Is There Something Wrong with Your New Rifle?

A surprising number of rifles leave the factory with problems—and it’s often up to you to make them right

nosler model 48 liberty rifle
The author points to Nosler as a company that quickly fixes any glitches with their guns.Nosler

I have calculated that the percentage of test guns I’ve shot that had something wrong with them is roughly 40 percent. This includes minor stuff, such as scope-base screws that were left untightened, and major problems, such as missing firing pins, or extractors that didn’t extract, actions that didn’t feed, and one rifle that hung fire and scared me out of 10 years’ growth.

A firearm is an extremely simple machine. It seems logical that something with so few parts would emerge from the factory with everything working, so I questioned my own estimate, and wrote the following to a colleague who also evaluates guns:

“Going back over the past 20 years, what percentage of the test rifles you’ve shot have had something wrong with them? This is regardless of price, or whether it’s factory or custom. In my case it’s probably 40 percent.”

He answered:

“I haven’t kept track, but I suspect 40 percent is about right. Every single rifle that had the scope already mounted was either not sighted in at all, or could not be sighted in for various reasons, or, a couple of times, the rings had not been tightened.

“I’ve reached the stage where if a rifle is shipped to me supposedly ready to shoot, I immediately assume there is something wrong with it.

“I’m especially leery in those situations where a rifle intended for a hunt is late, and then shipped directly to wherever you will be hunting, supposedly all ready to go. It never is. Never.”

Part of this is caused by humans, who are involved in firearms production and assembly, and who lose their concentration. Let’s say that you work at Thunderf**ker Arms and you’re about to tighten the rings on a scope but instead you start thinking with a terrible intensity about Ms. Jennifer Lawrence. When the world swims back into focus, the rings have not been tightened, but the gun goes out the door anyway.

Another factor is a certain arrogance among some manufacturers. We made it, therefore it is perfect. This is a nice excuse for not function- testing what you make, which takes time and money. As far as I know, the only tests rifles get are proof-firing, and some now have a three-shot group fired for accuracy, and those three shots are not fed through the magazine.

You can learn a great deal about a company from the way it handles complaints. A couple of years back, Cooper Arms sent me a .280 to try out, and a lovely rifle it was. But it had a weak firing-pin spring. I sent it back to get it fixed and not only never got the gun back, but never heard another word from Cooper. Night and fog, Nacht und Nebel, as the Germans say, descended over the .280.

On the other hand, I’ve had minor glitches with very-early-production guns from Montana Rifles and Nosler. The glitch was not only fixed, but the rifle was returned so fast I was scarcely aware I’d shipped it.

Ultimately, you have to perform your own quality control. And along with this you must know what's above your pay grade, gun-repair-wise. I've learned painfully, and at great expense, that there's a point at which you turn the firearm over to a pro. Last year, I needed to adjust the rear sight on a SIG-Sauer 1911, which was fitted so tightly in its dovetail groove that all hell would not budge it, nor would a Brownell's sight mover. So I took the pistol to Gus Norcross at Angus Arms in Wiscasset, ME who specializes in 1911s and military rifles. Gus is not only a highly accomplished gunsmith, but has a Husky that wanders into the shop and yodels for extended periods of time. Gus showed the rear sight what was what in a matter of minutes.

Much of the time, you’re best off going to a gunsmith in the first place. If you have a diseased trigger, have a gunsmith remove it and install a real one. Factory triggers are often unfixable, and the factories don’t care. If your rough barrel requires you do bring a sandwich to the cleaning bench because you’re going to be there a while, off to the gunsmith you go.

If this offends you because you’ve already paid for the rifle, permit me to express my complete lack of sympathy. If you’re looking for a hobby that makes perfect financial sense, try chess, or cultivate bonsai trees. Do you want a rifle that works perfectly, and makes you happy, or not? Judging by my experience, you have a 60 percent chance of getting it on the first try. If it’s one of the blemished 40 percent, the rest is up to you.