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Every year throughout the United States, Americans wait in anticipation for the exciting start of hunting season in their respective states. Nothing can put a damper on that excitement like a failed hunt due to improper rifle maintenance. 

Rifles are expensive investments and should be cleaned thoroughly after every use to keep them working dependably.

Read on to get the ins and outs of how to clean a bolt action rifle and ensure your next hunt goes smoothly.

Cleaning Products You’ll Need

A Gun Cleaning Kit is perfect for cleaning a bolt action rifle

Most sporting goods stores offer a selection of quality gun cleaning kits.

You can also find several good deals online and add a few items yourself. The things any good cleaning kit should include are the following:

  • A cleaning rod
  • A bore snake
  • A bore guide
  • A rag for cleaning
  • A flashlight
  • Various bore brushes for different caliber sizes
  • Patches
  • Barber brush
  • Lubricant
  • Cleaning solvent

When it comes to the type of solvent and lubricant, it’s a matter of preference. There are several good brands on the market, so use what feels right to you. If you’re a beginner looking for a place to start, however, a couple of established brands that are popular include Hoppes 9 and Sage & Braker. 

Additional Cleaning Accessories and Preparation

It’s crucial to have a clean working space with plenty of room to begin cleaning your rifle. You should also ensure that the area has good lighting and ventilation. If you’re able to, set up an uncluttered desk in your garage or outdoors.

A couple of other accessories you’ll need are:

  • Latex or vinyl gloves
  • A cleaning mat or pad

Sage and Braker Waxed Cleaning Mat

Cleaning mats protect your working area from damage while cleaning your weapons. 

Many cleaning pads and mats will have a graphic on them to help you organize all your cleaning supplies. 

Gloves will keep you from getting any solvent or other toxic cleaning product on your skin. Using bare hands to clean your rifle will expose you to harmful chemicals. 

Steps For Cleaning a Bolt Action Rifle

After you’ve set up your work area and have your cleaning kit ready, it’s time to get to work cleaning your rifle. 

Step One

As every responsible gun owner knows, making sure your rifle does not contain ammo before you begin cleaning it is always the first step. Remove the magazine if yours is detachable. If you have a fixed magazine, open your action to look inside as well as the chamber. 

Step Two

The second step is disassembling your rifle. You need to determine whether you’re doing a basic routine cleaning for your rifle (if you fired around a dozen rounds at the range) or a more thorough one after hunting.

Consult your rifle manufacturer’s manual and disassemble according to their recommendation. Remove the bolt and then either remove the magazine (if detachable) or open the magazine floorplate. 

If you’ve just come back from a hunting trip, you’ll need to disassemble your rifle as much as you can. Because cleaning after hunting is a more involved process, you’ll likely need to remove the stock and scope before disassembling the bolt. 

Step Three

Carefully remove any debris from the outside of your rifle using a barber brush. 

Step Four

You can soak your patch in CLP (Cleaner, lubricant, and preservative) and push it down the barrel or you can spray the inside with CLP. Make sure to use a bore guide before putting a cleaning rod in your barrel. Let the product sit for a couple of minutes.

Step Five

Use a rag soaked in cleaning solvent to wipe off your bolt, taking extra care with the extractor and bolt face. You can use a brush to clean the extractor. Note: if you don't like the harshness of commercial solvents, there is also the option of using solvent alternatives for this step. 

Step Six

Use a bore brush in the proper size to go through your barrel with a cleaning solution at least ten times. After you’ve ensured it’s clean, use a little oil on a brush down the barrel to protect it from rusting. A bore snake is great for this step and you can use it instead of a patch.

Step Seven

Use your rag with a cleaning solution and carefully wipe off the remaining metal parts. Add a tad of lubricant to your cocking cam and locking lugs before putting the bolt back on. Lastly, reassemble the rifle and store it in a cool, dry place. 

How Often to Clean Your Rifle

It’s good practice to clean your rifle every time you shoot at least a couple dozen rounds.

Depending on your rifle’s exposure to humid conditions and the elements (snow, etc.), you can choose to clean it more thoroughly after use. 


Cleaning and oiling regularly will help improve the accuracy and overall reliability of your rifle. It will also ensure your rifle is safe to use with all parts operating at their peak efficiency.

Regular gun maintenance also means that, in the long run, the amount of work you have to put into it will be reduced.

Letting gunk and rust build up just means you're going to have to work harder and longer to remove it in the future.

Be particularly diligent after being in extreme weather or after extended hunting trips. 

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