How to Clean a Bolt Action Rifle

The first cool mornings of fall are upon us, signaling the beginning of hunting season (or for some quality time on the shooting range). As hunters, we know our rifle is the most important piece of equipment we own. And it’s only as good as the care it’s afforded.

A hunter’s worst nightmare is their rifle failing us at the most crucial moment of a hunt. Fortunately, a rifle that is properly maintained will not only come through in the clutch but will be reliable for many years to come.

This article details how a bolt-action rifle should be cleaned, but the basics discussed apply to most firearms.

Why Should You Clean Your Rifle?

A rifle’s biggest enemy in the environment is water followed closely by salt. The longer your rifle is afflicted with either, the greater the chance for ruin.

So when we think about cleaning our bolt-action rifle, the goal should be to eliminate all traces of these substances before they can begin their dirty work. To a lesser degree, powder residue, grime, dirt, and copper/lead fouling also need to be removed to ensure your rifle remains fully functioning and accurate.

Getting Started

Before properly cleaning a bolt-action rifle, you need to make sure you have a good gun cleaning kit on hand. These can be found online or at reputable sporting goods stores and they shouldn’t break your bank.

Contents of these kits vary but all will have what you need.

Since we’re using solvents and lubricants, the cleaning should take place in a well-ventilated area with plenty of space. I like to put my cleaning cradle on the workbench in my garage, and I always make sure I’m wearing gloves. This protects me from the toxic solvents and protects the gun from the salt in the oils of my skin.

The Crucial First Step For Cleaning Your Gun

Ensuring the gun is not loaded is the first step in cleaning your rifle. While this sounds simple to remember, each year many people are shot by neglecting this crucial step which only takes about twenty seconds to complete. Separate any found ammunition from the rifle until cleaning is complete.

The cleaning needed depends on what your rifle experienced. A trip to the gun range might call for a routine cleaning while a two-week hunting trip where the gun was subjected to the elements would call for a thorough deep clean. Most modern ammunition is not corrosive but if what you use is, a more thorough cleaning of the rifle is warranted.

After you’ve ensured your rifle is unloaded, you want to remove the bolt. Consult the gun’s manual if you are unsure of how to do this.

With the bolt removed, I like to spray a little solvent down the barrel from the chamber to the muzzle. Let the rifle sit for a few minutes before attempting to clean the bore.

This will allow the solvent to loosen any lead or copper powder fouling. While I’m waiting, I prefer to clean the bolt.

Spray a little cleaner on your rag and clean the bolt all over. I use a small solvent-coated toothbrush to dislodge any dirt or debris in crevices behind the bolt extractor.

Cleaning The Bore

To clean the bore, I begin by attaching the appropriately sized bore brush to the cleaning rod. Run the solvent-coated brush through the bore from the breech end to the muzzle. Do this roughly five times. This will continue to loosen the fouling in the bore.

Next, to the cleaning rod attach a cleaning jag. To the jag attach a patch then apply some solvent to the patch. From the breech end, run the rod all the way through until the patch exits the muzzle. Remove the dirty patch and discard it.

Never pull the dirty patch back through to the breach.

Add another patch and repeat the process. Do this until a clean patch exits the muzzle.

Lubricate To Protect Your Rifle!

After this, add your lubricant to a new patch and slide it down the barrel. This will coat the bore and protect against rust.

Now, spray a little cleaning solution on your rag and wipe down all the metal parts of the rifle you can reach. Again, be careful not to touch the metal parts with your bare skin. Over time the minute amounts of salt in our skin oils can wreak havoc on a rifle.

Then you want to give the gun’s receiver a good cleaning with the solvent-coated toothbrush. This will get rid of any accumulated fouling.

One more thing before reattaching the bolt: add a minute amount of lubrication to the cocking mechanism and the locking lug. After the bolt is lubricated, reassemble the rifle and store it in an area where dry air circulates.

Take care of your rifle and it will take care of you for years to come.

Now that you’ve made sure your rifle is in tip-top shape, be sure to pick up the rifle ammo you need for it!