Rifle Gear 101

Essential items for the beginner
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Dave’s a “bitter clinger” when it comes to proven cleaning rods but he likes the compact Otis pull-through systems.

After weeks of research, you bought your first rifle. Along with scope, bases and rings and ammunition, it took a fairly serious financial outlay but you’re set for a lifetime of shooting enjoyment! Welcome to the wonderful world of rifles and rifle shooting! Now, I’d like to help newcomers avoid my mistakes.

The Weekender kit from Birchwood Casey is Dave’s fav because its components are well chosen,
well made and a bargain at around $30.

The Essentials

You are going to need a few accessories. Some are absolutely essential and need to be acquired before you ever fire your new rifle. In this category are eye and ear protection. These were discussed in a recent column so I won’t go into detail again, except to say get it now. Don’t wait.

Also essential is some form of security system. No, you don’t need a fire-resistant, 48-gun capacity safe (not yet) but you should have — at a minimum — a locked closet, cabinet, or hard gun case well secured with a locking cable. Only you, or those you authorize, should have access to your firearms and ammunition.

Another essential is cleaning gear. I’d never fire a new rifle without running at least a few patches through the bore to remove any factory protective oil or grease. You should also use a soft clean cloth to clean surplus oil from the action and exterior metal surfaces.

The physician’s Hippocratic Oath “Do thy patient no harm” could be adapted to rifle cleaning. Poor quality equipment, incorrect technique and overzealous cleaning do more harm than good. If you use a cleaning rod, get a good one (meaning a one-piece coated specimen), large enough in diameter to reduce flexing.

For decades I’ve used J Dewey rods and have found no reason to search further. There are other good choices from Birchwood Casey, Bore-Tech, Lyman, Montana Extreme and Tipton — including some rods made of carbon fiber. Two sizes will cover most popular calibers; one for .22 to .264, another for .270 and up.

With any rifle-cleaning rod you must use a bore guide to keep the rod from flexing and rubbing on the front of the chamber and the rifling. Without a guide you’ll probably do damage. It’s also advantageous if the rifle is securely held in a vise with leather-padded jaws so you can keep both hands on the cleaning rod. All this adds up to more expense than many new shooters want to incur.

I find myself increasingly drawn to the simplicity, speed and convenience of pull-through cleaning systems, such as the popular Otis kits. With this method, there’s no need for a bore guide and you can get along nicely without a gun vise. Pull-throughs work with semiauto and lever-actions where cleaning rods may be impractical. Most importantly, they do a very good job of cleaning.

Improper use of any system can result in unnecessary wear; pulling the cord or cable at an angle so it rubs might eventually damage the muzzle crown. On the other hand, if you have enough eye/hand coordination to load and fire the rifle, keeping the cable straight should be relatively easy.

For value it’s hard to beat the caliber-specific Otis Patriot series. Currently made for .17, .22 rimfire, .223, 6.5mm and .30-caliber bores, these are a bargain at $20 to $25. Properly used they won’t wear or damage your rifle. Even if you end up with a rack of cleaning rods, the Otis kit will still be handy to take on hunting trips.


While the new shooter can get along without a torque wrench or trigger scale, cleaning gear is essential.

Tool Time

Long ago I made do with cheap screwdrivers and improvised pin punches (nails, for example). Only after buggering up screw slots and scratching gun finishes did I smarten up. Before disassembling your new rifle, get proper tools and be thankful (as I am) for Torx screws in scope mounts, not to mention large Allen-head guard screws.

The Weekender kit from Birchwood Casey has a well-chosen selection of gunsmithing tools including a hammer with nylon and brass faces, brass punches, roll and steel pin punches along with a selection of screwdriver bits (flat, Phillips, Torx, and hex) in the most commonly encountered sizes. All the tools are well made and — for around $30 — the kit is a ridiculously good value. Back in the day it would have saved me untold grief, not to mention the cost of replacing damaged parts.


A brass drift and hammer will adjust the rear sight on this 1894 Marlin without marring the finish.

Dave needs prescription ground lenses but if you have good vision, eye protection can cost $20 or less.

Odds And Ends

Soft cases and rifle slings may not be essential. You can make do (I have) by wrapping the rifle in a blanket and using a piece of cord for a sling. On the other hand, (1) well-made, nicely padded nylon soft cases are quite inexpensive, (2) a small rifle can fit in a large case but not vice-versa, (3) a web carrying strap costs just a few bucks, and (4) sling-swivel studs and detachable swivels are your friends.




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