The Rough-Barrel Mystery

Here are a couple of mysteries for you to ponder in your spare time: Mystery Number One—why does Hillary Rodham Clinton seem incapable of giving a straight answer to any question, no matter how innocuous? Listen to her sometime, if you can stand that grating voice. She, and the simple declarative sentence, seem to be on a wartime footing.

“Mrs. Clinton, is the sun shining today?”

“Well, as you know, when I was Secretary of State, we were often faced with difficult decisions, trying to balance the policy of the administration with the limitations placed on us by rapidly-changing situations…”

Mystery Number Two—why is it that some extremely rough barrels shoot not only well, but spectacularly well? The barrel is supposed to be about 90 percent of the accuracy equation, and one of the hallmarks of any good barrel is supposed to be lands and grooves unmarked by annular rings, machining marks, scratches, pits, dings, or turbicles. Indeed, all the custom barrels from top-tier makers have a glassy perfection that comes from maniacal attention to detail.

However. Right now, I’m shooting a button-rifled factory barrel that has the interior texture of a mill bastard file. Twenty rounds and you could pull out copper by the handful if you could fit your hand inside. But it shows every sign of being an extremely accurate tube. The Ruger Precision Rifle barrel that I just finished with was not quite as bad, but it collected copper like a backstop sifter, and it shot just over a half-minute of angle, which is pretty damned good.

These are not the only two such barrels I’ve seen that are like this. It’s a very common phenomenon.

Just to complicate matters further, other forms of crudity don’t seem to affect group size. Warren Page once told me that the most accurate .30/06 he ever shot was a Husqvarna with a crooked barrel. The thing was bent; you could look down the bore and see the telltale shadow.

Some of the two-groove .30/06 barrels that the Springfield Armory produced in World War II when production speed was Job One shot very nicely, despite the fact that barrels need four, or five, or six grooves in order to be accurate. Same for machine-gun barrels, which were turned out in an extremity of haste. Gunsmiths used to buy them cheap, turn them down into sporter barrels, and no one was any the wiser, because they shot just fine.
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