Gun Care

Shotgun Maintenance Best Practices

Hoppes Cleaning Kit Shotgun Maintenance

In many ways, shotguns are a contradiction. Some run their handguns hard, some little at all, but riflemen tend to fire their rifles often. Shotguns are typically underutilized due to a lack of training.

Recoil is a daunting proposition for many, and this limits their practice. The shotgun isn’t as much fun as the rifle to fire, I will give you that, but the shotgun is a terrific personal-defense firearm.

I recently viewed a video in which a game warden in Asia shot and killed a dangerous killer crocodile with a single shot. Shotguns are kept on fishing boats and have killed dangerous thrashing sharks.

Despite the popularity of the 5.56mm carbine, the shotgun is still an important law-enforcement firearm favored by old hands. The shotgun needs maintenance from time to time, whether it is fired or not.

If fired often, it is cleaned more often. They may operate for decades with little shotgun maintenance. After all, we have a plastic wad or sabot going down a smooth bore, so there isn’t much leading.

Unless you are firing an old-style slug, the payload doesn’t even touch the bore. The least demanding of maintenance are the double-barrel and pump-action shotguns.

The self-loader demands more frequent cleaning and lubrication compared to other types. A properly maintained shotgun simply isn’t likely to malfunction, so we should keep shotgun maintenance squared away.

Shotguns that do malfunction are the ones that have either been abused or have not been cleaned and lubricated as they should have been. In a life and death situation, your health and welfare and the lives of your family may hinge upon the reliability of the shotgun.

Two Shotgun Comparisons, left is rust and right is refinished
The author has seen many shotguns in the condition of the Remington on the left — Robar refinished the shotgun on the right.

General Shotgun Maintenance

The shotgun should be kept clean and lubricated. When any type of shell or cartridge fires, there is a certain amount of primer compound and powder ash left in the firearm.

There may be powder residue, lead from slugs, and there is also some plastic left from wads and sabots. Dust and lint are also a danger. There are many high-quality cleaning items that will wash the firearm clean of this reside.

Among the best products for all-around use in cleaning the shotgun is the bore snake. This is simply a long cloth tube with brush-like bristles. The BoreSnake by Hoppe’s is the best known.

A bore snake is fed in through the chamber and then ran through the barrel. A bore snake does the business and keeps the barrel clean. With a rifled barrel, especially one set up for slugs, more care is demanded.

Slug accuracy will deteriorate if you do not keep the barrel clean. Since most of us own a variety of firearms including the .22 caliber rifle, various handguns and shotguns, a versatile cleaning kit that allows a thorough cleaning is a good investment.

The rods and brushes should also include a brush mop that is useful for cleaning shotgun bores.

While I prefer the BoreSnake you can get by with the standard cleaning brush setup. You must clean the shotgun thoroughly from time to time.

This means scrubbing the bolt and making certain that there is no powder buildup under the extractor. And do not go cheap on replacement!

When you are using several shotguns and cleaning as you should, the BoreSnake or the large mop-type cleaning gear should be replaced from time to time. When you purchase your cleaning kit, be certain the rods and gear are designed for shotgun barrels.

A 28-inch shotgun barrel demands a longer rod than an AR-15 carbine, and a sturdier rod to handle the bore mop as well.

Bore Snake Shotgun Maintenance
A bore snake is ideal for shotgun maintenance.

Semi-Auto Shotgun Maintenance

Gas-operated, self-loading shotguns demand more cleaning, and deep cleaning into the mechanism to remove varnished powder and lubricant.

While a modern shotgun such as the Remington Versa Max will go for many months without cleaning, it is for the best to keep the piece clean and well lubricated.

While some feel that less is more and their firearms run just fine with a minimum of attention, I am not one of these. I clean the shotguns and store them lubricated.

Then I add more lube before a range trip. If you run a shotgun hard and train as you should, parts may show wear. The Remington 1100, Benelli and other self-loaders use O-rings in the recoil system.

Occasionally, O-rings and springs need to be replaced. These may be ordered for a few cents apiece. Keep a reasonable number on hand for replacement.

As an example, I recently replaced the O-ring on my 1980s Remington 1100, not because of a malfunction, but because it looked as it were well worn. The O-ring fits in the recoil spring assembly.

I use Hoppe’s powder solvent, Shoot R products, and Rem Oil among others. The key to cleaning the shotgun is to saturate the barrel and parts with solvent. The soft residue runs out.

Harder, caked-on powder ash will have to be scrubbed with a soft brush. Old worn toothbrushes work well.   Very often, problems with a firearm not working correctly are related to cleaning and lubrication, or the initial prep given to the firearm.

You do not have to clean your shotgun the way I do, but the procedure I follow has kept some of these shotguns going for a long time. You need to know how to field strip the shotgun.

This means removing the barrel and bolt. You do not have to learn how to detail strip the trigger action, but it would be helpful.

For normal shotgun maintenance, taking the barrel and bolt down and removing the forend of the self-loading action, are all that is needed. First, read the firearms manual carefully.

Some are located at the manufacturer’s site online if you did not receive a manual with the shotgun.

Cleaning Spray and Shotgun
Spray-in cleaning spray will run through some of the hard to find grit.

The first step with a new self-loader is to disassemble the shotgun before firing. Yes, clean the shotgun before it is fired even in the case of a new gun.

I found the Mossberg 930 packed in grease, and the long bearing surfaces had grease that may have interfered with function. No more than 20 minutes expended pays off big dividends in reliability.

Lubricate the long bearing surfaces that have metal to metal contact and you are ready to test-fire the shotgun. A word of caution — use real gun-cleaning products.

Kerosene and brake cleaner on hand in the shop sounds good, but it isn’t. Such material may cause health problems. Some chemicals may attack the o-rings in the shotgun or even the wood.

Stick with proven products. Learn to field strip the shotgun and address problem areas. It is a good idea to keep a light coat of lubricant on the receiver and the barrel to forestall corrosion.

Surface rust is a common problem as the shotgun is often in the game field. The shotgun’s choke also demands problem cleaning and maintenance. I have seen quite a few problems with the shotgun choke and some are ugly.

This is the area on the shotgun where a lack of maintenance may result in injury or expensive repairs. When chokes were simply built into the barrel and non-changeable, there were fewer problems as far as shotgun maintenance.

An open-cylinder choke threw a wide pattern and the full choke threw a closely-knit pattern. The choke could be changed by changing the barrel and there were aftermarket devices such as the Poly Choke that gave shotgunners more versatility.

Screw-in chokes now give everyone much greater versatility. You now may screw in one choke for upland birds and another for long-range waterfowl, or even keep the spare choke with you so that you may change in the field.

However, there are occasional problems related to choke tubes. Blown up and bulged muzzles are common, and the stuck tube that will not come out of the barrel is also common.

The choke tube must occasionally be cleaned. The threads in the barrel must be cleaned from time to time as well. These threads should be cleaned thoroughly and then lubricated.

These threads are fine and thin and a little powder ash or a few grains of powder are likely to cause problems in fitting and removing the choke tube. When you screw the choke tube in, the tube must seat firmly on a small shelf in the barrel.

If there is any space between the tube and this shelf, then material may wedge in and create a buildup. If fouling becomes trapped between the choke tube and this gap, you will have a dangerous situation.

The choke tube sometimes becomes stuck in the barrel and at other times the shot roaring down the barrel may catch a portion of the choke tube and split the tube and the barrel. This is all bad news.

Shotgun Maintenance Choke Tubes
Choke tubes and their threads in the barrel should be cleaned often and thoroughly.

Once the shotgun is cleaned, a few drops of lubricant on the bolt and the operating rod channels is all that is needed for ready storage. If you are enjoying a range session, then a little heavier lubricant is needed.

The shotgun is a rugged and effective instrument, but take care of it, like any machine it must be properly maintained and it will last many years.

How do you clean and lubricate your shotgun? How important do you feel shotgun maintenance is? Let us know in the comments section below!

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (5)

  1. I have found that Nevr Dull wadding product is BEST for removing powder fouling from my Remington 1100 magazine tube!

  2. I have found that NevRdull wadding polish is the BEST thing to remove powder fouling on the magazine tube of my Remington 1100! By FAR the best!

  3. Hi. Your shotgun cleaning article is great. I have a Stoeger semi-auto for sporting clays that has begun to not cycle into the second round properly. After reviewing the manual the shotgun apparently comes from the manufacturer with a thick coating of grease for “protection” during shipping. I need to clean all of that off and then relube. Do you sell a product that can be sprayed on to degrease the gun parts and if so, what do you also sell to relubricate it please? Thank you.

  4. Liked the comments on 0 rings. I have several 1100 Rem which probably need replacement. How do I do this and where do I buy 0 rings?

    Thanks for your excellent articles. I recommend them to my children often.

    Fr. Gary W. Mac Kemdrick

  5. when cleaning and lubing bolt small amounts of lube is best
    . i prefer clp because it will dry and still lube. there is nothing worse than having ducks flying on a cold morning and gun won t fire because grease or oil has thicken and fireing pin soft strickes the primer

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