Survival Shotgun Part 6: Cleaning and Maintenance

Many shotguns, especially pump guns, can run well for long periods of time between cleanings. However, in a survival situation your life may depend on that gun and you need to know it’s in perfect working order every time.

Survival Maintenance

When you fire a shotgun, you are not only leaving primer and powder residue, but also plastic residue from wads or lead from slugs. There are many products available to clean the bore of all these residues using nylon coated rods, brass brushes, and cotton patches. For the prepper, this is largely unnecessary.


Hoppes Boresnake 12 guage shotgunFor a survival pump you really don’t need much more than a Hoppe’s BoreSnake. The boresnake is a long cloth tube that has brush bristles and cloth wipe that you slide through the bore of your gun. That’s basically all you need to clean up a pump shotgun in one go and it’s around $20. The package is small, light and cheap enough to pack an extra in your But Out Bag.

To be honest, sometimes I don’t even clean my pump gun until I notice slug accuracy falling off.

Cleaning Kit

Hoppes Cleaning Kit 12 Gauge ShotgunIt may be a good idea to invest in a larger cleaning kit with rods and brushes once your setup and comfortable with the BoreSnake. You will get better slug accuracy if you can clean the barrel thoroughly, but you must if the cost, extra weight, and effort are worth this.

As a shooter who puts a large volume of buck and slugs through my shotgun, I have a dedicated shotgun rod with jags and brushes, but I typically use them for a 6 months- 1 year deep cleaning that a BoreSnake can not perform.


I have an autoloader that is gas operated and requires a full detail strip after each trip. It’s a solid design and well made, and I anticipate many years of service from it, as long as I keep up the preventativeSemi Auto Shotgun Cleaning maintenance and watch a few parts for wear. If you have chosen to run an autoloader, expect to do the same.

Recoil operated guns do not require as much maintenance, but gas operated guns may have o-rings and springs that need to be watched. Find out which parts are prone to breaking down and keep backups, so that you do not have to engineer or rig a solution later. Keep a backup to the backup part if possible, and keep a paper and electronic copy of the manual so you know how to install the part.

Alternative Cleaners

Survival Gear WD-40In a survival situation you can use some dual-use products to clean and maintain your shotgun. WD-40, ATF, or kerosene will clean fouling from the barrel. If you can mix the ATF and kerosene, it will work even better; there is a recipe for a home brew gun cleaning solvent called “Ed’s Red” where ATF and kerosene are major components.

To apply the solvent a tampon with some fishing line will do nicely as an improvised bore snake. If you cannot get your hands on a tampon, pieces of worn out t-shirt tied to a line will work as well. The key is to saturate the barrel, let the solvent stand, and then wipe out the fouling.


Rem Oil Shotgun cleaning lubeYou will then need to lubricate the inside of the barrel, moving parts, and lightly coat the outside metal. Too much lubrication is bad, concentrate on where metal moves against metal. Standard motor oil in a heavy viscosity or 3-in-1 oil can be used to lubricate moving parts and prevent surface rust.

If you have dropped your shotgun in some dirt, with no resources and a non-functional weapon, you can do a quick field strip, brush off the dirt, and lubricate the key points with the dipstick of an automobile. The shotgun is rugged and simple enough that you can be back in action that easily.

Top photo by: Jon Whitton

Mr. Smashy
Written by Mr. Smashy

Mr. Smashy has been shooting competitively for more than 15 years. Scouted from a junior club rifle team for the state team, he has won state championships in several events over his years. Mr. Smashy currently competes in NRA Highpower, USPSC, Action Pistol, among others. Mr. Smashy has excellent knowledge of US service rifles, reloading, and marksmanship. Read his full interview here. Read more of Mr. Smashy's articles.

9 thoughts on “Survival Shotgun Part 6: Cleaning and Maintenance”

  1. well, another good plan for those feminine hygiene products that have not further purpose – pads as emergency bandages, tampons for bore cleaners…. Well done.

  2. Why does it have to be one or the other? 🙂 People tend to think about this debate in very black and white terms. Phillips or flat-head? Which is better? Guns are tools. Different tools for different jobs.
    My concealed carry weapons are not my open carry wepons. Its a lot easier to carry a .38 snubby under my jacket than my glock 21. So for concealed carry a .38 or .357 or a 9mm is logistically a better round. WSHTF I have my Kriss carbine glock 21 combo. Same caliber same mags= more ammo I can carry. I think a good rule of thumb is to carry as much gun as you can and still effectively shoot it. Bottom line: Its your life. Your choice.

  3. I know this is going to sound horrible, but I have a M500 that I am pretty sure I cleaned in 1992. I don't know why I never clean it, because I take really good care of my rifles and handguns. It has always been that gun that I beat on and yet it has never failed me….Alright I feel guilty now, I'll go clean it.

  4. I know people who swear by "Break Free CLP" as the only "solvent" that you really need for gun cleaning and others who claim that there is no substitute for the kind of specialized powder solvents that normally come with a standard gun cleaning kit. While there is an extent to which my personal jury is out on this one, none of the firearms I have that I have cleaned with "Break Free" have had any problems, but then I don't normally put hundreds of rounds through them at a time.

    I do know this, as time goes on and the government's attitude towards civilian firearms ownership becomes ever more repressive, one will attract a lot less attention getting "Break Free" or other carb cleaner than they will by getting specialized gun cleaning supplies.

    A former Marine I know described a three step process that they had used for cleaning their M-14s when he was in. Step 1 was field stripping the weapon and cleaning all the metal parts in diesel fuel (got the powder residue, dirt and gunk off). Step 2 was then to take the parts and wash them in a mixture of *hot* water and Tide detergent (got the diesel fuel off). Step 3 was that once the parts had dried they were then lubricated with a light oil.

  5. I personally like the Remington 870, throwback to when I was a cop. One thing I did was have a local gunsmith order me one of every small spring in the action along with a spare firing pin, safety and pins. All of these parts are kept in my BOB sealed in grease, along with a copy of a assembly diagram. When SHTF is a bad time to start looking for a spare part. I have also done the same for my Colt Officers Model 45.

  6. WD40. High percentage kerosene which dries FAST in the warm. Once it's dry you get rust.
    By all means use it to clean with but ALWAYS use a good light gun oil before you slip your weapon back into it's storage bag or gun safe.


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