Warren Page was once asked why most of his barrels, including his beloved 7mm Mashburn Old Betsy, had short barrels.
“Because I gave up pole vaulting after high school,” Lefty snarled.
Like most highly experienced hunters, Page came to learn that a barrel even an RCH longer than the absolute minimum is a hiss and a byword — more weight to carry, more length to snag on brush, and less accurate than a short barrel.
Even the U.S. Army has cast its vote in the matter by going increasingly from the 20-inch-barreled M-16 to the 16-inch-barreled M-4, and I’m willing to bet that whatever replaces the two firearms will be a bullpup like the Steyr AUG, which is ultra-short.
In 1956, when Winchester introduced the Model 70 African in .458, it had a 25-inch barrel. This was the brainchild of engineers who had never been to Africa, or were insane, or both. It was very quickly chopped back to 24 inches, and is now available in 22 or 24. What you lose when you cut back a barrel is velocity–usually far less than you think. When I had my .338 RUM cut from 26 inches to 23.5, I lost something like 38 fps, and it no longer took five minutes to pull the rifle from a saddle scabbard. The other drawback to a short barrel is muzzle blast. A .30/06 with an 18-inch barrel, for example, is unbearable.
However, in these advanced times, if you hunt without in-the-ear hearing protection you’re a nitwit, and soon you’ll be a deaf nitwit. As a rule, I will not hunt with a rifle whose barrel is longer than 24 inches, and I much prefer 22. The only reason to have a longer barrel is in the case of highly specialized rifles like the .220 Swift where you’re not hauling the thing all over creation, and you want to get every last possible foot per second. You can ignore this if you wish, but my advice is to find a gunsmith with a hacksaw, because you’ll eventually want his services.