By Joe Arterburn


Like firearm safety, proper firearm maintenance is an ongoing, top-of-mind concern each time you hit the field or range. Hunting safety begins with properly maintained firearms, and regular inspection and maintenance should be part of your regular routine to ensure there are no potentially dangerous barrel obstructions or dirty or fouled action to cause ejection problems, misfeeds, jams or misfires, or other preventable issues that proper maintenance could address.

But once a year, in January as hunting seasons are winding down, I schedule time at my workbench to thoroughly clean every firearm I’ve used over the past year. No matter how many times I’ve used them or when I last cleaned them, I get them out and clean them again. Firearm cleaning party? Well, yes, if our kids, Hunter, Jack, and Sam, are home I invite them to grab their guns and join in.

In the rush from hunting season to hunting season, my gun cleaning may be spotty at best, usually hurried and not likely to catch every detail. Often I’ll run a few patches or pull-through cleaning system through the barrel and perhaps blast fouling out of actions with a spray cleaner. But, during the first-of-the-year downtime (and between waterfowl and coyote hunts), I methodically go through the gun safe and one-by-one give each firearm a thorough cleaning and rust-preventative treatment.

To keep up with the seemingly endless improvements in gun-cleaning chemicals such as solvents, lubricants and rust preventatives, and gun-cleaning accessories and techniques, I keep tabs on several resources, including Shooter’s Choice Pro-Care System and Birchwood Casey’s Gun Care Guide..

Huntershandbook.com (https://www.huntershandbook.com/cleaning-refinishing/) is also a great source for firearms maintenance information as well as a wealth of hunting information.

Much of the advice you’ll encounter follows similar steps—essentially clean, lubricate, and protect.

Frank Devlin, Vice President of Business Development at Otis Technology, explained the steps using Otis’ innovative aircraft grade Memory-Flex® cable and small slotted tip for proper Breech-to-Muzzle® cleaning Memory-Flex® cable and small slotted tip for proper Breech-to-Muzzle® cleaning Memory-Flex cable breech-to-muzzle cleaning system.

“Historically, the Otis way has been breech-to-muzzle,” Devlin said, so the same direction the bullet travels is the direction you should clean your gun. “The rationale is that way you’re not putting anything down into the action by going down the barrel rather than out of the barrel,” he said.

By cleaning from the muzzle to breech you could introduce solvent, including gunk-laden solvent, into the action, the theory goes. If your rifle has a removable bolt, you can clean from breech to muzzle with a rigid rod. Same goes for break-open muzzleloaders and shotguns. And it is usually a simple matter to remove barrels from shotguns, even pumps and semi-autos, for thorough breech-to-muzzle cleaning, but be sure to follow manufacturer’s instructions on disassembly and re-assembly.

One of the selling points of the Otis system is it lets you clean a firearm without disassembly.

With the Otis system, you affix a patch or brush to the end of the Memory Flex cable and feed the cable through the breech end to the muzzle, then simply pull it through, cleaning as you pull. (Here’s a hint from a long-time Otis user: Follow instructions for attaching the patch. It’s a clever, effective method.)

Start with a patch saturated with cleaning solvent, such as Otis Complete Gun Cleaner, Shooter’s Choice MC-7 Bore Cleaner, or Birchwood Casey Bore Scrubber. The patch doesn’t have to be over-saturated or dripping with solvent, just good and wet. You want enough solvent to thoroughly coat the bore, enough to moisten any and all fouling.

(Let me toss this in here: There are also three-in-one, do-it-all potions out there, like Otis CLP formulas that, as CLP stands for, clean, lubricate, and protect. Otis’s 085 CLP formula is time-proven with about 30 years of experience behind it. Their Bio CLP is a biodegradable and environmentally-friendly version.)

After running the wet patch through, wait about five minutes for the solvent to soak in and work on the fouling. I usually use this time to wipe down the gun’s exterior with rust preventative or clean the lenses of the scope.

The next step is to attach a bronze brush to the cable and pull it through several times, depending on how dirty the bore is and how infrequently you clean your gun, Devlin said. I’d rather over-scrub than under-scrub so I’ll usually make 10 to 11 passes with the brush.

Follow that with a dry patch to mop up residue, then repeat with a solvent-moistened patch. Essentially, you repeat with a moistened patch until the patches come out clean. If you encounter stubborn fouling, you may need to repeat with the bronze brush. Just be sure to rinse off the brush with solvent so you’re not reintroducing fouling to the bore.

Once the patches come out clean, you’re almost done.

Then, turn your attention to the action. If you’re good at working on firearms and follow manufacturer’s instructions, you can disassemble and clean the action and trigger assembly. If you don’t want to take those steps, you should at least blast fouling and gunk out of the action and trigger with Birchwood Casey Gun Scrubber.

Devlin also recommends using a brush, a new one made for the purpose or an old, clean toothbrush, to scrub hard-to-reach areas. Dampen the brush with solvent and scrub the nooks and crannies, then clean up by wiping with a clean cloth.

Once satisfied the action and trigger assembly are clean, it’s time to finish up by applying a nice coat of rust preventative. Apply the rust preventative, like Birchwood Casey’s Barricade or Shooter’s Choice Rust Prevent, to a patch and work it through the barrel. Again, I run the same patch through several times. Similarly spray or wipe rust preventative on any parts before reassembling. I look to cover all parts. If I haven’t disassembled the action or trigger, I spray rust preventative much the same way I sprayed Gun Scrubber and to the same areas. Don’t overdo with the rust preventative. Just a light coat will protect from rust and corrosion and help ensure smooth performance.


Wipe off any excess and I always finish with a light spray of rust preventative over the exterior of all metal parts. Protect the scope lenses with scope caps or a rag though. You don’t want chemicals on the glass. Then I wipe down the entire firearm with a clean cloth and put it back in same storage, gripping it with the clean cloth so as not to leave fingerprints on the metal.

And that reminds me. I also clean the stock and forearm, paying particular attention to the butt pad, which may have been set on the ground or in mud. Wipe off synthetic stocks, and for wood stocks I use a wood-friendly cleaner such as the all-purpose Clenzoil Field & Range.

By the way, Devlin prefers synthetic grease on hinge pins and other moving parts and also highly recommends Otis’ Mission Critical MC-10, a high-performance synthetic lubricant derived from the aerospace industry. MC-10 will not freeze, burn, or carbonize (and therefore turn into black gunk). It can withstand temperatures from 65 below zero to 650 degrees, well within the range I’ll be hunting and shooting. There’s also an MC-10 Cleaner that’s worth looking into as well.

There are a ton of cleaning products out there. I started out using what friends recommended, then experimented with others, branching out as new chemicals were developed. I look for chemicals that 1) work quickly and efficiently; 2) are easy to apply; 3) have a pleasant or no smell; and 4) are not obnoxious or dangerous to breathe or handle. In any case, always follow manufacturer’s directions about their use.

As a final storage touch, Devlin also recommends a new Otis Technology product, the Metal Defense Bore Stick. The Bore Stick features a plastic plug that caps the muzzle and from which dangles a cord with Vapor Corrosion Inhibitor (VCI) technology, which slowly emits molecules that create a protective barrier on the surface. The technology, Devlin said, is widely used in the telecommunications industry to protect fiber-optic cables strung through large-diameter pipe or conduit. The plug, which is graduated to fit various calibers, has a space to write date of installation so you can track elapsed time. The protection lasts for two years.

Turning gun cleaning into an annual event is a good way to start a new hunting tradition. Not only do you get your firearms clean and ready for the next season, you can spend some quality time with family members. (Or friends. Tell them to bring their guns or, better yet, convince them to help clean yours.) Take turns at the bench or set up multiple cleaning stations. You can even start an assembly-line process where one station cleans the bore, another the action, another cleans the scope, and finishes with rust preventative.

Plus, it is a good way to pass along good firearms-cleaning habits. Cleaning guns isn’t hard but it can be intimidating to those just starting out. A group atmosphere allows you to lend support and advice when needed and impart knowledge on how firearms work. Some may find it a tedious chore but by using the party plan, you can make it a rewarding experience. And just think of the hunting stories you can tell each other and the plans you can make for next season.