Black Powder Rifle/Shotgun Cleaning and Maintenance Guide
It is important when shooting any gun, but a black powder muzzle loading gun in particular, to clean the gun thoroughly. Black Powder fouling is hygroscopic and will attract moisture (and therefore rust), and will ruin a gun over time. When properly cleaned and cared for, Black Powder rifles and shotguns will last many lifetimes, and many guns made centuries ago are still in use today.
Rifles and Shotguns
Muzzle loading rifles and shotguns are simple to clean, provided the right tools are used. Black Powder fouling is water soluble, so no harsh chemicals or abrasive compounds are necessary to clean. It is important to clean the gun as soon as possible, to prevent rust build up. Some will do a basic clean at the range, simply to prevent the worst of the fouling caking on the bore of the gun, before they have chance to get home and clean thoroughly. This is certainly a good idea, though I wouldn't say as vital as cleaning when you get home. I would, however, always wipe over the surface of the gun with a cleaning cloth, as fouling will accumulate on the exterior surfaces, particularly around the lock.
Cleaning muzzle loading long guns is a pretty messy business, so I'd always do it outside. The basic ingredients, besides the cleaning equipment (which I will address presently), is a bucket, a supply of running water, a kettle, some fireproof gloves (optional), and somewhere to work that you don't mind getting a bit mucky. Those who choose to clean their gun in their finery may also like to wear an apron.
It is important to disassemble the gun, as you will want the breech of the gun (be it a rifle, or a shotgun) submerged in water in the bucket. To do this, remove the ramrod, and the barrels from the action. For barrels held in by pins or a wedge, a punch set may be required. Next, using a nipple key, remove the nipple(s) from the barrels. The nipple may be cleaned independently, by spraying with Black Powder Solvent, and cleaning the fouling with a brush and pick set to ensure the nipple hole is clear. Leave the nipple sitting in a small container of solvent for the rest of the clean. Remove the lock from the stock, and discard these two parts and the ramrod for the time being.
There is little difference between the cleaning of rifles and shotguns, though it is easier to clean shotguns, simply given the lack of rifling. To start, liberally spray the inside of the bore with Black Powder Solvent, and leave it to sit for a few minutes. Boil the kettle and empty about half into the barrel, or about a quarter into each if using a double barreled gun. This is where the fireproof gloves come in handy, the barrels will get extremely hot, too hot to hold with your bare hands. Continue pouring boiling water in the barrel until the nipple hole is submerged.
At this point you will require a cleaning kit, or a set of rods and attachments. The most modifiable and complete set is the Pedersoli Rifle Cleaning/Loading set, suitable for all calibres up to .69. For shotguns, I find the Boxed Shotgun Cleaning Kit is the best.
It is then time to apply some vigorous cleaning with a cleaning rod and appropriately sized bronze brush. The plunging action of the cleaning rod in the barrel will create a vacuum, and will draw water up and into the barrel from the bucket. The constantly moving, scalding water and action of the cleaning rod will clear black powder fouling very well from the bore of the gun, either rifled or shotgun.
Once the water is well black, and little more can be gained by further scrubbing, empty the dirty water and repeat if necessary. Holding the barrel above the bucket, and pouring water into the bore will enable you to gauge roughly how fouled the water is by the colour. When the water is running clear, boil a new kettle and pour about half the amount into the barrel. The heat of the water will evaporate quickly off the interior surfaces of the gun barrel, and none should remain inside. It is always preferable to use boiling water at this stage, simply as it evaporates so fast, there is no risk of it remaining inside the hot barrel and causing rust later.
Next, remove the bronze brush and replace it with the jag. The barrel should be dry by this point, so swab the bore with a 4x2 patch to check how much fouling is still in the barrel, by how dirty the patch is when removed. If any fouling remains, clean with more patches until they come out clean. Finally, replace the jag with the wool mop, lightly oiled, and run it through the bore, to protect against any rusting.
As for the exterior of the barrel, and the stock, these should be liberally sprayed with Brunox spray, and wiped with a cloth until any accumulated fouling has been removed. Brunox is neutral against wood and leather, so will only remove fouling, and will not damage any finish. The lock should be oiled and cleaned. If heavily fouled, it will retard movement and may render the gun inoperable, so attention should be paid that the lock is in proper working order.
After the gun is cleaned to your satisfaction, it can be reassembled. Ensure all parts are dry, both inside the barrel and on outside surfaces, and reassemble the gun. Oil the threads of the nipples and replace them in the gun. Once the gun is reassembled, check for function. Hopefully everything should work, if so, the gun is clean and ready for storage. Give the gun a spray with Brunox, and it will be well protected from corrosion when in storage. The next time you take the gun out to shoot, remember to 'cap off', that is to place a percussion cap (or prime the pan), on the nipple, and fire the gun without a charge. This small blast will clear all oil out of the barrel, so the gun is ready to shoot.