humid environment. Under the right conditions, a gun can, literally, begin rusting overnight.

Moving forward in time, a bit, we have smokeless powders, where powder residue itself isn't much of a concern for rust, BUT through the 1950s, and in some ammo even today primer residue (chemical salts) were corrosive.

We may have totally non-corrosive ammo today, but old habits and beliefs die slowly.

Most people do over clean their guns. And by that I mean they clean them more often than the minimum needed to ensure reliable function. Military training puts a heavy emphasis on cleaning weapons, and for good sound reasons. Few civilian guns get treated to the abuses of combat.

Many, if not most of the semi auto rifle and pistols you see are some variant of military designs, intended to be easily, and repeatedly broken down for cleaning. Few purely sporting arms are built that way.

.22s are the odd one, for cleaning, because of the ammo construction. What has been discovered over the years is that, unlike centerfire guns, where accuracy suffers as the barrels get dirty, .22s seem to shoot better once a certain level of "fouling" is reached, and seldom noticeably deteriorate as they get dirtier. Cleaning the actions of powder residue for good function is a good idea, but cleaning the barrel of a .22LR can actually reduce the accuracy of the gun, for a while.

Also, Keeping your Glock ( or whatever) squeaky clean and running might be something important to keeping you alive. Very rare any .22LR is in that category.
All else being equal (and it almost never is) bigger bullets tend to work better.
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Old March 17, 2014, 01:26 PM   #3
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Anytime I shoot one round or 500, I field strip and give the gas parts a quick spray and wipe on my semi auto shotguns. Been working for 51 years now, so I am unlikely to change. I shoot mostly 1100s, and they are a bit dirtier than some newer designs, but mine have been completely reliable using this regimen. And of course wipe the outside. SxSs I wipe the outside down with an oily rag for fingerprints, and maybe separate the barrels and clean and lube the hinge area if it got dirty or gritty. Pump, good outside wipe down.
I don't worry a bit about the inside of the barrels other than to look unless something happened, like rain. I must use very special plastic wads because once a year scrub with good old Hoppes leaves them shining like a mirror. It may be because i rarely shoot fast enough to get the barrels hot, I don't know. All my guns are blued and walnut. Once a year anything except SxSs gets pulled apart for a good wipedown. Prevents gummy buildup. I don't waterfowl hunt anymore with a SxS or I would probably be going to a gunsmith for a cleaning since I spent as much ruining screwdrivers to fit those skinny screw slots as they charge.
The latest rage seems to be to see how long your gun can go without cleaning and then brag about it. I would much rather never find out. In the same category as breacher muzzles for home defense - you need a breacher in your own home !? - and bayonet lugs to me.
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Old March 17, 2014, 01:59 PM   #4
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I fall in the camp of....guns are tools / tools get dirty when you use them / so you clean them, to maintain them ( grit in working mechanisms does not prolong the life of the tool ) / so they're clean and ready to go the next time you use them.

There is something to the issue of .22's....on a match shooter level....where its almost like the barrel on a very accurate .22 needs to be "primed" to perform consistently. It may be superstition ...or it may be true / I'm not sure...

To me ...learning how to properly strip any gun you own down to a bare frame ( handgun, shotgun or rifle ) part of owning that gun ( and makes me understand the mechanism better )...and to me, it makes owning that gun more fun.

In terms of shotguns...if I ever shoot in inclement weather....I always remove the stock on that gun...clean, lube and inspect it ...and to dry it out inside ( even on O/U's ) to make sure there is no moisture inside before I put them back in the safe..../ and on all my shotguns - pumps, semi autos and Over least once a year, I strip them all down to a bare frame...and clean, inspect and lube them ....just an annual maintenance program ( good job for a rainy winter day ).....( and I do the same thing on my handguns...1911's, Sig Sauers, S&W revolvers, etc...)...

and I think - on some of my guns that I've owned for over 40 why they still look so good / and perform so well --- even after many thousands of rounds thru most of them.
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Old March 17, 2014, 02:25 PM   #5
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I enjoy striping & cleaning my guns. Sometimes even when they don't need it. I've never heard of too clean.
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Old March 17, 2014, 05:23 PM   #6
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I fall in the camp of....guns are tools / tools get dirty when you use them / so you clean them, to maintain them ( grit in working mechanisms does not prolong the life of the tool ) / so they're clean and ready to go the next time you use them
My sentiments as well....of course I still change the oil in my vehicles every 3000 miles when many of the engine oils of today say it's okay to run 5000 miles between changes.
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Old March 17, 2014, 05:53 PM   #7
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i try to clean after every trip ,but i dont sweat it f i forget one every once in a while, but if your earing 4-500 rounds though anything, its timefor a good clean

i am least picky about the hi-point carbine because, well, its a hi-point
also the ak doesnt mind some dirt either

pistols always get cleaned diligently after every shoot because my life may depend on those weapons, plinkers not so much

if your buying surplus ammo of course, a deep clean is needed everytime because you never know what primers are being used

i tend to clean the guns i spent the most $$ on more than the cheapos
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Old March 18, 2014, 11:38 AM   #8
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I try to clean my guns after I use them everytime. But sometimes I get busy and don't get a chance. I have 2 .22s that when I shoot, get cleaned. My Remington is very picky and my RG is a bit worn out. My AK might get cleaned once a year. If I hunt with any gun, they are cleaned at the end of season even if they weren't shot. If it rained that day, I clean them no matter what. My 9mm, always gets cleaned after shooting. The rest of my guns I try to but it doesn't always happen.
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Old March 18, 2014, 06:39 PM   #9
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It depends on which gun it is. My pistols get cleaned every 200rds or so, my 870, when ever shells start sticking in the chamber, .22 about every 2 years or when it stops cycling reliably. But my nice center fire rifles get cleaned inside and out after every time shooting. My AR gets the BCG wiped down and lubed every trip but the barrel only every few hundred rounds.
Basically I clean my "pretty" guns very often.
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Old March 18, 2014, 07:51 PM   #10
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I am in the clean camp also. Never damaged a gun by over cleaning it yet. Not sure ( when you have the right tools and know how to use them ) That it is even possible to damage a gun by over cleaning it. How do you over clean?. What is over clean?. The Sun don't set on a dirty gun period.
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Old March 21, 2014, 08:20 PM   #11
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I think you'll find most of us ''older'' guys tend to clean our guns more than needed. Our grandfather's probably remember a time when ammo was more corrosive and guns needed more attention.
I'm one of the, clean your gun after using it. My shotguns always get a swab of hopes and an oil patch at least. I always wipe outside and the wood to remove sweat and fingerprints.
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Old March 22, 2014, 12:44 AM   #12
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Cleaning via field stripping is usually harmless. But IMO detail stripping is done far too often by many. Burred screwheads and improperly fitting/loose fitting parts are too common in used guns and too commonly caused by amateurs detail stripping their guns more often than needed. JMO.
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Old March 22, 2014, 10:52 AM   #13
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When I do clean mine, my Remington .22 is taken completely apart. I have to it won't cycle if its the least little dirty. My AK doesn't care if its cleaned. My semi auto just gets the barrel taken out and everything wiped down. I've ever taken my single actions as far as taking the cylinders out. My bolt guns usually just go as far as the bolts coming out. My single shots usually just get the barrel taken off. I haven't even cleaned my pump gun yet, it won't cycle so after that I haven't even touched it.
I will add to it that don't grease semi autos, just use oil. Unless its an AK, they love grease. I use hi temp automotive grease. I do grease my single shots as well. I do grease the bolt on my Marlin. Makes it cycle so much smoother.
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