Are your guns ready for deer season?

Get off the bank, and drop anchor in the middle of large lakes to greatly increase your duck harvest this winter.

We were sighting in several rifles for a friend last year — each year it seems he has another boy old enough to start deer hunting, and another rifle gets added to the batch I have to tune in on my range.

The horses disgustedly go up in the barn to wait out the incessant booming until they can get back to their favorite leisure-time activity — eating. Since they are ridden about .0001 percent of the time, and eat and sleep the rest, I have little sympathy for any inconvenience we cause in their schedule because we want to shoot.

We had been shooting most of an hour with several different centerfire rifles, when his boys drew our attention to the break in the woods that led to my other pasture. Peering through that hole, we could see two young deer that had jumped the fence and were contentedly grazing on the rye grass/wheat mixture I plant each fall for the horses.

These deer were in plain sight in the middle of the afternoon some 300 yards from us, and we were shooting noisy centerfire rifles. They ate their fill as we continued to shoot, and finally leaped back over the fence into the neighboring woods.

To carry this a bit further before I make my point, I have many times sat on stands and watched deer feed in the woods in front of me while rifle shots rang out only a few hundred yards away. Rarely do they indicate any distress or even pay attention to the loud noise. Sometimes they raise their head before going back to feeding.

Why then will deer clubs refuse to designate a small piece of their property where the members can test and sight in their guns? For some strange reason, these clubs think the gunfire is going to disrupt the hunting, and never give any consideration to the fact that part of the package is shooting the gun — it makes people more involved and more enthusiastic, and it certainly reduces the number of crippled and missed deer.

I have hunted with clubs that refuse to allow any shooting on club property, except at game, expressly because they believe the hunting club is for hunting — not shooting — and the shooting disrupts and disturbs the deer.

Making it more difficult for people to sight in their guns exacerbates an already growing problem: Hunting license purchases are declining each year because people don’t have a place to hunt. I believe another part of that is having a place to enjoy the simple pleasures of sighting in a rifle or shooting a gun.

If you don’t belong to a private shooting club with ranges already set up, you either shoot on private rural land, utilize a state range built for use by the shooting public or you sight in at your deer camp.

All of this, of course, leads us to the preaching: With the advent of cooler weather, we all begin the planning stages of our outdoor trips, and the preparation is part of the excitement.

So you’ve pulled your guns out of the closet, cabinet or safe — wherever you stored them last winter. Hopefully you did more than just wipe them down with a rust-preventative before you put them away. Hopefully you did do at least that, didn’t you?

All these musings were brought to mind about getting your guns ready for the upcoming season and sighting them in because I was, well, sighting in some guns.

The cylinder of lead, shown in the photo with the tip of a wooden pencil, was driven out of the chamber end of the barrel of a small .22 revolver. It had been used in one of my concealed carry classes by students, and had about three boxes (150 rounds) of ammunition fired through it.

While I admit this is an extreme example (and a huge argument for using jacketed bullets), it shows what sort of residue can be left in a gun barrel after a number of rounds have been fired in it. No amount of scrubbing (or at least no amount I was prepared to perform) was going to remove that lead deposited in my barrel. While there are several good lead-removing devices on the market, I simply took a brass .22 cleaning tip, and forced it to catch the rough edge of the lead slug. A bit of light tapping, and the lead cylinder fell out.

But your jacketed hunting rounds will leave copper and gilded metal shavings in your bore, and these deposits will affect your rifle’s accuracy.

The photo with the extremely nasty patch was pushed through a test rifle that I had cleaned spotlessly before going on the range. The patch was run through the bore with copper solvent after only 18 rounds of quality centerfire cartridges were fired through it.

Did you put your rifle up last winter with the bore looking like this? If you did, I hope you cleaned it before you test fired it this year. That much gunk will definitely affect the accuracy of the gun.

And that much gunk will draw moisture over time, turning into a wet sponge sitting in your barrel, causing rust spots that will be impossible to remove and will assuredly ruin the accuracy of the barrel.

I like to use a good quality copper cleaner when I scrub a bore. These compounds are designed to work on the residue left from the jackets, and get the bore back in a like-new condition. It works well if you can leave it in for a few hours, wiping it out with patches soaked with brake parts cleaner. The patches will frequently show a bluish-green tint, which is an indication the copper residue is being removed from the bore.

Brake parts cleaner does an excellent job of cutting the solvent, crud and oils, and allowing them to be carried out with the patch after the solvent has done its work. Like the gun scrubber products on the shelves in the gun stores, brake parts cleaner is simply an oil and solvent cutter that evaporates, leaving no residue — and it is a heck of a lot cheaper to use. It is not a cleaner, but a handy tool for helping remove the oily residue of the solvent.

A word of caution here: Do not use carburetor cleaner in lieu of brake parts cleaner.

They are not the same. Carburetor cleaner is far more of a harsh cleaning agent. It can actually melt some plastics and composite materials. I would strongly recommend against using it to clean solvents and oils on a gun.

If you use gun scrubbing products or brake parts cleaner on the outside of the gun, wipe it down with a rust-preventative coat of oil. These products are designed to remove all oils and leave the metal surface completely dry.

While we’re on the subject of rust prevention, I don’t want to pop any balloons here, but WD-40 is not a suitable rust preventative at any time. In fact, most gunsmiths cringe at the thought of WD-40 on guns. It does little good, it won’t last long enough to protect against rust, and if it gets on a bullet, it is a penetrating oil, and can creep into the shell and deaden the powder or primer. Don’t use it on your guns.

Don’t run an oily patch down your barrel unless you are putting the gun up for a while. If you are going to be shooting it, this will only gunk up the barrel faster when you start sighting in.

So, we will assume you have taken your guns out and cleaned them. Now we can assume you are going to shoot them to check your zero, right?

Once you set up at the range, if you are not certain the rifle will hit the paper at 100 yards, you should make your first shot at 25 yards. This will be your fouling shot — something I think is highly overrated, but since you are going to sight in with a fouled barrel, it might as well be put to use by shooting it at 25 yards.

Once you have determined it is on the paper, you move out to 100 yards, and you can utilize what is called the “one-shot sight-in” to get your rifle tuned to where you want it to hit.

As you can see from the diagram, you sight the rifle at your regular aiming point on the target. When you pull the trigger, you note where the bullet struck, perhaps high and right as shown by the diagram.

Holding the rifle firmly in place with the crosshairs again on the original aiming point, you adjust the crosshairs to intersect the bullet hole that was just made.

You have now adjusted the point of aim of the scope to the exact same point of aim as the rifle. This will allow you to get on target with a lot less waste of bullets, and you can now adjust for whatever point of aim you wish, say 2 inches above point of aim at 100 yards.

There you have it. A few quick cleaning tips, and you’ve gone out and tuned your rifle. Just coincidentally, you’ve also done a little practice here, and you are now much more confident with your gun for the upcoming hunt. Doesn’t it make you feel a whole lot better about it now?


Gordon Hutchinson’s award-winning novel, The Quest and the Quarry, is a generational tale that parallels the lives of a line of trophy bucks with the youth of a farming family, and their hunts for them. It was recently chosen as a book of the year by the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association, and is a must-read for anyone who wants to become an outstanding deer hunter. It can be ordered at, or by calling (800) 538-4355.

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