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Using a Bore Snake to Clean Your Shotgun Barrel

Using a Bore Snake to Clean Your Shotgun Barrel

A bird hunter uses a bore snake to clean his shotgun

Simplify your cleaning process and improve your gun’s reliability in the field with a bore snake

The bore was always the most frustrating part. An effective shotgun cleaning called for a cleaning rod, a stiff bristle brush that could screw on to the end of the rod, and strips of an undershirt that could slip through an opening of a sewing-needle-like attachment for the rod. Oil, bristle, wipe, repeat. It was a time-consuming process. Towards the end of Basic Training, our Drill Sergeant let slip that he preferred a bore snake over all those rods and attachments. Our ears perked up. He explained how a bore snake could accomplish much of the same tasks as the rods and bristles and rags, but in a fraction of the time. If you had been standing outside those barracks that day, peering through the window, I suspect it would have looked like that Drill Sergeant had just returned from Mount Sinai.

That night my bunk mate, Miles, wrote his wife. He pleaded for her to track down a bore snake and include one in her next adoring letter. I will never forget the mail call when it showed up. Still in the packaging, sized for a 5.56×45 NATO bore, Miles unveiled it before everyone’s eyes. The science experiments began immediately. To the seasoned firearm owner, putting a bore snake to use is a straightforward task. To a room full of army privates that have never seen one before. . . welcome to graduate-level astrophysics. 

We figured it out, eventually, and it was truly a game changer. In the army, I never went to a field exercise, to a firing range, or on a deployment without a bore snake. Now, as an avid hunter, I never step afield without one. The volume of space it takes up and its weight are practically negligible. The impact it can have on your success—be it in a combat zone or in pheasant country—is undeniable. I should mention that a bore snake needs a little oil (I like CLP) to do its job, so those two things are always packed together, along with a cleaning rag. For a big game hunt, those items will get sequestered to an easily accessible small pouch in my pack. On a waterfowl hunt, they get their own designated compartment in my blind bag. And, for upland hunts, my vest has a zippered pocket that’s just the right size to hold those few cleaning necessities.

Call it paranoia, OCD, classical conditioning from the army, or a combination thereof, but I’ve found myself performing minor “maintenance” on my firearms mid-hunt when time allows. Misplaced steps have led my barrel to find its way into dirt and mud. A day full of ample shot opportunity has resulted in a carbon-filled chamber. Mother nature has graced my guns with all kinds of precipitation. Rather than wait to get back home from a weekend of adventuring to tend to my gun, I’ll make the time to address whatever the elements threw at me that day. I’ll drop a bit of CLP on the breech, run a swipe or two of my bore snake through the barrel, and wipe down the bolt and gun. At least, in theory, when I miss the next shot it wasn’t due to an obstructed or dirty barrel. 

A bore snake and gun cleaning oil are arranged on a stump

The anatomy of a bore snake

You may notice a handful of slight differences in bore snakes between manufacturers, but at the end of the day, a bore snake will have these components (starting at the end you insert into your breech first):

The weight – There’s a small (usually brass) weight at one end. Its purpose in life is to take advantage of gravity and guide the line, along with the rest of the bore snake, down the barrel and out beyond the muzzle.

The line – This section of the bore snake, intentionally longer than your barrel, is designed to give you something to grip and pull. It is located between the weight and the bore brush. You’ll likely want to loop this around your hand to give yourself enough leverage to pull the remainder of the bore snake through the barrel. 

The bore brush – Just like you would see as an attachment at the end of a cleaning rod, this stiff brush is designed to loosen up any of the carbon build-up, dirt and mud, and any other particles of stuff you don’t want living for eternity inside your barrel. Some bore snakes will have more than one brush integrated throughout the snake.

The floss – The floss is usually a nylon fabric of some sort and is intentionally thicker than your barrel. After the bore brush does its job, the floss will come through and wipe out everything in its path. It’s typically made of an absorbent material so you can directly apply your cleaning solution to it if you’d like. Some bore snakes will have various floss sections, similar to having multiple brushes integrated together.

A bore snake being inserted into a shotgun barrel

How to use a bore snake

  1. Open and clear the action of your firearm. 
  2. With the barrel pointed at a downward angle, spray or drip some CLP into the barrel and let gravity draw the CLP down the barrel for a moment. 
  3. Drop the weighted end of the snake into the breach of the barrel until the weight emerges from the muzzle end. 
  4. Grip the barrel firmly with one hand and the end of the snake with the other and pull with a single, fluid motion (having Larry-Bird-sized arms helps). You can’t always get it in one fell swoop, and that’s okay. Just be aware that starting and stopping this motion may result in leaving some of the junk behind in the barrel so you may need to run another swipe through. Note that appropriately-sized bore snakes are slightly wider than your barrel. You’ll notice that pulling the snake might take some elbow grease, but that’s normal. The oversized diameter is what helps the bore snake grab, scrape, and pull everything out of your barrel.
  5. Hold the barrel up to a light to see how effective you were. Particularly dirty barrels may call for two or three swipes of a bore snake through the barrel.
  6. Bonus Round: If you’ve got a hunting buddy, hand off the weight and line to them. Have them pull the bore snake while you hold—and I can’t stress this enough—your firearm firmly in place. 

I should acknowledge that a bore snake isn’t an end-all perfect solution for a deep, thorough cleaning of any firearm. But, for expeditious field maintenance, a bit of oil, a bore snake, and a rag will keep your firearm doing what you need it to do.

The bore snake featured in this article is a product of Sage & Braker and can be found here.

View Comments (3)
  • While a bore snake can’t be beat in the field, when I get home I will use a Tico Cleaning rod over a bore snake any day of the week.

  • Pulling the bore snake through the barrel is made significantly easier if you hold the weighed end of the bore snake in your off hand and stand on the bore snake line. Then it is just a matter of pulling the gun away from your feet where the bore snake line is anchored.

    • Lance is correct, stand on the end of the line and you will not need to point the barrel in any unsafe direction. I’ve been doing that for 25 years!

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