Many of those reading this will have a basic knowledge of how and when to clean and maintaining their rifle in the field. Conversely many do not. This article is spurned on by conversations with the later.
This will be broken down into two parts. Part one will be tools/items suggested based off my personal experiences. Part two will be three scenarios showcasing the items in use with explanations to why/how those are used.
*Note*- I can only speak to my specific area/environment. Our temps typically do not drop below 20F during the coldest point of winter, we exceed 100F in the summer. Humidity is always present. Mud is common year round. Ice is common in the winter. What i will demonstrate in the article SHOULD provide a general example of what will work in most environments; excluding arctic/subarctic.
This is also speaking to the AR-15 pattern fighting rifle and its similarly operating brethren: I.E.- Direct Impingement gas operating systems. As opposed to piston or roller lock.
This is not going to be a 17 page argument as to why ABC lubricant is better than XYZ. As long as its not frog lube i dont care what you use. I prefer Slip EWL.
Part 1- Tools of the Trade
I try to keep things simple when possible. I find simple is typically best and the more parts/pieces/steps the more that can go wrong or get lost.
At the very basic level you will need some form of cleaner/lubricant. Many use the venerable CLP as thats what they were issued and have a lot of time with. Some use motor oil from their local Auto Zone. Personally I dont care what you use (barring Frog Lube as noted above as it always seems to gum up and cause more problems than solutions). I have been using Slip EWL (Extreme Weapons Lubricant) for close to a decade now. Its always served me well and done everything ive needed it to. I treat it like a CLP (Clean, Lube, Protect) although I dont think it technically is. Ive never found it to “dry off” as bad as other products in the past and its never failed to keep my rifle running. A little bit goes a long way too. However i suggest folks test and trial the various options out there to find what works best for them in their environment.
Next is some form of cloth/wipe. Dont over think this. A piece of cut up t-shirt is fine.
Then you need some way of hauling the lube/wipe on rifle. For me i like the magpul grips and inserts specific for this. Having it purpose built is handy. I can carry the full little bottle of lube and then wad up a bit of cloth in the grip along with it. That gives me the basics covered. Depending on the items you can also fit an allen wrench or button battery in there as well for optics. They also make a grip module that holds a spare bolt, but i keep that in my big kit. More on that later. If you do not use the magpul grips its okay. There are work around. As long as you have a hollow open grip (like the standard A2) you can fill an eye or ear dropper bottle with lube and push it into the grip just like i do with the magpul. Then you just seal it off with something. I find the rubber M1 Carbine mag covers to work well for that. They can be sourced on amazon for cheap too.
All of the above will get you through most field needs in terms of cleaning/maintenance of the rifle. However there are times (to be discussed below) when you need more. For a full breakdown and cleaning of the rifle you will need “The Big Kit.” For me the standard surplus kit for the M16 works well. It has all a person needs and nothing they dont. The only thing I added to the kit was a complete BCG replacement, a selector and spring/detent, some lens wipes, and some vibratite. My reasons for a complete BCG as opposed to just a bolt are purely personal. If my rifle goes down because my extractor breaks or the bolt head shears off or (insert XYZ scenario), id rather just pull and replace the whole thing instead of trying to disassemble the BCG and replace what needs fixed. Its just more of an immediate fix without chance of losing small parts.
-Bonus helpful items-
Full length cleaning rod strapped to rifle for stuck casings.
Tape for sealing the muzzle from ingress of foreign objects.
Condom (rifle or personal, dealers choice) for the same use as the tape.
Gloves for keeping your nails clean.
Part 2: The Scenarios.
Scenario 1- “The Touchup/Tune Up.”
You’ve been out in the field overnight. Either with your group in the woods, or hiding out in an urban backyard shed laying low. The air has been dry, windy, and cold. Your going to be stepping out soon. You want to make sure your rifle is prepared. Looking down you ease the bolt back to quietly verify a round is chambered and your bolt is free moving. With the ejection port door open you take the small bottle of lube from your grip and place a couple of drops on the holes of your BCG. After restoring the bottle to the grip you give the forward assist a nudge to make sure the bolt is seated all the way forward. Finally, closing the ejection port your ready to step off. Knowing your rifles action is squared away and it only took a few seconds of your time.
This is the most common use case of maintenance ive found in the field. Its simply a preventive measure. AR bolts are notorious for “drying out” with exposure to the elements. Especially if they have been fired and ran hot (but it will also happen without any firing at all). Taking a few seconds to preventively maintain your rifle will go a long way. The bonus to this is your rifle is never really “down” during the process and can be fired if need be with the simple tap of the FA prior. This is good for a team setting as you dont have to take time swapping off with team members to maintain security.
Scenario 2: The Wipe Down
You’ve been trudging through the latest downpour for hours. Doing your best to keep your rifles action shielded with your body and your field top but to no avail. Not to mention your not so graceful slide down the last hill that ended up coating your receiver in a thin layer of mud. Luckily your ejection port door was closed and the tape on your muzzle held. The order is past down to take a 15min break. You and your battle boo trade off security so the other can address your rifle. Throwing your poncho over your head and draping it over your rifle you get to work. You only have about 5 minutes so no time to dig into your pack for your full kit. Popping the rear receiver pin you separate the upper/lower receiver. Pulling the bolt out of the rear you can tell its reasonably clean in the red glow of your headlamp. Just to make sure though you pull out your lube and cloth from the grip. Slathering on a layer of the liquid you wipe down the entire BCG. Satisfied you reassemble and then re-charge the rifle. Making sure its sealed up you emerge from your poncho. More confident that your rifle is good to go.
This is the second most common field maintenance I see. Its not a full on strip and clean, but its a step above a touch up job. Here you have reason to believe your rifle is dirty/fouled from environmental exposure or a lot of firing (especially suppressed). Pulling the entire BCG, giving it a wipe down, and getting it all good and wet will go a long way to over all performance. The AR platform can handle a lot when it comes to dirt and debris. More than most give it credit for. However neglecting to fix potential problems in advance when you have the opportunity is foolish.
Another scenario for the above would be post FTX when you need to give it a decent cleaning even though nothing crazy happened. You probably dont (and most likely really dont) need to do a full clean, but just to be safe a good wipe down and a glance down the barrel from chamber to muzzle is always a good idea.
Scenario 3: ‘Stripper’ Down.
No, Candy at the local club didnt fall down on the stage. So cool your jets big guy.
Your back from the field after a pretty grueling weekend training with the boys. Lots of rain. A little hail. Some mud. Fun times. You did all your in-field maintenance when possible and as best you could. Now your home. Warm and dry with your bed calling your name. Instead though you lay a towel down on the dining room table, lay your rifle and your big kit out, and begin the process. Separating the receivers. Stripping the BCG. Pulling the buffer/spring. You give everything a good once over with a nylon brush, some wipes, and lube. Even running some lubed patches down the barrel. Lastly you place new batteries in your optics and light/laser. Once done and re-assembled you store everything away to your own TTPs, finish the last sip out of your glass of bourbon, and turn in for the night.
This is a pre and post event situation. This is where the wheat is separated from the chaff. Prior to and immediately after (at the earliest point possible) you should do a detailed cleaning of your weapon. This does not mean “scrub it until bare metal shines” for those concerned. This is just the deepest level of cleaning necessary and that will be discussed. This is where your big kit and time come into play. The above to scenarios are bandaids to those situations. Taking the time before stepping off and after returning in order to make sure your rifle is good to go for when you need it is paramount. How big of a fool would you feel like if you just sat your rifle in the corner until “later” and then three days have gone by. A situation arrises that you actually need the rifle RIGHT NOW just to find out your firing pin and BCG are seized up in your rifle or your optic batteries are dead. These are the things we aim to avoid.
Hopefully you enjoyed this primer. I touched a little in the last bit on optics/electronics, but will go into more detail on that at a later date.
Anyways, take it easy and stay safe.