It's fair to say that the vast majority of airgun shooters have no inclination to attempt a full service on their guns. Basic maintenance, however, is something that we should all get involved with, and a bit of basic maintenance helps keep our kit in top condition.
Give the action a light dusting off if the gun has been used in a dusty environment, and this is particularly important with PCPs as the valve system can be susceptible to small particles. I had it hammered home, that just handling the gun can leave fingerprints on the metal, which if left, can encourage rust to form. So, an oily cloth is just for the job of rubbing over the metalwork. I use Parker Hale Express Gun Oil, but there are plenty of similar products on the market. Don't have it too wet as that can attract dust and dirt, just enough to leave a fine film over the surface, after every use.
If conditions have been really unfavourable, it can be a prudent move to remove the stock and give the action, first a dust off on the underside, and also the inside, removing any dirt that has built up. Most stocks are held by 1-3 bolts, and removal is a simple process. After shooting in wet conditions, it can be vital to get it off, so any patch of moisture that has crept inside, can be seen, dried off, and then again, oiled over. If everything has been soaked, leave the action and stock apart in a warm room to fully dry out before oiling and reassembly. After terrible conditions, remove any other accessory, including scope or silencer to dry off and oil underneath. If the stock is wood, oil over too, to feed the grain.
Many of us fit scopes to our guns, and the lenses need to be looked after and respected. Just as with a quality camera, they may need a clean periodically, and the first vital thing is to blow away grit and dirt, either physically blowing off the dust, or using a camera blower. With grit safely removed, gently wipe the lenses with cleaning solution and a lens cloth, or dedicated, moist cleaning sachets/pads from an optician.
Many guns are designed to be multi-shot and may rely on a magazine of some sort. Keeping this free from dirt, again will extend its life, and improve reliability, as dirt is prevented from fouling the mechanism. Mags stored or held loose in the pocket will inevitably collect dust and debris, and this will possibly find its way where it shouldn't. Use a small container/ pouch to hold and protect them, and performance will be maintained.
Normal routine maintenance can include cleaning the barrel, and whilst this can be far more important with a PCP to keep accuracy on song, after shooting in wet conditions, it is pretty vital with any gun; to prevent rust from forming. A simple pull-through is all that's required, formed normally from plasticcoated fishing trace wire. Some dedicated sets are available, such as from Napier, or Crown Saver, but the principle is the same.
Feed the looped wire down the barrel from the muzzle end, and when it emerges from the breech attach a small cleaning patch into the loop, lubricate with an appropriate cleaning solution, just enough to slightly dampen the patch, and pull through the bore. Ensure the patch is of the right calibre! Hold the gun upside down if it's a PCP so any solution can't run into the transfer port. Repeat three or four times until clean.
Faced with an awkward muzzle brake on a PCP, the trick is to take a drinking straw and split it down the side, then feed the cord inside it almost to the end. Feed the straw down the muzzle and into the crown. Hold it, and with the other hand feed the cord through. When it’s in the barrel, withdraw the straw, and carry on as usual. We are talking basics here, but this simple maintenance is enough to keep your favourite airgun ticking over. As the old adage goes, look after your kit as an investment, and it will look after you. Good shooting to all.
Parker Hale Youngs 303 Barrel Cleaner/ Rust Inhibitor 125ml tin £7.98 - www.bisley-uk.com
Parker Hale Express Gun Oil 125ml tin £7.98 - www.bisley-uk.com
Bisley Gun Cleaning Patches £5.50 - www.bisley-uk.com
Break Free CLP Cleaner, Lubricant, Preservative £5.50 - www.breakfreeclp.co.uk
Napier Universal Rifle Pull-through Kit £34.19 - www.napieruk.com
The cleaning process
1. Removing the stock normally involves just two or three bolts
2. Wipe any moisture and dirt away, and leave a film of oil over the metalwork
3. The Crown Saver pull through is a neat design, to be used with patches
4. Awkward muzzle brakes can be bypassed using the split straw method
5. When the pull-through emerges, feed through a small patch and lubricate it
6. This stuff works well
7. Gauge how dirty the patches are - normally two to three pulls through are enough
8. The Universal Cleaning Kit from Napier is a comprehensive set
As much as 'experts' would like to tell you, there isn’t really an overall right or wrong way to clean a rifle, but there are certainly helpful techniques that will benefit different shooters and experience of what works for you is key. There are some definite no-nos and the biggest of which is to think a rifle never needs cleaning. So, what works for me? Just because I have to say it, check the rifle isn’t loaded.
It might seem like a new gun should be like a new car and valeted to perfection before sale, but that’s rarely the case, storage oils and greases may inhabit the action and bore. Cleaning rods and jags are the key components and you will of course need bore solvent. I decant large bottles into small dropper bottles that allow me to drip just enough solvent onto a patch without wastage. I like spear point jags as they hold the patch secure centrally and have a selection of rods with corresponding jags to cope with calibres from .17 up to .338. Patches are available to cut yourself or pre-cut in bags. I prefer the latter as it guarantees consistency and saves time, you can choose round, square even triangular designs and there are different fabrics used. Plain cotton works for me, although some are thicker than others, more absorbent, more compressible so worth buying a decent size bag and stick with the same ones once you know they fit your bore well.
Using a bore guide is generally beneficial, it prevents solvent getting into your bolt lug abutments and magazine which is a hassle, but more important is that it aligns the flexible cleaning rod, helping prevent repetitive mechanical abrasion. I have a selection and use one whenever possible. Whether you go polymer-coated, bare steel or carbon fibre for the rod has various pros and cons. Generally, I tend to use polymer-coated and accept that they will score and wear on the rifle but not damage it, most important, always wipe them with a clean cloth to make sure there is no abrasive debris ingrained that will wear on the barrel itself.
With a few drops of solvent on your patch, you are ready. The first one will always be a very tight fit but following that, they get easier due to effectively self-lubricating and working on a progressively less fouled surface. Whenever possible, work in one direction from the naturally funnelling chamber where it helps alignment, be very careful around the crown. Once a patch emerges, don’t try squeezing it back in, remove it and look at what is on it, this is the 'signature' that tells all. Not all solvents act in the same way, the manufacturer will generally provide guidelines and 'soaking' times for their chemicals and it’s better to work with these until you really learn better, finding what suits you, your rifle and the barrel’s needs. How dirty the ammo is, whether fouling is carbon-biased, or mostly copper. Generally, wet patches, followed by a soak and then dry will show you the progression and type of fouling until you get to clean dry patches emerging. Heavy fouling is easier to clear using a wet brush, I always use nylon ones to better aerate the solvent and a patch catcher over the muzzle to prevent said solvent spraying everywhere as the brush travels back and forth close to the muzzle.
To list a few generalisations, smaller bores foul more quickly and are a bit more likely to suffer the effects from it. Overbore cartridges will also compound this factor. A few shots from zeroing a hunting rifle won’t necessarily require a clean, unless it gets wet or full of condensation moisture after a cold night foxing and return to a warm house. NEVER leave the moderator on, it’s the #1 corrosion barrel killer! Modern propellants are less corrosive and the main reason to remove fouling is that can absorb moisture with easy-to-understand consequences.
As for the rest of the rifle, well the good old oily cloth is hard to beat, used sparingly, perhaps a little spray but generally, lubricants aren’t that desirable over larger action surfaces as they attract and adhere particulates into an abrasive emulsion. Less is more! I could continue to write thousands of words, but space is limited so the final statement I will make is, “Learn to clean a rifle BEFORE problems force NEEDING to clean it”!
Tipton Deluxe rods & jags - sportsmanguncentre.co.uk
Pro Shot, jags, rods and patches & KG fluids - www.vikingshoot.com
MTM, Screw It bore guide, Butches Bore Shine, MTM Patch Catcher - www.hannamsreloading.com
The cleaning process
1. Spear point jag
2. Various patch types
3. All solvents have different properties, behaviour, and instructions
4. A bore guide is invaluable
5. The Patch catcher saves making a mess
6. Nylon brushes are great for heavy fouling
7. The 'oily cloth' is still your friend, fingerprints are corrosive after all!
8. If your rifle gets wet then it needs stripping down, drying and cleaning to avoid rust damage