The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Basic gun care

Cleaning a rifleAlthough I've killed two deer, I wasn't raised with guns and have a sinking feeling I'm missing some important safety points.  So I was thrilled when our new helper (who said we can start using his name: Bradley) brought his gun-cleaning kit and showed us how to keep our tools in good working order.

Except for needing some special lubricants and a $20 cleaning kit, the procedure didn't look all that daunting.  Bradley wiped the guns down, cleaned out the barrels (both with a soft swab and with a twisted wire brush that gets powder out of the grooves), and sprayed a bit of lubricant inside to sit overnight.  He told me that (with a plain old rifle, not a muzzle-loader), he cleans his guns twice a year when they're not in use, then quickly cleans the barrel after every tenth bullet or so.

Bradley had good advice for improving my marksman skills as well.  I hardly practice because the bullets for our 40 caliber rifle are expensive, so he recommends a 22 rifle for target Gun cleaning oilsshooting.  He also promised to come by the next time we shoot a deer and teach us the field dressing methods he learned at his father's knee, which get the meat in the freezer in 15 minutes flat.

In other blood-thirsty news, a couple of weeks ago, we saw a rabbit in the garden for the first time in years.  The rabbit got scared and ran into the chicken pasture, where the poor thing battered itself against the corner in vain.  I wanted to kill it and see what rabbit meat tastes like, but wasn't sure if that was legal out of season.

I emailed the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries with my question, and they wrote back:

You, as a landowner, can kill rabbits on your own land at any time, with no restriction on method.

The issue of out-of-season rabbit hunting is actually up for interpretation in Virginia due to the complexity of the rule book, but if the officials say I can kill rabbits out of season on my land any way I want, I'm not going to look that gift rabbit in the mouth.  The next bunny in the garden will have to beware.  (We'll probably try to live trap it instead of shoot it, though.  I don't think I'm a good enough shot to kill a running rabbit.)

Our chicken waterer never spills in coops or tractors.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Anna, from reading your blogs over the last several months I can't help but feel you may want to look into when this years young rabbits can survive on their own in the event of the loss of their mother. Many states time the opening of rabbit season to ensure that the young can survive on their own if their momma is shot. If they're destroying a garden I'd shoot one out of season but if I am taking one just for the meat I wait until season opens. To each their own, though.

A 22 rifle with a shot to the head saves meat and is a quick and very humane death for the rabbit. A shotgun with a rabbit load is best suited for a running rabbit; shooting a moving rabbit with a center or rimfire rifle is most likely going to end in a lot of suffering or a prolonged and painful death for the rabbit if you even hit it.

As a youth I learned to partially field dress a rabbit without a knife to help lighten the load you carry in the field. It's not a commonly known trick these days. Stand with the rabbit held by the front feet or neck and swing it between your legs and out in front of you a few times to get the intestines to settle towards the rear legs. After a few swings start by placing the thumb and index finger around the rabbits chest right behind the front legs and squeezing. Once you can't squeeze any more do the same thing with your other hand right below where you have just squeezed. (Always keep pressure from one hand on the rabbit, sort of like milking a cow or goat) Keep working down the rabbit and it will push the liver and intestines towards the rear legs. You will get the liver and intestines to actually burst through the thin skin of the belly right near the rear legs. Larger hands with good hand strength make this an easier task.

Comment by Heath Wed Jun 20 09:50:39 2012

It's great that you're learning! The NRA trains instructors in basic firearms safety; the classes are well worth your time and money to teach you the basics that can help keep you safe.

Gun cleaning is one of those things where you can ask 10 different people their techniques and theory behind gun cleaning and you'll get 10 different answers. Even the firearms manufacturers suggest different methods for cleaning.

Cleaning after every tenth round isn't wrong, but for someone who is learning to shoot or is just out plinking it'll take a lot of the fun out of the experience. If it becomes too much work you'll loose interest in it quickly with all that cleaning. (As a firearms owner and hunter it's our responsibility to be safe and accurate with those firearms to ensure our safety and a clean kill on game.) For a day of practice or just plinking I'd say clean after the days shooting is over and stick to the 10 shot rule when you only shoot that many rounds over the course of a month or more.

Comment by Heath Wed Jun 20 09:53:07 2012

May I recommend the Appleseed Project? It is the goal of its founders to encourage markmanship (or markswomanship) in Americans. The people who run it are great historians who teach you how to be up to the marksmanship standards of the people who fought in the American Revolution.

It's a whole weekend of teaching at very little cost (about $75 and you can often camp there for free), and sometimes The whole class is free for women and kids. (My husband adds that right now, if you pay for the first class, you can come back for free until you get your "Rifleman" patch.)

We went and had a great time. My husband almost made Rifleman in the one weekend, and I got the basics. Fair warning: you will spend a little money on bringing your .22 rifle up to snuff, and you will spend the first day feeling like Charlie Chaplin in a roomful of banana peels. Shooting well is harder than it looks!

Comment by Faith T Wed Jun 20 10:23:44 2012

Hi Anna,

I recall a friend telling me that rabbit out of season has some kind of bug,parasite or something. You might want to look into it. Wish I could be more detailed, but thats all I know.

Great blog!

Comment by Arthur T Wed Jun 20 12:06:09 2012

For practice shooting an possibly hunting rabbits, consider an air rifle. They are quite accurate, up to about 60 feet or so. A .177" caliber air rifle can have a muzzle velocity of 1200 fps, and you only pay for the pellets, which are a 1--3 cents apiece. :-) An additional benefit is that they are very quiet compared to a chemically powered rifle.

You can get a new air rifle (break barrel) with scope like this for around $170.

A fixed barrel model (with an underbarrel charge lever) is more expensive, but generally more powerful and accuracte, and easier to handle. They last a long time as well.

Comment by Roland_Smith Wed Jun 20 14:13:19 2012

Heath --- Excellent information, and you're totally right --- I need to look up seasonality of their litters. Unless one was really marauding, I wouldn't want to kill the babies just to get a bit of meat.

I suspect Bradley would agree with you on your cleaning tips. He just knows we're low end users and not likely to shoot many bullets at once unless we get more into target practicing. I guess it's a bit like oil change advice --- either every three months or every however many miles.

Faith --- Great idea on the Appleseed Project! I've considered taking a class, but have to admit that I don't think I'd fit in with most people learning to use guns. But that group sounds right up my alley! Now, if I can just remember to check back and see when the one in Kingsport moves from "coming soon" to actually having a date attached....

Arthur --- Sounds like another thing to research. Or maybe Heath will chime back in since he sounds like an experienced rabbit hunter?

Comment by anna Wed Jun 20 14:19:13 2012
Roland --- Is an air rifle the same as a BB gun? It sounds like you've had a lot of experience with them!
Comment by anna Wed Jun 20 14:40:31 2012

Arthur, do you mean tularemia? It is spread to rabbit typically by ticks. You can spot an infected rabbit by specks in the liver or by them acting very lethargic. I've never skinned a rabbit with it. .

Comment by Heath Wed Jun 20 15:46:01 2012

They are similar in that they are both driven by compressed gas, but different.

bb guns:

  • shoots round bullets
  • smooth barrel

air rifle:

  • shoots shaped "pellets"
  • rifled barrel

Because of the rifled barrel and the shape of the pellets that engage the rifling and seal the bore, an air rifle generally has longer range and much better accuracy than a bb gun. Generally an air rifle has a higher muzzle energy than a bb gun.

My father had a .177" Diana air rifle. We used to do target shooting in the back-yard in the summer. :-)

Comment by Roland_Smith Wed Jun 20 16:22:28 2012

Heath --- Got it. Check the liver before eating a rabbit! I like to take a look at the liver with any animal just because....

Roland --- Thanks for the extra info!

Comment by anna Wed Jun 20 19:16:12 2012

Rabbit meat is very good for you. It is actually leaner than chicken. Also if you got into raising rabbit for meat. They grow very quickly in like three months they are full grown. Also one female rabbit can breed at six months and reproduce every two months. They are very easy to clean actually easier than chickens. And the best part is the compost manure. Worms love it, you can put it straight into the garden with no wait time and the can be cage raised or even in a small pasture raised. Should check into rabbits very useful critter in a self substaining environment.

Sincerely Olan

Comment by Olan Thu Jun 21 00:26:07 2012
You can ask the gun manufacturer how frequently they recommend cleaning - you'll probably be surprised by how little you're expected to do. (And since Hi Point has a lifetime warranty, they have every incentive for you to keep the gun in tip-top shape.)
Comment by BeninMA Thu Jun 21 02:54:40 2012

Olan --- We've contemplated growing rabbits, but don't want to add another animal to the farm right now. That's why Mark came up with the much lower work idea of trapping them. :-)

MeninMA --- Good reminder! We need to replace a broken sight on the rifle, so we should probably contact them anyway.

Comment by anna Thu Jun 21 16:54:22 2012

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