Many years ago, I’d been hunting for a few years and found myself in a women’s-only duck camp when the subject turned to shotguns. One women proudly announced, “I don’t clean guns; that’s my husband’s job. I’m a princess. I just shoot them!” and I rolled my eyes in distain. Princess, ugh. But then I realized: That was me. I always play the “I’m tired and you’re better at this anyway” card to get my husband to clean guns after we go shooting. I couldn’t even take the bolt out of my own rifle, much less clean a handgun or disassemble a shotgun.
Not long after that, I bought my own shotgun—a gas-operated semi-automatic. It was a lot of money for me to spend at the time, and this gun was my baby. After I took it out to the sporting clays course for the first time, I got it home and knew it needed a good cleaning. I laid out the cleaning mat, gathered every piece of cleaning gear I could find, took a deep breath, and started taking that baby apart.
I was intimidated, to be honest. All those moving parts. What if I couldn’t get them back in the right places? What if I reduce this beautiful gun to a pile of unusable, expensive parts? What if I do something wrong?
As it turns out, shotguns aren’t really that complicated. I broke it down as far as the manual recommended, which meant leaving the receiver, bolt and trigger group intact. Then I really only had four or five pieces to deal with, and it was more than obvious what went where when it was time to put it all back together. Receiver/stock/magazine in one piece, barrel, forearm, gas system. Simple.
I was proud of myself for doing the job, but more importantly, the confidence I gained from knowing my gun in that way was huge. I knew theoretically how everything worked, but seeing the guts of the gas operating system put the pieces together in a way that made sense. It was a learning experience and a tremendous confidence booster.
So I’m here to encourage you to take your gun apart. Handgun, shotgun, rifle, whatever—grab the manual or get on a trusted Youtube page and go to town. Break that thing down into its major components at least, and then put it back together. Ask for help if you need it, but I bet you won’t. I know it’s intimidating, but think of this as face-your-fears therapy. Do it once and the intimidation factor practically disappears!
I can think of at least four major benefits you’ll reap from taking your gun apart:
- You really, really learn your gun. It becomes your gun in a way it wasn’t before, because now you know it inside and out. The confidence you gain from this cannot be overstated.
- Of course, it allows for cleaning. Guns have to be broken down to clean them thoroughly, and although some can go much longer between cleanings than others, they all need the internal parts to be spic-and-span at some point. This is also a great opportunity to examine the parts for signs of wear and tear to identify potential problems before something breaks completely.
- It’ll help you get yourself out of a jam. Maybe literally. Your friend, husband, gunsmith or whoever has been cleaning guns for you probably won’t be around every time you’re in the field. If something goes sideways at the range or in the woods, you’ll be much more confident attempting to solve the problem yourself, and knowledge of your gun’s inner workings will help you know what to do to get back in the game.
- It’ll help you learn guns in general. Most guns really aren’t that different. Firing pins, safeties, bolts, chambers, magazines—sure, they’re certainly not exact from handgun to shotgun to rifle, but a lot of the basics have some recognizable similarities. Learning one gun begins to give you a better idea of how guns in general operate, giving you a head start when you take your next firearm apart.
If you haven’t taken your gun apart before, I know it’s intimidating. I know you’re worried you’re going to screw something up. But what’s the worst that can happen? If you put it together wrong, you’ll know—nothing will operate like it’s supposed to. And if you somehow can’t get it back together at all, take a bag of parts to your local sporting goods store and let them walk you through putting it back together. This is how you learn. Moreover, this is how you really build familiarity with your firearm and create confidence that will make you a better shooter and a better gun handler.