April 25, 2007
A Bad Rifle Is (Almost) Always a Bad Rifle
By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily
Two colleagues and I just completed our testing of five rifles for Best of the Best, and once more, a great truth was confirmed: A good rifle shoots well immediately. A bad rifle will gross you out right away. Ugly ducklings do not turn into swans, or vice-versa. Two of the rifles we tested had excellent pedigrees. One was a .22 LR; the other a .223. The three of us shot them with all sorts of ammo, and the ghastly results left us muttering to ourselves. They should have done well, but they didn’t. And they were not going to do well.
The other half of this topic is: How much testing do you have to do? Kenny Jarrett, in working up a load for one of his rifles, looks for three good groups in a row. I think that’s adequate, but it’s also the minimum. I like four or five. On the other hand, if you go beyond five, you are either compulsive or you have a lot of money to spend on bullets.
Once in a great while I’ve had a rifle that should have shot well but didn’t, but because I had a lot of money in the thing I was willing to test it at great length. One such gun was a gorgeous .270 made by Joe Balickie. I shot it until my trigger finger blistered, and was about to send it back for another barrel when I found that it liked H205 powder (now discontinued). If I fed it H205 it would burp and fart and shoot wonderful groups.
Another gun that I shot to the point of exhaustion was a custom left-hand-Mauser-action .338. I shot every 250-grain Nosler Partition that Bob Nosler made that year, and it wouldn’t shoot. I had a new barrel put on, and it still wouldn’t shoot. When you do that and nothing good happens, it’s time to say good-bye, so down the road it went.
But these are the rare exceptions. Ninety-nine percent of the time you get the good news or the bad news on the first trip to the range.