When a good rifle suddenly goes bad and starts shooting patterns rather than groups with your finely tuned handloads, the first stop is always the cleaning cradle. More often than not that will correct the problem…at least the shooting end of the problem. Almost without fail, when I have encountered this in somebody else’s rifle, they insist to the point of confrontation that they “already cleaned it!” It’s gotten so when they bring it to my shop, I don’t bother to tell most of them what I did. I smile, hand them back a gun that is shooting well again and let them think I am some kind of a miracle worker.

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When a good rifle suddenly goes bad and starts shooting patterns rather than groups with your finely tuned handloads, the first stop is always the cleaning cradle. More often than not that will correct the problem…at least the shooting end of the problem. Almost without fail, when I have encountered this in somebody else’s rifle, they insist to the point of confrontation that they “already cleaned it!” It’s gotten so when they bring it to my shop, I don’t bother to tell most of them what I did. I smile, hand them back a gun that is shooting well again and let them think I am some kind of a miracle worker.

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Many shooters run a few patches through the bore and maybe make a pass or two with a brush and assume that they have cleaned the rifle. That’s often the equivalent of running your car through a puddle in the road and claiming you washed it. Even if they have scrubbed for days, it doesn’t ensure the rifle is clean. I once spent a week cleaning a badly fouled .17 Remington rifle, and was starting to think it was physically impossible for that much copper to be trapped in so small a bore. The truth is that a fouled bore is tough and time consuming to clean properly. Fouling is cumulative; each time that you fail to clean properly the fouling left behind is added to the collection and the problem is compounded and grows over the weeks, months or years.

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Running a few patches with some solvent through the barrel is not enough. You must clean the barrel down to bare steel and remove all powder and metal fouling each time you clean. I can’t say how many patches or how many swipes of the brush will be required to clean any specific rifle, nobody can. But I can tell you how to know when you are done.

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