Barrel Cleaning

Hi Mike, I've found all your info quite invaluable, and this question is in
regards to your response on the forum over the weekend about damaging the
throat, etc. with the cleaning rod with name withheld cleaning his barrel
after every every shot for 100 shots. Please give a brief (if possible)
description of your cleaning techniques and tips. I'm sure it would OPEN my
eyes and maybe a lot of others as well. Thanks so much, and I am a first
hand seer or the effectiveness of your hinge pins. Sure have helped me out.
Thanks again,
Jeff Bright

Cleaning is not in itself a bad thing, but there is no bore guide I have
seen on the market yet that actually keeps the rod off of the throat, and
this is where the main damage occurs from cleaning. Most folks cannot, or
do not, conceptualize what happens when the rod strokes the barrel and are
lured into a false sense of security when they buy some gizmo rod guide that
does absolutely nothing to keep the rod off of the lands at the throat. I
would like to see the first such rod guide that does and would welcome
discovering one that did.

While a heavy build up of copper does cause problems with accuracy, my
concern is that it has become vogue to scrub the heck out of barrels and do
more long term damage with the cleaning rod than is helped by the cleaning.

There are many schools of thought on maintaining barrels. One person I know
who shoots almost every day of his life NEVER does any kind of copper
removal. He just runs a bore snake through his many barrels to keep them
from rusting. This fellow is routinely zapping groundhogs and coyotes at
400 yards and beyond with his Contenders. Go figure.

If he gets a barrel that fouls badly, he will sit and run several hundred
rounds through it WITH NO CLEANING AT ALL!

While I choke at the thought of it, I also cringe at the damage I see done
by cleaning rods. Which is worse?

No matter what the finish is inside the barrel as it arrives, with shooting
its interior finish will stabilize at whatever finish shooting produces.
Ie., rough barrels smooth up. Super slick barrels get rougher.

The objective to breaking in a barrel, ultimately, is to get it roughed up
or smoothed down inside without "coining" the inside of the barrel from
bullets overriding clumps of copper attached inside. But no matter the
barrel, and no matter what you do, there will be copper attached inside with
the very first shot, and even after doing a shoot and clean regimen for a
hundred rounds, there will still be some copper inside the barrel. So it is
a question of degrees of coining that occurs.

While perfection may be the goal, and one may get sterling results with
generous cleaning, has he really gained anything measurable? And what did
it cost him in terms of time and money that could be better spent on other
shooting pursuits?

Take another individual as an example, Don Bower. When Don and I put on a
long range shooting clinic at Claremore, OK in '99, I packed up all my
cleaning gear and figured with all the shooting for extreme accuracy at long
range that I would be cleaning the heck out of my barrels. Wrong. In three
days of shooting I don't recall any cleaning, at least nothing that would
indicate any kind of regimen. Don simply SHOOTS. And, he and his students
shoot some mighty impressive groups at extremely long ranges. For him,
shooting does not even begin until the distance is at least 500 yards!

Another case in point, and while it is a small case, when I shoot my .22
K-Hornet on prairie dogs, a typical day was (it's been several years now) AT
LEAST 250 rounds. This barrel was a "junker" that was too rough inside to
sell, a more extreme case than most people will ever encounter. It fouled
like the devil to start with, but with use, it rather quickly got to the
point where you could look into the barrel at the end of the day's shooting,
and the entire circumference at the muzzle was black with virtually no trace
of visible copper at all. AND..... it has zapped a lot of prairie dogs at
distances way beyond what a K-Hornet is supposed to.

Am I recommending that you go out with a $4-500 barrel and never clean it?
No way! I DO recommend judicious cleaning, BUT at the same time I am trying
to temper the reasoning of perhaps thousands of people I have talked to at
gunshows, the phone, and on the internet over the years who scrub the
daylights out of barrels and ruin them quicker than if they did more
shooting and about a fourth the cleaning.

As for a cleaning regimen, pick one from one of the barrel manufacturers if
you want, which is more like shoot one and clean for 5 or 10 rounds, then
shoot about three for the next 50 rounds, then shoot no more than 5 or 10
rounds for the next 100. After that, for shooting the tightest groups
possible, perhaps clean every 20 rounds, but I would test it to see IF the
cleaning is actually benefiting group size and by how much. If this is
your goal, then I would also present to you that you need to apply many,
many other benchrest techniques lest your work be an effort in futility.
Ie., standard loading dies, presses, and chambers will only permit a certain
level of accuracy. So, for example, you need to dive into the realm of
tight chamber necks, turned case necks, inline size and seat dies, etc......
we just eliminated at least 95% of the shooters who would not be bothered
with this. But excessive cleaning is not the substitute for precision
chambers and ammo.

Bore scoping barrels routinely here at the shop where I shoot and clean and
lap, shoot, and clean, I see the copper that remains in even the finest Hart
and Shilen lapped barrels and can see what it actually takes to get it out.
It takes an excessive amount of cleaning to actually get it out, even with
copper removers and soaking. So what is your goal? To spend your life
cleaning barrels or shooting? If you get that much of a kick out of
stroking barrels, come on up here and you can clean all my barrels for me
for free! I won't charge you a thing for it, and you won't even have any
ammo or barrel expenses!

What I am suggesting is to keep things in perspective and don't get
ridiculous. That is the reason for the tongue in cheek reply I made on the

All the best,
Mike Bellm

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