December 18, 2007
The Great Barrel Break-In Fad
By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily
Rifle shooting, like anything else, suffers through fads. There was the moly-coated bullet fad, which left thousands of barrels permanently bemucked with unremovable dark ugh. Then there was the cryogenics fad, in which folks would freeze your barrel for a fee, resulting in an accuracy increase of .00012 percent. And still with us is the great barrel break-in fad.
If you are not familiar with it, the GBBF states that all new barrels must be broken in according to a formula which will smooth the barrel. This consists of firing a single shot, cleaning the bore, firing another shot, cleaning, and so on until you've done it five times. Then you fire five shots and clean, then ten and clean. Under some formulas I've seen, you keep this up for 100 shots.
If this is done, sayeth the GBBF, your bore will be as smooth as glass. It will never foul and your barrel will shoot better than anything Harry Pope ever dreamed of. If you do not follow this procedure, your bore will collect more copper than there is in all the mines of Zambia, your accuracy will be nil, and your kids will develop yaws.
Now let's return to the real world. If a barrel maker wants to turn out a really smooth bore, he will cast a lead slug on the end of a steel rod, charge it with polishing compound, and run it back and forward through the bore a thousand times or so, occasionally casting a new slug when the old one wears down. The back and forth is done by hand, because knowing when to stop depends on "feel." It is a lot of work.
How the shoot-and-clean process duplicates this escapes me. And rough barrels shoot just fine anyway. I've seen cut-rifled bores, broached bores, and hammer-forged bores that looked like the battlefield at the Somme and still shot spectacularly.