Guns are many things to many people… Significant investments. Treasured family heirlooms. Collector pieces. Part of History. Versatile, important, and possibly life saving tools. All of the above. They should be taken seriously, respected, and treated accordingly. A big part of that is proper maintenance, cleaning and care to preserve the function, reliability and value of your firearms. Ideally, your firearms should be cleaned as soon as possible after shooting, or after coming back in from the field.
Dad learned from some of the best, and always passed some strict inspections, so he is pretty meticulous about it. Likewise, I tend to be diligent about my gun cleaning. I always try to give my guns a thorough cleaning as soon as possible after use, but more important than doing a great job, is staying safe while doing it. So whether you’re giving that firearm a thorough cleaning, or just quickly running a few patches down the bore until you can do it right, here are some safety tips for cleaning your weapons:
Cleaning your guns isn’t something you rush. It isn’t something you do unless you are completely focused on the task at hand, are of sound mind and body, and are in the right frame of mind. Just like every other time you are handling firearms, you need to maintain Situational Awareness and Constant Muzzle Awareness. You also still need to adhere to the Basic Firearms Safety – Rules to Live by. But beyond those basic, general firearm safety tips, here are some additional thoughts:
- Keep your finger, and everything else, completely out of the trigger guard, and certainly off the trigger.
- If cleaning your duty or carry weapon, unload the weapon before you proceed.
- Safety check the weapon.
- Safety check the weapon again – it’s a good idea to physically stick a finger in the chamber to verify that the gun is unloaded.
- Completely remove all live rounds from your work area – it’s a good idea to physically get up and move live rounds to an entirely different room.
- Follow the gun manufacturer’s instructions to field strip the weapon.
- Maintain a clean, well organized, and well ventilated work area with plenty of good lighting.
- Use good, high quality cleaning products. (Hoppes has always worked just fine for our needs.)
- Ideally, clean the barrel from breech to muzzle, which accomplishes two important things:
- It allows you to keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction, even with the gun disassembled.
- It’s generally accepted that cleaning from breech to muzzle, the same direction of travel as the bullet, is the better way to clean a barrel as it prevents cleaning solvents, bullet fragments and fouling from getting into the action.
- When done cleaning, lube and/or oil per the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Reassemble the weapon according to the manufacturer’s instructions – and pay attention to detail. (Watch those ejectors on both lever action guns like the Marlin 336 series, and some semi-auto pistols, like the Sig p238.)
- Immediately return the weapon either to safe storage, or ready for duty as normal.
- With your well maintained and clean firearm safely away, clean up your work area, and go about your day.
Quick Tip – When working with products for, and associated waste from cleaning, oiling and lubing, or polishing firearms (solvents, patches, rags, cotton swabs, etc.) be sure to read all product labels, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for both USE and DISPOSAL!
Revolvers and some styles of rifles, the counter-intuitive cleaning exception.
Some weapons must be cleaned from muzzle to breech. In some cases there’s just no way around it. This can be legitimately unsettling to some people, especially for new shooters. You’ve been instructed over, and over, and over again to always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction. From Day One, it is drilled into your head. It continues to be drilled into your head. But here you are, about to clean your weapon…and starring down the business end of things?!?!
Unfortunately yes, but if you’ve done everything else properly, you will be fine (correct frame of mind, safety checked weapon, removed all live ammo from the work area or room, safety checked the weapon again, ensured the hammer or striker is not cocked or in the ready to fire position, kept your finger and everything else outside the trigger guard and off the trigger). After all, guns are mechanical devices.
Generally speaking, guns don’t go off by themselves. An outside act is required to make a gun fire, such as someone, or something, pulling the trigger, something hitting the hammer, or slamming the firing pin, etc. That’s why there really is no such things as an “accidental shooting,” but unfortunately, there are plenty of “Negligent Discharges”, (ND’s). In most “accidental shootings,” someone clearly did something negligent just before the gun fired.
Yes, even in the recently reported case of a hunter shot by his own dog, you can make a good argument that the hunter in question did at least a few negligent things. At the top of the list would be putting the gun down loaded, with a live round in the chamber…and leaving it unattended…in a small space…with a dog running around. It also sounds like the hunter in question wasn’t completely vigilant about the rule to always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.
It may sound a bit harsh, but I’d rather be a bit harsh, intense and always vigilant than the alternative!
Again, if you are laser focused on the task at hand, follow by the tips provided on this site, strictly adhere to the basic gun safety rules, and remain vigilant, you will be fine when cleaning your weapons. Yes, even the ones you must clean from muzzle to breech.