Have you ever been there? A fall, trip, slip, broken piece of equipment sends your rifle into the mud, dirt or rocks. It happened to me years back and I decided that I needed a better infield solution to get it clean again. Not just an infield solution, but also a maintenance program for before, during, and after the hunt. Here is what I have come up with over the years and hopefully it will stop a hunt ending disaster.
Let’s talk stainless steel. Stainless steel is the predominant steel used in most actions and barrels, so this is going to be an important metal for us to be familiar with. What sets stainless steel apart from the more common carbon steel is the amount of chromium added to the mixture. A stainless steel has at least 10.5% chromium added to the steel’s make up. This addition of chromium allows the steel to form a chromium oxide layer on the surface that deters oxygen and moisture from penetrating the steel. This is where you should have noticed the term deters, not prevents. The common misconception is that stainless steel does not rust or corrode. Well it does! Here is where that maintenance program is going to get started.
Most factory stainless barrels and actions are not coated with any type of protection from the elements like Cerakote or other type of coating. These coatings help in the protection of the steel from the elements, but remember they can allow moisture in and corrosion will form under the coating and cause spotting. Before you leave on your hunt I recommend removing the action from the stock and using a light oil on a cloth to wipe down the entire action and barrel, except for the trigger mechanism. We will get to the trigger in a bit. I prefer Rem Oil to wipe down all my firearms, and Rem Oil even makes some handy wipes that you can travel with as well. Make sure the application is light, and does not make the firearm slippery and hard to handle. If needed go back and wipe the barrel and action down with a dry towel. This process is even more important with a non-stainless, carbon steel action and barrel. These are easy to identify because most are blued. Once complete, reassemble the rifle and check your zero and you are on your way to having no issues with your firearm.
Most people overlook the little pieces, like the screws and hardware that are used to assemble and make the rifle function. Almost all screws are not stainless and rust very fast. A small drop of oil can increase the life of the screw several times. Remember, if the head starts to rust then it will be easier to strip out the head of the screw when trying to remove it for maintenance. Sling studs, picatinny rails, and other attachments can be non stainless as well, give them a wipe down along with the barrel and action. Below the action you will have a mag box and follower. Generally the mag box and the follower spring are regular carbon steel and are always left out of the maintenance. While the rifle is disassembled, lubricating these two pieces is easy. I find these two pieces can cause more issues in the field than most are willing to admit to. If you get any corrosion or rust on these parts, your rifle will not feed the cartridges properly because the follower will hang up in the mag box. Our rifle is now ready to head to the field and give us the reliability we need.
Now let’s jump back to the beginning of this article. We are in the field and the rifle has ended up barrel first into the mud, dirt, or rocks. Lets look at some solutions to this scenario. Our bore condition is critical to us maintaining our zero or proper point of impact down range. Any material can affect your bore’s ability to send a projectile down range consistently. A couple ways to help maintain this condition is to seal the barrel from the outside environment by taping the end of the barrel and keeping a spent cartridge chambered in the action. When taping your barrel remember to use black electrical tape. It is waterproof and will blow off the end of the barrel before the bullet leaves, thus not affecting the trajectory of the bullet. Just off the end of my stock I keep several extra wraps of tape around the barrel so I do not have to carry around a roll of tape in my pack. I started carrying a spent round in the chamber a few years ago to help seal the action and bore just a little better. It has worked so far, and I find that it keeps me from having a loaded firearm in the field.
Now in the off chance that the tape breaks when the rifle barrel hits the ground, you will need a solution to clean out the debris in the field. I have been carrying around a Rapid Rod for about 8 years now, and it is the best in field cleaning rod on the market today. Along with the Rapid Rod I have a small field cleaning kit that helps me keep my firearm clean in the field. It includes a 7mm brush, 7mm Jag, small bottles of KG1, KG12, and denatured alcohol, a penny, and an allen wrench for my scope turret.
The most overlooked infield maintenance is the trigger. We see a lot of failures in the field from no maintenance on the trigger so pay attention; a failure here could be deadly! The trigger is not a sealed mechanism, so dirt can easily get into the mechanism and cause it to not properly retain the firing pin, causing the rifle to go off when not expected. You should flush out the trigger every three to four days in the field. I use a small bottle with denatured alcohol, but a Zippo lighter refill bottle works nice as well. Removing the bolt will expose the top of the trigger and give you a place to flush the trigger. Let it air dry and do not lubricate the trigger, any lubrication will attract dirt and cause additional failures.
Now that we have had a successful hunt we need to ensure that the rifle will be ready for the next oue, or be able to be put away for the year and not be ruined. If you are headed out on another hunt start back at the beginning and give the rifle a good wipe down with Rem Oil. Then shoot it to check zero and re-tape the barrel. This is a good time to disassemble the bolt using the penny and clean the firing pin. By detaining the firing pin with the penny you can unscrew the firing pin and remove it from the bolt body to clean with carb cleaner or a similar solvent. This is why I have a penny in my field kit, just in case I need to tear apart the bolt in the field. If you are putting the weapon away for the season go ahead and clean the barrel and leave a thin layer of oil in the bore and then start from the beginning and wipe down the rifle. Do not tape the barrel or leave a spent cartridge in the chamber. Store the rifle in a dry place for the off-season.
By following these simple maintenance steps you will have a problem-free season with your rifle. Check out our full line of YouTube videos that walks you through the cleaning processes if you need a refresher, and don’t forget to call if you have any questions about the maintenance program.