Are you ready? Hunting seasons are approaching and it’s time to make sure that all of your gear is up and running. Many hunters simply put their rifle in the safe year after year, and only take it out to fire a shot or two prior to heading back out to the field again. A little preventive maintenance can help keep the odds in your favor, help you fill your freezer and put that trophy on the wall. It’s a good idea to start prepping for the season long before opening day.
The first thing is to make sure that the rifle is unloaded, this can’t be emphasized enough, over the years I have been handed several rifles considered empty that were in fact still loaded. A brief visual inspection looking for the obvious such as cracks in the stocks, compromised optics and even missing pieces, is pretty straightforward.
It’s a great idea to remove the stock and make sure critical points of the trigger mechanism are properly lubricated and clean of common debris such as dust, sand and pine needles. Gun cleaner or brake cleaner works well at removing such contaminants, but proper oil will be required to finish this step. If you are uncomfortable with this or any part of the whole procedure, take your rifle to a reliable gunsmith. Correct function of the trigger and safety mechanism cannot be over emphasized.
Removing the stock allows you to inspect for corrosion and any possible unseen damage to the stock. With the action and barrel clean and wiped off with a corrosion prohibitor the stock should be reinstalled and torqued back to the correct specs. You can also take this opportunity to make sure the stock is sealed and apply sealant if required. You can always contact the manufacturer for their recommendation on torque specs. Even if the stock is not removed it still critical to check the action screws and the scope mounts to ensure they are tight. Loose screws are one of the leading causes of accuracy issues and damage to the firearm and optics.
As dust and debris can find their way into the trigger they also can end up inside the bolt; a quick field strip of the bolt will allow for cleaning and lubrication. Field stripping the bolt is a straightforward procedure but it can differ for each make and model, please ascertain the correct procedure for your individual firearm before proceeding. The firing pin assembly must be able to travel freely in the bolt body; the old gummed up oil and the accumulation of dirt needs to be removed. Most people will oil their bolt on occasion but never clean it internally. I have seen firsthand where this can cause many issues in firing.
A cleaning of the bore and action is basically all that remains at this point. A good cleaning kit and solvent are essential for this. I prefer a good one-piece cleaning rod, not practical for in the field but, at home, nothing is better. You’ll see that with as many types of solvents that are available, there is the same number of opinions on how to clean a firearm. I have developed a system that works for me, and until you develop your own, if you follow the basic instructions on the side of a solvent bottle you can’t go wrong.
With the firearm clean it is now time to verify that it is still sighted in. I start with a bore sighter that I have confirmed for its consistency. I keep a log of all my rifles and where they need to be on the boresighters’ grid to be zeroed based on actual range results. This allows me to quickly verify the rifle after travel or unexpected impacts. This system is close but not an exact science, so a trip to the range is required.
Practice shooting from various positions because shooting off the bench will not necessarily help you develop your shooting skills/styles for the field. While practicing freehand, try to use various types of targets. Clay pigeons set up at various distances will allow you to practice your target acquisition and snap shooting. Inflated balloons are great for the same practice; the slightest breeze and turns them into a moving target, just be conscious of your backstop and pick up any garbage left behind.
Once back at home and prior to returning the rifle to the safe I will give it a light cleaning and verify that the action screws are still tight. By a light cleaning I simply push a patch with solvent through the bore then a few dry patches to remove any traces of the solvent and the loosened fouling. I follow it with a lightly oiled patch to prevent any corrosion. I try to keep my bore condition similar to what it will be while I am hunting, that first shot is usually the most important.