Barrels are deceptively simple, yet crucial to the precision required for long-range shooting. I once visited the shop of Benchrest Hall of Famer Cecil Tucker and I recognized a unique opportunity to learn from a legend. So I asked him the million dollar question: “What is the most important thing when it comes to precision rifles?” Cecil didn’t hesitate. He seemed to have been preparing his whole life to answer that elusive question, and it was on the tip of his tongue: “The barrel and the bullet.” Deceptively simple.
Retired Army Ranger Sniper, Ryan Cleckner, explains “just as the receiver is the main part of the rifle for legal purposes, the barrel is the main part of the rifle for accuracy purposes. A good rifle with a bad barrel will not shoot accurately. Conversely, a poor-quality rifle with a good barrel can shoot accurately.”
Yet for a data-driven guy who wants to make objective, informed decisions … choosing a barrel can be tough! Unlike other parts like scopes, actions, and chassis where we can compare features or see/feel the difference, most of the differences between a great barrel and a poor one can’t be easily compared. For example, if I laid 10 different barrel blanks in front of a veteran shooter and asked him to tell me which were the best ones, he’d be stumped. So many things play into whether a barrel has the potential to shoot tiny groups, including the quality of the steel, bore/groove consistency, machining/lapping process, and other things that can’t be directly observed. It doesn’t help that a number of other things NOT related to the quality of the barrel blank could keep the barrel from reaching the potential it had when it originally left the barrel manufacturer (e.g., chamber wasn’t cut concentric to the bore, a poor crown job, neglect in cleaning, overheating, etc.), which just adds more complexity to the problem!
So what’s a guy to do? Well, this is hard for me to say, but the best thing may be to look at what the top shooters are using to achieve the highest level of performance and copy them. Wow, that is hard for me to say! I’m definitely not a bandwagon kind of guy – the opposite in fact. Because I hate that approach soooo much, I gathered a pile of barrels and did a massive research project that was published in Bryan Litz’s most recent book. I literally fired thousands of rounds hoping to gain some insight into the “mystical” area of rifle barrels, because I hate the idea of not having more data to guide the decision! I invested hundreds of hours of work into to getting some objective, data-driven answers. While that study had several interesting findings, when choosing a barrel it largely comes down to an educated bet on the reputation of the company making it.
That’s why I think this post about what barrels the top ranked shooters are running in the Precision Rifle Series (PRS) and the National Rifle League (NRL) is so valuable. (Learn about the PRS & NRL.) This group of over 150 competitors represent the best precision rifle shooters in the country, and this post will present all the details about what barrel they are using in long range rifle matches. When it comes down to making an informed decision about what rifle barrel to go with, this data from a wide sample size of the very best shooters is extremely helpful. (View other What The Pros Use articles)
Most Popular Rifle Barrels
Let’s get to the data! The chart below shows the number of shooters that were using each brand of barrels represented. You can see Bartlein Barrels continued their dominant lead in terms of popularity among this group of élite marksmen.
The various colors on the chart represent the league and rank of the shooters. For example, black indicates shooters who finished in the top 10 in the PRS, dark blue is those who finished 11-25 in the PRS, and the lighter the blue, the further out they finished in PRS overall standings. The green colors represents the top shooters in the NRL, where the darkest green is the top 10, medium green is 11-25, and light green are 26th to 50th. The legend on the chart itemizes the league and ranks each color represents, but basically the darker the color, the higher up the shooters placed.
Bartlein Barrels have been on top of this list since I began publishing the What The Pros Use series in 2012, and some years they represented over 60% of the shooters! This year they represented 31.4% of the shooters, which is still twice as many as any other brand. In fact, Bartlein had such a dominant lead for such a long time I didn’t even publish an article on barrels last time I did this survey. This list just doesn’t seem to change as much as other gear, but there were a few shifts in 2018 I’ll point out below. Yet I’m sure it doesn’t surprise anyone to see Bartlein is still on top. They’ve simply done a great job establishing and maintaining their position by continuing to turn out barrels that consistently perform at the highest level, both in these tactical/practical field-style rifle competitions, as well as F-Class and Benchrest, some of the world’s elite military units, and other shooting disciplines. I’ve heard it said, “You’re always either building your reputation or living off it.” Bartlein seems to never stop building their reputation.
It may be surprising to hear, but some barrel manufacturers are still using World War era equipment to produce barrels. While technology has completely revolutionized other areas of manufacturing, many barrels are made the same way they were 50+ years ago. Part of the reason for their success is that Bartlein uses some of the most advanced computer-aided manufacturing processes available. Here is what they have to say about it:
“The uniformity in our barrels and finish of the bores is second to none. Our rifling machines are so accurate, we can carry the twist rate to the 4th decimal point (example: 11.3642). The process of Single Point Cut Rifling is the most stress free way to rifle a barrel. The twist is exact, where as other forms of rifling can have variances due to the process they use. Also, the bore and groove dimensions are more uniform.” – Bartlein Barrels
PROOF Research was the second most popular barrel brand among these top shooters, at 15.7%. That is more than double the amount of shooters they had represented the last time I published the barrel stats, hinting at a growing consumer confidence in their product. In fact, more top 10 shooters were using PROOF barrels than any other brand! They represented 50% of the top 10 shooters in the NRL, and 30% in the PRS.
When most people think of PROOF Research, they probably think of their carbon fiber barrels, but PROOF also produces traditional steel barrels – which is what 100% of these guys were running. I specifically asked all the guys running PROOF barrels if they were running a steel or carbon fiber barrel, and all of them were using steel barrels on their competition rifles, although a few of them said they run carbon fiber barrels on their hunting rifles. Daniel Bertocchini, who finished 23rd overall in the PRS, explained it pretty well: “The main reason guys are running steel over carbon is the added weight for most PRS competitions, but there are benefits to running carbon over steel especially when shedding weight is a concern.” In precision rifle competitions, weight is often seen as a good thing, and I’ll touch more on why later in this article.
PROOF Research actually purchased Lawrence Rifle Barrels in 2012, to bring cut-rifle barrel making in-house for better control of consistency and lead times. Even their carbon fiber barrels have a steel barrel as the liner, and while the steel liner is fairly thin they’d still be safe to fire without the carbon fiber wrap. The carbon fiber is simply there to add more rigidity without adding much weight. Below is an example showing the comparison of a traditional steel barrel and an example of a carbon fiber wrapped barrel.
There are different approaches to carbon fiber barrel wraps used by different companies. I go into the science behind that in a chapter I contributed to Bryan Litz’s most recent book, Modern Advancements In Long Range Shooting Volume 2. I also put some carbon fiber barrels from PROOF Research and Christiansen Arms to the test to see how they compare to several traditional steel barrels of various contours, including a steel barrel from PROOF Research. I quantify group sizes, point of impact shift as the barrels heat up, overall barrel stiffness, and even measure how quickly the barrels heat up and cool off. It was the first large-scale study done on these kinds of barrels that I’m aware of, so if you’re interested in this stuff you might check that out.
Hawk Hill Custom remained one of the top barrel brands, representing 14.5% of the barrels used by the top shooters. Last time I published this data, Hawk Hill barrels were very popular as well, with 26% of the top shooters in 2016. One veteran gunsmith I know who has built hundreds of high-end bolt-action rifles told me he had a lot of confidence in Hawk Hill barrels because they are still a relatively small shop. Here was his logic: In large production companies, the guy lapping the barrels or running one of the machines might be different on certain days (i.e. when a guy is on vacation, they hire a new person, or want to cross-train), and that could affect the quality of the barrel you receive. Larger businesses also tend to focus on throughput on the production floor, and there may be pressure for guys to meet certain quotas. But he theorized that Hawk Hill was still that boutique, small business size where it’s typically the same guy doing certain operations, and they still had the flexibility to slow down and double-check tooling or be OCD in their inspection process. It was an interesting perspective that influenced my view of Hawk Hill, so I thought I’d share it. Regardless of whether that is true or not, a lot of guys are using their barrels – so they must be doing something right!
Krieger Barrels had another strong showing, with 10% of these shooters using one of their barrels. That included two of the top 10 finishers in the PRS and 1 of the top 10 shooters in the NRL. In fact, Matthew Brousseau won the PRS for the second year in a row, and he was using a Krieger barrel. Krieger’s single-point cut-rifled barrels are legendary in the precision rifle world, and have been one of the barrels of choice for some of the top gunsmiths for more than a decade.
Benchmark Barrels also had 10% of these shooters using one of their barrels. Benchmark built their reputation on world record-setting rimfire and centerfire barrels. They say that their barrels currently hold over 50 world records in various shooting disciplines.
Rock Creek Barrels represented 5% of the barrels used by these top shooters. Their flagship, match-grade, custom barrels are also single-point cut-rifled, using modified twin spindle hydraulic Pratt & Whitney rifling machines.
There were several other very capable barrel brands represented: Broughton Barrels, Masterpiece Arms Barrels, and MullerWorks Barrels all had 4-5 of these shooters using one of their barrels. X-Caliber and Schneider Barrels had 2-3 shooters represented. McGowen Barrels, Criterion Barrels, H-S Precision Barrels, and K&P Barrels each had 1 shooter represented.
Popular Barrel Contours
Now let’s look at the barrel contours these top shooters were running. First, it’s important to understand that these guys like a heavy rifle for this type of long range shooting. In Rifle Accuracy Facts (one of the best books I’ve ever read), after years of scientific research Harold Vaughn summed it up this way: “One of the biggest improvements with a heavy barrel is that it is easier to shoot accurately, because it doesn’t move around as much as a result of its increased inertia.” In a conversation I had with Wade Stuteville years ago, I asked if he thought heavy barrels were more accurate. Wade told me “I don’t think it’s that heavy barrels necessarily shoot better, as much as I shoot better with a heavy barrel.” He felt the increased weight and balance of a rifle with a heavy barrel helped him be steady and stay on target. That seems to corroborate Vaughn’s point.
First, there are four basic types of rifle barrel contours: sporter contour, straight taper or match contour, Palma contour, and a newer profile that I’m calling the Ruger Precision Rifle or Desert Tech contour. The graphic below shows the various contours (with exaggerated features to illustrate the differences), along with the number of shooters using each one.
You can see that a Straight Taper (a.k.a. match contour) was the most popular profile, followed by a Palma contour. Since most of these guys see a heavy barrel as a good thing, that shouldn’t be too surprising. I’m not sure it’s ever been broken down this way, so it is interesting to see the trend.
Now let’s look at the specific contours this group of élite marksmen were running:
You can see the M24 contour was the most popular, followed closely by the MTU contour. Both of those are very heavy barrels, at just over 0.9” diameter at the muzzle on a 26” barrel, which is the length most of these guys were running (more on barrel length later). According to Bartlein Barrels, a 26” M24 contour barrel weighs in at 6.2 pounds and a 26” MTU weighs in at 7.0 pounds!
Heavy Palma and Heavy Varmint were the next most popular contours, and both of those would also be slightly over a 0.9” diameter at the muzzle on a 26” barrel. So they’d be close to the weight of the M24 and MTU contours.
Following those, was the Marksman contour and the Medium Palma. The Marksman contour was released by Hawk Hill a couple of years ago with this PRS-style of shooting in mind. It is basically two parts Heavy Palma, one part Medium Palma, which means it’s slightly lighter than a Heavy Palma. The Medium Palma was the lightest contour used, which is kind of funny, because I know hunters who would laugh at me calling a Medium Palma “light!” But, in the precision rifle game that is about as light as you’ll see most shooters using. A lighter barrel can be more maneuverable and make offhand shots easier, but most guys feel like a heavy barrel gives an advantage when prone or off barricades.
And then you have 7 guys running a straight contour, also known as the truck axle! 😉 That’s no contour at all … just a straight cylinder – the same diameter at the muzzle as the breech. According to Krieger, the estimated weight on a 26” straight contour barrel is around 9 pounds! One of the guys running this was Dan Jarecke, who ranked 6th overall in the PRS, so it’s obviously not a bad choice.
There were also 7 shooters running a GAP #6 contour. I asked George Gardner about this contour. George is the President of GA Precision (aka GAP), and was personally one of these top shooters running the GAP #6 contour. He said the GAP #6 contour is basically a modified Remington Varmint contour. It has a 1.25” diameter at the shank for 3.5”, and then has a sporter contour that tapers to 0.9” at 26”. That makes about 1/2 lb. heavier than the Remington Varmint contour. George said it looks like a Heavy Palma barrel. All of the guys who reported this contour were running Bartlein barrels, but this is different than Bartlein’s #6 contour.
Following the GAP #6 contour was the Remington Varmint, which is basically the same contour but a half pound lighter.
Then there is the brand new PROOF Competition contour, which was released this year. One of these top shooters, Chris Gittings (PROOF Research’s Competitive Pro Staff Manager), summed it up well:
“Everyone is building heavier and heavier guns nowadays. Until very recently, the M24 was the heaviest steel barrel that PROOF made. Myself and the other PROOF-sponsored shooters got so many requests for a heavier steel barrel that we asked PROOF for a larger profile. They responded by allowing us to develop the Competition contour. We started by asking the question, “What’s the biggest profile we could fit into an MPA or KRG chassis without modifying it?” That’s how we ended up with the Competition contour, which is hefty – even bigger than the MTU. I’m estimating the weight would be about 7.7 pounds for a 6mm 26” barrel. It’s so new it’s not even on their website yet, but there’s so much interest, shooters are already calling Proof Sales and ordering it.” – Chris Gittings, 83rd Overall in PRS
The one shooter on this list that was already using that contour was actually using a custom contoured barrel from Patriot Valley Arms, which was designed to heavier than the M24 contour. The PROOF Competition contour released later in the year turned out to have identical dimensions, so Josh Kunz at PVA has simply started referring to his contour as the PROOF Competition too for simplicity. Josh said it has a 1.25” diameter shank for 5” and then tapers down to just 1” at the muzzle at 26”.
It seems like so many guys were running heavy M24 and MTU, but if you want anything heavier you’d have to jump all the way to a straight cylinder, which may require a custom modification to your stock or chassis. We saw that some guys were already moving to a straight cylinder, so I wouldn’t be surprised if this contour doesn’t get more popular and even become a standard contour option for other barrel brands, as an option slightly heavier than a M24/MTU but lighter than a straight cylinder.
I’ve found it’s hard to do side-by-side comparison of all these contours, so here is a table I made for quick reference. Honestly, I wish the numbers were all for the same barrel lengths, but manufacturers don’t seem to publish them that way. (If someone has the muzzle diameter and weights for 26” barrels in all these, please share them in the comments.) The table is roughly sorted from the lightest contour to the heaviest that were used by these shooters:
|Straight (No Contour)||Straight||7||1.25″||NA||1.25″||29″||10.0||0.34|
Popular Barrel Lengths
Now let’s look at the barrel lengths these guys were running:
Well, almost everyone was running a 26” barrel – 64% to be exact! The rest of the guys were running barrels from 24” to 28”, plus 2 guys running at 23” and 1 guy running at 22”.
When people think about barrel length, most of us probably think the length decisions came down to wanting to maximize muzzle velocity. While I’m sure that plays into this, it may not be the only factor. In fact, it might not even be the biggest reason for all these guys. Sometimes the rifle balances better with a longer barrel. Adding a little weight way out at the muzzle, can have a bigger impact than you might expect on how the rifle handles.
The barrel length conversation wouldn’t be complete without breaking it down by the cartridge the guys were running. Sometimes a longer barrel can really boost the velocity for a particular cartridge, but the same increase in length might have a negligible change in muzzle velocity for another cartridge. That’s why I really like the articles on Barrel Length vs. Muzzle Velocity from RifleShooter.com. He starts with a long barrel and then chops it off an inch at a time and records what the impact is on muzzle velocity at each increment. It’s very enlightening and helpful when deciding appropriate barrel length for a particular cartridge.
Here’s a look at what percent of the shooters were using what barrel length for all the cartridges used by more than 3 shooters:
You can see again that 26” barrels were very popular across the board. The 6mm Dasher and 6mm Creedmoor were the most popular cartridges (see the data), and 77% of shooters running those had 26” barrels. That seems eerily uniform, but I guess it must just be the magic combination for those cartridges. What’s interesting is the 6mm BR and 6mm BRA both have the majority of the shooters using a 28” barrel. Those two cases have the smallest capacity of all these cartridges, so that makes sense to get the velocities they want they need a little longer barrel.
Overall Rifle Weights
Finally, let’s look at the overall rifle weight, because it is so closely related to barrel contour and length. Here is what I asked these guys on the survey: “How much does your rifle weigh in ‘ready to fire’ configuration, including optics? (Note: If you don’t know, just leave this question blank).” Around 80% of the guys taking the survey filled in their rifle weight, and some of the guys knew their weight to the tenth of a pound! I have to admit, the results surprised me:
I was fully expecting the rifles in the 14-20 pound range, with most around 18-20 … but I didn’t expect 38% of the shooters running a rifle weighing 21 pounds or more! In fact, 4 of the top 10 shooters in the PRS and 4 of the top shooters in the NRL said their rifle weighed in at 21 pounds. There were 12 guys running a rifle that weighed in at 25 pounds, which included 3 guys who finished 11-25 in the PRS, and 1 shooter who finished in the top 10 in the NRL (Matt Medearis).
The trend seems to be moving to heavier rifles, which is why you see things like the new PROOF Competition contour popping up. It will be interested to see if this trend continues.
A: “Shoot what you have until your barrel is shot out or you can prove 100% that your equipment is holding you back. Then upgrade to the absolute best you can afford. Try before you buy, and buy the best you can once you know what your needs are.” – Shawn Andrews, 56th Overall in the PRS
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Did I miss mention of any fluting??
No sir. I didn’t ask about fluting. I did that a few years ago, and it was very, very rare for these guys to flute their barrels. Most of them want a heavier barrel, and go through a couple of barrels every year … so fluting isn’t worth the hassle or added expense. I’m not saying none of these fluted their barrels, or that it is a bad idea … but I’d be shocked if more than 10% of them did.
Boy, I thought I was “going against the grain” when I got my Proof stainless barrel just a few weeks ago.
This ought to put a bit of egg to the face of a couple people who were adamant I was making a bad decision.
THANKS CAL, YOU ROCK. I’ve been reading your blog for years now. I blast it out to anyone who wants globs of information on all things precision rifle related.
You bet, Cameron. Looks like PROOF’s steel barrels have become more popular among precision rifle competitors. I’m not sure what drove that, but they’re definitely not a dumb decision.
Glad you’ve found my content helpful. I appreciate the encouragement!
Thank you for all the write ups that you do. Lots of information. How about grooves for barrels? Thanks, Mark
I didn’t ask that question, Mark. But some of these barrel manufacturers don’t have multiple groove options. For example, Hawk Hill is all 4 groove. I bet PROOF’s are all the same too, although I’m not sure what that is. They don’t specify any of that on their website.
Hey, Mark. Josh Kunz, the gunsmith at Patriot Valley Arms emailed me these details after seeing your question:
Bartlein – All 5R cut rifled (The 5 in “5R” stands for 5 groove, and R indicates the profile of the rifling)
Hawk Hill – All 4 groove, no bias to rifling and cut rifled
Rock Creek – All 5R either cut or button type rifling (so 5 groove)
Kreiger – Unless specified custom they are 4 groove like Hawk Hill
Proof barrels are also 4 groove.
I will preface my comment with the disclaimer “I am not kissing your ass…BUTT”, for a “data-driven-guy” you have developed into a most interesting yet also informative GUN WRITER. I am a true ruffian like most of the rest of your following, but have to acknowledge the art you blended into this article. Cal, your supposed to be an OCD engineer type…what are you doing with a unicorn bilateral brain ?
What an extended joy in reading this lengthy dissertation. Once again I appreciate the expense both monetarily and time away from family you invested in “OUR” knowledge base. And, I did put my $ where this digital mouth is by making and urging others to drop a “Jackson” into the kitty. Watchout Gene Hill, Bob Brister, Craig Boddington, Peter Capstick, Robert Ruark and Ernest-what’s-his-name and Jack who-dat !
Ha! Thanks, CR. Honestly, I’ve got a lot of practice in writing over the past 12 months, in a different industry. So I’m glad to hear you noticed the improvement! I appreciate the kind words and support!
So many decisions are much easier, when you can just take a look here and see what’s going on in PRS world…
Your series are absolutely priceless, keep up the amazing job!!!
Thanks, Taras. This one was fun to write, because since I did that barrel test for Litz … I’ve become passionate about barrels. There is just so much left to learn about them. It might be the most critical part of the rifle, but we know so little about what makes a good barrel. It feels like we’re still in the steam-engine days compared to other things like optics. I really appreciate you taking the time to let me know it hit the spot! Honestly, I was concerned it was getting too long-winded, so thanks!
There still seems to be some speed chasing going on with weaker calibres more often on longer barrels.
Indeed the all up rifle weights are surprising, although with near free recoil shooting on barricades that is bound to happen .
I agree on both points. Well said.
Love your blog. Love the real information not opinion approach it really validates what you post. I do however want your opinion. I’m building sheep rifle and I’m hung up on what action to use. I’m using a proof research carbon fiber bbl. 6.5 caliber and I expect groups to be in the 0.2” s @ 100 yds. If they’re not I will start over. Any advice you could offer me would be very appreciated.
Thanks, Russ. I try really hard to keep my opinion out of the articles, but I feel like I can be more free with it in the comments … especially if someone asks for it directly.
I’ll start by saying that a sheep rifle that shoots in the 0.2’s is a tall order! You’re basically asking for something that is extremely lightweight with Benchrest accuracy, which I find are competing design characteristics. You are basically saying you want to have your cake and eat it too, which I can appreciate! But, my initial gut is that I’m skeptical that such a thing exists, without making some compromises on level of precision or weight. Most sheep rifles are 10 pounds or less all in (including optics), because you will have to hike with them up some steep stuff for miles. Sheep hunting is about the hardest thing you can do in the hunting world. That’s why they have TV shows like “Sheep Shape.” My cousin bought the governor’s tag in Alaska for a dall sheep last year, and it almost killed him! It’s extremely physically demanding. I’d ask if 0.2 MOA is really a requirement. My hunting rifle shoots 0.4-0.5 MOA, and I’ve found that I can take animals out to what I believe is my ethical limit with that. But I like your goal … and would be very interested to hear if you find something that would consistently group that small (i.e. 5 shot groups, 5 group aggregate that really performs in the 0.20″). Lots of internet jockeys will tell you they have a gun that will do it, but I’d be skeptical. It’s easy to claim, but hard to do.
As for my advice on direction, I’d consider one of the hunting actions from Defiance, or calling Gunwerks and asking if they had something that could do that. They are sheep hunters who are also obsessed with making the most accurate possible. In fact, I noticed one of their rifles was represented among this group of top shooters, so obviously they’re extremely capable. The other place I might suggest looking at is Quarter Minute Magnums. Glance through their endless list of customer testimonials and try not to be impressed! But I still don’t know if any of those rifles would be considered “sheep rifles,” in terms of weight.
Those are the things I’d look into. I’d be very interested to hear what you end up with! Like I said, I can appreciate your optimism and tall standards!
I know that’s a tall order. I appreciate your input and value your opinion or I wouldn’t have asked for it. Thanks again Russ
Cal, did you ask about cryogenic treatment of the barrels?
No sir, I didn’t. Sorry!
As usual just want to say thanks for the loads of data, analysis and insights via sensible and telling stats and great graphics. Your posts always brighten up my my day. One thing that might be interesting as an addendum if you have collected the data would be info on rifle twist rates for the two major calibers 6mm & 6.5mm. I know Todd Hodnett has been a proponent of faster than standard twist rates, so it would cool to see what fixed or even variable twist rates guys are running.
Thanks for all the hard work and information dump.
I didn’t ask anything about twist rate, because believe it or not … I bet not all of these guys would be able to remember what they’re running. They don’t tend to obsess over those details like some of us. They are all using heavy-for-caliber bullets, so I’d expect them to all be towards the faster side of what’s available.
Just wanted to thank you for another awesome informative post!
Keep up the great work!
Re. PROOF RESEARCH CF wrapped barrels:
Unlike all other makers of CF wrapped barrels PROOF RESEARCH wraps their barrels in a “Maypole ribbon” style with over-and-under criss-crossing strands of carbon fiber. This is THE most uniform way of wrapping a barrel. Indeed several decades ago Scandanavian ski pole manufacturer SWIX developed this technique to have the strongest ski poles.
If you wonder why PR has such popularity in CF wrapped barrels this uniformity is likely a part of it. As well their barrels, both CF core and “naked” steel, are top quality as shown in this survey.
I’ve XC raced with these SWIX CF poles in the ’80s and ’90s and compared to aluminum poles they are much stiffer and far lighter. In a 50 to 80 mile ski marathon this means a lot.
That’s interesting, Eric … but I’d point out that is your opinion. “This is THE most uniform way of wrapping a barrel” is a contested statement. Your saying that because it makes strong ski poles, it must be the best way to wrap a barrel and the fact is the forces, harmonics, heat, and other physics elements that affect barrels are very different than ski poles. There may be some crossover, but it’s not as simple as you might think.
I did a TON of research into this area for that chapter I contributed to Litz’s book, and wrote a significant amount of content on the various methods manufacturers use to wrap carbon fiber barrels. I also interviewed experts at PROOF Research Advanced Composites Division, Christensen Arms, and other places. They are all extremely smart people, who have made high-end composite products featured in F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, B2 Stealth Bomber, and other mission-critical parts for the military and other industries. That goes for both PROOF and Christensen. And I think the results of the testing I did definitely didn’t draw as clear of a conclusion as you presented about PROOF’s method of high-tension, filament-wound structure being obviously superior.
I appreciate you sharing your thoughts. You’re obviously a sharp guy, and I bet you’d enjoy reading about that barrel study. I’d suggest you check it out. I bet you’d find it very interesting, especially the part related to the carbon fiber barrels. I admit there were several surprises in there for me.
So with barrel life being such an issue why isn’t everyone having their barrels intruded???
I’ll be honest. I have no idea what you’re talking about. Can you enlighten us on what you mean?
Oops, spell check strikes again. Meant nitrided, melonite treatment of barrel.
Ah, great question. Honestly, I’m not sure. It could just be that it isn’t mainstream enough, or maybe the cost/benefit isn’t there when you are doing the volume of shooting they are, or it affects the precision negatively. Not sure. I haven’t had much experience with melonite barrels, although I’ve read some of the military tests that say it works. I just don’t know much about how it works in this context.
Someone else might chime in if they know.
Sorry I couldn’t be more help,
You have a very good way of getting all this info out there for us that’s nor boring, I cant get enough of it.
My ? is what is better for ELR , MOA or Mills ? One to two miles. All Ive ever known is MOA, afraid to switch . Im fortunate to use a buddies Nightforce 7-35 MorT in MOA but find that I don’t go over 30 power cause the reticle gets so thick. Would the Tremer 3 work for ELR. or the new Nightforces Mill XT reticle.
What happens when you go to dial up over 100 MOA with this type of reticle. Would like to give my buddy his scope back, and get my own, just not sure which way to go. Whats more accurate, MOA or MILLs for long range.
Keep up the good work,
Danny, thanks for the encouragement. It means a lot that it was informative, but engaging. I appreciate you sharing that specifically.
Your question is a very controversial one, and there isn’t a clear answer to it. But you’re recognizing the issues around it. I did write what I believe is the most objective comparison to the “Mil vs MOA” debate. I’d encourage you to go read through that.
I’ll say right from the top, there isn’t one that is better than the other. There are distinctions between them and pros/cons, but ultimately both are simply angular units of measure so it’s like saying, “What is better an inch or a CM?” They’re just something you can use to measure length. It’s not like one is clearly superior, but wow is there a lot of people who like to claim that.
There are some good ELR shooters using MOA scopes. Paul Phillips on the Applied Ballistics team is one of them. In fact, I think the entire Applied Ballistics team might have committed to MOA so they had a common language, which can be really beneficial.
Personally, I started MOA because I think it is more natural when you speak in yards and inches … but after a few years I switched over to mils for a few reasons.
As far as which reticle, I’ve owned a lot! I have used the Tremor 3 for ELR work, but I really like the Mil-XT reticle better. The Tremor3 has all kinds of features that I’d never use, like wind dots, marks for moving targets (at some specific distance and speed), and range estimation. I don’t ever use any of those things, so it’s just noise to me. The Mil-XT is a simpler version, but has all the features I need. In fact, I like the way it organizes the features that I actually use. I really, really like that reticle, and I’m sure I’ll end up trading in my Tremor3 when I finally get my hands on a Mil-XT. I bet the Mil-XT outsells Tremor3 reticles for Nightforce 3 to 1 by this time next year.
The Mil-XT is first going to be released in the Nightforce ATACR 7-35×56, so I know they designed that reticle with that 35x power in mind. The MOAR reticle was the reticle in my first scope, which was the Nightforce NXS 5.5-22. That was Nightforce’s bestseller at the time, so that MOAR was likely designed with 22x magnification in mind. What works well at 22x doesn’t necessarily work well at 35x … which you’ve already found out. But I bet the Mil-XT will be great in terms of the reticle thickness at 35x. You can look at the specific subtension measurements to compare the reticle width for sure.
As far as what happens when you dial over 100 MOA, I’m assuming you mean what happens you dial all your scope will allow and you still need more adjustment. There are a few things you could. First (and the simplest approach), that’s when having a gridded reticle like the Mil-XT or the Horus style reticles comes in handy. You can hold an additional amount. For example, let’s say you need to dial 36 mils, but you can only dial 30 mils (similar to 100 MOA) and then you run out of turret adjustment. Well, you can just hold the other 6 mils using the reference points on the reticle. Your new aiming point is the 6 mil mark below the crosshairs.
There are also several difference pieces of gear you can use. In fact, I recently did a post on all those that you should check out. It also talks more in-depth about this problem, especially when it comes to ELR: Extreme Long Range Tips 1: Optics & Mounts. The Charlie TARAC is an excellent solution, and I talk about that in the post.
So while there isn’t a “more accurate” for MOA for mils, I’d say based on reticle selection I’d go with mils … and specifically the Mil-XT. The Mil-C is also a very good choice, and is what I bought for a new rifle that will arrive any day now. But I picked that a couple months ago before the Mil-XT was released, or I probably would have went that route.
Hope that helps!
An outstanding article as were those on What The Pros use.
There was no mention of creating the rifling; button or hammer forging. Have I missed that in related articles? I am not a long range shooter though would were my situation different. Accuracy, however drives me. I’m using hammer forged barrels and am very pleased with them.
Peter, I didn’t focus on that, but each brand mostly just has one approach … so it’d be pretty easy to figure that out. Just at first glance, it seems like single-point, cut-rifled barrels are most popular among this crowd by a pretty wide margin. That doesn’t mean they’re the best or most accurate, though. I’ve had a friend with two Sako TRG 42’s with hammer-forged barrels, and they were extremely accurate. I took one of them on my African safari last year, and it worked beautifully. At the same time, button rifled barrels have set lots of records in the Benchrest world. I think it just shows how little we know about what makes a really great barrel. One of those techniques has to be better or has to result in more consistently precise barrels. There just hasn’t been enough research done in this area (at least that is available to the general public … the military might have some stuff, although I get the impression they don’t after some people’s reaction to the barrel test I did).
I hope the muzzle brake review is next. I need one. Cal, you’re the best.
Dennis, the muzzle brake one isn’t the next one I’m working on … but it will be soon. This barrel post took me longer than normal, because there was a lot of interesting stuff in there (at least to me). But hopefully I’ll be able to have a little quicker cadence on the next few. So stay tuned!
Cheers for the great article cal.
I Was wondering what you know in regards to AI barrels. Which blanks, contours they use etc?
Great question, Kurt. I’m not sure, but I know someone at Accuracy International who definitely would know and I’ve reached out to him. I’ve asked him to respond here with the answer, so stay tuned.
Hey Cal! I’d be really interested in another piece about shooting bags for the 2018 season. Or at least one more updated than 2015. If you have any anecdotal responses from what you saw, please let me know!
You bet, Grant! One is coming up very soon. I definitely asked about that on the last survey, and I think I asked a few new questions related to that which should result in even more insight than that post in 2015. I haven’t had a chance to look at the data much yet, but stay tuned!
Great reading. Thanks for putting it all together. One question though, where’s the .308 caliber info? It is after all the caliber of the future.
Ha! “Caliber of the future” … love it! I’m just publishing data for guys who finished well overall in the Open Division, and it’s probably no surprise there weren’t any guys running God’s cartridge (i.e. 308 Win). 😉
Sorry about the spelling earlier, spell check on my phone got me. I meant to question why everyone is not having their barrels nitrided, melonited, etc. since they go through them so fast.
Just curious as to why Hart barrels fell out of favor. I run a #6 contour on my 7mag hunting rifle which shoots under a .1 on a regular base. Extraordinary accurate long range rifle. I continue to enjoy and learn from your articles.
Hey, Jim. I’m not sure, honestly. It certainly doesn’t mean they don’t shoot. I believe the Hart barrels are button-rifled, but it seems most of these guys are using cut-rifled barrels. Of course “correlation doesn’t imply causation,” meaning it might not be why they are using those barrels … but simply a coincidence that the barrels they picked happened to primarily be cut-rifled barrels and it didn’t play into their decision. Lots of world-records have been set with button-rifled barrels.
Once again, it’s why I really wish more studies were done in this area. There is still so much to learn and objectively measure/compare when it comes to rifle barrels. I wish Dr. Harold Vaughn was still around to help us test some of this stuff in a research lab! Unfortunately, right now it seems like we have very little to make informed decisions with.
But, I’d say if you are getting 0.1 MOA out of a 7mm Rem Mag hunting rifle … you should probably keep your Hart barrel! 😉 Don’t try to fix happy!
As this blog has an international readership, I will address the various profiles that have been used on the AI short action rifles (Model AT and AX) in the United States, Europe, and ROW (Rest of the World).
The most common and widely supplied profile in both the U.S., Europe, and ROW is P/N AI-265XX. This barrel finishes at either 20″ or 24″ with the finished 24″ barrel in .308 caliber weighing 4.45 lbs. For comparison to the data in the above article, the weight of the blank would be just under 5 lbs. or slightly heavier than a Rem. Varmint/Sendero blank. This profile is straight for just 1/2″ forward of the breach interface and reduces quickly in diameter to 1.024″ and gradually tapering to ~.905″ at the muzzle. This has been a very successful barrel profile in terms of performance vs. mass. From late 2017, this profile is available in 6.5 CM in 24″ length on the Model AT.
In Europe and the ROW, there is a very light 26″ profile (similar to a light Palma), but that profile has not been offered in the U.S for many years.
In the US market in addition to the AI-265XX, AI has supplied the AI-1960 profile designed to weigh exactly 5 lbs finished @ 26″ in .308 chambering. The AI-1960 profile is very similar to the Medium Palma contour and has been the primary contour used by TEAM AI shooters. The performance of the AI-1960 barrel even in 300 WIN Mag is extremely high.
We have been testing new barrel profile for the AI short actions that can be efficiently finished from 26″ down to 16.5″. The blank in .308 bore weighs ~6.2 lbs or almost exactly the same as the M24 contour. The muzzle diameter is .975″, and the performance of this barrel has been exceptional without being excessively heavy. While the rifles used in PRS and NRL are predictably following a path to extreme specialization, AI is principally governed by the requirements of police and military end users and we must respect the balance of requirements for rifles used in the real world.
Accuracy International of North America, Inc.
Wow, Scott! Thanks for the great info, and for the careful explanation of all of it.
Cal, while building an Elk gun last year I created a spreadsheet that correctly calculates most of Bartlein’s barrel weights based upon the user’s desired finished length. Below are the weights for most contours finished to 26″. It does not take into account tenon or muzzle threading. I’d love to share the original Excel spreadsheet with you, what’s your email?
Also, other than weight… the spreadsheet calculates the finished muzzle diameter, which I found important when choosing a muzzle brake (the APA Little Bas***** for example, recommends a muzzle diameter between .75 and .90).
In your research, what did you find about these guys running really thick barrels and what brakes they were able to accommodate? I assume that post is coming soon, LOL.
1.25″ Barrel Blank – 8.27
Hvy. Varmint – 6.61
MTU – 6.43
HV Modified – 6.40
Hvy. Target – 6.15
Lt. Varmint – 6.09
M24 – 5.94
Hunter – 5.69
LV Modified – 5.64
Target – 5.53
Hvy. Palma – 5.06
Marksman – 4.80
Whitley Med. Palma – 4.62
Sendero – 4.47
Bull Sporter – 4.39
Med. Palma – 4.37
Lt. Palma – 4.18
Lt. Bull Sporter – 3.84
Hvy. Sporter – 3.65
That is AWESOME, Eric! Thanks for sharing. I just sent you an email, and I’d love if you’d share that spreadsheet with me. I tried to make something like that myself a couple different ways, including drawing this stuff up in a CAD program and measuring volumes … which took a lot of time, but I never got to a point where I had it all itemized like what you have here. That is very, very helpful, even if it is just estimates. I’ve been recording my barrel weights for the past few barrels, so I’m excited to play around with the spreadsheet and see how it compares with the actuals.
Thanks again for sharing!
Cal, thanks for another objective discussion of barrels!
I have noticed that it seems my heavy barreled 22”AR is less sensitive to my Magnometer hanging on my he end (-.25”) than my 25” Ruger PR (-1.25”) … both 6.5 Creedmoor. It also seems to have less sensitive accuracy load nodes than the RPR.
I’ll not be shooting competition at the high level but I do shoot steel for bragging rights with a local group out to 1100 yds.
I am thinking about replacing the barrel on my RPR with a heavier contour and 22” as I shoot it with a suppressor. Thanks your article and my questions suggests a couple questions:
1) is a heavier barrel less sensitive to loads and jump than say a stock PRR in the same caliber?
2) in the heavy contour barrel what does 2” length difference do to velocity and accuracy nodes?
3) is the RPR a candidate for heavier shorter rebatrel?
Keep up your excellent work!
Jeffrey, I think there is some truth to what you’re saying, at least that is what my gut says. I don’t know of objective studies that have been done to prove that, but it fits my experience. Your comments made me immediately think back to an article that Todd Hodnett, one of the most respected long-range shooting trainers in the world, wrote a few years ago (read it here). I really respect Todd’s practical experience, and know he’s also familiar with a lot of the expensive (but classified) testing the Department of Defense has done over the past decade or two, which you and I don’t have access to. Here is what he says about barrel length:
And yet another thing that came to mind was something I read that Bryan Litz wrote, another long-range shooting expert. It was in an article he wrote as an intro to Extreme Long Range shooting, which was mostly intended for monster guns (i.e. .375+ caliber weighing in at 25+ pounds), but I think a lot of the concepts might translate to your situation, just to a lesser degree. Here is what Bryan said:
While Bryan was talking about 30″+ barrels, it’s not like the effects stop at 30″ … they’re probably present to a lesser degree in 26″ barrels too, and I’d bet to a lesser degree in 20″ barrels all the way down. Now is it enough to matter? No idea. I just mention those things as anecdotal support for your theory, and not just anecdotal support from some random guy … from two of the smartest and most respected guys in the long range world.
To answer your questions directly:
1) That seems to fit my experience, and I’d personally agree with that theory. When we’re doing load development, we often say we’re looking for “accuracy nodes” … which many believe is related to the amount of time the bullet is in the barrel. I’ve heard it described as trying to make sure the bullet exits the muzzle at an optimal time related to the harmonics/vibration of the barrel, so that slight variations in velocity or barrel time have less pronounced effects on precision. Shorter barrels are stiffer, and therefore have reduced harmonics/vibrations. So if you have a barrel that has less harmonics/vibrations, then it should be easier to find a load that isn’t grossly affected by those. Some guys might say the “accuracy nodes are wider” or “easier to find” in that scenario.
2) Unfortunately, it largely depends on the cartridge, powder, and bullet you’re using. It can even vary from one barrel to another! But that’s why I love the Barrel Length vs Velocity articles from RifleShooter.com. He basically takes a really long barrel and cuts it off 1″ at a time and records the muzzle velocities along the way, so you can estimate how much going from X inches to Y inches will impact your muzzle velocity. Berger lists some general numbers in their reloading manual for what you can expect per inch, but I’ve found those to be such a gross over-simplification that I don’t rely on them at all. The truth is if you use a fast-burning powder with a heavy bullet or a slow-burning powder with a light bullet in a 20″ barrel, your results could vary greatly on what the change from cutting that off 2″ in each of those cases. Also if you start with a 30″ barrel and cut off 2″, it’s be very different than cutting off 2″ off a 22″ barrel. In fact, in some of the RifleShooter.com tests you can see muzzle velocity actually went down with the longest barrels, meaning the bullet was starting to slow down in the barrel. There is an optimal barrel length for each cartridge, but that depends on all kinds of factors related to internal ballistics and how pressures build when launching the bullet. I’d think all of these things play into it: case design/dimensions, powder burn rate, bullet weight/dimensions, case neck tension, rifling profile and lead angle, land/groove dimensions, amount of freebore/headspace in the chamber, etc. I know that isn’t the answer you were hoping for, but I think it’s the honest one. While you can guess at it, and I think guessing based on the RifleShooter.com tests is about the best you can do, ultimately you won’t know the impact it has on muzzle velocity for sure until you do it.
Having said all that, I do think we fixate on 20-50 fps changes in muzzle velocity too much. Does it really matter? Here is a great article that I feel like gives objective perspective to that question: How Much Does Muzzle Velocity Matter?
3) I’d bet so, but that is probably a question for a gunsmith. I’m not familiar enough with the receiver of the Ruger Precision Rifle to know for sure.
Any reason some barrels fell out of favor? Hart, brux or the other barrels near the bottom of the list? Is it just reputation, or some difference between manufacturers
Daniel, that’s a great question. Honestly, any answer to that would be making a lot of assumptions. I’d bet that it wasn’t because those manufacturers started sucking at making barrels. 😉 The fact is, none of those you named ever had more than a handful of shooters using them. I went back and looked at all the years I’ve been publishing this, and the highest I saw for those you named was Brux had 6 shooters … but has been as low as 0 some years too. Hart has been 2-3% some years, but 0% many years. So really neither of those have ever been very popular among this group of shooters. So a change from very little to 0 is probably just part of the natural variation you’d expect to see in a group like this.
Now I’m not saying they don’t make good barrels that could be competitive in this sport. I’ve heard that both are very popular in other shooting disciplines, or at least have been in the past. They’re just not as popular with this group, which could be due to a number of factors. But I’d be guessing if I tried to tell you what those were.
These articles are like crack! I need my next fix!!! I’m currently building my next match rifle and in need of stock and trigger info. Hope it comes out soon, and feel free to shoot me an email that gets me headed in the right direction. Thanks for all that you do!
Ha! Well, you’re in luck! Those are literally the next two articles I’ll publish. Already working on the one about stocks and chassis. My plan is to have them both out before SHOT Show (starts Jan 22nd), and hopefully over the next 10-12 days. So stay tuned!
I was surprised there were not more Brux barrels as well. Great article.
a little off topic…
you said you fired thousands of rounds, because you hate not having enough data.
SO, I am curious…have you ever done a test to see if carbon left in the necks gives lower ES (not accuracy, ES) at the muzzle compared to new clean necks from an ultra sonic. Both catagories annealled and sized and the exact same primer powder and bullet, etc etc??
I haven’t … but one of my OCD friends has. He’s the absolute best reloader I’ve ever met, and according to his data it does. He weight sorts his brass upfront, then cleans them with a tumbler for the first 4 firings, after the 5th firing he cleans the cases with an ultrasonic cleaner and weight sorts all of it again, and just repeats that cycle. He said weight sorting it with all that carbon still embedded in the brass (even after tumbling it) can throw off the weights slightly. He uses a pharmaceutical scale to do all this, which is very accurate. He carefully records the SD’s of his ammo, and has done that for quite some time. Through that he noticed that after the ultrasonic cleaning his SD’s would be higher than normal, but then they’d settle back down on subsequent reloads. His conclusion was the carbon embedded in the brass made the friction on the bullet more consistent than a super-clean neck like on brand new brass or after it’d be cleaned with an ultrasonic cleaner.
Now all that to say, I didn’t collect that data myself … but he is by far the most anal reloader I’ve ever met. I am honestly probably close to being clinically OCD, and he makes me look like a slob! I’ve seen his SD’s below 2 fps before, and one time he texted me a photo of a LabRadar that recorded an SD that was in the 0’s … which is just crazy!
But, how much does that really matter? I did a really objective look into that in this article, which can help keep this stuff in perspective: How Much Does SD Matter?
It’s one of those things we can fixate on a little too much. While it’s certainly satisfying to fire a 10 shot string and look over to see a tiny SD on the LabRadar, how much time should we spend chasing that? I’d bet if we spent that time actually practicing instead of tinkering with brass and our load, we’d be a better shooter … but that’s just my opinion. I will admit it does feel good to see a tiny SD, and gives you a lot of confidence!
To answer why some barrels are not used heavily by us. There is little to no support from those company’s. bartlien and proof have barrels on just about every pro level table and alot of local club matches. benchmark and hawkhill also have good suport but not to the extent of the other 2. We pride ourselves and owe it to the sponsors of our sport to give them our business and show them we appreciate there support.
Well said, Steve. I appreciate you chiming in. I almost hit on that in my response, so I’m glad you did.
can u recommend some ballistic and shooting books to us ? i wana buy some books to learn more about long range shooting and precision rifle shooting .
Absolutely. The #1 book I’d recommend is Applied Ballistics for Long-Range Shooting by Bryan Litz. It’s the definitive guide on this kind of stuff. I’ve read it multiple times and still find myself going to pull it off the shelf to reference more than any other book.
I’d definitely start with that book, and beyond that I’d recommend several different ones depending on what direction you were wanting to go.
Long Range Shooting Handbook: This does a pretty good job covering the basics in plain language.
Practical Shooter’s Guide: A How-To Approach For Unconventional Firing Positions and Training – I really enjoyed this one. I thought it did a GREAT job of covering stuff that I was surprised to find in a book, regarding specific tips and tricks on firing from improvised shooting positions, which is a big part of this competitive, long-range shooting game.
I’d start with those, and if you were still hungry let me know and I could recommend a list of others. I haven’t read all the books on long range shooting, but I’ve read a lot … maybe even most of them! While I actually don’t enjoy reading, I do love to learn, and I’m obviously pretty passionate about this stuff. 😉 Ready is often the best way to sit at the feet and learn from some of the leading minds in an area, so I’ve made a discipline out of it. Some are good and some aren’t as good, but that one from Litz is 5 star, and these others are good as well.
Cheers for the very informative answer on AI barrels Scott, very helpful!
I dont think i saw this touched on, but I’m curious about how many of these comp shooters are using barrel X , Y, or Z because they are sponsored by said barrel manufacturer? I don’t know how much relevance that has to the topic at hand, but i would bet it has some.
Using Moto GP as sort of show my point, way back in the day Honda was dominate with Rossi piloting said motorcycle and ran virtually undefeated for a long time, Rossi left Honda for Yamaha, and suddenly Yamaha was the dominate brand. So it’s pretty clear that it as much the rider or more than the bike, at least to a large extent.
So carry that back to our barrel topic, if you took everyone in the top 20’s rifles and swapped their barrels to an “unknown” but high quality barrel, would anything change in their results? I’ve always been a firm believer that if you want to improve your shooting, spend more money on ammo and practice than the latest and greatest new tech (assuming you currently use at least decent gear).
Ted, I’m not sure how many are sponsored by barrel manufacturers. Based on the info I’ve got from a few guys I know, it’s less than you think. It’s definitely a small percentage based on this large of a sample size (173 shooters), but I’m not sure the exact number.
Now the second question is even more interesting. I think if you took the top 20 and swapped barrel blanks, they’d all still land in the top 20 … or close to it. I think you’re exactly right … want to get better? Spend more time practicing, not obsessing over gear. Most these guys pretty much say the same thing when I asked them for their best piece of advice. I think barrel brand comes down to reducing the odds that you’d get a dud. They all make barrels that shoot and every now and then a barrel gets through that doesn’t (for a variety of reasons). The best manufacturers (like Bartlein) have less duds that make it to the consumer.
The comments of Todd Hodnet and Bryan Litz about barrel length that you mentioned above reminded me of something that I ran across a while back concerning barrel length. I purchased a newish 22BR – less than 20 rounds fired based solely on the fact that it was built by Shilen Rifles in the 90’s and was in perfect condition. My intent was to use this rifle for prairie dogs and rock chucks with no plan of shooting it competitively. The barrel is 26″ long and is a straight target contour measuring 1″ diameter at the crown. When I started load development I plugged in all of my data into Quickload and came up with Varget as the best powder for the bullet I had chosen. When I began my testing I quickly realized that I had a real shooter on my hands with multiple powder charge weights shooting in the zeros. The more I shot this rifle the more I wished that the barrel was shorter for handling purposes – I like shorter handier rifles – my PRS comp 6.5x47L has a 22″ bbl and handles like a dream. When I went back to Quickload to adjust data to match my actual velocities I decided to adjust barrel length to see what a shorter barrel would give me. I thought that 21-22″ barrel length would be about right but I quickly realized that according to the barrel timing graph the accuracy would fall off with a shorter barrel and this really got me to thinking. In the past when putting a rifle together I always started with cartridge first then bullet and then barrel length but what the 22BR was telling me was I should base my barrel length off of the harmonic variables first – burn rate etc. I then went back and re-evaluated my 6.5x47L load and found that the same load with a 26″ bbl according to the graph and barrel time would be a slightly better load. Now this load already shoots in the high ones so it would be a wash accuracy wise but a 100 fps more velocity would be nice. I also did the same with my 6.5CM load and it also showed that a longer barrel would have a more consistent barrel time.
Now the question is would this really show up if I had started at 26″ and then cut the barrel down watching accuracy only? Or would the shorter barrel still be more accurate because it is stiffer and would handle the deflection -barrel whip better? I don’t know and I may not be able to quantify any of this without shooting through some type of ransom rest to remove all human error. The ideal barrel length concept is very interesting.
My reason for all of this is this. I don’t think you could go wrong with any of the barrels mentioned and many that are not. I have many different barrels in different chamberings and I can honestly say that I could not definitively say which barrel is the best. I have some that clean easier but don’t necessarily shoot any better and other than that they are all great barrels.
One more example and I will go away. I have a factory stock Rem700 sporter in 7-08 that groups in the 3’s all day long with Berger 140 VLD’s. Now at 1000 yards the groups are a little looser than my custom barrels. Is this a case of barrel quality? I say yes but I can’t prove it because the 100 yard groups indicate it should hold that accuracy better than it does. There are so many variables to contend with when evaluating barrels its difficult to know where to start.
Thanks Cal for all of the work you put into these articles. It is appreciated.
Wow! That was fun to read. I kind of stretched my brain just then. Very interesting thoughts. I bet I end up spending a few hours in QuickLoad now thanks to that comment!
I appreciate you sharing, and totally agree with your last few thoughts. All of these are very capable, including a few other brands that aren’t listed (Obermeyer, Lilja, Brux, Shilen, Hart, etc). Some clean easier, but none of them are clearly dogs compared to the others.
Objective testing with barrels is so difficult. There are so many variables. It’s hard to keep them all fixed and only change one thing at a time. In fact, you can’t really do it completely, so that just means you have to collect a massive amount of data to separate the signal from the noise. Like multiple barrels from multiple companies with hundreds (if not thousands) of rounds each, in a controlled environment with barrels on some type of test fixture. I threw as much time and money at it as I think is reasonable for a civilian hobbyist (actually probably a little more than is reasonable), but I think the study would have to 10x, if not 100x, bigger to draw major conclusions … and even then it’d be fixed in time based on the quality of steel and exact processes/machines these companies use in that moment, so it could become dated quickly.
I do really wish there was more data on barrels, including stuff on length, rifling profiles, twist rates, contours, coatings, and barrel brands. It’s just a really hard problem to isolate and get solid data from. One day, I may throw a stupid amount of time and money at it … because I do think about it a lot. And you didn’t help! 😉
I do appreciate the thoughtful comments, and you sharing your ideas. Made my night!
Another great article, Cal. Thanks for all the work you put into this website. It’s a tremendous resource.
I’d be very curious to see what rifles and scopes are being used in the PRS Production class. It’s a much smaller December of PRS (I believe anyway), but have you ever considered doing a survey on that?
I have. I think there were only a few guys at the finale in the Production class, but I probably did get surveys from them. Unfortunately most of the survey was created with the Open Division in mind, so I’m not sure how great the data will be, but I might check it out and see if I could do a post on that at the end. I definitely like the idea.
How often do pro’s clean their barrels? Between every stage or once a day?
How often do you switch out your twin rifles when practicing to limit barrel damage?
Great question. I plan to actually do a post on how often these guys train, and clean their barrels toward the end of this series. So stay tuned for that.
When I’m practicing I basically run a mock stage with one rifle (usually 6-8 shots), then switch to the other one and repeat. So the barrels don’t get too hot. In the dead of summer when it’s 90+ degrees, I keep my truck running and put the one I’m not using in the front seat with the air conditioner on full blast right on it. I also use one of those chamber fans to circulate cool air down the barrel. The barrel is almost completely cooled down by the time I use it to run the next mock stage, because there is some time in transition (writing dope, loading mags, getting bags, etc.).
I always look forward to your articles and objective data.
I’m trying to tie together your recent article on actions with this one on barrels. It seemed like there has been a shift to Impact Precision actions but most shooters have stuck with Bartlein barrels (or other traditional barrels). Does this mean that most shooters are still going through their gunsmiths to mate actions and barrels?
After your article on actions, I did a little searching online. It seemed like the choices in barrels directly compatible with Impact Precision actions was still pretty limited in terms of manufactures and barrel profiles/ lengths. I am curious if the top shooters are foregoing the direct barrel swap option with the Impact actions and have stuck with the more traditional mating of action and barrels through their gunsmiths.
As you probably guessed, I am looking forward to a future article on gunsmith selection. thanks
Good question, Mike. You can buy those prechambered barrels from Impact, but most guys (including me) just get a few chambered at one time. You just go through them so fast (a couple a year), and when you get a batch done at once you know the chambers and therefore the brass should all be interchangeable, because they were made with the same reamer at the same time.
Stuteville Precision is typically my gunsmith, but I usually buy the exact barrels I want to run and send those to him. That’s probably just because I’m super-OCD, because he carries very similar stuff on the shelf and I’m not saving money doing it the way I am … just like picking the exact brand, contour, twist, instead of making compromises. In the grand scheme of things, I doubt having a 1:7 or 1:7.5 or 1:8 twist really matters. 😉 But I cant help myself from obsessing!
The cool thing is I still don’t have to send off my action. I can just send in the barrels, and they come back with the chambers cut and ready to roll on. So there isn’t a “traditional mating” that is different than what the impact actions do. They can just cut the chamber according to the blueprint of the action, and know that my action matches the blueprint … because they all do. No action-specific barrels on Impact actions, because the critical dimensions on parts and assembly are virtually identical on all of them. Cool thing!
And Stuteville isn’t the only guy who can do that. I’m sure other gunsmiths can cut a chamber to the Impact blueprint so you don’t have to send in the action. Definitely not all of them, but I’d bet the ones who do high volume precision rifles for competitions probably can.
And the gunsmith article isn’t too far away, so stay tuned!
Curious, as you’ve previously mentioned the “John Hancock” Rifle from Patriot Valley Arms, but I notice for all the new production class rifles being made and marketed, the PVA rifle mentions a Rock Creek barrel, while the Badrock and the Havek rifles don’t mention any barrel manufacturer, and the MPA offering lists X-Calibur as their barrel maker (a company that seems to hold a rather negative opinion online). Is this why you recommend the John Hancock?
I’m quite interested in entering production class, and I’ve narrowed it down to the Badrock South Fork and the PVA John Hancock. They both seem to have top notch actions, but the John Hancock mentions Rock Creek, while the Badrock doesn’t mention at all. Should I be that concerned? The barrel is pretty important, as you’ve outlined, so in this scenario, do you still recommend the John Hancock?
Hey, Jonathan. Great question. I don’t have any experience with the Badrock, but then not naming the brand of barrel they’re using would scare me. If it was a match-grade barrel, I’d expect they’d tell you what it was. When some manufactures try to reach a lower price point like that, you always have to wonder if they’re cutting corners and I agree the barrel isn’t the place to do it!
Yes, PVA uses good barrels … and a good action, trigger and chassis. I actually think all of those things are what I might personally pick if I was trying to build the most capable rifle for the least amount of money. And I don’t say that lightly. For me to agree with all of the parts and decisions on anything is a miracle! I think PVA is making this work because they have a close relationship with American Rifle Company and are buying a ton of those actions at what I suspect is a lower price than most people. Ted (ARC) and Josh (PVA) share a booth at SHOT Show, and I know they’re pretty close. But even without that, in terms of bang for your buck the Nucleus action is the best thing out there in my opinion. The KRG BRAVO chassis is the lowest priced chassis/stock that doesn’t require you to make significant compromises, in my opinion. It has everything you need for top-shelf, repeatable, reliable, precision without bedding, along with the must-have feature of adjustability, mag fed, extensibility for arca-Swiss rails and barricade stops, etc. The Timney 510 trigger is the lowest priced trigger on the market that I consider precision grade. He’s threading the muzzle, so it’s not like he’s trying to cut corners where he obviously shouldn’t. He isn’t Cerakoting the barrel, so he’s saving money where it doesn’t add to performance. Really he’s giving the big value through volume. By restricting caliber, and configuration choices, he’s able to buy in bulk, produce in large batches on CNC machines, and then pass on what seems to be an exceptional (and I might even suggest unrivaled) value in the market. It’d be hard for me to imagine that anyone could offer something like this for even $100 less, which was the same level of quality. They’d have to cut corners somewhere. PVA just seems to have really, really thought through the John Hancock product and it’s extremely competitive for the price. If I were a gunsmith and running a business, I’d want to bring a similar product to market … but I’m not sure there would be anything I’d change about it.
There is no mention of the 308 win cartridge used for the various barrels used … Would be enlightening to know the kind of Barrels being used for the 308 win cartridge and in which contour/barrel length/manafacturer
Jamal, I’m only posting info on what the top shooters used in the NRL and the Open Division of the PRS. None of them were using 308, because it’s not as competitive in long range shooting as these other cartridges. So unfortunately I don’t have anything to report.
I couldn’t agree more with every syllable you typed. I just can’t bring myself to go Controlled Round Feed on the Nucleus.
Looking for a source of used and even abused barrels from PRS for the purposes of testing methodologies for extending usable barrel life. If you can and would, please advise. Thanks.
Greg, I’d probably ask some of the larger gunsmiths if they had old barrels they’d taken off rifles. That might be the best source to get a bunch of them. Other than that, I’m not sure.
Once again Cal, Thank You for another fantastic reading. I’m just soaking all this up like a sponge in the desert.
Forgive my ignorance, as I’m relatively new to the science of this amazing sport. Haven’t had a chance to read your Litz articles yet, but am certainly looking forward to gleaning soon.
I’m curious if there are ties with trajectory stability as compared to bullet weight vs. barrel length? Assuming velocity has a direct effect on stability, does a heavier bullet tend to remain more stable to a greater distance from a longer barrel? Am I correct in assuming that reaching the target quicker would also increase accuracy at a slightly longer distance; and be more stable to reduce group sizing as well?
Again forgive my ignorance but I certainly appreciate your knowledge!
Jeff, those are pretty deep questions for a newbie! I think you might be further along than most. 😉 I’m not an Aeronautical Engineer, so I probably need to preface with that, but I know there are literally dozens of those that read my blog, so I’ll just invite them to correct me here in the comments if I’m off base.
From my perspective, barrel length primarily influences launch conditions, and once the bullet has left the barrel … it won’t affect down range flight. It seems like at least theoretically you could manipulate powder charge, burn rate, cartridge dimensions, twist rate, etc. to achieve the same launch conditions, from a shorter or longer barrel. I’m sure there are limits to that, for example if you launched a long, heavy bullet from a 10” barrel maybe you wouldn’t achieve good stability … but I’d bet it’s unlikely that there is any practical/measurable impact with traditional barrel lengths used for this kind of shooting.
You are correct in the fact that reaching the target quicker can reduce group size (ie precision) at the target. That is largely due to the fact that factors like wind have less time to act on the bullet. Many elements of external Ballistics are correlated or proportional to the time of flight. Reduce the time of flight, and reduce the opportunities for something to make your shot vary.
Great questions, Jeff. I can tell you that you’d love Litz’s books. They’re written with a guy like you in mind!