Rimfire rifle accuracy is a fickle subject. Every rifle is different it seems. So I will put this in several parts with generalities. I have been shooting rimfires for 61 years, and for the last 14 spent considerable time trying to reach the holy grail of rimfire accuracy. I would like to share some of what I have learned (and not learned) in this article. I would hope to give some tips to all types of rifles, from plinkers to top bench guns. I have them all and they are all fun. I don't plan at this time to address modifications such as aftermarket barrels or trigger jobs, but what the average guy can do at little cost to get more accuracy.
In our club, Air Capitol Gun Club, we have a number of shooters who have some measure of expertise in different shooting disciplines. If you care to submit an article to the club web site I would be happy to publish it. Whatever is simple for you, in an email or attach a text, Microsoft Works, Word or Open Office format file would be great. Please no PDF files as I find them hard to format.
The Rifle must be first tested to find the best testing method before getting to the real test! That's confusing to me to. Lets try that again. You can't just go out to the range and try 5 brands of ammo, one right after the other. This will not show you which ammo is best for your gun. The first ammo you try, if the barrel is not clean, you will not see how accurate it is. This is because the lube of previous ammo's are in the barrel and the previous ammo's have left a lead build-up in the throat area.
More barrels have been ruined by cleaning than by shooting them out. Some basics. It is always best to have a bore guide for your bolt action rifle. I have no expertise with autoloaders although I have several. For those not familiar with a bore guide, it fits in place of the bolt. It has a hole through it that the cleaning rod can go through into the barrel. It keeps the cleaning rod strait in the bore. Bore guides are made for each action and are not interchangeable. Several places sell them. On some of my older less popular rifles no one makes a bore guide. For those I take care to keep the cleaning rod centered in the end of the action as I push it forward slowly.
I prefer Dewey coated one piece cleaning rods. I have 4. Don't ask why. I also have an old Parker Hale coated cleaning rod that is great too, but they are no longer made. Many top bench shooters use hardened one piece stainless rods. The theory being that the stainless steel will not pick up crap and carry it down the bore of your rifle. Personally I think I would prefer particles trapped between the bore of my rifle and a softer surface like the coating on my cleaning rod.
I use mostly 1 1/8 inch square cotton cleaning patches. This is with a pierce style jag. I have also used 1 inch round patches when using a dry patch without solvent or oil. Don't do that often. I buy patches a thousand at a time. Later you will see why. Although my current cleaning regime doesn't use a brush, I have used centerfire bronze brushes, all bronze including the threading. I have two benchrest rimfire rifles. If my granddaughter is shooting with me we each need a cleaning rod. Although I watch her carefully, I want her to learn the whole game. So I have two cleaning rods each with a pierce type jag on it. I have tightened the jag on carefully so it doesn't come loose. Then I put a polishing wheel on my grinder and polished the joint where the jag and the rod join. This way there is no sharp edge hitting the chamber or more importantly the crown of the rifle.
Solvents and oils. Oh my, a million of them. Most work to some degree. But I must let you in on a problem. This has nothing to do with how clean they get your bore, but how many shots it takes to settle in the bore. A rimfire bore doesn't settle down and shoot its best accuracy until a layer of lube is laid down the barrel and a small amount lead in the throat to fit the bullet to the throat. I have found after some cleaning solutions my old BSA Martini MKIII takes 15 rounds to settle down to its best accuracy. Others only 4 or 5 shots.
The problem with jointed cleaning rods is the joints. They can have sharp edges. If that's all you have try polishing the joints smooth
As far as oils go, stay away from those with Teflon. Please remember to check me for accuracy. I have used Marine PAL and WD-40 to mention a couple. My favorite is TSI-301.
For solvents there are many. Remember, with a centerfire copper fouling is the main thing you are trying to remove along with burnt powder etc. But with rimfire it is lead along with carbon and powder fouling. A rimfire doesn't need much cleaning to prevent rust and corrosion. With a rimfire cleaning is mostly to improve accuracy. Also if it is stored for some time such as over the winter I like to put some oil down the barrel but others know more about storing guns than me. I like Shooters Choice Lead Remover if using a brush. Bore Tech Rimfire Blend is very popular, but I don't like it for the same reason I don't like turpentine. Yes, turpentine is a pretty good lead remover. But it and Bore Tech Rimfire blend both grab at the lead too well. Causes the rod to bend to much. Hoppe's #9 isn't that great a cleaner but its main problem is it takes to many rounds for a barrel to settle in after using it in the few barrels I have tried. I am guessing it prevents the lube from attaching to the bore. My current favorite is IOSSO paste. I use it on a patch and avoid the brush. Now there is nothing wrong with using a brush, if it is a good quality bronze brush. But since getting a bore scope I noticed fine scratches in my custom bores. Now it is a magnified picture I see, and I can't tell how the scratches got there. Maybe from manufacturing. Anyhow I decided to try finding a way to clean without a brush. But again, most of the top rimfire benchrest shooters in the nation use a bronze brush.
A specific cleaning regime varies from rifle to rifle and with different ammo. Also, a new barrel may take more cleaning than a barrel with 10,000 rounds.
With all my rifles I start with two patches with oil if using IOSSO, two patches of solvent if using a solvent with brush. This is to remove the loose crud. This is burnt powder and what feels like grains of sand. This I have been told is bits of glass like substance from the priming compound. You would think if anything would ruin a barrel this stuff would. Firing a second round is like firing a bullet down the barrel with fine sand in it. But it doesn't. A rimfire barrel that is well taken care of can last much longer than 100,000 rounds.
As a side note, some time try this. With a clean barrel, shoot a round into white paper. Now shoot a second round next to it. You will see the first round leaves a clean hole. The second round will have a gray ring around it. This is crud the first round left in the barrel picked up by the second round and carried to the target. You might also see the first round hit high, about 11 o'clock compared to the second round. This happens with most .22 rifles on the first shot.
If using a brush with a solvent such as Shooters Choice Lead Remover (SCLR) or Bore Tech Rimfire Blend (BTRB). I then put solvent on the brush and run 6 strokes in and out through the barrel not going to fast and pulling back through the muzzle carefully. Some shooters claim to take the brush off at the muzzle and reattach and run through the bore a 2nd and subsequent time. This could be slow and monotonous. I won't say its not safest, but I can't do it. I see no evidence that being careful pulling back through the muzzle is a problem if the brush is tight on the cleaning rod and the jag/rod joint polished like I do with my cleaning rods with jag. So now you see I have a rod with jag in each of my gun cases and a second rod in one case with a brush attached. Another advantage of this is no time wasted changing from jag to brush. When I used to clean with a brush all the time my 4th rod was in the second case with a brush. Now you see why I have 4. Being match director for ARA at ACGC and those duties I do not have much time for cleaning my gun between targets. Yes, I clean after each target, about 40 rounds. I'll talk later about why I clean so often. Anyhow back to running the brush through the barrel 6 times. Really only the throat area needs cleaned so well. I have heard it is not a good idea to reverse a brush in the barrel, and that sounds good to me. Some say using a worn brush you can do this. If its worn how well will it clean and how worn is worn? So I run the brush all the way through. Then another patch to remove any crud loosened by the brush. and then a second turn with the brush. More solvent and then 6 more passes. I then wipe out the chamber area of solvent and crud and then run two dry patches through the barrel and ready to shoot. If I am done for the day I put oil on those last two patches.
If using patches only with IOSSO, after the two patches with oil I put a little IOSSO on a patch, about twice the size of a wooden match head. I back out my bore guide about an inch. I don't want to get IOSSO in the bore guide. I then center the patch over the chamber opening. Run the rod with jag through the bore guide and center on the patch. Push the patch about two inches into the chamber and then fully insert the bore guide. Push the patch in and out about 2 inches six times. Then push the patch out the end of the barrel. Put a oily patch through the barrel to remove any loose crud and then repeat with a second patch with IOSSO. I then use another oily patch. Wipe out the chamber area and then two dry patches and I'm ready to go again.
Reading this I ask myself why I go to so much trouble. Well I know my guns will shoot their best and quickly. I first shoot 4 foulers off the edge of the target. The first shot will be about 1/2 inch or less high at 11 o'clock. The next three will be on. Then I am ready to shoot the sighter with some confidence. There is nothing worse in a match than to shoot your foulers, sight in and go for record and have the point of aim change. First you loose points on a couple of shots before deciding POA has changed, then lose precious minutes re-sighting in.
Now remember this is just a guide to a couple of methods of cleaning. Every barrel is different and every brand of ammo can be different in a given barrel. Also a barrel may need less (or more) cleaning as it gets older and gets some rounds through it. I know of no way to be certain how clean a barrel is without a bore scope. You can try different amounts of cleaning and test the results which is a little slower. All lead doesn't need to be removed from the throat area to restore accuracy if shooting the same brand of ammo. In fact it might shorten the fouler period to leave a little. I do. But if switching brands of ammo it is more important to remove all the lead as each brand of ammo will form the lead ring a little different.
Next I will discuss and cuss testing the cleaning method for effective cleaning and how promptly the rifle gets back to accurate shooting.
The one thing required for effective testing is good conditions. As we all know this is not easy in Kansas. Our smallbore benchrest range is noted in ARA circles as one of the most difficult ranges in the country to shoot. The wind is always changing direction. A berm behind the targets, a berm on each side and a wall behind the shooter makes the whole range enclosed. So even if the weatherman tells you the wind tomorrow morning will be 5 - 10 from the south, don't believe him. At least as far as the conditions you will encounter. Winds seem to swirl on the range, not staying any one direction for more than a few seconds. In ARA and other sanctioned rimfire benchrest match, windflags are mandatory if you want to shoot well.
Now look at this picture above. I am not suggesting you need windflags like these, but to show you the extreme some benchrest shooter go to read the wind. You might also notice the tails of the flags are hanging strait down, an unusual condition in Kansas, but that is why we held this tournament back in 2003 at night.
What I would suggest is that you have two or three wooden or metal post with about 2 feet of survey tape attached at the top. This will tell you wind direction and intensity. Place one at 10 yards and another at 20 yards. Your goal will be to shoot only when the streamers are always the same. Combined with light wind conditions you should be able to determine how your rifle is shooting pretty well.
As a target for this type of testing, I have two I prefer. Anything like these should work. For indoor work I use the Hoppes sighter target, with bold grids on one minute of angle. I align my crosshairs on the vertical horizontal grid lines. Usually I will be sighted off by a 1/4 inch or so not to destroy my aiming point. For outdoor testing I use a ARA target. It has 25 record bulls plus 3 sighter bulls so I can do quite a bit of testing without having to change targets.
For testing how many shots are needed from a clean barrel before the barrel settles down and shoots its best, I shoot across a row, shooting 5 shots per bull. Be sure to have your cleaning gear with you and if you last ran an oily patch through the barrel, put a dry patch through the barrel before you start. I have heard that too much oil in the barrel can cause it to develop a bulge and be ruined. Don't know about that, but I did that once and the first shot was 3 inches low! On the first bull you might find the first shot high, the next four closer together. On the second bull you might find a better 5 shot group. At some point you will look back on the groups an determine that at a certain number of shots the rifle seemed to obtain its best accuracy and seemed to stabilize. At this point I would suggest cleaning the rifle by the same method and do the test again. See if it is repeatable. Now you know. And what good is this to you? If you are shooting in the sporter benchrest matches, ARA, Silhouette or whatever, You know how many fouler shots you need before shooting the sighter. You don't need to be particularly accurate and can shoot them fast, if this is a timed event.
At one time I knew my Martini lost its accuracy after a hundred and 50 rounds or so, but it took some 15 shots before it would settle down if clean and shoot its best. Well I use it in NRA smallbore 3 position. Prone is the first match. And I struggle holding this 16 pound rifle in prone for 20 minutes. Anything I can do to save myself. I tried getting to the range to practice the week of the match. After practice I would clean the barrel and then shoot 15 rounds through it so it was ready for the Saturday match. That is not always possible so I have found a cleaning method that settles down in 4 or 5 shots. Much better.
Perhaps we should back up a bit and talk about how to shoot these groups. I feel you need to use the most powerful scope you have mounted on the rifle to determine the rifle/ammo/conditions effect on accuracy and remove the human sight alignment error, at least as much as possible.
Also, use a rest. That can be anything from shot bags filled with sand to a deluxe rest and rear bag. And windflags or whatever you have such as the survey tape on sticks I mentioned earlier. I did mention putting the flags at 10 and 20 yards. The wind closer to the muzzle will have more effect on your accuracy than the wind at the target.
Now there are three basic ways to shoot the rifle from a rest. These are dependant on the rifle you have. For those 1 percent who have flat fore stock benchrest stocks and 2 ounce trigger, "free recoil" is the best. This means aiming the rifle at the bull and then while watching the flags, touch only the trigger. Minimizing touching the rifle means consistency, shot to shot. Since the rifle will not move after aligning the crosshairs you can use both eyes to watch the flags.
For the majority of us with sporter type rifles, with fore stocks that are round and will not sit upright without being held. Also any trigger greater than about 4 ounces will move the rifle if you attempt to shoot "free recoil". So I suggest the "death grip". I have some personal experience with this but only after learning this from shooters who compete in nationally sanctioned 3 gun rimfire benchrest. One of there classes is sporter and they achieve some remarkable scores with custom sporters. The "Death grip" is the opposite of "free recoil". You hold the pistol grip as tight as you can, trying to minimize rifle movement. It requires looking through the scope with one eye while using the other eye to watch your flags.
The third method of shooting the rifle is like the "death grip", except a moderate hold on the pistol grip. You need to try both the "moderate grip" and "death grip" to tell which will give you and your particular rifle the best accuracy.
As an example of the death grip, here is an example of a target I shot several months ago.
This was shot off a Wichita rest with a protector sporter bag at the front with a protector rabbit ear rear. This is an 75 year old sporter with only a trigger job, 3 lb. Now not all old rifles will shoot this well, but with a little work you can find a rifles optimum setup.
I may add more here, but will start part II, 3. Testing how many rounds before it needs cleaned again