Shotgun servicing costs little compared to the loss of a day's shooting. We tell you when and where to have your gun serviced.
ROUTINE CLEANING AND CARE
Basic care and cleaning are no more than common sense when it comes to shotgun servicing. The bores must be attended to after every outing and left mirror-bright, and all external surfaces must also be free of dirt, damp and residue. If the gun’s wet, it must be left to dry slowly, away from direct heat. Be especially careful to avoid condensation when you bring it in from the cold or when it has been removed from an aircraft hold. If multi-chokes are fitted, remove them periodically, scrub them and lightly lubricate the tubes and threads (oil should be used sparingly).
There is no need to be obsessive. Firearms are often damaged by over-cleaning, particularly through disassembly by those who do not have the requisite skills or tools. Never attempt to remove a lock plate unless you have a precisely fitting turnscrew (if in doubt leave it to a gunsmith). Sometimes, after a dry day’s shooting, I will just push some scrunched up loo paper through the bores with a rod (three sheets fit a 12-bore nicely) and wipe off the action face and knuckle with the same wonderfully serviceable material. If you use this method, you must take scrupulous care that none of the paper is left in the barrels.
CHANGES TO LOOK OUT FOR
It pays to look out for subtle changes in guns. If the barrels become loose – what is known as “off the face” – attention is required. You can check for this by removing the fore-end and simply rattling the gun. A cure may be effected by clever modern welding techniques on the bearing surfaces, putting in a replacement cross pin or fitting new studs if the gun has bifurcated lumps and trunnion hinging. A gun that is off the face will appear to recoil noticeably more and must be fixed promptly to prevent further damage. Similarly, if the butt or fore-end becomes loose, remedial action should be taken without delay. If you do not attend to the problem, you may end up with a broken stock or fore-end, which will be expensive to replace. Restocking a sidelock gun is not going to leave you much change out of £5,000 these days (double that or more if the work is done by a London maker), so it pays to keep a watchful eye.
Another potentially expensive problem – and a common one with English guns – is dented barrels. It is usually easily cured at an early stage. If left, though, a dent may develop into a ring bulge or become a thin spot, which can lead to serious costs. Good-quality replacement barrels on a best gun will not cost much less than £7,000 if chopper lump and may cost as much as £20,000 if supplied by the gun’s original maker. I periodically check my guns by the simple expedient of looking at and through the barrels very carefully and running the exterior surfaces between my fingertips. You will be surprised how easily tiny imperfections will be revealed by the pads of your forefinger and thumb. Dents can simply be popped out with a hydraulic tool but they can destroy a gun if left unattended.
It’s also important to ensure the barrel ribs have not come loose. If they have, water may seep in under the rib and cause hidden damage – a common problem on older guns. You can check for loose ribs on a side-by-side (where the problem is more likely to occur) by the following method: disassemble the gun, and, taking great care, suspend the barrels by the front lump with a finger. Now tap their sides with a pencil. If they ring true, nothing is amiss, but if you hear a tinny rattle it is likely that the ribs have lifted. They will have to be removed and the barrels and ribs will need to be relaid and resoldered. Following that, the barrels will also require re-blacking and, possibly, re-regulating.
Other things to watch out for include ejectors that are poorly timed (check they’re working simultaneously with a pair of snap caps); weak strike on primers (possibly caused by tired mainsprings or worn firing pins); and a top lever that feels spongy or comes back beyond the central position. It is also important that the triggers and safety mechanism operate reliably and crisply. Occasionally, cracks develop in actions, more frequently in ejector limbs, and sometimes lumps and loops become detached from the barrels.