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Thread: How does the length of barrel affect accuracy?

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    Default How does the length of barrel affect accuracy?

    Years ago I was an assistant guide, and I chopped down the barrel on two of my hunting rifles (a 375 H&H model 70, and a Browning A-bolt medallion) for the purpose of reducing the weight of the rifle, and for making the guns easier to carry through the thick brush etc. Anyhow, my question is to any of you firearm experts out there. How does this affect the accuracy of a rifle, and is there anything I can do to fix it now? I hope this isn't a dumb question, just curious if I need to cut my losses and buy a new hunting rifle or if there are any remedies to this situation.

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    Moderator hunt_ak's Avatar
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    According to the high power shooters, longer barrels are generally less accurate due to harmonics in the linger tubes. The only thing length gives you is speed...

    Did you see a drastic drop in your accuracy?

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    Supporting Member Amigo Will's Avatar
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    Good short barrels can be very accurate indeed.Your rifle should be at least as accurate as they were before cutting if muzzle was cut square
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bushwhack Jack View Post
    ...How does this affect the accuracy of a rifle, and is there anything I can do to fix it now?
    So long as a rifle barrel is properly crowned and installed the length will have little to do with its accuracy within reasonable parameters (say 16-32 inches). There has a been a shift to shorter barrels on BR rifles. This shift may be due to a host of factors i.e. barrel stiffness, less barrel time, etc. As for hunting rifles I prefer barrels to be 20 inches or longer as the muzzle blast can get painful with shorter tubes, otherwise I see little disadvantage to short barrels on hunting rifles.

    As to "fixing" your barrel, shortening a rifle barrel is a permanent decision. The only options are to leave as is, cut it shorter or replace it. Personally, I'd probably just shoot it as is.
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    Member hodgeman's Avatar
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    Generally speaking a shorter barrel is at least equivalent to and frequently more accurate than longer barrels for all of the reasons others have stated. Some of the bolt action pistols for instance have accuracy potential that is out of this world. If accuracy isn't satisfactory I'd have a gunsmith check out the crown first (frequently buggered up by gunsmiths chopping barrels) and perhaps try some different loads to see if your rifle favorite load might have changed.

    How bad did the accuracy change?

  6. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by hunt_ak View Post
    According to the high power shooters, longer barrels are generally less accurate due to harmonics in the linger tubes. The only thing length gives you is speed...

    Did you see a drastic drop in your accuracy?
    Not necessarily. I don't recall what kind of groups I was getting before I cut them down. Like I said, it was a long time ago. I haven't guided a hunt since 02. As for length, I would say that the barrel lengths on both guns are somewhere in the neighborhood of 19-20 inches (measuring from the start of the actual barrel where the barrel meets the receiver). I appreciate your input. If nothing else, it gives me piece of mind. I just want to make sure I am doing my best (ethically speaking) to insure I make a good shot on an animal.

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    Quote Originally Posted by hodgeman View Post
    Generally speaking a shorter barrel is at least equivalent to and frequently more accurate than longer barrels for all of the reasons others have stated. Some of the bolt action pistols for instance have accuracy potential that is out of this world. If accuracy isn't satisfactory I'd have a gunsmith check out the crown first (frequently buggered up by gunsmiths chopping barrels) and perhaps try some different loads to see if your rifle favorite load might have changed.

    How bad did the accuracy change?
    Both barrels were crowned.

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    Member Float Pilot's Avatar
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    The harmonics of a barrel are in a wave pattern during firing. Most companies figure the average load for a given cartridge and work from there.

    If you sudden have crappy accuracy, after a barrel cut-down, it may be a couple things.

    1. Most likely a bad barrel crown.
    2. It was cut in the wrong spot for the harmonics produced by the particular ammo you are using.

    After checking the crown, try different brands of ammo or try various hand-loads.

    Some cartridges were designed for longer barrels or just happen to like them. I think it is because the, rounds like the 6.5x55 Swede for instance, like to accelerator gradually down the barrel. Their rifle twist rates and their cartridge development revolved around longer barels shooting fairly heavy-for-caliber bullets.

    Years ago (1973) I built a 7x57 Mauser with a 20 inch #5 Douglas barrel as a target/ hunting rifle. Short barrels were in style that year.
    It shoots half inch groups with certain hand-loads, but only after I glass bedded the entire barrel channel.

    A couple years later when I went to college, I made the mistake of trimming a 26 inch 25-06 for my girlfriend down to 18 or 20 inches.
    That 25-06 was built on a Remington 1903-A3 action and with the 26 inch Whitehead barrel it would shoot quarter inch groups.
    After the barrel bob, it was super loud and only shot 1.5 inch groups no matter what I did.
    I sold it off to my younger brother, who eventually got it to shoot 1.0 inch groups with cutting a 1/2 inch the muzzle and he has owned it ever since.

    With a classic cartridge like a 375 H&H you only loose 20-25 feet per second per inch of barrel cut off. At least between 18 to 26 inches that is the velocity drop rate.
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    Member hodgeman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bushwhack Jack View Post
    Both barrels were crowned.
    I assumed that they were crowned after chopping but it is something that a lot of gunsmiths do so poorly it would pay to check it out.

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    Quote Originally Posted by hodgeman View Post
    I assumed that they were crowned after chopping but it is something that a lot of gunsmiths do so poorly it would pay to check it out.
    that's precisely what I assumed too.
    That would be the cheapest alternative.
    After that, a carbine-length barrel bought new from somebody like pac-nor or kreiger would probably be the next cheapest step as opposed to buying an entirely knew rifle.

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    Short barrels may look kool, and be the current fad, but they can be problematic

    You will likely SHOOT the shorter barrel LESS accurately, due to the lighter weight, and louder Muzzle Blast. Keep in mind that you will be shooting from field positions, when you hunt.

    If the barrel is less than 20 or 22 inches, I would replace it.

    It depends somewhat on the cartridge. One with a large case for the bore size, may lose enough velocity to matter. And, have enough muzzle blast to be VERY unpleasant. Some rifle cartridges need 24 or 26 inch barrels. I prefer 26 inches for my 7 Mag.

    The perception that shorter barrels are so much handier in the brush, is overdone IMO. I don't find that my rifle that had the 20 inch barrel for so many years, was any handier than with the 26 inch barrel it has now.

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    I've always grown up with shorter barrels for tight woods hunting but now use a 27" barrel on my rifle, my wife uses a ~22", and both are exedingly accurate. My limited understanding of ballistics is that the trick to absolute accuracy (concerning the barrel) is to have the bullet leave the barrel at the exact same point in the fluctuation every shot, preferably at the peak or trough of the barrels "wave".
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    I side with Smitty, I like longer barrels for balance and the added weight can help steady the shooter for a longer shot, works for me anyways if its offhand. If your using open sights the longer sighting plane can have a big benefit in the shooters accuracy as well, if a scope is added it pretty much negates that advantage.
    Other than the feel I think 1cor covered it well - no matter what the length it may take some trial and error to find the optimum load for any given gun...
    I think the type of game and shots you may expect will determine the usefulness of dif barrel lengths....IMO
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    Member BrettAKSCI's Avatar
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    I don't think it should affect accuracy. Propper crowning, propper rate of twist for bullet used, heavier barrels, fluting, a free floating barrel, a bedded action all help to make an accurate rifle. If the rifle shoots poorly and you can't find factory or hand loaded ammo that will shoot well you could always have it rebarrelled. It will affect accuracy from minimal affect to serious affect depending on cartridge/powder and length of barrel subtracted.

    Brett

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    Quote Originally Posted by Smitty of the North View Post
    Short barrels may look kool, and be the current fad, but they can be problematic

    You will likely SHOOT the shorter barrel LESS accurately, due to the lighter weight, and louder Muzzle Blast. Keep in mind that you will be shooting from field positions, when you hunt.

    If the barrel is less than 20 or 22 inches, I would replace it.

    It depends somewhat on the cartridge. One with a large case for the bore size, may lose enough velocity to matter. And, have enough muzzle blast to be VERY unpleasant. Some rifle cartridges need 24 or 26 inch barrels. I prefer 26 inches for my 7 Mag.

    The perception that shorter barrels are so much handier in the brush, is overdone IMO. I don't find that my rifle that had the 20 inch barrel for so many years, was any handier than with the 26 inch barrel it has now.

    Smitty of the North
    Smitty will you hate my guts iffen I disagree with you a tad bit here?

    The one thing I can't stand is a muzzle heavy rifle. I want my rifle to balance with the fulcrum being the front tang screw. I've killed scads of coyotes that were running full out when they took the bullet and for me there is a remarkable difference in swing shooting a running critter with a quick to point and non barrel heavy rifle.

    As for the muzzle blast......I do say what alot!

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    Quote Originally Posted by elmerkeithclone View Post
    The one thing I can't stand is a muzzle heavy rifle.
    That has less to do with barrel length and more to do with someone doing a propper job building the gun. If you want to talk about the ultimate fast handling rifle talk about double rifles. Most doubles today have 23-26" barrels. Classic doubles frequently had 24-28" barrels as did some of the bolt actions from the same makers. They are the picture of balance even with their long barrels. I totally agree though that propper balance and fit are key to shooting moving animals and the balance point should be between the hands.

    Brett

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    Member tyrex13's Avatar
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    Harmonics and ergonomic factors aside, barrel length does not determine accuracy. It does have a big effect on velocity however. A bullet traveling at a higher velocity will be less affected by the wind and have a different drop curve.

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    Quote Originally Posted by elmerkeithclone View Post
    Smitty will you hate my guts iffen I disagree with you a tad bit here?

    The one thing I can't stand is a muzzle heavy rifle. I want my rifle to balance with the fulcrum being the front tang screw. I've killed scads of coyotes that were running full out when they took the bullet and for me there is a remarkable difference in swing shooting a running critter with a quick to point and non barrel heavy rifle.

    As for the muzzle blast......I do say what alot!
    I've never noticed any muzzle heaviness, with the two 26 inch barrel rifles I have, but you might. I think a little muzzle weight, may be what makes them easier to hold steady.

    I've not much experience with running shots.

    As for muzzle blast, it can depend somewhat on the cartidge.

    A 30-30 with a 16.5 inch barrel is notta huge problem for me. But a 6mm Rem with an 18.5 inch barrel. (Rem. 600) was so unbearable I got rid of it. I wish I'd had it in 35 Rem.

    My 280 Rem. with a 20 inch, was practical, if not pleasant, as far as Muzzle Blast, but I lost Boo-Coo velocity. Back in those days, I didn't have a chrono, and I used mild loads. Now, I have a chrono, the gun has a 26'' barrel, and I can load hotter.

    The Problem I have with very short barrels is, that the sound is so shrill, or sharp, and the sound is closer to my earballs, which brings up another thing worth mentioning.

    A Single Shot can have about 4 inches more barrel length than a Bolt Action, for the same rifle length. That's good for velocity, but it could be bad for the ears.

    My ears could be more sensitive than yours. Back when I got interested in guns and shooting them, hardly anyone used ear protection. Most everyone smoked, and we got used to putting cigarette filters in our ears.

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    Accuracy should not really be affected if cut/crowned properly. Just a little less MV, as others have said. In fact my 1895 Guide that I had cut from 18.5 to 16 and just legal is more accurate now, especially shooting off-hand. Because it is to me, better balanced and I can shoot it better.
    What will really affect accuracy is the combination of bullet type/weight, barrel length and barrel twist rate. In that if you cut the barrel to such an extent that it cannot force required spin on the bullet in that length then you will lose accuracy. This is more pronounced with light (223 etc) bullets as if not fully stabilised through spinning then a small breeze can have a huge effect.
    It is a question of matching your barrel length with twist rate and type/weight of bullet.
    Too much to detail in a short reply, so you need to reserach (google-fu is your friend) your calibers and recommended twist rate, barrel length and bullets in order to achieve best accuracy.
    Personally I find a barrel over 20" a PITA in AK woods and prefer 16" carbine length. If I get an opportunity to make a shot over 75yds I will be suprised.

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    Quote Originally Posted by hunt_ak View Post
    According to the high power shooters, longer barrels are generally less accurate due to harmonics in the linger tubes. The only thing length gives you is speed...

    Did you see a drastic drop in your accuracy?
    Yup yup yup
    longer faster = flatter
    shorter stiffer = less velocity, but lower vibration amplitude ...
    nothing is free.

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