When my wife works weeknights at Sanford, I have a routine: watch hunting shows, clean my guns (if needed) and play with the pooch.
Last Tuesday was one of those typical evenings. Then my phone rang; it was a hunting buddy who lives down the street.
"I need your help," he said.
"What's the matter?"
"I took my wife's gun apart and can't get it back together," he said. "I've been trying for half an hour and it's driving me nuts."
So I set down my beer, threw on a plaid jacket and walked the block-and-a-half north to his house.
When I popped into the well-lit living room, my neighbor was sitting cross-legged on the floor, bits and pieces of what once was a Remington 870 youth 20 gauge strewn about. He looked up as I walked in and handed me what was left of the gun.
"It's stuck," he said. "I got the receiver in, but it jammed."
I had seen a similar problem before. I, myself, use a youth 20 gauge with an extended stock for ruffed grouse hunting on the tight corridors of northern Minnesota's logging trails. More than once, the action has stuck while trying to clean it.
It took a moment, but I soon found the problem: one of the shell latch release levers inside the receiver had slid forward, effectively jamming the pump from removal. Once the shell latch was put back in place, I depressed it and slid the breach bolt out.
Then it was a simple matter of lining up all the pieces and reassembling. With this particular model, I knew getting the action bars to line up just right with the shell latches can be tricky. I explained this to my neighbor as I delicately felt for the two pieces to come in contact. After a couple tries, it slid together like finely tuned machinery.
My neighbor thanked me and I was on my way, but it got me thinking about firearms maintenance, particularly how important it is.
In his defense, my neighbor had the right idea. Guns should be cleaned, at the very least, once a year whether they are used or not. Firearms - rifles in particular - are precision tools that require the utmost in care and cleaning. Shooters and hunters who forego this task could inadvertently cause expensive or even permanent harm to their weapons.
The most important piece of literature a gun-owner should have in possession is the owner's manual for their particular firearm. These often have specific instructions for care and maintenance of the weapon.
Simpler weapons, such as single-shot firearms or even pump shotguns, are easier to disassemble and clean. When caring for more complicated weaponry, like semi-automatic shotguns and rifles, extra concern is needed to carefully clean and lubricate all working parts.
If all else fails, and you can't seem to figure out how to either disassemble or properly clean a gun, contact a local gunsmith. A reputable one will have a broad knowledge base, and should be able to walk you through the steps to properly take care of your firearm.
Though each gun can require a specific technique for cleaning, the basics for most models are as follows:
Scrub: Either with a rod and bristle, or with a more simplified tool, such as a BoreSnake, scrub the barrel of the weapon. Using some sort of liquid solvent greatly expedites this process.
Scrub more: Just when you think the barrel is clean enough, clean it some more. Continue feeding through patches, or the BoreSnake, until it comes out relatively clean.
Clean action: Though the barrel is important, getting in and scrubbing all the working parts also is key. Dirt, grass, gunpowder particulates and other nasties can work their way into every nook and cranny. Though this step isn't required every time you clean your gun, it is a good thing to do at least a couple times a year, depending on how often you shoot.
Lubricate: This probably is the most abused step. Some gun owners think a quick scrub down and heavy layer of gun oil will keep their firearm clean. But over lubrication is almost as bad as no lubrication. Excess oil in a rifle can throw off your shot. Oil left for long periods of time could possibly gum up and seize the firing pin as that fully-plumed drake mallard passes within firing range. When adding oil, remember this: less is more. Put a few drops on a rag and wipe down the outside to protect against rust. Then either rub or spray some inside the receiver and on any metal parts that rub against each other. This step will help reduce friction, and will lengthen the life of the firearm.
Use these steps, and your great-grandchildren may be hunting with your rifle one day. Just remember, if ever you are uncertain about how to take apart a gun, or how to properly maintain it, read up on the owner's manual, or get help from a reputable gunsmith.