Breathes there a shooter with a nose so dead that he does not cherish the
sweet scent of Hoppe's No. 9? Gun oil smells passable, but some solvents and
lubricants are downright nasty. But Hoppe's is perfume to hunter and non-hunter
alike. It even has reached antique status. Frank Hoppe developed the cleaner in
Philadelphia in 1903, so the familiar bore cleaner now is 110 years old -- and
I saw a bottle listed for $8 in an Ohio antique store.
The company has a wonderfully geographic history: Hoppe's, developed in Pennsylvania, now is owned by Michael's of Oregon, which has its headquarters in Meridian, Idaho.
My kit bag has carried a bottle of Hoppe's since I started cleaning guns
about 50 years ago. That's about half the age of Hoppe's, which has been around since
guns had external hammers and the limit on ducks was whatever you decided it
The question that immediately pops to mind is, "If this is No. 9, were there
eight others before it?" But the number refers to the nine ingredients that
make up the chemical brew. The exact formula is a trade secret, but there's
kerosene, ammonia and alcohol in it.
Ammonia probably is the key to Hoppe's ability to dissolve copper residue.
Copper-clad rifle bullets leave traces that can build up and affect the
accuracy of the gun. Many rifle bore cleaners are ammonia-based and dissolve
copper, but can pit the bore, too, unless completely removed within 10- to 15
minutes. Hoppe's isn't that virulent, but the bore should be wiped dry after it
does its job, then protected with gun oil.
Gun writer Warren Page recommends leaving the bore wet with Hoppe's for a
day or two before running a patch through it. No. 9 probably wouldn't
damage a bore, but Hoppe's also makes more aggressive bore cleaners, as do many
other manufacturers (Sweet's and Shooter's Choice, for example), which contain
much more ammonia than No. 9.
Many Bore Cleaners Available
Active shooters recommend a variety of bore cleaners, including Hoppe's, but
also Butch's Bore Shine, Sweet's, Breakfree
and RB 17 gel. There is a do-it-yourself bore cleaning formula called Ed's Red,
which contains brake fluid, kerosene, mineral spirits and acetone. You can get
the details by Googling "Ed's Red Bore Cleaner". Obviously from the ingredients it's highly
flammable, so I wouldn't recommend smoking a celebratory cigar at the end of a
good shooting day while you're cleaning the gun with Ed's Red.
Modern shotshells have cups that encase the shot load
until it leaves the barrel, so there is no residue of lead, steel or any other
shot metal. And there is little powder fouling from modern, smokeless powders.
Old-time bore cleaners contained sperm oil (from a sperm whale). That may have
worked in the time of Moby Dick, but the modern substitute is brake
Here's how I bore clean my shotguns: stuff a hefty wad of paper towel in the
breech end of the barrel, pour a dollop or so of Hoppe's down the muzzle, let
it soak into the paper, then push the wad through the barrel with a cleaning
rod. Refold the wad and use again until it comes through clean. Finish with a
wad treated with gun oil.
If Im lazy, the day has been dry and I'm going to hunt again the next day,
I'll wipe the exterior metal with a lightly-oiled rag and leave the gun out of
its case. That sounds like heresy to those who religiously clean their gun
every time it's used, but Jack O'Connor, the best of the gun writers, says,
"The use of non-corrosive primers in shot shells has made regular cleaning of
the bores much less necessary than it used to be."
He did caution in "The Shotgun Book" that moisture in the air will rust
barrels if you don't clean them with some regularity. He did what I do: run a
patch wet with Hoppe's through, and then follow with an oiled one. Resist
squirting oil into each orifice -- gun oils will cake up over the years and
gunk up the action. Bringing a cold, cased gun into a warm room will condense
moisture on the gun and moisture equates to rust.
The most common cleanser for the bore of a black powder gun is a hot water
bath. Birchwood Casey No. 77 Black Powder Solvent smells almost as good as
Hoppe's. It's water soluble and dissolves powder residue and loosens metal
deposits. But soap and water and a scrubbing with a wire bore cleaning brush
will work just as well.
Hunting birds with a black powder enthusiast can be a trial. I hunted quail
with the late Jim Keefe, who built his own guns. When the bird went up, Keefe
vanished in a cloud of smoke and we all ran around the smokescreen to see if
anything fell. Then we had to wait patiently while Jim reloaded.
When we were running a few patches through our modern guns and inhaling the
subtle perfume of Hoppe's No. 9, Keefe was taking a stinking sulphur bath with
For a fine assortment of Gun Cleaning Kits, and including Hoppe's No. 9, click here.