Properly cared for, a shotgun will last a lifetime. Maintenance is minimal…but critical! Taking care of it ensures your smoothbore functions reliably. You might have to clean your shotgun periodically during the hunting season, depending on how much you shoot and under what field conditions. At the very least clean it thoroughly once a year.
With no maintenance, powder residue and the remnants of plastic wads can eventually impact how your shotgun patterns. Whether semi-auto, pump, single-shot or double gun, barrels can be easily removed for cleaning.
There’s no shortage of excellent bore cleaners to handle the powder buildup: simply follow the directions for optimal results. Most recommend soaking a patch and using an aluminum rod to apply a thin film of cleaner to the inside of the barrel. Let the cleaner work for several hours, then use a bronze brush to scrape residue from the barrel wall. Follow with a series of dry patches until they come out clean.
Most bore cleaners don’t remove plastic buildup, so if you’re a high-volume shooter use a solvent specifically for dissolving plastics. Be careful that the solvent doesn’t touch any plastic components on your gun—they will also dissolve!
If your shotgun has choke tubes, leave one in when cleaning the bore to avoid pushing grime into the threads. Once the bore is clean, remove the choke and clean it with solvent and a brush. Then apply a light touch of tube grease to the threads to prevent them from rusting into place.
Most modern shotguns are easy to disassemble by following the owner’s manual. Once you remove the action, use compressed air (find it at most hardware or electronics stores) to blast away residue. If there’s still buildup, use a bristle brush or cotton swabs to get into the crevices. Baked-on debris may require an aerosol-based product, such as Birchwood Casey’s Gun Scrubber, to blast away the residue. Afterwards, use a brush or swab to clear remaining loose particles.
After cleaning the action and all other exposed metal, it’s time to lubricate—but don’t overdo it. Excess oil attracts dirt that can muck up the action, resulting in failures to cock or cycle. Apply a dab or two of gun oil to the operating rails and the slot that the bolt travels through on semi-autos and pumps. For break-actions, a drop of oil on the pivoting points and a dab of gun grease on the hinge pin is sufficient. Blot up all excess oil.
Cleaning solvents can damage both wood and synthetic stocks. Clean plastic stocks with warm water and mild dish soap; you may need a bristle brush to remove dirt that’s collected in the recoil pad. Wooden stocks are best treated with gunstock wax, which both protects and provides water resistance.
Before storing your shotgun, ensure it’s uncocked to avoid weakening the tension on the springs. To avoid surface rust, don’t store your shotgun in a sealed plastic case that that can trap moisture, or in a soft case that can absorb moisture. Locker-style gun safes are best. Just store your shotgun barrel down so excess oil runs out rather than accumulating in the action.
For more on storing your shotgun, check out our article, Home Storage of Firearms.