Firearm Maintenance

"Take care of your tools and your tools will take care of you,” my grandpa would tell me.

This simple advice would be repeated throughout my youth. It did not matter if he was talking about his lawn mower, power tools, or a simple hammer. Years later, that one sentence of advice would be chiseled into my head forever.

As I sat on concrete floor on a hot fall day in southern California, I listened to a Marine who fought in the Battle of Chosin Reservoir. For those that do not know, the warriors who fought that battle received the nickname “Frozen Chosin”. It may be the coldest battle any American has ever fought in. In the story the Marine told, he would often say how extreme the conditions were: below freezing, deep snow, and no cold weather gear or equipment. He would tell us how he and others struggled constantly to maintain their firearms. He described their firearm maintenance as ‘dedication to preservation of self and unit.’ Meaning, they had to do it, or they would perish. As the elderly Marine spoke I heard my grandpa’s words in my head again thinking of how similar they truly were. Just five years after the Battle of Chosin Reservoir my grandpa would become a Marine as well. And the lessons from that battle were fresh in many Marines’ memory. As Marines we pass down a high standard of maintenance for our ‘tools of the trade’.

Fast forward to now, imagine that the sun has set on a cold fall day, you may have just climbed down from your stand on opening day. Frost may be forming on the ground and you know tomorrow morning will be colder. You return to camp and you seek your hunting buddies to see how they fared on opening day. If you have been hunting long enough or know many hunters, you surely know or have experienced some kind of malfunction with a firearm. We have heard it all before: “my muzzleloader had a hang fire”; “my shotgun misfired”; “frost froze my action,” and so on. My first question, and one many of you ask first is, “did you clean it?” and typically the answer is “no.” In many cases, properly maintaining your firearm can prevent you from telling the story of how the big one got away.

My philosophy on firearm maintenance is systematic. I believe there are multiple pieces and/or steps that I need to take to complete the task. Firearms, especially modern day sporting rifles, have many moving parts compared to the older bolt action hunting rifles or muzzleloaders. The more moving parts a firearm has, the higher the chances of a broken part or malfunction. In the next couple paragraphs I will give you a brief overview of my thoughts on how to maintain your firearms.

The first step to my process is an inspection. The initial inspection should take place once you acquire the firearm. New guns may still have shipping grease and some used guns may not have been taken care of well. After safely checking to see if the firearm is unloaded I would suggest disassembling the gun further than a ‘field stripping’. Seek out videos on YouTube or a local gunsmith if you are unsure of the process. Check parts for cracks, purrs, and cleanliness. Once I have checked and verified all pieces are in functional condition, I like to clean and condition all metal parts. This helps with future carbon build up and quickens the cleaning process. A quicker inspection can be done while the firearm has been in storage for an extended period of time.

My next step after I condition the metal is to reassemble the firearm. Without any ammunition present and after I fully assemble the firearm, I conduct a function check. Always make certain the muzzle is pointed in a safe position while conducting a function check. Again, if you are uncertain on the steps to safely conduct your firearms function check, use the power of the internet, user manual, or a gunsmith to walk you through the process. The function check confirms you have assembled the gun in working order without test firing. It is often an overlooked step and one that can save a lot of head scratching later on.

Replacing broken and worn parts and a deep cleaning can prevent the majority of malfunctions that happen afield. For the rest of the malfunctions it may boil down to ammunition type and hunting conditions. Whether you are using a muzzleloader, slug gun, or a modern sporting rifle, keeping your powder dry and using the correct ammunition is critical to success in preventing malfunctions and stoppages. Using the wrong ammunition can cause stoppages and excessive wear on your firearm. Excessive wear and using the wrong ammo type with your firearm can lead to an unsafe condition that could lead to a catastrophic failure. This is the worst case scenario that may leave the user injured. As a responsible gun owner you have the obligation that when you pull the trigger you are liable for the consequence. The importance of test firing and zeroing your firearm cannot be understated. Test firing also gives the owner/user the confidence that the gun will perform when it is needed most.

The last step in my personal system, and one I believe is over looked the most by others, is periodic maintenance. Being a firearm owner does not just happen in the months of October, November, and December. It is a 365/24/7 commitment and burden. Properly maintaining of your firearm during long off seasons seems unglamorous and unnecessary but it is your responsibility. Checking your firearms on a regular schedule will prolong the use of your firearm and reduce the chances of malfunctions. If you get an oil change every 3000 miles or 3 months on your vehicle, that same mentality should be applied to your firearms.

And remember: “Take care of your tools, and they will take care of you.”

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