How to Clean a Bolt-Action Rifle

A bolt action rifle on a white background.

They say that nothing can beat bolt-action rifles for accuracy. But for what they lack in accuracy, semi-automatic rifles make up in sheer number of bullets fired. But, as my father and perhaps your father told you, “If you make the first one count, you won’t need a second.” My dad also told me “bullets aren’t free.” That is especially true these days as the price of bullets has gone way up. I thought my dad had lost it when I saw the thousands of rounds he has stockpiled around the property. But I can see his point. Sorta. At least I will know where to go when the zombie apocalypse is upon us.

The rifle in this article is a Remington 770 30-06. It is my first bolt-action rifle. My dad gave it to me for Christmas. Thanks, Dad! I have been very attached to my Marlin 30-30 lever-action for years. It is a rugged weapon and is very mobile, accurate, and reliable. And I have enjoyed using it, just like I know I will enjoy using my bolt-action. So I sighted in the scope and now I need to clean it, so we better get to it.

Steps to Clean a Bolt-Action Rifle

  1. removing bolt from rifleRemove the bolt. With most bolt-action rifles, you push a lever, switch, or button while perhaps pulling the trigger, and the bolt slides out. If you don’t know how to do this, locate your owner’s manual. If you can’t find it, go to the manufacturer’s website. They should have the manual online. With this Remington 770, you just flip that switch on the left of the barrel to the upright position and pull the bolt out.
  2. solvent soaked patch through the boreApply solvent to the bore. Insert your bore guide into the bolt’s place. Put some bore solvent on your patch or bore mop and run it down the barrel all the way through and out the other side. Then pull it back though all the way. Do this twice. Let the solvent soak for 10 to 20 minutes before you brush the barrel. I used a jag and patch here. Once through the barrel and the patch pops off.
  3. brushing out boreBrush the fouling loose. Attach the appropriate bore brush to your ramrod. Push the brush all the way down the barrel and out the other side. If you don’t have a bore guide in, remove the brush before pulling the ramrod back. If you don’t do this, you will be sweeping fouling right into the receiver, which is a very bad idea. If you have a bore guide installed, pull the brush back through. Do this 10 to 12 times.
  4. dry patch on boreUse a jag and patch to dry and clean the bore. A jag is the best way to dry the bore and get all that loosened fouling out. Because it is the exact diameter of your bore, it will clean the barrel in the fewest patches. The patch holder is the second best. Push the patches through the bore until they come out clean. This may take 10 or 12 patches depending on how much grime is inside the barrel.
  5. oiling the boreOil the barrel bore. Finally, after all the fouling is cleaned out of the barrel, push an oiled patch through the barrel to give it some protection from rust. This is an important step, so don’t skip it. But it is also important not to soak the barrel with oil. Use just enough to coat it lightly. With time, a deposit of oil can become gummy and varnish-like. In this photo you see the progression of the patches from dirty to clean. It took 11 patches before it was clean.
  6. cleaning bolt/receiverClean the bolt and the receiver. If the receiver itself needs to be cleaned, use a microfiber cloth and wipe off what you can. Use the toothbrush-like cleaning tool if you need to. Wipe off the bolt with some solvent and clean the firing pin. Dry it with a microfiber cloth so no fuzzies gum up the action. Grease the bolt with a drop of gun grease and put it back in the receiver.
  7. wiping down rifleWipe the whole gun down with a light coat of oil. Use a squirt of gun oil and a microfiber cloth to wipe a light layer of oil over the whole gun. For long-term storage, it would be best to store your rifle in a hardshell case. The cloth gun cases will absorb the oil over time, leaving the metal susceptible to rust. Don’t oil the scope. I accidentally got some on it in this picture, but I wiped it off.

Tips for Cleaning a Bolt-Action Rifle

  • Solvent is powerful stuff, so do your gun cleaning in a well-ventilated area. Ventilation is a prerequisite when working with chemicals.
  • Always make sure you are cleaning an UNLOADED weapon. If you are too dumb to know better, maybe you shouldn’t have a gun. Or at least get smart quick, before something bad happens.
  • One thing you may want to pick up for cleaning rifles is a bore guide. This goes in place of the bolt and helps to keep solvent and fouling out of the receiver. It also keeps the ramrod centered.
  • Don’t skip the bore grease or expect gun oil to do the job. You don’t want to be any slower at reloading than you already are, like when you just missed the big one with your first shot.
  • Try not to get any oil or solvent on the scope.
  • A hardshell case is also a better way to store a scoped weapon. You don’t want to ding your crosshairs around.

Gun Cleaning Products

bottle of Hoppe's 9Hoppe’s 9 Bench Rest Copper Solvent is specifically formulated to remove stuck-on copper from the barrels of rifles. Plus, it removes fouling. You can find Hoppe’s Bench Rest No. 9 from Amazon.

a bore guideThe bore guide¬†makes cleaning a cinch as it eliminates the possibility of contaminating the receiver with fouling from the barrel. Also, loading the ramrod is flawless with the bore guide locked in the bolt’s position.

silver bore snakeA bore snake is one possible solution for someone who either cannot or does not want to remove the bolt. Just drop the weighted string down the barrel and pull it through. Always go away from the receiver to keep from getting filth in it.