If you think barrel cleaning is a bit of a bore, Andy McLachlan’s here to sing the praises of the pull-through.
Cleaning a barrel is certainly an interesting subject for any shooter wishing to retain the high levels of accuracy that can be expected from today’s pre-charged pneumatic air rifles.
Many shooters are perfectly happy to leave the cleaning of their barrel until it’s ‘gone off’, and suffer from wayward shots as a result.
But as those of us long-time shooters know, the problem is that individual gun barrels, even though they might look exactly the same as the possibly thousands of others that have been produced by a manufacturer, are all individuals that require different levels of attention to perform their consistent best.
My own slant on this discrepancy is that, particularly for barrels whose rifling lands are produced by a cutting tool instead of external hammering, the cutting tools are obviously wearing with each barrel processed.
This means that some barrels – for example, one that has been cut with a new tool at the factory – might be better performing than one that has cut hundreds of barrel blanks prior to it wearing out and being changed. Still, the barrel that has been cut with worn tooling may be a better performer. Who knows?!
As we can see then, all gun barrels are individuals. I know shooters who use old, tested and rough-looking items that they are confident will produce the results, even if their new target rifle has come equipped with a brand new ‘target standard’ barrel.
In many cases, we are talking about very minor differences in the way any individual barrel will shoot. I cannot remember purchasing a PCP whose barrel has been a duffer from new for a very long time now.
The same cannot be said for springers, unfortunately – I purchased a new springer whose barrel was very poor and pellet-fussy. It would shoot one brand of pellets reasonably well, but not to the level that I knew other examples of the gun could and did achieve.
This is a very frustrating process. Buying your new gun, you try many brands of pellet, with different weights and head size to discover what your individual gun barrel prefers.
Like most target shooters, this will usually lead to one of the JSB family of pellets being selected, due to their general high standard of performance in most guns. If you are like me, you also need to consider how much and how available any chosen pellet might be.
It’s no good only having a couple of tins that perform well, as you will run out of these in no time and must find a similarly performing pellet that might not be quite as good as your previously chosen best candidate.
Therefore, shooters in the know will travel long distances and pay out large sums of cash to secure as many sleeves of 10 tins (or boxes for that matter) of any pellet that performs well within their individual gun. It doesn’t matter a jot if the top shooter in your club is using ‘Pellet X’ as it simply might not suit your barrel.
The only way to identify the best performer is to spend time with a variety of candidates and fire lots of lead downrange until you arrive at the optimum performer.
That is when you need to buy as many of THAT particular batch as you can afford, which is precisely what all the top competition shooters will do on an ongoing basis.
Anyway, back to barrel cleaning. Most of the top shooters that I know (I hesitate to include myself within this category) tend to keep to a strict barrel cleaning regime.
This is to ensure that a barrel is unlikely to suddenly stop performing mid-competition – which, as you can imagine, is the last thing a competition shooter needs when trying to nail a 30mm target at 45 yards in a strong crosswind.
Therefore, they adopt a barrel cleaning process designed to pre-empt any drop-off in performance. Even though I cannot be classed as a ‘top shooter’, I try to make sure that all the gun barrels used for regular competition receive a good cleaning, usually, in my case, following the consumption of a tin of pellets.
To clean my barrels, I use a Napier pull-through kit. This is the ideal companion for keeping the barrel in a clean condition and ready for competition use on a permanent basis.
Folding the supplied blue patches into four and applying my lubricant of choice, in my case Lubro Teknik LT1, it usually takes two wet patches, followed by a few dry, until the dirty rifling marks disappear from the withdrawn patch and confirm a clean barrel.
I know for a fact that a clean barrel will, nine times out of ten, outperform a dirty barrel, although I do know of springer shooters who have never once cleaned their barrels, usually supplying comments such as: “It never goes off, so why bother?”
This cleaning regime, if kept to, will allow most gun barrels to remain in a high state of readiness. It does rely upon you maintaining it strictly though. Many’s the time that the very last thing you feel like doing is cleaning a gun barrel, but it is important that you do, so as not to be disappointed by poor accuracy in the future – hopefully not in the middle of a competition, or in the field.
We then move into the realm of ‘serious’ barrel cleaning. This usually occurs when a known good performer suddenly goes ‘off’ and fails to produce the standard group size of which you know it is capable.
Presuming that the gun has no seal leaks and that everything is screwed together properly, the main contender for accuracy issues will obviously be either the barrel, or the ammunition.
If we confirm that the batch of ammunition has remained the same and the accuracy fails to improve – despite having gone through enough barrel pull-throughs that the pile of dirty patches could sink a ship – we then must consider using a more radical approach.
This consists of a rigid barrel cleaning rod, usually made of nylon so as not to damage the rifling or crown, (where the end of the barrel has been cut concentrically to allow the pellet to exit nice and straight,) specially designed felts and blue VFG cleaning paste.
The rod is inserted into the barrel from the muzzle end as normal. The VFG felt is then screwed onto the thread and applied with a full coating of the specialist paste. Withdrawing the rod backwards sees the cleaning felt entering the barrel, where it is then rigorously scrubbed up and down and eventually withdrawn.
If you have not tried this cleaning method previously, you will be genuinely shocked at just how much rubbish is still residing within the rifling following the first pass of the cleaning rod.
Using your normal cleaning method is not, unfortunately, a confirmation that the gun will end up as immaculate as you had either thought or hoped it would be.
This process can be repeated several times in one cleaning session until the felts come out a bit cleaner every time. Remember that you are essentially applying a metal polish.
Many barrels will not thank you for continuing with the paste. You are better off using a few paste-loaded felts, then following it up with some clean felts.
I am also aware of some shooters who get even more radical than this. They have used blue paste applied to a copper cleaning brush that is worked severely up and down the barrel to really clean out any residual lead build-up.
Despite personally not being willing to apply such a savage approach, I know for a fact that it some cases it has worked remarkably well, and including times where it has almost resurrected a previously excellent barrel.
Unlike firearm barrels, which do wear out eventually due to the massive friction and pressure, airgun barrels can last for decades if properly maintained.
If you aren’t doing it already, I would strongly recommend that you consider using a regular cleaning programme for your barrels in order to allow them to continue performing at their best.
For the few minutes it will take you, it is just not worth risking any drop-off in accuracy. Stay accurate!
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