“Not another article on barrel care! Damn-it! I keep reading this stuff, and it seems like every guru has a different opinion on what to do.”
Okay, let’s not get too worked up about this subject. I want to discuss what I have found to be the most effective way to care for that expensive piece of pipe that just showed up on your doorstep. I, like most everyone else, want to see results from my custom rifle. So I’ll cover how we should care for the most important part right from the start.
The first thing to do is clean that barrel before you ever shoot it. Now I’m not talking about scrubbing the lands out, just a couple of patches to remove any dust or debris from shipping. I will assume we all know enough to use a bore guide and a quality cleaning rod and jag, with properly fit patches, so enough on that.
This could be the most debated subject of barrel care. The two schools of thought are, just shoot it, or shoot and clean for x number of rounds. I have tried both and from my experience the proper way to go is the shoot and clean. This is why:
It is a well known fact that a barrel, even a custom lapped barrel, will attract more copper fouling to the bore on the first few bullets down the tube. The single most important reason to shoot one round and clean out that copper fouling is to prevent a build-up which will be MORE difficult to remove if multiple bullets are fired down the virgin bore. Yes, we may clean it five times with 5 bullets fired, but you will notice that the fifth cleaning was much easier than the first. On the other hand, if we fire 5 bullets in succession we will have multiple layers of copper laid down, which will require more cleaning to remove. My opinion is that the 5 cleanings will leave your bore in better condition than the single cleaning after 5 shots. I have shot, bore scoped, and cleaned a couple of barrels during the break in, and the visual bore inspection was quite enlightening.
So what is happening as these first few bullets pass down the clean barrel? Good question. Answers range from burnishing the surface of the barrel, smoothing out the throat, to depositing carbon in the grooves of the micro finish. I cannot say for certain, but the results of a broken-in barrel do have a noticeable effect. Now all this is not to say a barrel that had 20 rounds fired down it right from the start will not break in. I feel the barrel will get there quicker with fewer rounds and less scrubbing, cared for the way I have outlined.
Now, not all barrels will act the same. The surface finish, steel type, hardness, cartridge, and lubricity, can all affect the barrels ability to “break in” so none of this is set in stone. You may find that your barrel cleans up easily after 3 shoot and cleans. Another barrel may take 12 shoot and cleans.