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Gun Cleaning Clinic: So You Bought A New Rifle…What You Should Do Before You Shoot It

By: Steve Schmidt

Today, dropping a bundle on a new factory rifle doesn't always mean it looks perfect or is ready to take out and shoot. Gun owners should carefully clean, inspect, and finish-up any missed, detail work if they want the best performance and reliability from their investment

 

 

Time Is Money

Let's face it...today's marketplace runs on one principle - time is money. It drives the production of everything around us. Whether it’s a new automobile, home computer, or lousy pair of sneakers, a lot of what we spend our hard-earned dollar on turns out to be less than what we expected when we finally get around to using it. Faster, high-tech machining, casting and molding operations often translate into rougher parts and fewer eyes inspecting them as they move through the manufacturing process. Inevitably, more product leaves the factory - but sometimes faster than it ought to.

This mentality hasn’t escaped the commercial firearms industry, either – it can’t. In order to stay competitive and meet the demands of today’s diverse groups of shooting enthusiasts, firearms manufacturers work a delicate balancing act between unaffordable, premium workmanship and low cost, mass produced guns of marginal quality. If you take a gander at the actual consumer price (what you'd pay at a shop or gun show) of factory guns over the past five to six years, there really hasn’t been much of a change. Even the quality-oriented, semi-custom, rifle manufactures like Cooper Arms of Montana and Kimber of America have managed to hold down the fort on MSRP.

At the same time, gun companies have done a commendable job satisfying the consumers’ thirst for new, innovative models and calibers. Anyone who’s worked in manufacturing knows new drawings, tooling, and assembly lines don’t come without a price. Therefore, keeping assembly time to a minimum is paramount to offsetting new product costs and maintaining consistent retail prices. Figure in the rising cost of materials – namely steel right now – and you have to wonder how they do it.

Unfortunately, because time is money, gun buyers sometimes see these cost savings in the form of firearms that aren’t quite as smooth functioning, pretty, or accurate as they ought to be. Little to no detail work and faster production runs can leave your new rifle a little rough around the edges – both in appearance and function. But, don't worry – performing a few simple maintenance steps and checks before you head to the range can make a world of difference. Although this month's Cleaning Clinic will concentrate on a NIB, bolt action rifle, many of the same principles can be applied to other action types, as well as shotguns and handguns.

 

Start By Reading The Owner's Manual

No matter how familiar you are with a new rifle, it's always good practice to take a few moments and page through the owner's manual that came with the gun. Believe it or not, there's actually some very useful information in there - some of it can save you some headaches once you've arrived at the range. I have to give the European gunmakers credit when it comes to gun manuals. They do a fine job highlighting those "shoulda thought of" things before you go shooting. American manufacturers are getting better about including good information; you just need patience to weed through all the liability copy to find it.

 


Every new firearm is shipped with an owner's manual. If yours is missing, contact the factory for a replacement, or download it from their website.

Now, I've never heard of a new rifle shipping with a cartridge in the chamber or magazine, but stranger things have happened. So, always verify visually that the chamber and magazine are clear before proceeding to handle any firearm.

Disassemble & Clean

Take a close look at your new rifle and you'll probably notice the metalwork is protected by one of many available rust preventatives. Barreled actions and small parts like magazines and followers are commonly dipped and allowed to dry before further assembly. This protective coating often forms a thick, sticky film that's really overkill once the rifle has a conscientious owner to perform routine maintenance. In addition, some rust preventives have limited lubricating properties and can actually add resistance to moving parts like the trigger and action components.

Anything gummy easily traps airborne debris – this makes parts even more sluggish. I always start out by removing the barreled action from the stock and stripping the factory rust preventatives from all metal surfaces before treating them with my preferred oil.

Most manufacturers ship their rifles with the bolt removed. If you're like me and simply can't wait to install the bolt and cycle the action a few times for good measure, remember to remove it before separating the barreled action from the stock. I've learned the hard way that the bolt handle recess is a rather fragile area. Catching the bolt handle against the edge of the recess when lifting out the barreled action can literally split out the wood or fiberglass in this area - ka-ching - add in more dollars for costly stock repairs. Rather than forget to remove the bolt, your best bet is to leave it out altogether until the barreled action is removed from the stock. You'll find instructions for doing this in your owner's manual. As you'll read later, there are other good reasons to remove the stock from your new, bolt action rifle.

If you want reliable ignition in freezing temperatures, it's good practice to strip down the new bolt assembly and thoroughly degrease the firing pin, striker spring, and inside the bolt. Lubricate these parts with a high-quality oil that won't drip off in the heat or become gummy in the winter months

 

Let's say you've never removed the stock before and aren't about to start now. If this is the case, at the very least, verify the action screws are tight and the front/rear sights (if equipped) are secure on the barrel. Nothing's more irritating than driving all the way to the range just to find out you can't fire your new rifle, because you have no way of tightening a loose action screw. The Ruger owner's manual goes as far as to include a specific procedure for tightening the action screws on the M-77 Mark II rifle, and claims it’s an important factor in maintaining good accuracy.

Factory rifles are test-fired before leaving the factory, but not all manufacturers clean and/or treat the bore with rust preventive before shipment. Therefore, I advise you thoroughly clean the bore to remove any fouling or dried preservative – then, dry it completely before shooting. Discharging a bullet through a wet bore can damage the rifling and generate dangerously high pressures. For safety sake, ALWAYS run a dry patch down the bore before firing any rifle. This not only dries the bore, but ensures there are no obstructions in the barrel.

Now is also an excellent time to disassemble the bolt (see your owner's manual) and degrease the striker spring, firing pin and cocking piece with TCE. Every winter, when temperatures get down below freezing, our tech staff fields a handful of calls related to ignition failures caused by frozen-up firing pins. Ruger, in particular, likes to really go gung-ho with the grease on these parts. Greases work great in warm weather months to keep things moving smoothly and freely, but they sure raise havoc in the winter when they decide to stiffen up. Ditch the grease and lube these metal parts with M-Pro7 Gun Oil, Militec-1 or FP-10 – all are far less temperature-sensitive.

 

Lubricate The Locking Lugs

Since the bolt has been removed for cleaning, now is time to complete the simplest, most forgotten step in preparing your new rifle – lubing the bolt locking lugs. If you've wiped down the bolt with oil, you may already have enough lubrication on the lugs. If you haven't, don't drench them in oil – just make sure the back of the lugs and the surfaces that ride against the receiver track get a drop of Militec-1 or Break-Free Lubricant/Preservative. Stay away from greases when lubing anything inside the receiver. This will help minimize the buildup of airborne contaminants and residual brass and powder deposits.

 

Apply a drop or two of oil onto the friction surfaces of the bolt locking lugs to reduce wear. This should help keep the bolt lock-up nice and tight.

Test The Trigger

Once you've finished cleaning and wiping down the metal surfaces and lubing the locking locks, go ahead and install the bolt into the receiver. Again, verify the chamber and magazine are empty and close the bolt. Engage the safety, and with the muzzle pointed in a safe direction, apply pressure to the trigger. If the sear releases, you'll hear an audible "click" and the firing pin will move forward. If this occurs, DO NOT USE the rifle. Contact your dealer, take the rifle to an authorized repair center, or send it back to the factory – they'll make it right. The safety mechanism MUST BE FUNCTIONAL.

If the safety DOES "hold," you're halfway home. Disengage the safety and with the muzzle still pointed in a safe direction, pull the trigger and check for crispness and weight of pull. If something doesn't feel quite right, don't automatically assume the trigger needs adjustment. A lot of garbage can get down inside the intricate workings of the trigger group -– things like high-speed cutting fluids, swarf, burrs, even dust and lint. This stuff may never cause a problem, or it could lead to something as catastrophic as a failure-to-fire.


A good Teflon spray lubricant will slick up the trigger components without trapping contaminants. This may be all that's needed to achieve a perfectly acceptable trigger pull for a big game rifle

 

After purchasing a new Remington 700 several years back, I noticed right away the trigger pull was excessively heavy, gritty feeling, and sometimes the sear wouldn't drop. My first inclination was to pop open the trigger housing and take a peek, but Remington has taken extra precautions on their newer triggers to prevent tampering. I found removing the housing pins was more of a chore than I wanted to tackle on a brand new rifle. So, I hosed out the trigger housing with TCE – low and behold several small slivers of metal dripped out the bottom behind the bolt release button. Not sure how or why they got in there, but they certainly were the culprit. I then blew out the trigger with a can of compressed air to ensure everything was good and dry before lubrication.

Luckily, I was introduced to Tri-Flow Lubricant back when I was kid and nuts about shooting archery. The owner of the pro shop I frequented always kept a can of it on his bench to lubricate the eccentric wheels on compound bows. It's a light viscosity, high-grade, petroleum oil with Teflon®, so it penetrates deep into tight nooks and crannies, making it perfect for lubricating trigger groups. Teflon is an excellent lubricant and won't trap contaminants like oils and greases do. And, it won't become stiff in temperatures between -60°F to 475°F. Special additives in Tri-Flow also help to displace moisture and prevent rust.

I shook up the can and sprayed a couple shots of Tri-Flow into the trigger housing and allowed it to dry some. I tried the trigger again and it not only functioned flawlessly, but the pull was smoother, crisper and significantly lighter. I now spray all new factory and aftermarket triggers with a couple shots of Tri-Flow and have found it possible to drop pull weights by as much as a pound. Applying just a touch of Action Lube PLUS® to the trigger/sear engagement surface really smoothes things up as well, and minimizes perceived drag.

Inspect The Stock

Mass produced stocks are a good place for factories to save time and money, especially wooden ones. What you don't see beneath the barreled action is often left rough-cut and unfinished, sometimes to the point of being detrimental to accuracy. If the barreled action is canted slightly or moves independent of the stock under recoil, you're going to get robbed of your rifle's full accuracy potential. I'll usually smooth out the barrel channel with sandpaper and inspect the tang, lug, and barrel bedding pads forward of the receiver and at the tip of the forearm to ensure there aren't any whiskers that could get trapped between metal and wood. On factory free-floated varmint guns, I like to run a business card from the forend tip back to the receiver to find any high spots that would allow the barrel to teeter. Those also come out with sandpaper.

Check the wood-to-metal fit of the forearm and barrel, too. Uneven clearance on either side indicates warpage or a poorly cut barrel channel. Either way, it could cause undue stress against the barrel, resulting in wide accuracy swings as the barrel heats up. If minor sanding won't straighten things out, return the stock to the factory – or, consider opening up the barrel channel more and re-bedding it.

Look at the stock inletting around the trigger, receiver and magazine. If the stock contacts metal in any of these areas, you'll want to create some extra clearance to avoid setting up harmonic vibrations through the wood that could throw off accuracy. While you're at it, make sure the hardware (threaded nut or bushing) that secures the front sling swivel is seated tight in the barrel channel and recessed far enough so it doesn't contact the barrel.

 

 

The inletting on factory stocks isn't always pretty. Smooth out the rough areas with sandpaper to ensure "whiskers" aren't stopping the barreled action from seating properly in the stock. Also, look for good wood-to-metal fit on the bedding pads and along the sides of the barrel channel. You'll want to make sure the front sling swivel (if equipped) doesn't contact the underside of the barrel, either.

The inletted areas of most wooden, factory stocks are left unfinished, leaving them susceptible to loss and absorption of moisture. This can lead to warpage. For this reason, it's advisable to give them a quick application of finish to help seal the open pores in the wood. I like Birchwood Casey Tru-Oil for this application, because it's easy to use, dries fast, and blends well with most factory finishes. Since these areas remain hidden when the rifle is fully assembled, cosmetic appearance is not a life or death issue.

Know The Chambering (Caliber) Of Your Rifle

I questioned myself whether to include this section as part of this month's Clinic. Knowing what caliber your rifle is chambered in and what ammunition it fires sounds like a no-brainer. Nonetheless, I knew of an elk hunter who actually chambered and fired a 7x57 (7mm Mauser) round in his 7mm Magnum. When I heard this from a mutual hunting buddy, I was surprised the cartridge even fired with all that extra space in the chamber – but it did – and, it split the cartridge case wide open, too. Why did this dangerous situation occur? Because this hunter was careless and unfamiliar with his rifle. Always be sure to identify the caliber stamping on the outside of the barrel. It's located forward of the receiver on the side of the barrel, above the stock line. Then, purchase and fire only the correct ammunition for which your new rifle is chambered. Luckily, neither this fella – nor the rifle – was damaged. But, it just goes to show how easily accidents can happen when you're new to firearms.

In closing, I know you old timers have seen improvements and pitfalls in the modernization of bolt action rifles. Some of today's factory rifles are good – some bad – all are capable of being improved with minimal time and effort. With a few simple checks and tweaks, you too, can finish what the factory started and reap the benefits of increased reliably and accuracy.

If you have questions about different cleaning products or techniques you want us to test, be sure to let me know at WebBench@Brownells.com.