How to clean the bore of your hunting rifle


How to clean a hunting rifle bore
All photo credits: Brady Miller

I’m a firm believer in cleaning your rifle throughout the season. Below are some steps that I’ve been using for a long time that my father taught me along with some modifications that I’ve learned from others. I’ve said it before, but everything I’ve learned in long-range shooting has been from my dad. He’s a wealth of knowledge when it comes to rifles. Over the years, some of the cleaning solvents that I use have changed, but the general process is still the same for cleaning my hunting rifles. Now, before I get started, there are a plethora of ways to clean your hunting rifle barrel and lots of different brushes, mops, jags, etc that all work great. This is a method that has worked very well for me.

A semi-deep clean is probably the best way to describe this process and it is my preferred way to get a rifle shooting where it’s supposed to after all the target practice to dial in my loads and dope chart. The process below was done on a Browning X-Bolt Hell's Canyon Speed rifle in .300 Win Mag.

Tools needed:

Tools and solvents needed for cleaning gun rifle bore

  • Cleaning bench
  • Cleaning rod (carbon fiber or nylon)
    • I prefer one piece cleaning rods
  • Nylon brush (correct size)
    • Nylon isn’t as harsh as other materials
  • Jag (correct size)
    • I really like stainless steel so you don’t get a false copper reading. For the article, I couldn't find my stainless jag in my cleaning kit for some reason, so I used a brass version. 
  • Patches
    • Ensure they are the correct size for the rifle caliber.
  • Bore guide

Cleaning solvents needed:

Rifle bore cleaning solvents

  • Carbon remover
  • Copper fouling remover
  • Gun oil

Notes on cleaning solvents: There are plenty of different options out there. My family and I have used Hoppes, Gunslick, KG, Montana Extreme, Wipe Out, Shooter's Choice, and Sweets throughout the years. 

Step 1 - bore guide

Placing gun rifle bore guide

Place your gun in a cleaning bench or extend your bipod if you don’t have a bench tool. Note: Always clean your gun with a cover over your scope. You don't want the solvents or brush to accidentally get on your lens. 

Gun rifle bore guide for cleaning

Remove the bolt and place the bore guide into the rifle. I like to use bore guides that have an O-ring to prevent the cleaning material from entering back into the action.

Step 2 - Removing some carbon

Placing rifle bore cleaning patch on jag

Take a cleaning rod and attach the jag.

Carbon fiber and nylon rifle bore cleaning rods

I prefer J Dewey nylon-coated and/or Tipton carbon fiber one piece cleaning rods.

Applying carbon remover to rifle bore cleaning patch

Next, take a cleaning patch, attach it to the jag and place a few drops of carbon remover on the patch. Run the cleaning rod with the patch through the bore, discard the patch and repeat the process a few times until clean. This process also shows some of the carbon fouling.

Dirty rifle cleaning patch

This process is great for removing a large amount of gunk from the barrel. You’ll instantly notice that the first few patches are pretty dirty.

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Note: When running the cleaning rod or brush down the bore, just let the tip poke out from the end of the muzzle. This is just an extra precaution to protect the crown of the barrel (still important if you have a muzzle brake removed).

Step 3 - Removing copper

Nylon rifle bore cleaning brush

This step is where you’ll work on the carbon fouling. Attach the nylon brush to the rod and run it through the rifle bore (but don’t pull it back through).

Removing copper fouling in hunting rifle bore

Once through the bore, you will apply some drops of copper remover solvent to the brush. You could add the drops of solvent in the hole in your bore guide if you prefer. I definitely do it both ways depending on the conditions. Sometimes applying it to the bore end prevents the solvent from leaking onto your rifle stock and possibly discoloring it or impacting the laminate.

Now is when you will brush the bore like you’re giving your teeth a hard brushing. So, roughly you’ll want to run the brush through the bore 25 to 50 plus times.

Getting ready to run dry patch through rifle bore

Next, attach your jag and run a dry patch through the bore several times and check the end of the barrel to see if you’ve removed all of the copper fouling.

Dry patch showing signs of copper in rifle bore
For demonstration purposes, I pushed the cleaning rod a little further through the barrel past the crown than I normally would.

If you still see copper fouling, then repeat the above steps a few times until it’s all removed.

Hunting rifle showing copper streaks

Normally the copper streaks will look like brownish tinted streaks.

Step 4 - Removing carbon

This process is very similar to the previous step except, this time, you’re going to be removing carbon in the barrel.

Placing carbon remover solvent on rifle bore brush

Take the nylon brush and push it through the bore. Once the brush is exposed, apply a few drops of your carbon remover solvent of choice. Then it’s time to brush your teeth (rifle bore) another 25 to 50 plus times.

Rifle dry patch look after applying carbon remover solvent

After that, again, run a few dry patches through the barrel and check the barrel for a clean look.

If you don’t have a clean finish, repeat the process a few more times.

Step 5 - Gun oil

Applying gun oil to rifle bore cleaning patch

Take your cleaning rod and attach the jag and then place a patch on it. Next, apply a few drops of gun oil and run it back and forth through the bore a few times. After this, take a dry patch and run it through the bore to remove any excess gun oil.

End results after cleaning hunting rifle bore
End results after cleaning hunting rifle bore.

Step 6 - Foul shot in the field

Taking a foul shot after cleaning rifle bore

I’ve had a few different rifles that seemed to respond differently after a cleaned barrel. Some rifles shoot great from a super cleaned bore, but others may not—all rifles are different. To be safe, I take a freshly cleaned gun back out in the field and take a foul shot to “settle a barrel down” so to speak. There’s definitely a lot of reading that can be done on foul shots and bore mapping.

In conclusion

After you’ve completed all of these steps, your rifle is now ready for your next hunt!

Spilled cleaning solvent in bag

Ending thought: Keep in mind to always properly store your rifle cleaning solvents. This is what happens when you forget to screw the cap all the way down after some range practice.

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