What Makes an Accurate Barrel?

What Makes an Accurate Barrel?

Rifle accuracy depends first and foremost on the barrel.

The inside of a rifle bore.

Rifle accuracy depends first and foremost on the barrel. Everything else matters: sound bedding, concentric action-to-barrel mating, consistent ammo, well-cut chamber and crown, and good bullets. But if the barrel isn't straight and cut with true and clean rifling, none of these matter.


Problem is, very few among us--myself included--can tell a good barrel just by looking at it. Come to think of it, a barrel has to be pretty darned bad before you can look at it and know for sure.


Yes, you can tell if a barrel is pitted from neglect, and you can tell if the throat is washed, and in extreme cases you can tell if the rifling is worn.

A bore scope will tell you quite a lot more, with many new barrels showing tool marks and rifling that seems almost jagged. But here's the rub (so to speak): While indicators such as these aren't desirable, none of them offer surefire proof that the dog won't hunt.


Some barrels that show significant wear, have pitted bores or rough rifling shoot extremely well. And some barrels that look perfect steadfastly refuse to group, no matter what you do.

This is part of the frustrating fun of messing with rifles. You really don't know what you have going until you sit down at the bench. Even then you may not know until you've tried a bunch of loads, checked the bedding, switched scopes, perhaps recut the crown, and tried a half-dozen other tricks before you finally sigh with satisfaction--or walk away in disgust.

If you're embarking on a custom rifle project, whether fancy or plain, the best advice I can give you is to start with a really good barrel. There are lots of good ones from many makers, and most makers grade their barrels.

The difference between a $100 replacement barrel and a selected match-grade barrel costing several times more may not be discernible to the casual eye, but there is a difference. With luck, an average barrel can deliver exceptional accuracy, but with sound assembly and good ammo a top-quality barrel will deliver truly exceptional accuracy.

With factory rifles you don't have the luxury of selecting your barrel. There will be some range of accuracy--with most customers satisfied, some pleasantly surprised and a few frustrated.

But, realistically, factory barrels are darned good. If you figure what the manufacturer of a rifle retailing for $500 has invested in just the barrel of that rifle--nothing close to $50--over-the-counter accuracy is truly amazing today.

I would never suggest that the best hand-selected, match-grade custom barrel costing $500 will shoot 10 times better than a $50 factory barrel. On the other hand, accuracy gains are generally incremental, almost never exponential--and, man, are we spoiled these days.

We take it almost for granted that a factory rifle will produce minute-of-angle accuracy, and we're bummed when they don't. A large percentage will, at least some of the time with some loads. A very few will cut that in half, which is truly spectacular for a production barrel. But to cut that in half again, down to a quarter-inch group, is a huge leap--and to obtain that level of accuracy on a consistent basis is yet another leap.

Believe it or not, caliber can also make a difference--not in theory but certainly in practice. I remember when Geoff Miller and I were contemplating a long-barreled 8mm Remington Magnum as the "ultimate long-range elk rifle." Kenny Jarrett, another guy who knows much more about rifle accuracy than I will ever learn, advised against it because he figured we'd have a hard time getting a really good 8mm barrel.

Perhaps we got lucky. Norm Bridge, a great old riflesmith, put the rifle together. He commented that the Pac-Nor barrel we used was one of the best barrels he'd ever seen. The result was truly exceptional accuracy, but I tend to think Kenny was exactly right: The odds of getting really exceptional barrels are probably better with the most popular bore diameters.

What got me thinking about this was correspondence with a friend of mine, Andy Drook, who just purchased a .264 Winchester Magnum. Historically, the 6.5mm hasn't been very popular in the U.S., so why should the factories put extra effort into their 6.5mm barrels?When the .260 Remington came out in the late 1990s, there was much hype about its exceptional inherent accuracy. However, I went through three production .260s, and I was not impressed.

They were "okay," but no more accurate than similar 7mm-08s and seemingly a lot more finicky. The problem could well have been an exceptional cartridge trapped in average barrels--and further hindered by a limited selection of bullets.

This is changing, at least in the case of the 6.5mm. A few years ago, another rifle-nut-friend, Marv Quillen, got hold of a couple of really good Obermeyer 6.5mm barrels. I latched onto one, and the ultimate result in .264 Winchester Magnum is at least as accurate as that cartridge should ever be expected to be.

Today it wouldn't be foolish at all to choose a 6.5mm if you were looking for a tackdriver.

Thanks to the current popularity of exceptionally accurate 6.5s such as the 6.5-.284 and 6.5 Creedmoor in long-range competitive shooting, things are a bit different today. You can definitely get really good 6.5mm barrels from any "name" barrel maker, and there are plenty of bullets developed for accuracy.

So today it wouldn't be foolish at all to choose a 6.5mm if you were looking for a tackdriver. And of course that applies to any of the other popular bore diameters.

But if you're one of those riflemen who feels compelled to do something different--like my 8mm, or maybe a .311, or like my old friend Charlie Askins, who wildcatted a .290 "just because there wasn't one"--if accuracy is your goal you'd better count on some luck.

Recommended for You

Accessories

Rifle Shooter Father's Day 2019 Gift Guide

J. Scott Rupp - May 07, 2019

Rifle Shooter editor Scott Rupp provides a comprehensive list of ideal Father's Day gifts.

Bolt-Action

Ruger Precision Rifle Now Chambered in .300 PRC and 6.5 PRC

Rifleshooter Digital Staff - April 27, 2019

Ruger introduced .300 PRC and 6.5 PRC chamberings for the Ruger Precision Rifle.

All

3 Great Takedown Survival Guns

David Fortier - March 19, 2015

When I decided to review three different rifles chambered in .22 LR and geared toward survival...

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

All About .300 Blackout

The .300 Blackout is here to stay, and we take some time to look at new technology surrounding this cartridge. Next, we pit subsonic rivals against each other before stretching the legs of this CQB round out to 600 yards from a short 9-inch barrel.

Hornady 6MM Creedmoor

Tom Beckstrand and Neal Emery of Hornady highlight the 6MM Creedmoor ammo.

Black Hills Evolution of Rifle Cartridge: .308 Win. 175 Gr. Match

David Fortier talks with Jeff Hoffman of Black Hills Ammunition about the evolution of the .308 Win. 175 Gr. Match bullet.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

Bolt-Action

Review: Performance Center-Thompson/Center LRR

Alfredo Rico - April 09, 2019

Thompson/Center and S&W's Performance Center team up to build an entry-level long-range...

MSR

Review: Wilson Combat Ultralight Hunter

Brad Fitzpatrick - March 18, 2019

Wilson Combat's new Ultralight Hunter in .300 Ham'r puts the sport back in modern sporting...

Semi-Auto

Review: Hi-Point 1095 TS 10mm Carbine

James Tarr - April 04, 2019

The Hi-Point 10mm carbine, technically the 1095 TS, sports a 17.5-inch barrel, is 32 inches...

See More Stories

More Gunsmithing

Gunsmithing

The Best Ruger 10/22 Trigger Assemblies on the Market

Dusty Gibson - September 23, 2013

The always popular Ruger 10/22 has become the semi-auto rimfire rifle of choice for shooters...

Gunsmithing

Rail Mount Rescue

David Fortier - January 07, 2011

Two mounts that will come to the rescue if you run out of rail. By David M....

Gunsmithing

A Hunter's .470 Double

Rife Shooter Staff Report - May 19, 2011

The rifle was developed as a top-grade, traditional double rifle that would actually see hard...

See More Gunsmithing

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction.

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

×