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August 24, 2006

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Hot Barrels and Bad Shooting

Every time you pull the trigger, you send a 5,000-degree flame streaking up your barrel. It lasts only a millisecond or so, but it melts your barrel a little bit each time you shoot. And it can seriously affect your rifle’s accuracy and its point of impact.

Barrels that are button-rifled or hammer-forged (which is just about all barrels nowadays) have stresses introduced by these processes. After all, if you had a carbide die pulled through your throat under tons of pressure, or were beaten into an entirely different shape by hydraulic hammers, you’d be fairly stressed, too. In theory, barrels are stress-relieved after they’re rifled to eliminate these evil forces, but in reality, a lot of barrels still quiver with latent tension.

And when they’re heated by repeated firing, the stresses are liberated, and the barrels shoot all over the place. Not only that, but the shooter finds himself looking through a shimmering wall of heat waves, which makes the mark he’s shooting at appear higher than it actually is.

Some rifles can shoot hot with no changes, but many can’t, so you  can’t let them overheat. The question is, how hot is too hot? I’ve come to believe that if you have a barrel that is subject to the heat demons, anything hotter than lukewarm is too much. If you can’t hold onto the barrel for the time it takes to say “Stay the course” 100 times, things have already gone too far.

Here are three things that may help your barrel cool faster:

  • Get the rifle out of the sun. You wouldn’t think this helps, but it does.
  • Stand it on its butt with the muzzle pointed up. This creates a smokestack effect and helps heat escape the barrel.
  • If you can, turn a fan on it, or better yet, an air conditioner.

It’s also helpful if you bring two or three rifles to the range. That way, you can shoot one and have one cooling in rotation.


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Charles  Benoit

Would it help to clean the barrel with a solvent such as Hoppes and then run a clean cloth patch down the barrel to make sure it is completely dry after every 3rd or 4th round?

My Ruger PC4 carbine 40 caliber heats up really fast, and I was wondering if cleaning it between firing sets would be any good? David, your opinion please.



Just another couple thoughts to add to Daves thoughts here. All metal expands when heated, so this in theory, expands the barrel and the rifleing isn't as true on the 4th or 20th shot as the first. Considering most of us are sighting in our rifles for hunting and typically only use or at most 2 shots at say, our deer or elk, it makes little sense to fire 5 or 10 repetitive shots whilst sighting in our hunting rifles. at least without letting the barrel to cool down properly.

One more thought to Daves good advice to cooling barrels (All of which i do and have done for years)make SURE the action is open. Seems too basic to even mention, but alas the fools i have met on the range that do NOT follow that basic saftey course are too many to mention. Not to mention helping the "smoke stack effect" of drawing in cool clean air.

mike shickele

Over the years I've used and expanded on the system that my father used to keep barrels cool at the range. I only fire a three shot group; that's all that I carry in the rifle while I'm hunting (always), so it will tell me where all three of those shots will go.
I let the gun cool in between groups; shooting one of my 22LRs in while I wait.
I stand the gun up, butt down, with the bolt open, in the shade.
When I shoot with one of my centerfires, I dryfire at least a few times in between shots. not only does this allow some cooling to occur, but it enables me to catch a flinch, or bad shooting technique as well.
I tend to think that overheating a barrel will decrease the life by as much as 50%, if not more.

Ralph the Rifleman

When I handloaded a few years ago, I would regularly shoot 10 to 20 round sessions and have no effect on accuracy(7mm Rem Mag), and when the barrel did heat up it would "walk" the bullets on the target. While this happened, I don't believe it had any long lasting effect on the barrel at least for hunting purposes since most of us agree that game hunting normally comes down to 1 or 2 rounds normally fired from a cold barrel.
I also refer to military vintage rifles that will have an enormous amount firing sessions, if not questionable types of ammo fired thru them over the years, and they keep on shooting at very acceptable hunting accuracy requirements. I recall our qualification in the service was a 100 round course, fired rain or shine-winter or summer, and those rifles performed as expected.


This reminds me of an article about a very high-end varmint rifle that was water-cooled, like a Maxim machine gun, but much more high tech. It had strain gauges permanently applied to the barrel in strategic points, and a regulator that would pump the right amount of water into a sleeve around the barrel. The idea was to mitigate any temperature increase due to rapid prairie dog shooting. As I recall it also had a racy paint job. Heck, it might have even had electronic ignition...


I was told a sporting rifle barrel is too hot if a person can’t keep their bare hand wrapped around the thing. I also know a hot barrel will not show accuracy and walk its shots around in a circle.

I was been told military rifle barrels are made of completely different metal than sporting barrels. Not many sporting rifles are required to shoot down charging platoons of deer.

GeeWhiz information—I was told case-less ammo would be possible if the heat problem could be addressed.



i'm from
china.glad to see you here .
good essays

JA Demko

"i'm from
china.glad to see you here .
good essays"

Hey Nancy. Hope life treats you well.

Dave Petzal

Where in China, and how on earth do you happen to be reading this blog?

Ralph the Rifleman

Dave P..Question for you, if you please. I found a used Kimber(sorry don't remember the model#?)in.338 Win Mag that looked to have a rather light barrel on it, is this common for Kimber rifles? Besides recoil, is there any other set backs to in having a lite barrel/rifle combo in this caliber? Quality was grade A on this rifle as you may expect from a Kimber.

Dave Petzal

To Ralph the Rifleman: I assume it's a new Kimber, and not a Kimber of Oregon gun. That said, I'm not a fan of light barrels generally, and particularly on hard kickers like the .338. Kimber, like many companies, uses light barrels to save weight, but I'd rather have a few pounds. I think the ideal weight for a .338 is about 9 1/2 pounds with scope, and I'm certain the Kimber won't come close.

Dave Petzal

To Ralph the R: I didn't answer your question. No, recoil is the only drawback. A light-barreled .338 can shoot quite accurately. The trick is getting it do to so when you know it will knock the stuffings out of you.

Dave Petzal

To Charles Benoit: Cleaning between rounds doesn't help with the heat issue. I've shot rifles with filthy bores that grouped just fine, but if you heated them up they went to hell. Years ago, I took a very accurate .223 that had been on a prairie dog hunt and was uncleaned after something like 250 rounds, and shot it for group size. It did just as well as it did when clean. Who knows?

darren in deposit ny

I am new to this blog stuff, but this is just great! I've always loved Mr. Petzal's material anyway!!

mike shickele

Hello those from China, please let us North American slobs Know what is coming down the pipe from your land.
We want to know what the next development will be.


Hi, I am from Pakistan, dont ask me How I got on this blog? cause we have ben getting F&S & outdoor Life since the 70s.
Doe the flame thing effect shotgun barrels as well if yes what is the effect on the old english guns.

Neil E. Johnson

If you've made the mistake of using moly coated bullets what is the best way now to get it all out? You can kick me while I'm down for being a dolt and to make an eaxapmle of me, just please tell me how to be rid of it. Thanks, Neil


Neil: Can't help you with your moly problem, other than to suggest you try one of the "bore paste" type products like J-B Compound or Remington's Bore Cleaner. They have a very fine pumice-type abrasive in them that is recommended for scrubbing out severe copper fouling. Might work on the moly. However, to get some real help, you need to get out of this late August 06 blog (most of Petzal's readers can't find it) and get your question on one of his latest posts. Trust me, just tack your question on to the most recent comments from today and someone out there will know how to help solve your problem. Good luck.


YOu dumbasses. Moly is an effective product which does exactly what it was designed to. You guys should pull your heads out of your arses and learn something BEFORE speaking.

Similar to your experice at charm school?

Bill Akins

I have no problem with my ruger 10-22 overheating when I rapid fire crank fire it using the bmf activator crankfire device. I built dress up stocks for my 10-22's that resemble a browning 1919 and 1917 watercooled. The watercooled model is the only watercooled ruger 10-22 I know of in existence. I can fire it all day long without it overheating. There's pics of it at the URL I posted here.

Bill Akins

Seems that URL for my watercooled ruger 10-22 did not show up. So here it is. Copy and paste it into your browser.

Del in KS

We have the same last name. Are you from south Georgia?

Bill Akins

Hi Del.

I was born in Tampa, Fl and reside now in Hudson, Fl., but I know we have relatives named Akins in Georgia and South Carolina. My father's name was Harold and my grandfather was named Laddie. Ask your elders if they knew them. There are also some Akins around White City Georgia I visited when I was a boy. One there named Marshal Akins. (not law enforcement)
Who knows? We might be related.

Del in KS


I was born in Valdosta, Ga. Raised in Sumpter county FL about 60 miles north of Tampa. My dad was named Aaron (born 1912) his dad was William. Grandma had 22 kids and 13 of them lived to be adults. The country singer Rhett Akins is my uncle Otis' grandson. Claude Akins was my dad's first cousin. I did not recognize any of the names you gave but there must be over 200 decendants of grandpa Bill. Growin up in FL I never met most of them.

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