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By Gregory J. Roman

As anyone involved in the shooting sports knows, precision rimfire is growing rapidly. The internet is full of tons of advice, good and bad, on how to perform better as a shooter. If there is one thing that my time at Vudoo has taught me, it’s that there is not much good information available on how to take care of your .22 LR barrel to get the most out of it.

There are a ton of opinions and lots of folks cleaning their high-end precision rimfire just like they clean every other gun in their safe…just because it’s what they know. I’ve gained some experience in this area and hopefully I can provide some help to those wanting to know more about the right way to clean and care for a rimfire barrel.

My opinions about rimfire rifle cleaning and care are the result of my career in the gun industry and time shooting competitively in various disciplines. Firearms have been my profession and hobby for about 22 years now. About four years ago, I discovered NRL22 and began competing with my old Sako P94S.

It wasn’t long before I also discovered Vudoo Gun Works and promptly ordered a V22. When the V22 arrived, I was officially hooked. One thing led to another over the next several months, and I ended up going to work for Vudoo where I have been for the last three years.

My time at Vudoo has allowed me to gain experience with dozens of high end rimfire rifles while giving me exposure to some great minds in the industry from barrel makers to engineers to top level shooters. The last three years have been nothing but learning every day and have been the most rewarding of my career.

It’s through this exposure that I have developed my method of barrel care that produces excellent results in all my rimfire rifles. I’ve managed to climb the ranks in NRL22 with several NRL22 match wins and high finishes in NRL22X. 

It should go without saying that these are just my personal methods and opinions that will differ from others. I’m offering them because of the positive results that I’ve experienced, and I’ll do my best to explain why I do everything I do.

The rifle pictured in Figure 1 (at the top of the page) is my primary match V22. Following these methods had produced great groups on paper at 50 and 100 yards. It also produces extremely low ES and SD numbers over the chronograph which translates to extremely consistent and predictable ballistics at long range.

It’s not uncommon for this rifle to produce 1st round hits on targets at well over 400 yards. It seems like the more I shoot this rifle, the better it gets. I can’t even remember the last miss I had in a match that left me asking why it happened. If I miss, it’s my fault and not the fault of the rifle. 

It should be noted that I use match grade ammo in my precision rimfire rifles. That means lead bullets at standard velocity. I do not ever shoot high velocity or bulk ammo through my precision rifles. I simply don’t want to introduce another material into my bore. With my current match rifle, I’ve only ever used SK or Lapua ammo. That means only one specific alloy of lead and one type of bullet lubricant have been through the barrel. 

The first thing I usually address when discussing barrel care with Vudoo customers is what we refer to as “barrel seasoning.” .22 LR barrels do not break in like a centerfire rifle. The small cartridge and soft lead bullet do not produce enough heat and pressure to burnish and deburr the rifling.

Instead, it lays down a coating of lead and bullet lubricant in the rifling. This coating is what we refer to as seasoning. It fills in small imperfections in the bore and provides a smooth surface for the bullet to travel across.

Figure 2

Seasoning will start to build up in the breech end of the barrel and eventually build up all the way to the muzzle. This buildup is desired and takes at least 1,000 rounds to reach the muzzle. Figure 2 shows the rifling of a new barrel. Figure 3 shows the rifling of a well-seasoned barrel.

Figure 3

Many shooters including myself, have found that the best accuracy results come from a barrel with fully seasoned rifling and a clean chamber. My experience with several barrels has shown that they usually follow the same cycle of accuracy during their first few thousand rounds fired:  

  1. They typically shoot well when they are brand new, but still leave room for improvement. 
  2. Accuracy will fall off after 400-500 rounds and not improve until at least 1,000 rounds fired.  
  3. The barrel will then start to become super accurate and predictable after 1,000 rounds or more have been sent through it. 

When the barrel sees step two, the seasoning is only partially laid down in the barrel. The bullet will begin its travel over a smooth, lubricated, seasoned surface and then suddenly hit the unseasoned portion on its way to the muzzle.

The shooter will experience some wild velocity spikes and random flyers on the target while the barrel is only partially seasoned. The rifle will also usually produce a little slower average velocity along with larger SD and ES when partially seasoned. 

 

 

Figure 4

The .22 LR round is also prone to producing a ring of carbon in the chamber. This carbon builds up right were the casing ends. In Figures 4 and 5 you can see the location of the ring in a cutaway.

Figure 5

Figure 6 shows a picture of a carbon ring example through a borescope and Figure 7 shows the same chamber after cleaning. 

Figure 6
Figure 7

This carbon ring is one of the biggest detriments to accuracy of a good quality .22 LR rifle. The carbon ring is very hard and acts as a constriction that squeezes the bullet during chambering. Lead is a dead metal that has no rebound when squeezed, therefore once the lead bullet gets squeezed by the carbon ring, it will no longer engage the rifling correctly.

The carbon ring usually has some of the bullet lubricant mixed in so it will slightly soften up after being exposed to a little heat from shooting a few rounds. The bullet will be squeezed less when the carbon ring is warmed up. When a shooter calls up complaining about first round flyers, most times the cause is a carbon ring. The carbon ring will start to show noticeable effect on accuracy after only a couple hundred rounds. 

Another rule of thumb is, the tighter the chamber, the greater the effect of the carbon ring. Loose chambers like a Bentz chamber may not be able to produce the best accuracy, but can go longer before seeing flyers. Tighter chambers like 52D or Vudoo Ravage will see flyers earlier, but can usually produce better accuracy with a clean chamber.

When I clean my precision .22 LR barrels, I’m specifically trying to clean the carbon ring out of the chamber. I typically clean my barrels in 200-400 round intervals to minimize the carbon ring effect. 

Cleaning a precision rifle barrel requires the correct tools. In my Vudoo cleaning kit I’ve assembled the following: a rifle specific bore guide, a good quality and correct caliber cleaning rod, a correct caliber jag, a .22 bore mop, a .22 nylon bore brush, correct caliber cleaning patches, Bore Tech C4 Carbon Remover, and a borescope.

Bore Tech makes the Vudoo bore guides for us along with a .22 rimfire-specific rod and jag that are slightly smaller than a typical .223 rod. The reason for the small size is to allow space to run a rod through without dragging on the ejector and damaging the rod.

I only use a brush in my bore if it’s exceptionally dirty. I do not recommend a bronze brush because it will be too harsh on the “seasoning” we addressed earlier.

I’ve been asked about running a jag and patches versus felt pellets. I subscribe to patches over a properly sized jag. I feel that this better prevents any metal of the jag from scraping the bore with a lot of pressure behind it. During insertion, the metal jag will have patch material between it and the bore all the way around when I’m pushing hardest on the rod. With felt pellets, I fear that having the pellet improperly placed off-center on the rod will result in the metal jag being pushed hard against the bore.

Let’s dive into the process. 

My first step is to liberally apply some of the C4 solution to the .22 mop and insert it into the chamber about an inch to inch and half. I let the wet mop sit in the chamber for about 10 minutes, longer if it’s been more than a few hundred rounds since last cleaning. I use a short pistol rod attached to the mop for this step so I can rest it on the stock and not bend the mop. The point of this step is to let the chemical do the work. The C4 cleaner will attack the carbon buildup in the chamber, but the formula does not do anything to remove the lead and lubricant we desire in the rifling. 

While the chamber is soaking, it’s a good time to focus on cleaning the outside of the rifle. I pay close attention to the muzzle at this point, because if I push anything into the bore during cleaning, it will be pushed back out in the next step. I will also use this time to clean the bolt. 

After some soaking time I’ll rotate the mop in the chamber a few turns before removing it. This will wipe away the carbon that was just loosened by the C4. If the rifle has had thousands of rounds through since the last proper carbon ring cleaning I may use a brush at this point. I’ll insert the nylon brush an inch to inch and half and then spin it in the chamber to scrub the carbon ring. I do not run the brush through the whole barrel. 

My next step is to run a patch soaked in C4 through the entire barrel. This wet patch will pick up any loose particles of debris and also make the following dry patches slide easily through the bore. I follow this up with four to five dry patches through the entire barrel. 

My last step is to inspect the bore with a bore scope. I’m mainly looking for any remaining signs of a carbon ring in the chamber. If there is any carbon still present in the chamber, I’ll start from scratch and repeat the barrel cleaning process. 

I’ve found that my rifles are extremely predictable using this method. They will usually foul in and shoot accurately in less than five rounds after cleaning. Over the last several matches, most of the ammo I shoot during the sight in period is to warm me up as a shooter rather than sight in and gather dope on the rifle. When I keep the cleaning intervals to under 400 rounds or about every other outing, the rifle comes clean with ease. 

One thing I get asked about regularly is oiling the bore. Rust prevention is the only reason I would ever even think about oiling the bore of a precision rimfire. I live in the dry desert of southern Utah and do not have any issues with rust. In other words, I do not oil the bore.

In my mind, it’s just another material being introduced to the bore that will become a variable to accuracy. Oil will change velocity and will burn off over several rounds down fired. This means velocity will change a little with each round as it burns off. 

We get a lot of questions about Bore Tech Rimfire Blend at Vudoo. I used to use it a lot, until I discovered the real theory behind C4. Rimfire blend will attack everything in the bore including lead, bullet lube and carbon. When we completed my previous match rifle, I started cleaning from the beginning with Rimfire Blend. The result was a rifle that shot well when new, but accuracy diminished and never came back.

When I built my current match rifle pictured above, I decided to run an experiment and clean with nothing but C4 until accuracy started to fall off. The rifle has over a year of matches and practice on it and about 5000 rounds through it. Accuracy has only continued to get better.

To date, the only chemical that’s been through the bore is Bore Tech C4. I’ve started to use C4 exclusively on my older match rifle, and accuracy has returned. If any of these guns start to see a consistent drop in accuracy, I’ll break out the Rimfire Blend, clean everything out of the barrel and start the seasoning process over from scratch. 

In the end the solution is simple. Keep the good fouling in the rifling, remove the bad fouling in the chamber. 

Many precision rimfire shooters understand that different lots of ammo produce different performance out of their rifles. Lapua and Eley both offer lot testing services.

For those wanting to take advantage of this service, I would strongly advise waiting until you have at least 1,000 rounds through your barrel first to fully season it in. If you tested the rifle when it was new, chances are that it will like a different lot of ammo when it is fully seasoned. I would also advise that you make sure the carbon ring has been cleaned out before testing.

Any time I’ve tested, I usually give the rifle a good cleaning as prescribed above and then run a couple magazines through it to lightly foul it up. This would simulate my match conditions after sighting in. 

If you don’t have experience using a bore scope, I would caution that some things in the bore may look disturbing through the scope. Small pieces of hair or fuzz can look like cracks and flecks of debris can look like pits. I’ve received many calls and even had a few rifles sent back for barrel imperfections that cleaned right out.

It should also be noted that rimfire priming compound contains silica that does do a little sand blasting to the bore. Figure 8 shows the effect of the silica on the bore. This is perfectly normal and nothing to worry about. 

Figure 8

The comments I’ve read online and received over the phone at Vudoo tell me this is an area full of very strong opinions. .22LR is a different animal and we all still have lots to learn. If you have different methods that work for you then I encourage you to continue with them.

This article is an explanation of why I choose to use my methods to hopefully help those who are struggling. I’m sure my process will change some in the future, but this has worked for me and it has worked for countless customers who have called Vudoo and tried this out after we talked.

The result is the capability of my rifle being the furthest thing from my mind on match day which allows me to focus on the biggest obstacle to accuracy and a match win…the shooter. 

 

Gregory J. Roman is Director of Compliance and Logistics for Vudoo Gun Works

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47 COMMENTS

  1. Great post. I see a .22 as a fun plinker. When I lived country it did double duty as pest control.

    I am not a competitor. But it is fun to read these posts.

    • I am not a competitor. But it is fun to read these posts.

      Same here.

      And I will probably start using this technique in my rifles chambered in .22 LR anyway. While I do not compete in matches, I do want the ability to reliably put shots on target into squirrels at distances of up to 50 yards. That requires some pretty serious accuracy and repeatability considering that the target area of a squirrel is about 1/2-inch wide by about 4-inches long.

  2. Question for the author: I’m not a competition shooter, but I recently bought a Ruger Precision Rimfire in .22wmr. It shoots pretty well with jacketed ammo, but has only seen approx 100 rnds. Would your seasoning process for this more powerful round be appropriate or would you recommend some variations?

    • gunnygene,

      This is just an educated guess on my part–I imagine you would want to clean that carbon fouling near the chamber quite a bit more often, maybe every 100 rounds?

      I say that because .22 WMR uses more propellant and could therefore produce more carbon fouling. On the other hand, if the additional propellant of .22 WMR burns hotter/longer, maybe it actually produces less carbon fouling relative to .22 LR???

      • About the ammo: I’ve been using Hornady 30grn V-Max, and CCI 40gr GamePoint. I’d use a 40grn FMJ for this ‘seasoning’ if I could find any, since it’s somewhat less expensive than the varmint ammo. As of now, I haven’t done anything after shooting a mag or 2 except push a dry patch thru the bore, which comes out pretty clean so far. I guess my question to the author is more about his opinion on copper fouling vs. the lead fouling he discusses. Seems to me that it would take many more rounds to attain that desired level of seasoning with copper than it does with lead, especially since lead .22wmr ammo is basically non-existent afaik. And probably wouldn’t stand up to the pressures & velocities anyway. This is 1850 to 2200 mv ammo, not the subsonic lr stuff. 🙂

        • Gunnygene,

          Hmm. Interesting question regarding copper plated bullets. Copper is also softer than steel and I imagine it would tend to fill-in any microscopic voids in the lands and grooves of a barrel just like lead. I cannot venture a guess as to how copper would act (or fail to act) to season a barrel and what a wise cleaning protocol would be.

    • Hi gunnygene. I haven’t done nearly as much experimentation with .22 WMR as I have .22 lr so I can’t speak as an expert. What I can say is that info received from customers tells me they should be treated much like a centerfire since they are copper jacketed and much higher velocity. The carbon ring will need attention but it won’t have as bad of an effect since the projectile is not as soft and delicate.

      • Thank you. That’s what I thought also. I did enjoy your article. Btw, I’d recommend the RPR’s (lr or wmr) to anyone who’s wanting to get started in long range shooting. Very accurate, well made entry level rifles. And inexpensive. 🙂

  3. Quote————-Instead, it lays down a coating of lead and bullet lubricant in the rifling. This coating is what we refer to as seasoning. It fills in small imperfections in the bore and provides a smooth surface for the bullet to travel across.———quote

    I laughed so hard when I read this I almost fell off my chair. I have over 55 years experience with what leading does to accuracy and once lead starts to build up it attracts even more lead and then it builds up into lumps and believe me that destroys accuracy a fast as a cat can jump off of a hot tin roof.

    As I have stated before after I retired my club started shooting bench rest .22 matches and I can assure you many people clean their rifles after every match to keep accuracy from falling off. The problem is that you can easily damage a .22 rimfire bore if you do not clean it properly. Anschutz states more .22 barrels are ruined from improperly cleaning them than from any other cause including shooting them.

    Anschutz who only recently (the last few years) started even making a factory bench rest rifle (which is laughed at by experience shooters) recommends you do not clean your gun for at least 1,000 rounds if it has a new barrel and 5,000 if you have a broken in barrel. But remember their standards of accuracy has been based on 3 position shooting NOT the demanding sport of precision bench rest shooting where the bullseye is under 1/2 inch in diameter and matches are shot at 50 yards in the wind and mirage.

    Leading and carbon build up can often be very hard to clean out and many times a bronze brush and a good carbon and lead removing solvent is necessary to do the job. I recently had to run a bronze brush through an Anschutz 200 times before I finally got all the lead and carbon build up out of it. A bore scope certainly was necessary to verify the bore was really clean. I might add I have also used Iosso paste and found it does a good job at cleaning out the bore. I might add that I have used iosso past and found it is very good at cleaning out the bore.

    And I would sooner believe that Trump never told a lie than when the author stated that he was getting first round hits at 400 yards. Only a gigantic target would allow him to do this and only then if the wind was not blowing more than 6 mph. The .22 rimfire is very, very susceptible to wind drift even at 50 yards. Ask me, I shoot at 50 yards in matches several times a week.

    In competition a tight chamber, a custom match grade barrel, and very expensive match grade ammo are necessary to win and win consistently and you will never achieve this with a factory made gun and barrel. The action must be blueprinted and the bore very smooth, and free of tool marks and the chamber very tight to achieve outstanding accuracy. And of course it goes without saying a Walmart scope will not cut the mustard, expect to pay $1,500 to $2,500 for a match grade scope and $3,000 for a custom built rifle.

    Shooting rounds through a bore does indeed smooth it out even when using lead bullets but a good match grade bore does not really require much of this break in because they are smooth inside to begin with. Hand lapping is required for all stainless barrels but not for chrome moly when it is a button rifled barrel. THIS CAME RIGHT FROM THE CUSTOM BARREL MAKER SHILEN. And you will not find many factory barrels that are hand lapped that is why people put custom barrels on their guns along with the barrel being chambered for the brand of ammo you will be shooting.

    • You do realize the author of the article is literally part of the same company that makes one of the best 22 rifles in the world, right?

      And 400 yard hits is NOT uncommon in the sport. Last 22 match I went to had a 1.5 MOA target at 433 yards… Seems people were hitting just fine.

      And people at matches (open) are not running 3k scopes. They are running 4.5 k scopes and mounts (Tangent and ZCO). Rifle builds are not uncommon north of 3.5k.

      • to Noah
        quote————. Last 22 match I went to had a 1.5 MOA target at 433 yards—————quote

        Bullshit! That translates to .348 at 100 yards.

        • Tell Bloomberg to hire a real gun expert, who is willing to sell his soul for 30 pieces of silver, not a keyboard commando.

    • So when I return to Ohio, will you be ready for a little shooting competition?

      What caliber? What discipline?

      I must see your distinguished shooting skills.

    • So how, as a 21 year old college dropout living in mom’s basement, can lil’ d claim to have an incredible 55 year’s experience in the science of small-bore shooting? Like the rest of you, I figured that he/she/they/it were completely full of shit.. however, if you consider that residency on one of Venus’s many moons may be a rational explaination after applying Sidreal adjustment factors, his story becomes somewhat more believable. All anyone needs is a mind that is so open that their brains fell out.

    • Dacian did your crazy house let you on the computer again? How prideful and arrogant can you possibly be! Worst than anyone I have seen by far!
      Go order yourself up a FM23-10, I’ll explain it to you because you’ve never heard of it, it’s the U.S. Military Sniper’s Field Manual. It’s over 100 years of experience (compared to your self proclaimed 55) in written form and supports the author’s conclusion of “seasoning the bore.” Further studies into the FM23-10 show the difference in barrel break in procedures and scheduled cleanings of a combat long range rifle and bench rest rifle. How does your 55 years of experience not know this stuff?

      • to CC

        Whatever you read you certainly did not comprehend what you read that is for sure. I still shoot bench rest high power and shot across the course in the 80’s and 90’s and I damn well know how to take care of a high power rifle barrel to keep it clean and accurate.

    • You lost all objectivity with your snarky comment on both the author and Trump in the same sentence.
      I enjoyed the article. I learned something. That’s why I’m here.
      When is your article coming out?

    • Dacian, you are so clueless about modern 22LR Competition rifles it’s sad.
      Guys shooting Vudoo’s can take the head off a match stick from 50 yards and it’s very repeatable with a Vudoo. Don’t believe me? Go watch X-Ring and Isyour6covered on YouTube. Once you do, come on back and man up and tell the author you’re sorry. Your ignorance is astounding.

  4. i have nine various .22’s. they are not subject to any cleaning regimen, nor are they precision. i took the mkll apart once.
    now i’m curious about a carbon ring.

    • I was having extraction issues with my Ruger Precision Rimfire where I would have a stuck case every 1 or 2 shots. A pass with the bronze brush and cycling is now perfect again.

    • I took my MKII apart seven years ago… hoping to get it reassembled sometime before I cack off. Point it up – pull trigger, or down then up?? Eff it, just bury me with the damn thing !!

  5. My wife read this a few minutes ago. I asked her if it was any good. She said “its ok if you don’t mind all the mansplaining.”

    • “its ok if you don’t mind all the mansplaining.”

      There are, (unfortunately), some readers that need things explained in small words.

      (Like, the TTAG troll corps)… 🙂

  6. Great article, I learned a lot! I recently put together a budget NRL22 10/22 and was disappointed that the barrel initially shot only 1.75moa. A couple hundred rounds later and the groups are tightening. I’ll start addressing the carbon ring, and hopefully at 1k rounds I’ll have a consistent 1moa rifle.

  7. Mr. Roman –

    What impact does the inexpensive bulk-packed copper-plated .22lr ammo have on the ‘barrel seasoning’ you mentioned?

    Copper is also a ‘dead’ metal (used on long-range artillery shells as a ‘driving band’ to seal the barrel) …

    • Hi Geoff, I have found that anytime I switch ammo types the rifle will take longer to settle in. For instance running Eley in a barrel that’s previously run Lapua will usually take several mags of Eley before they settle. Eley Tenex uses a beeswax type of lube where as Lapua is more oily. It takes some time to lay down a coat of the Eley wax before accuracy becomes predictable.

      Using copper plated ammo will deposit copper in the bore. With the match rifle I shoot match ammo which is predominantly lubricated lead so I want avoid introducing another material in the barrel.

      If I stick to one type of ammo, the rifle settles in under 10 rounds after cleaning. When I switch ammo types it takes much longer.

      Also, with tight match chambers like the Vudoo Ravage, many bulk ammo types won’t even chamber.

      • Thanks, if I ever pick up a good .22 like your company’s Vudu, I’ll keep it lead-only…

  8. This article also makes a compelling case to use ammunition with lead bullets rather than copper plated bullets–at least in .22 LR firearms.

    • I noticed that as well.

      Good thing I only have cheap-ass .22s… 🙂

    • Forehead ‘acupuncture’ with a .22lr puts one to sleep instantly… 🙂

  9. Wow. I was expecting something a bit different, but this is amazing.
    I like shooting HV and UHV ammo, so that’s a problem.

    No oil? I see the issue with using it, though I usually dry patch the barrel right after the oil wetted patch. There is still an oil film (bad?), but it also provides the rust protection. Eley recommends leaving the barrel wet with oil and then running a dry patch right before the shooting session. Too much of a pain for me.

    I’ve got damp sea air and some evaporated sea spray particles wafting around in my environment, so I don’t think I can pass on the oil.

    BTW, I looked up the Bore Tech C4 web page and it does have a check mark next to the claim: Short Term Rust Preventative. Whatever that means. Better than nothing perhaps.

    • Precison shooting [ a better description is MATCH shooting!] with .22 LR is not a multishot semi-auto It’s a SNGLE SHOT bolt or MARTINI action heavy barrel only amateurs us rests. A squirrel rifle is never going to be a PRECISION Rifle. Precision shooting is not using a bloody tripod scope or any other acoutrement A precision Rifle and a precision shooter will put ten out of ten into a .25 at 25mtrs bull EVERY TIME and incompetition count out by the thousands of an inch! I know because I was in the Top Ten Match in the UK Forces and No 2 in the RAF.
      MY personal .22LR Match Rifle presented to me by the Royal Air Force for Services Rendered to the RAF Shooting Community was a BSA MARTINI Action heavy barrel weighing in at 7kilo’s

  10. Good grief.
    I just use a bore snake and oversized metal targets.
    If I hear a ding then “Good enuff”
    😉

  11. Very good read, thanks. It validates my own experience–I thought my rifle was just being unusually persnickety. My squirrel rifle is a Marlin model 99M1 that’s a sweet little carbine whenever it’s happy, but prints like a shotgun if not happy. It will stack Eley brown box slugs into the same hole at 35 yards, just like Killdeer. However, as I near the end of a box of cartridges, I’ll start to see some flyers, and the last couple will print only about 3 moa. Clean the throat, run a patch or two down the bore, fire a few 3 moa fouling shots, and then it settles back down to squirrel head shots out to ~75 yards for around 40-45 shots. It’s less persnickety, but also much less precise, with every other load I’ve tried. I’ve got one brick of those Eleys set back for whenever the daughter inherits it, because I don’t think they are available any more.

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