Q: A group of us were discussing the cleaning of quality .22 rimfire rifles barrels. We could not arrive at a consensus as to whether or not they should even be cleaned. Could you please shed some light on the subject of whether or not to clean them, if so how often, how vigorously and what is the best method to so.
A: Probably more damage has been done to the barrels of .22 LR firearms by cleaning than neglect, especially in this day of non-corrosive amino, but let the conditions under which you shoot dictate the frequency of cleaning. Out here in the West where humidity is quite low, many shooters leave the guns dirty until it's time to store them. If you live in a humid area, you might need some preservative in the barrel unless you keep the gun in a de-humidified safe. If you must keep oil in your gun, it brings up a bit of a quandary.
Often, a .22 will shoot better with the bore fouled and will do so over many shooting sessions. After a thorough cleaning, it might not group as well for the first few shots or more and might shoot to a different point of aim (something to consider for at-ready pest guns or a competition target rifle). We're assuming the rifle has gilt-edged accuracy here, of course. Centerfire rifles can be like that, too.
The .22 LR doesn't generate a lot of heat or fouling as a rule and a good barrel will just get better from use. One thing to keep clean is the ammo. The .22 LR uses an outside-lubricated bullet. The cartridges can pick up dirt...