For some reason, maybe you recently bought a gun.
Perhaps you want to participate in the only sport endorsed by the Founding Fathers: shooting. Perhaps you think guns are easier to obtain today than they will be in the future so you didn’t want to risk waiting. Perhaps you wanted one more gun than you already had. (That by the way always seems to be our need, doesn’t it?)
Now what do you do?
If you are like most people, you can’t wait to shoot it. But stop right there! Shooting it is the last thing you should do!
Care Now Extends the Life Later
Resist the temptation to shoot your new gun. Resist the temptation to shoot a used gun you just purchased also. Instead, you can spend a few moments now that will pay dividends forever. You actually can extend the life of your gun and help to restore life to a used gun that might have some barrel problems before you take the first shot.
It matters not if your gun is a rifle or handgun. It matters not if your gun is brand new, fairly new, or old. Whatever weapon you purchased, you are about to make it a better weapon.
My readers are perhaps the most familiar with the concept of pay now to reduce paying more later. When George W. Bush said he would save the economy with the TARP bailout, most of my readers knew that the cure was far worse than the short-term pain we would endure if the economy crashed then instead of crashing later with TARP making the crash much worse. When Obama wanted to save the economy by taking control of the banks, car makers, and your family doctor, my readers knew that whatever might happen without that government spending was highly preferred over the far worse outcome that the government takeovers will produce.
Keep that in mind as you read the rest of this article. Keep that in mind as you’re out there wanting to shoot a case of ammo in your new gun when I warn you not to… not quite yet.
It turns out that extremely simple cleaning of your barrel, in a systematic way for your new gun, extends the life and makes your weapon more accurate.
Before the First Shot
Some guns, such as the Ruger 10/22 rifle, can come from the factory with junk in the barrel. This junk might be micro shavings of steel or interior barrel coatings. Although the Ruger 10/22 is known for this, to be fair to Ruger perhaps they have changed their policy and they now thoroughly clean each and every barrel before boxing the rifle for sale. But I’ve not read of Ruger doing this. Why take the chance?
Actually, no matter what gun you buy, why take the chance?
That new Glock, XD, or 1911 pistol is ready to shoot out of the box, but why would you want to risk some fouling in the barrel of some kind when 5 minutes or less takes care of the problem?
And especially if your weapon is used, you truly have no idea what is in the barrel. You have no idea if the previous owner cleaned the barrel with something silly like WD-40 (which as a general rule, you never use on a gun). Or perhaps the previous owner shot extremely fouling ammo that left traces and residue not typically left by traditional store-bought or properly-reloaded ammo.
So do this before you shoot one round: Clean your gun’s barrel. It doesn’t have to be a deep cleaning. Just a standard, quick cleaning.
For the newbies, I’ll go through the process so you won’t fear doing too much or not enough.
Simple Cleaning is Quick and Easy
Get a cleaning kit that contains a brass brush sized for your gun’s caliber, cleaner or solvent (such as Hoppe’s #9, very cheaply priced at this Amazon link), and gun oil. It is best if you always clean from chamber to muzzle so a cleaning kit from Otis allows this. Instead of a rod Otis offers a plastic-coated stiff wire onto which you can screw brushes and patch holders. With a rod you have to enter at the muzzle and go back and forth to clean your barrel which is not optimum. While at the store, pick up some dry oil (graphite based I believe) such as Remington Dry Lube.
First, insert a patch in your cleaning wire or rod and put a few drops of solvent on it. Run this through your barrel slowly. Then put the brush on your cleaning wire or rod and put a couple of drops of solvent on the brush. Run it through slowly. Depending on the brush and barrel, your brush might have a tendency to turn as you pull it out of the muzzle. Let it turn! It is turning due to the rifling inside your barrel.
Some argue you should not turn as you remove a brush because holding the brush firmly forces the brush into places it otherwise wouldn’t go. With guns there is always another opinion. Many will disagree and say this entire article is unneeded. So be it. Either do it and be safe or don’t, it’s your gun, but I always will clean before my first shot and follow the pattern I am about to explain to you immediately after the first shot. The cost is only a little time, extremely little cleaning fluid, and the return is enough to offset those small risks for me. I want my guns to work well.
Now that you ran an initial wet patch and brush through the barrel, start running a new patch through your barrel, over and over, until it comes out without any black or gray soil. Your barrel is now clean. This might be 2 patches or 20 patches. If you get close to 8 or 9 patches and they still bring out black, it might be worth running another wet brass brush through your barrel once more to loosen the extra gunk in there and then return to the dry patches until one comes out clean.
Here’s a tip you’ll thank me for later: Get a bore-snake for your caliber and run it through two or three times after the brush. Your patches will come out clean far sooner and your barrel cleaning time should be cut in half on the average.
Your Initial Cleaning is Only Step One
ow, you must shoot your gun — one time. Not twice!
Load one round and shoot it. Do not load more than one round! Do not insert a full magazine! One round means one round.
Semi-automatics always have a risk — albeit a low risk — of turning full auto due to improper handling and unintentional gunsmithing (or in some cases intentional gunsmithing). The first time you shoot a new or used semi-auto, never load more than 2 rounds or you risk your weapon shooting full auto. The risk is small but I know of no disagreements in the gun community on this possibility. When you are new to a gun you certainly don’t want the uncertainty of it turning into full auto the first time you pull the trigger.
So just load one round and shoot it. You’ll get to shoot more later.
Now clean your gun again! Yes, it’s a hassle. Yes, it’s the last thing you want to do. But it’s best for your weapon.
If you live somewhere you can walk onto your back porch and shoot anything you can pull a trigger on, you are as fortunate as I am. But if you must go to a range to shoot, it is a real hassle to clean your gun, go to the line and shoot one round, then clean it again! I hate it! And it requires you take all your cleaning stuff to the range with you. But isn’t a lifetime of better shooting worth this initial effort?
A Cleaning Pattern Emerges
Once you clean your barrel again after that initial shot, load two rounds. Not three rounds! This is where you will learn if your gun has the full auto problem. Load two and only two rounds. If your weapon is magazine-fed, put two in the magazine and only two.
Go to the line, rack the slide to load your first round, and shoot. If your gun is a semi-auto, the second round should load. Shoot it now.
If you have the full-auto problem, you will know when you shoot the first round! You will get a double-shot — quite a surprise. If this happens, put your weapon back in its box immediately and take it to where you bought it if from a store, or take it to a gunsmith if you bought it from an individual, and get it fixed immediately. Fortunately, as I said earlier, the odds of this happening are extremely rare. But it needs to be fixed. And by loading only 2 rounds you protected yourself and those around you from an embarrassing spray of bullets!
Assuming your gun worked properly, after you shot two rounds and cleaned your gun, load three rounds. Shoot three rounds. Clean your gun again.
Now load and shoot four rounds. Clean your gun again.
Now load and shoot five rounds. Clean your gun again.
Now you’re done! You can go to the line and shoot, shoot, shoot all you want. Your barrel is properly broken in. Old-time gunsmiths swear this procedure helps restore extremely used barrels too. Others disagree. But your time investment is so small, why not?
When Done at the Range
After your first day of shooting your gun, it’s time to start dreaming of the next gun you want to buy. Within a day or two, be sure and clean your gun fully. After a heavy shooting session, you want to clean your gun even if it’s an AK that seems to like being dirty. But for your new gun, at least you are finished with the shot one, clean, shoot two, clean, shoot three, clean, … pattern.
When cleaning after a heavy shooting session, you’ll want to clean the chamber. You possibly may want to clean the trigger assembly depending on how difficult or easy it is and how recommended it is to do so. Always check the manual for proper cleaning requirements. If your gun did not come with a manual, order one as they are all over GunBroker and even eBay.
When doing routine cleaning like this, your barrel could use a little oil. Put a couple of drops onto a patch and run it through your barrel once after cleaning your barrel. If it’s a while before you shoot your gun again, this helps keep rust out of your barrel that wants to appear there. Your chamber almost certainly needs cleaning and once you have brushed solvent there, you need to lubricate the chamber. The problem is that oil sure causes junk to build up quickly there when you shoot again. It’s best most of the time to use a dry lube such as Remington Dry Lube so the build-up doesn’t occur as badly but your chamber still gets lubricated.
But again, check your manual for proper cleaning instructions for your specific gun. Some require greatly different techniques and cleaning procedures. The great M1A for example, can have big problems with a too-lubed chamber.
Still, when breaking in the barrel for the first time, all guns basically will follow the initial barrel-cleaning procedure I outlined above: wet patch, wet brush, and dry patches, once, twice, thrice, and so on until five rounds are finished.
Restoring Your Own Gun Barrels
After you put 5,000 or 6,000 rounds down range with your gun, it never hurts to repeat the initial patterned cleaning once again. Many swear you help restore your barrel and extend its life.
When you press that trigger, you want your gun to go *Bang* and not <click>. When your gun goes *Bang* you want your bullet to hit what you aim for. This barrel break-in procedure will help ensure that.
My only other advice for now is to keep your powder dry in the coming dark days…