Post Season Chores for the Hunter
Fly anglers routinely use the winter months to tie up new patterns, repair their equipment and purchase replacement items for the next season. Bench rest and F-Class shooters thoroughly clean their rifles after every match. They inspect every piece of equipment to make sure that it is functioning properly and immediately make all necessary repairs.
Unfortunately, most hunters simply put their equipment away at the end of the season until the following year. Most of the time, the rifles are not cleaned properly, the reloading equipment is gathering dust on the bench and the camping gear is still in the garage where it was dumped after the last hunt. I believe that all of us would be well advised to follow the lead of fly fishermen and target shooters with respect to equipment care and management.
Your firearms should be completely disassembled, which includes removing the stocks of bolt action rifles. All metal surfaces should be thoroughly cleaned and wiped with silicone or a light oil to prevent rust buildup. Use a bore cleaning solvent to remove the “caked on” buildup and scrub out the barrels with a good brass brush to remove the loose jacket and lead residues. There are plenty of superb products out there for this job. For years, I used Hoppe’s No. 9 and never had any complaints. I still keep it handy for quick cleanings. For really deep cleaning, I like Butch’s Bore Shine, Shooter’s Choice, Montana X-Treme, Kroil, Wipe-Out, Isso Bore Cleaner and J-B Bore Cleaner, just to mention a few. All of these bore cleaners are excellent and it pretty much boils down to your personal preference.
Don’t forget the action. You can use an old toothbrush to get the dirt and crud out of the action and bolt. Then apply a little Sinclair bolt grease for lubrication. Shooter’s Choice Rust Prevent is an excellent product for treating barrels, reloading dies and reloading tools that are susceptible to surface corrosion.
If you are anticipating years of long term storage of your guns, you might want to consider using a RIG-RAG sheepskin wipe treated with RIG Universal Grease. This stuff is long lasting and penetrates even hidden corrosion to prevent further damage. Finally, take some time to buff out the nicks and scratches on the stock(s) and apply a good wood preservative, paste wax, or stock oil. Pride of ownership in your firearm reflects favorably upon you as a person as well as a sportsman.
I also recommend picking up a 3-pack of Sinclair solvent bottles for your liquid bore cleaners. These handy little bottles have a flip-top cap for easy application, as well as a solid cap for storage. Filling the Sinclair bottles reduces evaporation from the source bottles due to continued opening and closing. They virtually eliminate the possibility of an unintentional spill, which is not only messy, but also costly.
If you get the idea that I like doing business with Sinclair International, you are right. (Note: I do not receive discounts, special treatment or commissions from them.) In this day of “big box” stores, online e-commerce and junk mail catalogs, Sinclair still does business the old fashioned way, one customer at a time. I like that. Unlike some companies, they do not increase their profit margin with excessive shipping and handling charges. They have a flat shipping and handling charge of $8.75, whether your order weighs one pound or 200 pounds, whether it costs $100 or $1,000. Combine that with a friendly and helpful sales staff and you have a great company. I compile my order online and send them an email list and they reply (usually within a couple of hours) with an order number, invoice and total. I send them a check (to avoid credit card creep) and they ship my order immediately. It doesn’t get any better than that.
With your rifles clean, it is time to look at your reloading equipment. Following my own advice, I took apart my forty year old Pacific press and was embarrassed by the crud. No wonder the ram was a little rough and sticky. A good scrubbing with a 0000 steel wool pad soaked with light oil, a coating of Rust Prevent and it was as good new. Turning to your dies, make sure that there is no rust buildup or scoring on the inside, that the locknuts turn easily, that the decapping pins are straight and the buttons are not marred. Replace anything that looks suspicious. A rule of thumb: If you have to think about whether to keep the dies or replace them--replace them. Good reloads require good dies, not ones from which you are trying to get "one more season."
Take a look at your case lube pad. If it looks grimy, replace it. Over time, small bits of dust and metal become embedded and at the very least will scratch your cases. More seriously, the metal may adhere to the case and damage your dies during the resizing process. Lube pads are cheap when compared to the cost of new dies or brass. While you are at it, check out your case lube. If it is old or you are getting low, pick up a bottle of new stuff, like Hornady’s One Shot, Rooster Labs Case Spray or Dillon Case Lubricant. Don’t forget to inspect your primer pocket reamers, case trimmer heads and neck trimmers. They can wear out, become corroded or dull. Replace them as necessary.
Inspect all of your cases for cracks, bulges, burn marks and any cuts or gouges around the base. Discard all empty cases that do not pass inspection. DO NOT decide to use them for “just for practice.” If a case doesn’t look good, it should not be loaded or fired.
Case in point (excuse my pun). A friend gave me a box of .243 reloads for target practice. I should have known better before shooting them, as I knew that he rarely cleaned his cases and never bothered to check them for problems. What the heck, I was only going to use them at the range. I am glad that I was using a Ruger No. 1, as the first six rounds wound up with split necks and bulging cases making extraction difficult. Being a glutton for punishment, or downright stupid, I fired another round and promptly blew out the primer. That was enough, even for me.
On close inspection of the remaining 13 rounds, I noticed minor cracks around the necks, slight bulges at the bases and burn marks on several cases. I pulled the bullets on the unfired rounds, emptied the powder, decapped the cases and disposed of entire mess in the Zia club’s dud container. Whether the primer blew because he loaded the case “too hot” or because the primer pockets had enlarged from repeated reloading, I will never know. What I do know is, from now on, I will start with new brass for all of my reloading, inspect each case prior to reloading, and keep track of the number of times each case has been fired. No more “hand me downs” from friends!
I am now certain that bench rest and F-Class shooters have the right idea. They start with new brass, reload the cases three times (four times maximum) and then discard them. If you think about it, your rifle costs more than $500 and you only fire it a few times a year. The cost of new cases is small by comparison.
Clothing and Camping Gear
Finally, we come to your support equipment for successful hunts. Take your knives out, clean and sharpen for next season. Ok, you wiped them off after dressing the game, but as with your rifles, they deserve a thorough cleaning. Use some 0000 steel wool to remove any dried blood or other crud from the blade, then wipe down the blade and hinge with a light coat of oil for the winter.
Lastly, your hunting clothes. If you didn’t throw them in the wash when you got home from your last trip, DO IT NOW! Otherwise, they are liable to crawl out of the box in your garage and attack you in the middle of the night. At the very least, they will be a little ripe by spring; or worse, ruined by mildew, mold and rot.
Check everything for missing buttons, broken zippers and tears. It is frustrating to be on a hunt and find out that the zipper on your favorite jacket or pants do not function properly. With regard to your boots, don’t just inspect the outside, but look inside to determine whether the inner lining is worn or ripped. Damaged boots can leak or create nasty blisters that will make you miserable on your next hunt. After the hunting season, most stores will have close-out sales of their hunting clothes. This is a good time to replace any items that are damaged or just plain worn out.
Whether you use a tent, recreational vehicle or camp trailer, there are items that either broke or didn’t work properly on your last trip. These could be anything from ropes, leaky air mattresses, ripped rain parkas or lost utensils to a defective coffee pot. Making repairs (and buying replacements) on these essentials over the winter weekends will pay dividends next fall. You will be ready, without having to rush around at the last minute looking for replacements or spare parts. Worst case scenario, you might be unable to find the stuff you need. Next fall, every hunter and sportsman from Maine to Baja will be shopping for the same stuff. So, in the words of Larry the Cable Guy, "Get 'er done."
No one needs to tell us that these things should be done. However, we all have a tendency to procrastinate. Make a list of things that need to be repaired or replaced and pick a weekend during the early winter months to see that these chores are completed. As you finish each task and mark it off the list, remember the fun you had on your last trip and daydream about the expeditions you have planned for next fall. There are worse ways to spend a winter weekend.
Copyright 2007 by Dr. Jim Clary. All rights reserved.