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Cleaning a Precision Rifle

In Blog by Rich17 Comments

When it comes to cleaning a precision rifle, unfortunately, the trend seems to be that people get way more carried away with it than is actually necessary. This movement can probably trace it roots to the military, where weapons are continually broken down after every firing session, cleaned to a spotless state, and reassembled for use. There’s nothing wrong with that and I’m not going to fault our Armed Services for teaching our troops to keep their weapons clean. However, we’re talking about two different things here. High rate and volume of fire with a less accurate weapon system versus low rate of fire and volume on a highly accurate weapons platform.

Cleaning a Precision Rifle Too Much!

Just don’t do it. That’s the take away message here. Unless you are going through a shoot school, or teaching one, or in a war zone where you are literally burning up several hundred rounds a day over a period of days in a row, it isn’t necessary. Bolt action rifles are extremely reliable and have to be really gunked and gummed up to the extreme before you will experience issues with feeding or extraction and ejection.

The principle concern on a precision rifle with regards to the weapon being dirty is the effect the dirty gun can have on the accuracy of the rifle. That’s what everyone worries about. Unfortunately, its like worrying about alien abduction, lots of people worry about it way more than they should.

Cleaning a Precision Rifle – The Process

This is the part everyone wants to know, exactly what are the steps. Having read many posts and discussions written by people far more knowledgeable than myself with regard to how barrels break in and wear out, this is what I do. Use some WipeOut foam or some Butch’s Bore Shine. I run a few patches wet through the chamber and down the barrel. When I say a few, probably a half dozen maximum. I’m just looking at how dirty the first patch comes out, and then how dirty the subsequent patches are. When I notice the gunk coming out the other end has dropped off, and that’s usually within about three or four patches, I’m done with the wet patches.

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Highly recommend the Dewey coated rods, you don’t want to scratch up the inside of your match barrel!

Next I’ll run some dry patches through just to wipe down the chamber and the inside of the bore. The main objective on the chamber end is getting anything wet and slick out of the chamber so the brass is able to expand and stick to the chamber wall. On the barrel end maybe it will catch just a touch more dirt or grit as the dry patches slip through the barrel. That’s really about it for the process that I use. Some people will use lots of solvents and a half package of patches on the gun. All you are doing is using abrasive chemicals on your barrel and prematurely wearing things out. There isn’t a huge buildup of carbon or grime in the barrels to begin with, so it doesn’t take a lot to remove it. Go easy!

Cleaning a Precision Rifle – Frequency

This is the next often debated part of the discussion on cleaning a precision rifle. How often should you clean it? I’ve literally put hundreds of rounds, from 500-700, through the barrel of different precision rifles I own without any degradation in accuracy. The easy rule of thumb is clean the barrel when you start to see issues with the accuracy. Personally I’d prefer not to reach that point in the middle of a match and have to suffer the consequences. So what I do is I will clean the gun up a bit when I notice accuracy decline, or if its been around 300 rounds since the last time I cleaned it up.

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Butch’s Bore Shine, a few patches, and some Q Tips, that’s all you need, don’t go crazy a half dozen patches should be plenty!

This way I know if I haven’t cleaned the rifle in around 300 rounds I can realistically double that round count and not see any accuracy degradation. That would be my suggestion for you guys reading this. Find the point where the rifle loses accuracy, halve that round count, and that’s when you clean the rifle if you haven’t already. This way if you don’t get to it or you don’t have time to clean and check zero before a match you can get through the match’s course of fire without landing on the magic point where the accuracy starts to drop off when it matters most.

Wrapping Up Cleaning a Precision Rifle

Less is more guys. Just keep that in mind, you aren’t running belts of ammunition on full auto through your bolt gun. It doesn’t need to be religiously clean as a whistle to function properly. Just run a couple patches with your favorite solvent through it to break things up. Follow that up with a few dry patches and call it good. Don’t forget to fire a few rounds through it and verify your zero afterwards. A clean bore and a fouled bore will often have different points of impact! As always if you have questions or comments leave us one below!

Owner and Proprietor of AccuracyTech, LLC. Rich is a Firearms Enthusiast, Precision Rifle Competitor, and Writer. He is committed to bringing readers quality reviews and articles related to the Precision Shooting Sports. If you have any questions for him, please use the contact form on the site.

Comments

  1. Is there any reason we can’t foul a freshly cleaned barrel with some cheap ball ammo then check for zero with your match ammo?

    1. Author

      You can do that, no problem. It’s just one more thing to remember though. I’d hate to see somebody miss an important shot because they forgot to foul the barrel!

  2. Can the POI shift up to 5 MOA between clean and fouled barrel.
    My Remington 700 Long Range in 300 WM groups 1/8″ every day the whole day, but only after the first fouling shot that hits 5MOA to the left.

    I’ve never sen this happen to this extent before?

    1. Author

      I suppose anything is possible, I’d be willing to bet with a Magnum caliber the effects of a cold shooter are magnified as well. My rifles right after cleaning will be a little off but over the course of 3-5 shots will walk back to zero. You can almost see it happen.

      Try dry firing a few shots before a live round and see if that changes anything for you.

  3. Do you only do one round of your cleaning method? I use wipe-out foaming bore cleaner in a similar way but seem to still get a little color on the patches after 2 or 3 rounds of the foam. I usually let the foam sit and work in the bore up to a few hours. Also, through your testing you haven’t noticed any measurable increase in group size by not scrubbing and cleaning the heck out of the bore?
    Thanks for the write up!

    1. Author

      You have to adapt it to your needs, Joe. If you need a few more patches or some soak time based on your shooting volume then do what you need to brother.

      I’ve seen no effect on group size.

  4. What if it rains when out and you suspect the bore may have got wet?
    Do you just leave it, and let it dry – then shoot it as normal at the next range session?

    1. Author

      Use a bore snake to get the moisture out of the bore in a pinch. Then you can at least finish shooting for the day. Run some oiled patches through it when you get home to avoid rust.

  5. I cleaned for the first time since new in box after 600 rounds. I was not having any accuracy issues but thought it may be time. I used accelerant and Wipeout and a Dewey rod. I just had a match yesterday and shot horrible. First stage my dope was a half mil high at 400 yd. I did not have time to go back and see if I made a mistake with my muzzle velocity (just bought my first chronograph) or maybe my zero was off a little too much. As the day went on I continued to hold has much as I could from the missed impacts I could see… and at that point everyone knew I was having issues and was trying to call my misses and help me adjust. Honestly the match that should have been my best performance so far was the worst. And this is the first time where I believe it is the weapon system instead of me 🙂 Help! Did I mess something up when cleaning?

  6. Author

    Did you foul the barrel after cleaning it? If you gave it a good scrub you will get a shift in point of impact until the barrel is refouled. That may have been your initial issue, then you may have been adjusting for that after it returned to normal.

    I’ve watched it walk back as the barrel gets seasoned by the first few shots after cleaning. You should have been good after 5-10rds. Unless you were still holding for the shift that didn’t exist at that point.

    Check your zero and that will tell you.

    1. Wow you are fast! I did take it to safeside Tactical in Roanoke which has an Indoor Range exactly 100 yds. I shot 40 plus rounds through it total. I started working groupings to zero after the 20 rds.. Had to make Minor Adjustments to re zero. Nothing crazy though (I guess lol) . I adjusted elevation .2 mil and .3 left. Then I practiced some barricade on a step ladder out to 326 yards last week. It seemed to be doing fine.
      All that being said, I did just purchase a Magneto speed and use it by myself for the first time on match day during the time before briefing allotted for folks that need to verify zero. I had just bought 10 more boxes of ammo, same Lot number. I wanted to check MV and adjust accordingly… maybe the velocity I got was inaccurate by my own mistakes with the machine. I remember a few people asking me what my velocity was in my calculator and they said it was a little low for 6.5 cm…perhaps I need to find somewhere I can check it the old-fashioned way out to a thousand yards and work back in? I just know that something is seriously wrong with either the gun itself or my inputted information into my ballistics calculator. With the positions we were doing and the stability I was obtaining at all of these stages I should have done so much better than I did. Not a good day. But is everybody was telling me every precision match shooter has a bad day every now and then… and you just have to go home and figure out what the problem is, reevaluate, fix it and start over. I love this sport, I was super bummed yesterday driving home trying to figure out all of the things that could have been the problem. Being new and not super savvy I just don’t know where to begin to try to figure out what’s wrong. I just know I don’t want to be sending rounds down not knowing where the hell they’re going LOL

  7. I should note that I went to zero after cleaning. And attempted to get muzzle velocity on my own with my chronograph after cleaning as well. Basically what I’m saying is I did not have any problems with accuracy before cleaning the rifle, changing muzzle velocity on my own without help from my mentor. I hope this makes sense 🙂

    1. Author

      If you have 600rds through the barrel the velocity should be stable. However, how you determine what that velocity is matters. The Magnetospeed is excellent. What ammo and what velocity was it giving you? What’s your barrel length?

      I think you kinda goofed yourself with the cleaning. It will shift point of impact after cleaning, then after 10 rounds or so should return to where it was. If you moved your zero before that happened… you built an error into your zero.

      You can check your scope as well, what are you using? If that isn’t tracking consistently it can give you issues at distance where your predicted dope doesn’t line up with reality at distance.

      I’d suggest rezeroing now after the match, then checking your dope as far out as possible. Check your muzzle velocity too. Different ammo can produce different velocities even from the same lot. See what the Magnetospeed says your ES number is after 10 rounds fired.

      If that number is big enough it can give you fits at distance as well.

  8. Some questions: do you ever need to oil the barrel? How often should you remove copper fouling, never? Do you ever need to use a brush?

    1. Author

      Oil it if you plan to store it a while. Clean it when you have accuracy problems. I don’t typically use a brush, but do what makes you feel like you got it cleaned up.

  9. Any thoughts on a boresnake with a bit of oil vs a total clean if you store for a while?

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