How to Clean Your Shotgun Like a Pro!

I might be one of the odd birds in the flock, but one of my favorite activities besides actually shooting is cleaning guns. There’s almost an ambiance to it with the smell of solvent and lubricant, and the peace of making visible progress as you go through the steps. However, this can easily become a stressful and frustrating task if you’re unsure of the steps to take or don’t have the equipment to properly complete the job.

Getting Started

As with all things gun related, the most important consideration is safety. Make sure that your shotgun is unloaded and that the chamber is empty before doing anything else. Don’t forget that this can mean several things with a shotgun. There are many platforms available, and there are a number of different ways that they store and load ammunition. Some of the most common are:

  • Detachable magazine
  • Magazine tube
  • Breech loaded

These guns can be semi automatic, pump action, lever action, or even fully automatic. Regardless of whatever type of shotgun you have, make sure that whatever it holds ammo in is empty and that the weapon is clear. Next, you need to break out your cleaning kit. I actually use the same cleaning kit for my pistols, rifles, and shotguns, and I only have one piece of shotgun specific equipment that we’ll talk about shortly.


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Cleaning Kit Essentials

Solvent and Lubricant

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to break the bank getting some high speed solvent that’s being touted as the next best thing. At face value, solvent is used to break down carbon, and remove dust and metal fouling. If you are cleaning your shotgun as often as you should be, then you don’t need to get a high powered solvent. Industry standard is more than enough. You can get solvent in bottles designed to be applied with patches or other tools or in spray cans for ease of use.

Where you can spend that extra money is on a quality lubricant. Gun oil keeps your weapon operating smoothly and is worth its weight in gold.

Rods, Patches, and Picks

Cleaning rods come in smaller segments that can be screwed together to reach your desired length. They are generally made out of aluminum or brass and are designed to accept a variety of attachments like jags, bore brushes, and mops. Cotton patches are how you will apply solvent and clean most parts of your gun. Spending a little extra on patches will make sure you don’t end up with something so thin that it doesn’t take in enough solvent or too easily tears with use.

Dental picks are a key component of any cleaning kit as they give you the ability to get into hard to reach places or scrape out stubborn patches of crud. However, I always buy packs of plastic picks with different angled tips. You could simply buy the metal picks actually used by dentists, but I have always preferred plastic as I don’t have to be concerned about exerting too much force and scratching or damaging my guns unintentionally.

Brushes, Mops, and Jags

I absolutely despise using mops, but they’re a frequent part of most kits. I find that patches are enough, and a little tool I’ll talk about shortly simply blows these mops out of the water. Bore brushes are bronze brushes that are screwed onto a rod and used to loosen up carbon in the barrel after you’ve applied solvent. Jags are pointed tips also screwed into the rod that are used to pierce patches to run them through the barrel. They’re standard components that you’ll find in every kit, and none of them are worth paying extra for to get anything fancy.

Bore Snakes

A good bore snake is the holy grail of gun cleaning. These braided ropes combine nylon and embedded bronze bristles to clean your barrel in just a few passes. This effectively combines bore brushes, patches, and mops into a single tool. A brass weight at one end is slipped through the barrel and the snake is pulled through scraping out all the fouling along the way. More expensive options include T handles so that you don’t have to wrap the leader cord around your hand, more rows of bristles, or a cloth area ahead of the bristles that allows you to douse the area in solvent.

These snakes usually come in a range of calibers so you don’t necessarily need one for every different gun you own, but the important thing is to buy a washable version. Being able to soak them for cleaning makes a bore snake much more effective.

Step by Step

You’ve got your kit, your shotgun, and some time, but what do you actually need to do? Don’t worry, we’re going to get into that part right now. Always remember to grab a pair or two of latex or nitrile gloves. Some solvents are toxic, and even if yours isn’t, lead dust is. Keeping your hands clean during the process will make it harder to cross contaminate anything you might touch later before eating, and wearing gloves always makes me less likely to pick my nose or stick a finger in my eye.

After ensuring I have a safe and clear weapon, the first thing I do is get some solvent in the barrel. You can spray in CLP or drip some onto a patch and run it through the barrel with a cleaning rod or flexible cleaning rope and jag a few times. It’s important to remember that you work from the breech towards the muzzle for this step. Then it’s time to let that sit and marinate for a while to break down any hardened fouling.

Next, I take a rag and wipe down the gun making sure to get off any visible dirt, dust, or grime. If you don’t have a bore snake or need to get some extra tough grit out, attach a bronze brush to your cleaning rod and make some passes down the barrel from the muzzle back toward the chamber. Now, take the bore snake and run it from the breach and out the muzzle several times. You can check with a patch to see if any carbon remains and repeat as needed.

Use the dental picks to remove any stubborn carbon in hard to reach places. This can depend on the style of shotgun you have, but some notorious areas are around the elevator if you have a magazine tube, the extractor claw, or the hinge if you have a breech loaded gun. Wipe those areas with a clean patch to ensure you’ve gotten everything there as well.

Grab your lubricant of choice and lightly apply the oil to any surfaces that have metal to metal contact. Don’t apply too much as lube attracts dirt and grime, and it can even soak into and damage some wood stocks. I like to use a cotton swab to control how much I’m applying. Finally, take off your gloves, get a clean cloth, and wipe down the exterior of your shotgun completely. This is to remove any sweat or excess solvent, lube, or fouling from that you might have transferred during the cleaning process.

That’s all there is to it. Having the proper equipment makes cleaning your shotgun a breeze.

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