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How to Clean and Store a Shotgun

To keep your shotgun in good condition, there's work to be done after hunting season's over.

By Larry D. Hodge

Opening weekend of dove season finds many hunters taking their shotguns out of storage for the first time since the end of duck, goose or turkey season. What they see when they look at their guns is not always a pretty sight. Rust or green goo may adorn a shotgun that was improperly cared for before being stored.

The time to prepare your shotgun for the next hunting season is before you put it away at the end of the last season. Avoid problems by carefully cleaning the gun before putting it away and by keeping the gun in the right kind of environment between uses.

One of the sad facts of life is that even stainless steel will rust eventually if not cared for. Guns with traditional blued metal parts can literally rust overnight if stored damp, especially after being exposed to saltwater or air. The first step in gun care is to get rid of all moisture. This requires disassembling the gun before cleaning it. Wiping the wood and metal parts of a fully assembled gun with a silicone-treated cloth is quick and easy, but it doesn't get the job done down deep. Even if you don't get rained on in the duck blind, moisture can be trapped between wood and metal parts.

Follow the manufacturer's instructions for disassembling your gun. (If you do not have an owner's manual, manufacturers are required by law to furnish one on request. Visit their Web site or get their telephone number from a licensed dealer.) Take off the forearm of a break-open gun, separate the barrels from the action and remove the trigger group from the stock. For pumps and autoloaders, remove the forearm and separate the barrel and magazine tube from the receiver. (Failure to do so can result in a barrel and receiver welded together by rust.) Remove the end cap from the magazine tube - careful! there's a strong spring in there - and remove the spring and magazine plug. Remove the trigger group. Carefully wipe all moisture from the parts inside and out with a soft cloth.

Then use the cleaners recommended by the manufacturer to clean the barrels and all other metal parts inside and out. For guns with interchangeable chokes, don't forget to take the choke out of the barrel and clean the threads on choke and barrel. And while you have the choke out, soak it and its mates in a cleaner designed to remove plastic wad residue. Your shotgun will pattern better as a result. Apply a little lithium grease to the choke threads before reinstalling.

Before reassembling the gun, apply gun oil in the manner and of the type specified by the manufacturer. Use a cleaning cloth to remove all traces of fingerprints from metal parts; the acid in body oils can etch metal.

The next step is to store the gun in a childproof, humidity-controlled environment. Never store a gun in a carrying case. Such cases can trap moisture and lead to rust and mildew - the green goo. Instead, store the gun in a cabinet where air can circulate around it. A heated, air-conditioned, locked space is best.

Finally, remember that nothing lasts forever. Every 30 to 45 days, remove the gun from storage and wipe down the metal parts with a cloth impregnated with gun oil or rust preventative. Come dove season, you'll be pleased to take out a shotgun that's clean and as ready to shoot as you are.

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