Thought’s on gun cleaning and old wives tails.
First let’s step through a little history. We shall begin in 1914 and WW1. The military in general can be said to have a procedure for everything and everything must be followed IAW (In Accordance With) pick a publication, regulation, rule, note, letter etc. WW1 was the FIRST time the U.S. had a mass mobilization of people into the military since the “modern” era of firearms. At that time the vast majority of primers and propellants were HIGHLY corrosive if left to their own devices on raw steel. To that end it was highly desired that the residue from these cartridges be removed as expeditiously as possible before real damage could occur. So our beloved military decreed that THOU SHALT: Following any firing of a weapon for practice, training or actual combat proceed to clean said firearm to the point where no residual propellant or residue shall remain and two consecutive days there after. (Or words to that effect)
OK, that works in the trenches. However, always remember that 80 -90% of the military does not see combat but are held to the same rules. So now we have an entire generation of “soldiers” that are indoctrinated to scrub their guns within an inch of their lives. Why? They have no idea but “It’s what I did in the Army/Marines etc”. The other issue was HOW they cleaned their guns, pistols in general were cleaned from the back or the front with no particular problem. Rifles on the other hand were generally cleaned from the FRONT. So there are millions of military happily sawing away with a steel cleaning rod to get the last bit of powder and copper out of the bores of their 1903’s. In the process they end up wearing a groove in the “crown” of the muzzle. Not good for accuracy but the bore was up to the Sergeant’s specifications.
End of the war the world is happy and all those Soldiers, Sailors and Marines go back to where they came from with this permanently ingrained in their heads and begin to teach their children the same. The military is contracted as happens following a war and in between that and the next they don’t have a lot to do. Enterprising Sergeant’s and NCO’s have to figure out SOMETHING to do to keep the troops occupied. The answer, fire 20/50/100 rounds and spend 6 hours cleaning said rifle/pistol or machine gun. Repeat as needed to take up time and “maintain proficiency”.
Somewhere between WW1 and WW2 they invented a new mouse trap, smokeless powder. The by product was that the priming compound and powder itself was no longer “corrosive”. That said there was still a whole lot of ammo from WW1 in stock that had to be gone through and then there were all those old Sergeant’s who carried the idea forward. Enter the M1 Garand, M1 Carbine, Thompson SMG and M14 all of which HAD to be cleaned from the FRONT. Again we have happy military sawing on the muzzles of their weapons with steel rods because the Sergeant’s told them to (primarily to keep them occupied) Again another generation of people indoctrinated.
In 1960 something the M-16 was introduced and heralded as “a gun that never needed to be cleaned”, yeah that worked well in Yuma, Arizona and Crane, Indiana but in the jungles of Vietnam it got a lot of people killed. So the Sergeant’s said “I told you so” and back to hours of cleaning we went, and another generation was indoctrinated. To further the point of cleaning from the front, the sectional rods contained in the butt stock would only reach the upper receiver from the front. So more happy military sawing away at a barrel, another generation down.
Fast forward to me and in 1985 I was indoctrinated to the nearly 100 year old concept of “clean after shooting: EVERYTIME” Which I kept up faithfully until Desert Storm in 1990. A well oiled well cleaned rifle or pistol (yes we still had the 1911 back then) tuned into a one round wonder due to the fine dust that was EVERYWHERE and got into EVERYTHING. Thanks to a forward thinking Gunny Sergeant I learned about running the M-16A2 “Dry” with only the smallest amounts of lubrication and “graphite powder” for locks. After 100 hours of pretty much continuous contact and gun fights without a jam, I was sold. That said it was purely a situational event.
Move ahead a few more years and I had gotten into long range precision rifle, primarily where the first round was the most important. I was attending a training event and ran across a friend from when I was on the Navy rifle team who also happened to be a SEAL “DEVGRU” sniper. As we were yukking it up at the end of day I was preparing to “clean my rifle” He stopped dead and looked at me. “What are you doing? I just watched you hit a 4” target at 730 yards, why are you going to screw up your bore? I had no good answer. Over dinner and drinks he went a long way down the conversation of “seasoning” a rifle bore. I hit my cold bore shot the next morning which is something that had always eluded me.
I took his advice to heart but decided to conduct my own experiment with 3 rifles I was shooting pretty consistently at the time. A Winchester M-70 bolt gun in .308, an AR-10 also in .308 and a Remington 513T in .22. I scrubbed them up (from the REAR) to the point where a Marine DI would have been proud and began to test. The .22 took 215 rounds to get consistent precision accuracy, the bolt gun took 75 rounds, the gas gun took 85 rounds. The gas gun lasted 930 rounds before accuracy fell off, the bolt gun took 1065 rounds and I haven’t found out what the .22’s level is but I’m north of 3000 rounds now. The only cleaning is of the bolt and bolt face and a dry swab of the chamber with some light lube on the bolt and moving bits.
In general I apply the same thought process to pistols now. Clean the breach face and extractor, wipe down the feed ramp and mebby drag a dry bore snake down the pipe if there is visible un-burnt powder. Lube the rails and back in the holster it goes, most times not even that.
I would venture to say without hesitation that more damage is inflicted in the process of “cleaning” a gun than is inflicted in “Shooting” the gun.
So ends the history lesson and the root cause of a wives tail that follows us today.