Because most shooters view gun cleaning to be an unpleasant chore, bottles of solvent, lubricant, CLP and other cleaning supplies often pile up and gather dust. But, to keep your defensive shotgun in proper working order, it must be cleaned and lubricated to prevent failure when you can least afford one.
We can debate the quality of one shotgun brand versus another, the type of ammunition chosen, pump vs. semi-automatic and so forth, but the simple fact is, your defensive shotgun’s reliability is most dependent on it being clean and properly lubricated.
The good news is your bedroom or gun safe is not a rainforest, so there’s no excuse for keeping a filthy shotgun at your bedside. Just clean it occasionally, and sleep well.
The problem is, most of us loathe cleaning our guns. While some new, specialized products might make the process a few seconds quicker, there really are no revolutionary shortcuts—not until some Elon Musk-type invents a shotgun-cleaning robot. Until then, here’s what you should know.
Like many processes, folks often get caught up in details and forget overall concepts. The point of cleaning a gun is to remove all foreign matter from this simple machine’s parts so they can function unimpeded, as designed. It doesn’t matter so much how this is accomplished, provided it gets done. Once all metal parts are thoroughly cleaned, they should be lightly oiled to reduce friction and protect from rust.
A defensive shotgun should be cleaned after every time it is fired, exposed to the elements, touched profusely by salty fingers or if it shows signs of dust or lint buildup. A reasonable rule of thumb for a shotgun stored in a controlled environment is to perform a basic cleaning every six months for semi-automatics and annually for pumps—although you should visually inspect any shotgun as much as possible and clean if you notice dust buildup or rust.
Malfunctions can occur owing to a host of mechanical factors, but the most common is extractor problems: The extractor fails to remove the fired shell from the chamber and a jam occurs when another round is forced on top of it. So, be sure to concentrate cleaning in, under and around the extractor with a bronze brush and a carbon-solvent-type of cleaning product.
Failure to feed is another common malfunction, and the culprits in shotguns are befouled chambers, grimy receiver interiors that slow the speed/force of the bolt as it travels to the chamber and gas systems that are dirty and/or contain ragged “O” rings. More uncommon is a failure to feed due to a weak magazine spring. A simple way to minimize the likelihood of such failures is to regularly check, clean and lubricate all of these parts.
Of course, you can clean your gun with tools you can find around the house, such as a toothbrush, a dowel rod and an old T-shirt, but Birchwood Casey’s Shotgun Cleaning Kit, along with a can of Ballistol makes it easier. (Ballistol is a “Clean, Lube and Protect”—or CLP—product that appeals to our laziness because it consolidates three steps/products into one.) If you don’t go with a CLP-type product, you’ll need three separate liquids.
How to Clean a Shotgun
Basic cleaning of a shotgun includes breaking the gun down into four main parts: barrel, buttstock/receiver, fore-end and bolt. If your gun is a gas-operated semi-automatic, you should also remove the gas assembly from the magazine tube and clean all parts thoroughly, including the tube itself underneath. I recommend annually disassembling and cleaning/lubing the trigger housing, firing-pin assembly and recoil-return spring (if your shotgun has one). All of this information can be found in your shotgun’s manual, which is a better source than the internet (although many manufacturers offer owner’s manuals on their respective websites).
If your shotgun has been fired many times, scrub all its befouled metal parts with a bronze brush using a proven solvent like Hoppe’s No. 9. Then, when the powder grime and carbon residue are removed, lightly coat all internal parts with a do-all cleaner like Ballistol or another CLP—or better yet at this stage, a pure lubricant like Hoppe’s Lubricating Oil—via a cotton rag, or, for the inside of the barrel, a soft swab. (A BoreSnake works well too, if you’re lazy like me.)
When inspecting the barrel for cleanliness, hold it up to a light and look through it. If you can see any fouling at all, it should be cleaned; if it looks slick and shiny, you’re good to go. Also, remember to remove any threaded choke tubes and clean the threads on both the bore and the tube, as moisture tends to collect there, causing rust.
If your gun features a recoil-return spring that’s hidden in the buttstock like many Benellis, it should also be cleaned occasionally, something I’ve found accomplished easiest with an aerosol can of Rem-Oil or CLP. With the spring removed, hang it vertically and spray it down starting from the top. Then, wipe or blow away as much of the excess oil as possible before reinstalling. Same goes for the trigger assembly.
Once the shotgun is fully reassembled, wipe the entire gun down with a silicone cloth, because dry silicone won’t attract as much dust and lint as oil-based products. Once the gun is reassembled, run through all its functions, including dry firing it, to make sure you’ve reassembled it correctly. Now, rest easy—your shotgun should function without fail when you need it.