Rifle Get Wet? Here’s What to Do

Wet Rifle? Here's What to Do
Moisture can do more than rust a rifle. A lot of it can swell up a gun’s wood stock and affect its accuracy.photo from Windigo Images

Warren Page, a World War II naval gunnery officer turned gun writer, once warned that when you’re hunting, you should leave your rifle uncleaned until you get home. I thought about this when shooting in a match in the pouring rain. My rifle got soaked. I got soaked. But did I take it apart and have at it with oily rags and a hair dryer? No sir.

Page wrote what he did because he hunted in the era of wood-stocked rifles, which rarely, if ever, gave you the same point of impact if you took them apart and put them back together. You had to re-zero, or miss. I shot in the morning, ended up in a four-way tie for first, and had to shoot again in the afternoon, and my rifle, even though synthetic-stocked, is not 100 percent about returning to zero if you go fiddling with it. So I left it alone, wet, and by the time it got wet a second time that afternoon, wet or dry was more or less academic.

The stainless barrel was not about to rust. It takes three or four days of being constantly wet for that to happen, I’ve found. The receiver, which is blued, would just have to do the best it could. I’ve had receivers rust before, and if you get to it quickly, you can take the red stuff off with 0000 steel wool and powder solvent. If the bolt is bright steel, you should wipe that off, too. And if it really bothers you, put a squirt of lighter fluid through the trigger. Don’t go honking oil on it.

The one thing that does call for emergency measures is salt water. A friend of mine, hunting bear off the coast of Alaska, had a wave come over the bow of his boat and soak his rifle. But he didn’t take it apart. He found a can of spray oil and hosed it down thoroughly, preventing most of the damage.

On my first elk hunt I brought a very fancy custom-stocked .300 Weatherby of which I was very solicitous. After a bitter cold day in the mountains I insisted on bringing it into the cabin, which was heated to something like 90 degrees by a mixture of wood stove and beer farts. Almost instantly, the rifle began to sweat. It was soaked inside and out, and I compounded the mistake by taking it apart and drying it off.

What I didn’t know was that it was poorly bedded, and if I had shot at anything, the bullet would have been a couple of feet off.

If rust really worries you, get an all-stainless rifle, or better, get one with a ceramic coating, like Cerakote, or send it off to Black-t.com for Teflon all over. Works like a charm. Then you can put your wet rifle in the rack at the end of the day and tell your friends how you and Brian Williams each shot a 48-inch Cape buffalo on the same safari.