Over the years, as I've been perusing the pages of SurvivalBlog and various other sites, one thing had been missing the whole time, and to my own mind, I completely missed it too.
It wasn't until this weekend that the point was driven home quite clearly. You see, I was out shooting with friends, and taking in a glorious day. In the course of plinking cans and putting various sheets of paper out of their misery, my favorite M1911 light-framed .45 ACP jammed. The slide was nearly locked solid, and after finally clearing out the cartridge and the magazine, I realized that the pistol was in horrible need of cleaning. And yes, I was neglectful of that, as, I suspect, are most folks who use guns a lot are – bad habits do creep in, after all. Sometimes it just never gets done, no matter how many mental notes are made to do it.
Okay, so it's time to clean the little beastie. I get out the tools, the kit, set it all down on the table, and... the solvent bottle was empty. No solvent. Anywhere. No idea why, but there was no solvent to be found anywhere in the house. Not in the gun closet, nor the safe. Not in the preps, and basically nowhere at all. Well, okay, I know full well why, and I bet a lot of you out there have the same problem – just that I found out this weekend, but you don't know it yet. I'll explain...
You have a huge cache of firearms. You have mountains of ammunition. You may even have enough reloading equipment and materials to be your own local arsenal. However, take a quick peek: How much do you have in the way of cleaning equipment? How many spare brushes, swabs, patches, and spare rods do you have? How much spare oil, tools, and solvent are on hand at home right now? Do you have enough to handle every firearm you own, including the stuff you've recently bought? My particular little problem was solved with a quick trip to the nearest sporting goods store (and I made sure to buy four large bottles of the stuff this time – just to be sure). Now how easily could I have solved this little problem if civilization happened to have collapsed before I found out I didn't have any solvent? I can answer that – not at all without improvising, and improvisation is never as good as having the very thing you need.
My little tale (yes, a true story), highlighted two big problems that I bet most preppers don't even bother with: regular weapons maintenance, and having enough stuff to actually perform it for months to years after that stuff can no longer be obtained at a store.
Let's tackle the fact that hey – keep your weapons clean! I was completely blasé about doing it (a bad habit gained from years of playing around in local shooting events, where I routinely ran 600+ rounds through the barrel in any given event, without bothering to clean until every other event, or it saw 1,200 rounds). However, thinking further, imagine if that pistol jammed at a moment where my life really, really relied on having my weapon work perfectly. It's one thing to endure a couple of friendly insults and jibes from friends at a gravel bank, but another thing entirely if I'm facing an intruder, my first shot didn't do the job, and now I'm standing there with a half-open slide while the now-wounded (and now rather angry!) intruder raises his own weapon. The thought is enough to scare the crap out of any sane prepper, and once I realized it, it scared me rather straight as well. I spent three hours cleaning every last nook and cranny this morning, and a quick drive back out into the countryside with 100 rounds confirmed that everything worked flawlessly again. Once home, I cleaned everything again, just to be sure.
I even learned again how a perfectly clean gun operates a whole lot smoother (yes, you tend to forget), and that over time I just stupidly got used to the slowly degrading performance. It is far easier, and safer, to get into the habit of never considering your shooting day done until after you clean every weapon you used. It's easy to think that you're good to go with waiting until x number of rounds have been shot, but it's a very bad habit, and one I'm glad that I caught and learned from - before that lesson came the hard way. Very simply put, always clean your weapon after you're done using it. In a post-collapse world, clean it every chance you get, because you may not get the time to do it when you think you will.
Second item on the agenda – check your stores. No, not your guns, not your cartridges, and not your neat-o accessories. As a prepper, you should check into, and stock up on, the following items:
- Cleaning solvent (the good stuff. Don't go cheap here.)
- Light gun oil (again, don't even think of skimping.)
- Spare wire bore brushes (because they wear down quickly when you actually use them.)
- Spare small wire brushes (because using a bore brush to clean out the inside of a slide assembly is foolish.)
- Spare bore and magazine swabs (because they get dirty in a hurry, and you can only clean them so many times before they become useless).
- Spare patches (as many as you can lay hands on), and spare patch-holders.
- Spare rods of sufficient length (those things are notoriously fragile when you don't want them to be.)
- A big pile of clean/unused rags, set aside especially for cleaning your guns. Make completely sure that they're lint-free.
- Spare tools specific to assemble/disassemble your firearms (the funny-looking wrench you use to take apart the muzzle of an M1911 .45 ACP, for example, because pliers will work but really, not right.)
- Spare consumables for your firearm (examples? No problem: My .45, over time, will eat slide-return spring bushings, slide springs, an extra grip, spare screws for the grip, magazine springs and followers, an extra barrel or two, etc.)
So what if you only have a few firearms and have to do it on the cheap? Well, you can still get by with buying up and storing at least a half-dozen of those small rifle and pistol cleaning kits you normally find in the average department store's sporting goods section. Each is usually self-contained with everything needed to clean your rifle or pistol, are sold by caliber, and each is enough to last about 5 cleanings (10 if you're careful with it). They're also cheap – averaging $10-15 per kit. I figure that by the time you crack open that last kit, you'll likely be almost out of ammunition in your stores anyway. Just stick with a reputable brand, and avoid the absolute cheapest stuff.
But let's get back to keeping these things clean in a post-collapse situation. Hopefully you now have everything you need to do that with. But hey, not everything is perfect in this world, so...
Let's say you're out of supplies to keep your favorite firearm clean, or you found a good weapon with a ton of ammo (Hypothetically, let's say you've been a good little prepper, survived the collapse of civilization, and as a reward the SHTF-fairy drops off a pristine M16A1 and a can of ammo? Oh, but she didn't think to include a cleaning kit. Go figure.) Or, let's say you had to bug out in a hurry, and a pistol cleaning kit doesn't make much sense in that bag of yours. So, now what? The need to keep that gun clean hasn't gone away. You'll want to make sure it does what you want it to do, especially when you need it to do so. Well, good news! You can improvise. At the low-end, if the firearm is truly Mil-Spec, you can get away with as little as using soap and near-boiling water to literally scrub and rinse the thing (the heat insures that things dry off quickly afterward), only needing a light coat of oil when you're done. If you can find/scrounge up some brake-cleaner (or even clean brake fluid, come to think of it), you can use that in place of typical gun solvent. For oil, you can use a rag and (very little!) clean machine oil, hydraulic fluid, or automatic transmission fluid (but use it sparingly! Too much oil attracts dirt and dust.) There are lots of options in a pinch, but use them intelligently, and don't use it as an excuse to skip cleaning your firearms.
By the way, when it comes to cleaning your weapons, get to know the things deeply. Know to always make sure not only that the weapon is unloaded, but that no bullets are anywhere near the table you're working on, period. I always make it a habit to move all the bullets to a bag on the floor, and double-check everything to make sure no bullets can be found in, on, or around the weapon. Know how to field-strip your weapons, clean them and put them back together in perfect working order. Know where all those nooks and crannies are, and how to get the goop, burn-marks, lead/copper build-up, and all that other crud out of them. Get into the habit of giving every square millimeter a close eye, looking for signs of a failing part: minute cracks, worn edges or lips, curling metal, odd discolorations, pitting, and any bulges or warping where there shouldn't be. Replace those parts ASAP (you remembered to store spare parts, right?) Be aggressive about even the slightest sign of surface rust, scrubbing it completely off with solvent and a rag, wiping off the solvent, then scrubbing it again with a lightly-oiled rag.
Even if you don't use it very often (or at all), get into the habit of taking out each weapon you own at least once every year (once every six months in a wetter climate), and cleaning it anyway, searching carefully for rust, cleaning out any dust, and working everything on it until it feels perfectly smooth and natural.
Yes we've been talking about firearms all this time, but let's take a few moments to get into your knives, swords, bows, arrows, crossbows, or maybe the spare trebuchet you may have stashed in the garage. Just because it doesn't spit fire doesn't mean that you can leave it dirty.
Compound bow cams can clog up and the bearings filled with grit. Knives and edged weapons can pit and rust in a surprisingly short amount of time. That crossbow trigger needs to be kept clean and perfectly functional, because you'll never know when your life will depend on it functioning perfectly. You would be amazed at how quickly that something as simple as a recurve bow can get dirty, causing grit to become sandpaper in the string notches, slowly weakening the bow overall.
If you've ever field dressed an animal with a knife, you already know how quickly it (and your hands) can get greasy, hairy, and smeared with gore. Now think about gripping that greasy, gory handle and defending yourself with it. Anything with an edge that gets used at all will get nicks in the blade, and any blade will dull after even the most careful use. To that end, learn how to truly sharpen a knife. Have the right oils, stones, files, and stropping tools on hand – lots of them. Contrary to popular belief, it takes a lot of practice and skill to learn how to do it right, but once you do, you can not only keep your edged weapons sharp, but can actually create an edged weapon out of almost any sufficiently-shaped piece of metal.
So let's sum it all up here, and hopefully, you get the idea by now – you have two things to help make your prepping complete: One, get in the habit of cleaning your weapons every time you use them, and periodically if you don't use them. No exceptions, no excuses. Two, make sure you have enough bits, bobs, and supplies in your stores to help keep those weapons clean (and maintained) for at least 2-to-3 years (or more!) beyond the point where civilization goes splat.
Do this, do it faithfully, and you will find yourself leagues ahead of the prepper crowd. You will be better able to survive. You will be able to hold out long after the wannabe commando types got killed off due to their own jammed, dull, dirty, and broken weapons. That is, long-neglected weapons which failed them at the wrong time: precisely when they were needed the most.