On February 4th, Punxsutawney Phil announced spring would arrive in 6 weeks. I don't know about you, but after the long, cold, gray winter, I'm ready for blue skies and bright sun. Warm weather makes for ideal shooting conditions, and if your shotgun has been in the gun cabinet for a while it's time to get it ready for use.Also See: A Clean Shotgun is a Happy Shotgun
Clean it from the inside out
A tight fit-and-finish is the earmark of a quality shotgun, but that doesn't mean dirt and grim won't find a way inside. Waterfowlers know how moisture finds its way into the inside of a shotgun, and bird hunters running a field or covert in the rain or late season snow do as well. Send your gunning iron to the gunsmith for a thorough cleaning, especially before a heavy-use period (like this coming spring). All inner parts are cleaned and lubricated, and rusty parts can be identified and repaired or replaced.
That safety that was sticking last season and only came off with extreme thumb pressure? The blown chance for a double coming from a second barrel hammer that hitched before it dropped? Shells that didn't properly cycle in a semi-automatic due to low compression? Rusty choke tubes that caused gunners to break out in a sweat when removing them? These issues and many more are all part of a hunting season's normal wear and tear. That's what makes late winter a good time to bring in your shotgun for repair. The wait time is usually shorter than during peak season, and you'll be in good shape for shooting season.
Dinged stocks are part of hunting. Some add character to your favorite shotgun, particularly when they come with a great story. But some items need to be addressed for safety reasons. If the spring on your splinter forend is so weak that it causes your forend to drop off unexpectedly then it needs to be replaced. Stock cracks in the toe are common, and while they won't affect safety, they should be repaired so that additional damage doesn't occur. Most important are cracks in the tang or in the wrist. They'll need to get glued and pinned, an activity best handled by an expert gunsmith.
Common shotgun measurements are pretty flat, with an average of around 14 1/2 inches for length of pull, 1 1/2 inches for drop at comb and 2 1/2 inches for drop at heel. They fit the average shooter well out of the box. But if you have a shotgun that isn't shooting where you're looking then you may want to get a professional gun fitting. Lengths of pull that are either too long or too short provide bogus gun mounts. Too much drop places your eye in alignment with the safety instead of on the rib where it belongs. If you've been cranking out reps at the gym, you're probably buff; but big pecs can change the amount of pitch you need and your length of pull. If you're missed a lot of targets or birds last fall then get a gun fitting with a pro. Compare your measurements with a try-gun against those of your favorite shotgun to see where you stand. You might just need a new stock. If you don't want to restock a firearm, then sell it and buy a shotgun that fits. And what's so bad about buying another shotgun, anyway?
Late winter is a good time to go through your gear list and re-inventory for shooting season. Buying shells or ordering specialty loads is a given, and they'll arrive right when the weather turns pleasant. While you're at it, pick up more powder solvent, patches and lubricants. Replace bore bristle brushes just as you would a worn-out toothbrush. Replace scratched shooting glasses and torn shooting gloves. Eye exams always make good sense, particularly since vision changes over time. Check your ear protection and your shell bags, too and you'll be set to jet.
You've got a little time to kill before it gets nice outside. Take care of your chores now so you can bust some clays this spring. It won't be long now, Punxustawney Phil told us so.