When you put your guns away, they have to stay in good shape till the next time you use them.
A host of challenges await an untended gun. Even if you did a perfect job of cleaning it, the odds are good it will experience damage unless you go a few steps further in your care.
Let’s put one fallacy to rest right away. Stainless steel is not rustproof. It won’t rust as quickly as other steels, but it will rust in Kodiak’s climate.
You simply can’t take it for granted that your choice of arms and your methods of care learned in other locations will work in Kodiak. Even indoors, in the safety of your own home, you have to take precautions.
Most of us tend to put our guns away at the end of a season and forget about them until it’s time for a sight-in and other preparations a year later.
Lots of evil things can happen to guns that are out of sight and out of mind, I can assure you. Call it the voice of experience earned over 35 years of contending with Kodiak’s challenges.
Humidity can run off the charts in Kodiak, both indoors and out. You have to take into account the high level of moisture on and around your guns at all times. And it is a bigger issue while your guns are in storage than while you’re actively using them.
You also have to take into account that while you’re outdoors, the odds are good that there’s going to be salt in the air, too.
Let’s start at the beginning of your storage season, the most challenging season of all for gun owners.
You probably did a good job of cleaning the bore and wiping down your gun when you returned home. But don’t assume it’s ready to put away for the year.
How did you go about cleaning it?
Is copper fouling still lurking in the bore?
In my experience, the copper fouling will corrode over a winter, and in worst cases the corroding copper creates conditions that let the steel around the edges of the fouling start to deteriorate, even with a good rust-preventing oil in the bore.
I’ve acquired guns on Kodiak with old copper fouling in their bores, and even with a thorough job of removing the copper, I can still see shadows in the steel wherever the copper has been lurking for years.
I’m not a metallurgist and I have never sawed apart a barrel for a closer look at the bore, but those shadows look suspiciously like those left behind after a bore has rusted and the rust has been removed.
Maybe it’s an issue and maybe it’s not. But I don’t like it!
Use a good copper fouling remover and get the copper out of your bores before storing your guns.
When you were cleaning your gun, did you remove the barreled action from the stock?
Heaven knows what is lurking under the barrel and all around the lock. I’ve discovered everything from grass to leaves and deer hair lurking out of sight between the metal and stock on guns.
That’s a real problem because those collect moisture from humid air and hold it tight against the metal of the gun. And since you only oiled the outer surfaces of the gun, there’s likely no magical mystery oil on the metal to protect it from the moisture.
I have also encountered salt on the interior metal surfaces of a gun. Climb in and out of a skiff a few times or duck hunt along the ocean, and you will splash a gun with saltwater.
But cleaning it off the exterior is the first step. While you have the gun apart, use a moist rag to wipe all surfaces and remove any salt.
Now coat all the surfaces within the stock using a good grade of rust-preventing gun oil. There are as many brands out there as there are gun brands, so I won’t recommend one over another. You can use the same brand you already depend on to protect the outer surfaces.
While you have all the metal off your gun stock, take a close look at the stock itself. If it’s a wood stock, you need to make sure the interior surfaces are sealed against moisture.
Over time, exposed wood will swell, and sooner or later raise cob with the accuracy of a rifle.
Seal the exposed wood!
I like to use either TruOil gunstock finish or tung oil furniture finish from the hardware store.
Now you have that gun ready to store, right?
Well, sort of.
It’s a good idea to pull it out of storage a week later and examine it closely for rust, including running another oiled patch down the bore.
And do it again a month later.
I only start to relax if I’m seeing no trace of rust after the first month of storage. But I’m not content until I’ve checked it one more time three months later.
I am guessing that right about now you’re wondering if I don’t trust my cleaning and oiling job, if I’m so worried about rust appearing during storage.
I’m actually worried about the storage conditions themselves.
The wrong combo of conditions can cause serious problems, even in a gun that was properly cleaned and oiled when it was stored. The worst possible place to store a gun is in a humid place with fluctuating temperatures.
A closet against an exterior wall of your house is about as bad as the average garage. Every time the temperature goes down and cools the metal, it collects moisture in condensation. It’s best by far to pick a closet on an interior wall and far from any doors frequently opened and closed.
And if fabric is held against the metal, it, too, soaks moisture from the air and makes matters worse. Fabric is slower to dry and keeps the moisture against the metal longer.
If you must store your guns in a closet, don’t put them in fabric gun cases, and by no means should the closet be so stuffed that clothing can rest against the guns.
The ideal storage location also has good air circulation. Still air can become stagnant with moisture and add to your troubles, even if no fabric is against the metal and the temperature doesn’t fluctuate.
If I’ve done my job this week, I’ve made you nervous about the guns you already stored.
If you take your nervousness one step further and actually check the gun for rust now and a little further down the road, you will have done your job.
The biggest elements in the long-term health and wellbeing of stored guns are surveillance and care. You have to check them periodically and give them another treatment of rust-preventing oil each time you do so.
I have guns that prove the point. They look as though they arrived on Kodiak yesterday, but they’ve lived here and worked hard for more than 35 years.
But I’ve also seen new guns the owners bought last year, yet they look as though they spent a year in the rain.