The UK’s been experiencing one of the coldest and wettest winters in recent years. Mike Morton explains how to look after your gun following a foul-weather airgun shooting session
There’s a saying here in the UK – and no doubt in plenty of other countries with wet and cold climates, too – that there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. This is true to an extent, and since the widespread introduction of breathable waterproof fabrics such as Gore-Tex, and their subsequent fall in price to more affordable levels, it’s never been easier to protect ourselves from inclement weather and remain comfortable while doing so. This means we can venture out more often and stay out for longer at any time of day and in any type of weather conditions. But what about our guns – can the same be said for them?
Our airguns are certainly capable of shrugging off the worst weather imaginable during any particular shooting session, but if we want to keep them shooting their best, we’ll need to spend some time cleaning them – and especially drying them off –
after using them in cold, wet or muddy conditions. We want our airguns to shoot accurately and reliably for decades to come, despite the best efforts to the contrary of corrosion, grit and rust.
While most of your focus needs to be directed towards dealing with airguns that have got wet, it’s important to take account of cold days too, even though they may be perfectly dry and sunny, and with clear blue skies. When you’ve been out for several hours in very cold weather, you’ll probably pack your gun away in its bag and then travel back in your warm car to your warm home. But during this period, condensation can build up over your gun, which in turn can lead to corrosion.
Thankfully it’s really easy to counter condensation, simply by letting your airgun acclimatise to room temperature before it’s put away. That means not keeping it zipped up in its bag for any longer than necessary, and letting it slowly warm up to ambient temperature with plenty of airflow.
If you keep your rifle in a gun cabinet, it’s a great idea to use a product such as Napier Super VP90. This sachet, which lasts around a year and is attached to the back of your cabinet with a self-adhesive pad, produces a protective vapour that coats your rifle, but does absolutely no harm to wooden stocks or scope lenses.
IN THE FIELD
If you’ve been out shooting in the rain, you probably just want to throw your gun in the back of the car and get home once your session’s over; but depending on how wet your rifle’s become, you have a job to do, and that can start while you’re still in the field. It’s possible for rainwater to seep into the bore of the rifle. Airgun barrels don’t need to be thoroughly cleaned that often, so it’s not really necessary to treat them to a pull-through when you get home, but you should at least shoot a couple of felt cleaning pellets through the barrel now to dispel any water and dry out the bore.
With all your shooting now out of the way and the gun made safe, it’s time to dry off as much of the rifle as possible using a microfibre cloth. Be especially careful if the rifle has got muddy, as well as wet, because wiping the surface with the cloth – especially the metalwork – could scratch it. Instead, dab the metalwork, and fold the cloth over regularly so you are always using a clean section of cloth on your gun rather than grinding in any grit. The cloth itself should be kept clean and ready for use. It’s no use just grabbing one that’s been sitting in the boot of your car, picking up grease, grit and other detritus.
It’s also important to keep a dedicated cloth for cleaning your scope. Don’t let your generic cleaning cloth anywhere the lenses: it might transfer grit, which could scour off the protective coatings of the lenses or even scratch the glass. For this reason, I prefer to clean the lenses on my scope when I’m safely home – so for now, let’s concentrate on just treating the rifle.
If your rifle has blued metalwork, you could go one step further after using the microfibre cloth to mop up the worst of the water and give it a wipe with another Napier product, the VP90 Field Patch, which is a single-use cleaning cloth that’s been impregnated with gun oil. Traditional blued metal looks gorgeous when it’s clean and dry, but is more susceptible to corrosion than more modern – albeit mundane – finishes, and can benefit from being wiped down with gun oil. My own preference, however, is to use liquid car wax on blued metalwork, which helps protect the finish, but is dry to the touch and doesn’t attract any grit. I usually carry a cloth that’s been impregnated with car wax with me every time I go shooting, storing it in a zip-lock bag.
If you’ve transported your rifle home and it’s still wet, take a moment to look after your gun bag. The interior of a gun bag needs to be dried off if it’s become wet, so unzip the bag and let it air dry for a few hours. Cordura-lined bags will dry fairly quickly, while fleece-lined ones will take longer. These fluffy linings do a great job of keeping your rifle snug and in good shape when they’re dry, but they can absorb a fair bit of moisture, which can promote rust.
With the bag out of the way, let’s get back to the rifle. If it got muddy, gently wipe off any remaining mud with a damp microfibre cloth, using a little washing-up liquid if it proves to be particularly stubborn. What comes next will depend on how soaked your rifle got in the rain – but if it’s the very first time your gun got wet, it’s a good idea to carry out the following steps at least once to see how impervious to the elements your gun really is. You may be surprised – pleasantly or otherwise!
Take off your moderator, especially if it’s a reflex type that comes back over the barrel or shroud, where water can become trapped. If your barrel is shrouded, take this off too, which might involve using a set of Allen keys. I’ve shot in some truly appalling weather, and rain can easily find its way inside a shroud. The first time this happened to me was with my trusty Mk 3. I was amazed at just how wet the barrel had got – and I was truly thankful that I’d taken the time to remove the shroud and dry it off properly. It’s worth taking off your stock too, for the same reason. Water can get anywhere and everywhere. If you’ve never had your gun out of its stock it may be best to carry out a dry run (literally) and learn how to do it in comfort, rather than scratch your head about how to do it when you’ve come home late, cold and tired after a wet day’s shooting.
Cans of compressed air, the type used for cleaning camera equipment and personal computers, can be put to good effect in drying off any moisture that’s seeped into the nooks and crannies of your rig. Canned air is particularly good at forcing water out of scope mounts and cocking mechanisms, for example. Just make sure you don’t force that displaced water into any other areas of your gun!
Don’t worry – this is most definitely an airgun magazine, not a housekeeping title, but there are two basic types of microfibre cloth that you should know about. The first is the regular household type, which feels fluffy, and is made up of thousands of microscopic hook-shaped fibres, which help pick up dust and dirt. This is a brilliant general-purpose cleaning cloth and is also very good at absorbing water. Standard supermarket cloths are fine, but if you have an especially treasured airgun, the high-quality cloths from Paragon Microfibre (www.paragonmicrofibre.com) are made of a softer material than normal.
While a regular microfibre cloth can be used for cleaning lenses, a dedicated glass-cleaning cloth is a better choice, especially for the finishing phase. This type of cloth has a flat weave and won’t smear like a regular cloth. If you do buy one of these, keep it for lenses only.
Keep the cloth itself clean and wash it regularly. Zip-lock bags are ideal for grit-free storage. One thing to do before using a new cloth, though, is to tear off the tag: this is not made of microfibre fabric and can cause scratches.
MAKE YOUR WOOD GOOD
Gun stocks can be made of different materials and different finishes, but all are capable of repelling water if they have been treated correctly. Synthetic stocks are waterproof, of course, but the mounting hardware probably won’t be, so remove any washers and screws and ensure these are clean and dry before reassembling your combo. Use a tiny amount of moly grease to protect them.
Soft-touch stocks are also impervious to water – but not if the rubberised coating has been scratched, exposing the wood beneath. Luckily, modern soft-touch finishes are incredibly scratch-resistant. But if yours has picked up a bad scratch – on barbed wire perhaps – then soak up any excess water as quickly as possible before the wood starts to swell.
Pure wood-only stocks come in four basic formats: varnished, lacquered, laminated and oiled. Varnished wood has largely been replaced by lacquered wood these days. Both types of finish are water-resistant as long as the finish remains intact. But even an undamaged stock may not be fully protected, with the inletting on some stocks not receiving a complete coat of varnish or lacquer. Laminated stocks, by nature of their manufacturing process, are extremely resistant to water, because they’re made from stained sheets of wood that have been bonded together under pressure using various resins.
Oiled walnut stocks, such as the one on the BSA R-10 shown above, are the most traditional type of gun stock. As well as looking beautiful, they are excellent at repelling water if the oil finish has been maintained. Oil finishes do need to be topped up every once in a while – typically once a year – but a maintenance coat is easy to apply, and as usual it’s far easier to regularly maintain an oiled finish than neglect it for years and then have to carry out a major overhaul.
Whatever type of stock you have, make sure the inletting and the stock-mounting hardware are all perfectly dry before you put your rifle back together. Use a combination of microfibre cloths and canned air, then let everything air-dry for a few hours, just to make sure. Never put a wooden stock near direct heat, however, as it may warp.
It’s now time to reassemble the rifle and put it away, safe in the knowledge that no harm has come to it and it will perform as well as it ever did. Airguns are a bit like cars. Most of the time they just need to be fuelled up – in this case with air and pellets – but every now and then, they will need some maintenance, especially if they’ve been out in all weathers. You now know you’ve done your part, and thanks to you your airgun will perform flawlessly next time.
Read more about surviving the cold weather…
- How to clean scope lenses
- How to top up an oiled finish
- Coping with the cold
- Tips to make winter outdoor shooting bearable