February 26, 2007
Roll Out the Barrel
By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily
Anything interesting going on? No? Anyway, one of the questions I get pretty often is on barrel life. The only thing I can tell you for certain is that no two people agree on how many rounds you can put through one before it’s worn out. But before we get to actual numbers, here are some factors to consider:
Very few barrels are actually worn out. Most die hideous, unnatural deaths from cleaning-rod misuse and neglect.
The hotter your barrel is when you shoot, the quicker it goes. For this reason, the barrels on prairie-dog rifles usually go quickly.
If you handload, the higher the pressures your loads generate, the hotter the flame that goes up the barrel, and the quicker you visit the gunsmith.
Stainless-steel barrels probably last 20 percent longer than chrome-moly.
There are two kinds of accuracy. First is absolute accuracy. That is the very best your rifle will do when it’s new, before it starts to deteriorate. This is of concern to target shooters, benchresters, and varmint hunters who need the smallest groups they can get. The second type is useful accuracy. A big-game rifle barrel that grouped an inch when it was new and will now do 1 1/2 inch is still perfectly useful.
So, with all that said, here are some estimates on how long a barrel will last:
I gave up worrying about barrel life years ago. Shoot the thing and enjoy it. There are so many people making wonderful barrels that when you do need a new one, it will likely be better than the original.