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February 26, 2007

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Roll Out the Barrel

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:

  • .22 Long Rifle: The lowest estimate I’ve ever seen is 10,000 rounds. I’ve seen some estimates go as high as 500,000. I think the question here is academic; you’re not going to wear one out, period.
  • .224 centerfire: Probably a maximum of 4,000 in small rounds like the .222, to a minimum of 2,500 in big cartridges like the .22/250.
  • .270 Winchester: 3,000 or so.
  • .30/06: I recall seeing 5,000 somewhere respectable, maybe in Hatcher's Notebook. I’ll go with that.
  • 7mm and .300 magnums: 1,500 to 2,500.
  • Great Big Magnums (.30/378, etc.): 1,500.
  • 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.


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    Mr. Petzal,

    A little off subject, but I just bought a Remington 7600, in .270. I do most of my deer hunting in Maine in heavy timber. I intend to use it as my "brush" gun, keeping the open sights and maybe going with a peep. My question is bullet type..... more specifically round nose vs. pointed. I can not imagine any shot being over 50 yrds where I hunt. I am of the school of thought that brush will deflect any type bullet so I'm more concerned with the terminal ballistics at close range with the 2 bullet types. Would one have an advantage over the other?



    Dave Petzal

    At close range, there would be no real difference in the terminal ballistics of the two bullets, but you're quite right that any bullet can be deflected, regardless of shape. I'd go with whatever shoots best in your .270.


    I have a .22 rifle (from Mossberg) that's way over 40 years old. It's had thousands or rounds put through it and still will print .75 inch groups @ 50 yards all day long.



    Interesting post. Since we are back on the topic of guns. I have and issue with a .222 my father gave me (Sako).

    My father was able to shoot very very small groups with it (1/2 inch or less). I have tried hand loaded ammo, tried some store bought ammo. I can get it to 1". I was fairly upset when I ran out of the Norma ammo he gave to me with the gun.

    The ammo he used was a Norma ammo(1970's era)that you can't buy anymore. Is there a premium "Match" ammo that you would recommend.

    I have been told that the .222 is very accurate as long as you know your twist rate and match it to the right bullet weight and velocity (many variables). The gun has not been fired much (less than 300 rounds)

    This gun has been difficult to dial in unlike my 300 win mag...

    Chad Love

    This too is a bit off-topic, but what the hell, I'm curious and in an off-topic mood: What's the greatest number of rejected queries you've ever had from a single would-be writer?


    I commented on another posting about a little Marlin M99 that I've had for years, and have finally retired after it quit ejecting spent casings. The gun still shoots right where I point it, but fixing the ejection problem would cost more than a new rifle itself. The barrel is in great shape, though, and God-only-knows how many bricks of .22 ammo my grandfather, brother, and I have put through it.

    Chad Love

    OK, here's one on-topic. What do you think barrel life would be for a rifle whose owner, upon seeing a very shootable buck, promptly jams its barrel in to the side of a sandhill while getting in position to shoot? Keeping in mind that the bolt has been removed and the barrel cleaned out as well as can be expected with a sprig of sagebrush as the buck politely waits to be shot.
    I suppose it would depend on the size of the buck and how badly you wanted to re-barrel the gun?


    Chad, I imagine the barrel life of that particular rifle would be about 1 round.


    Wow, Dave, a troll. This one doesn't even have the guts to use her own name. Cowardly and misinformed - not too impressive, is she?



    I appreciate that Field and Stream is removing the comments that do not pertain to this blog. As a regular blogger on your site, I am supportive of this method of filtering, and I also assume that the majority of your regulars support my opinion. Thanks

    Dave Petzal

    To Tom: I don't think it has much to do with the rifling twist. Just about every .222 ever made has a 1 in 14 twist, but there may be something odd about your Sako. Some rifles are just fussy, period.I'd try getting some match-grade .22 bullets and trying. Them. Sierra, Berger, Nosler Ballistic Tip. If you go on long enough, you either figure it out or go mad trying.

    Dave Petzal

    To Chad Love: I don't remember the greatest number, but I can tell you that we've had many writers submit scores of articles, sometimes over several years, and never sell. We've also had people who sold one article, and then never sold another no matter how many they tried.

    Chad Love

    KJ, you're right, but it wasn't me I was talking about, it was, uh, a "friend."
    My "friend" ended up letting the buck walk, then repeatedly slapped himself in the forehead all the way back to the truck. He also always carries a boresnake in his fanny pack now...



    Have you ever seen those "mini condoms" they are actually made for you fingers if you get a cut they work great on a rifle. I think they are called a "finger cot". I dont like using tape it comes off too easily.

    PS, you can also give them to friends as a joke :)

    Dave Petzal

    To Chad Love: Thinking about it, I can tell you what the saddest rejection was. For something like 50 years, a writer named Archibald Rutledge wrote for us, almost every issue had something of his. He did long, long pieced that always too place in South Carolina, and wrote in a style that was out of the 19th century.
    Well, tastes change, and about the time I came with the magazine we had begun rejecting everything he sent in, and it fell to me to write the reject letters. One day I received a note from him that said, simply:

    "I don't understand what has happened. You used to be so kind. I will not trouble you again."

    And he didn't.

    tom, too!

    I use them in rainy weather to cover the muzzle of all my guns.
    I too, give them to my buddies and tell them that they have multiple uses if you happen to be on the "small" side of things.


    To Chad: I’m in my 2nd career as a blues/jazz pro. Last Fall I had to refurbish three-guitars I wore out playing within the last five-years. You would think I be playing better and have that fat recording contract. I understand writing is the same way, except pant seats and typewriters are worn out.

    I recall a story from somewhere a writer threw his novel’s manuscript with the last rejection letter in the trash. His wife picked the manuscript out and mailed it to another publisher. It got accepted. Novel: Carrie; Writer: S. King I don’t know if it’s true, but makes a good story.

    I only saw one rifle worn out in my shooting career. My ex father-in-law had a varmint rifle built in 264 Mag. He loaded it HOT with 100-grain bullets. I recall after 1200-rounds the rifle simply wouldn’t print at 100-yards.

    BTY: .223-- I helped one fellow out working three-days on loads for his rifle in this caliber. At first I thought something seriously wrong with his rifle, but according to him apparently monumental effort working out .223 loads for a particular rifle is the norm. Sure enough we did stumble upon a good, accurate load. But is his statement on .223 being fussy a fact?

    Chad Love

    Interesting, thanks for the response. I was just curious. I remember Rutledge, not from the magazine but numerous anthologies. You're correct, very patrician, almost antebellum style of writing.

    You're right too. Mark. I know it seems counter-intuitive, but writing, like any creative pursuit, just flat wears you out sometimes. I'm not a gun/outdoors writer but I am a full-time scribe and I can't think of a more exhausting career. You'd think ideas would be something any reasonably bright person could crank out easily. It might be that way for the prodigies out there, but for the rest of us hacks it's always a struggle

    Ed J

    My brother's Mod 74 Winchester has had so many rounds through it that you can drop a 22 round down the muzzle all the way to the rim. I'm guessing 500,000 rds. He bought not by the brick but by cases of bricks. He was also a scout master so a lot of neighborhood kids learned to shoot using it.

    BTW a local sporting goods store subsidized him.

    I don't why everyone is so worried about barrel life. I only shoot a couple of rounds at the range before hunting season to make sure I'm on target ( a 12" paper plate at 50 yards usually does it). After that, I may see a deer when hunting and take a shot.

    Heck, I've been using the same box of ammo I got five years ago. I just don't see the need for a true sportsman to have more than a few rounds onhand. Anymore just makes you look like a mental patient.


    I load pretty hot for my 7mm Rem. Mag. A-Bolt and actually look forward to shooting the barrel out. It's too long(especially for the mostly woods hunting I do) and is equipped with a BOSS which does work (quite well I might add) but I handload and don't really have a need for it. I'd also really just like to try a quality barrel to see what I'm missing plus theres the possibility of re-chambering which interests me because I don't really need a magnum (although I do like the 7mm Rem Mag. and it's always performed perfectly).


    Tom, I think some of the trolls on this site could probably use those mini-condoms for their own "shortcomings."


    If you do not wear out a barrel once in a while, you are not shooting enough. Go burn some powder.


    Dear Mr. Petzal,
    Almost on a subject. I have 22 inch factory barrel in my 30-06 Rem 700. I read that there is no significant difference in energy when shooting 24 or 22. (but ballistic data are based on 24' inch barrel only) My shots, so far, were up to 250 yards and were quite effective at this range including african game like oryx or zebra. The rifle is well within the useful accuracy limits. Wonder, if would be any advantage for me to install 24 inch barrel?

    Stainless more durable than chrome-moly? There's no way, CM is harder than any stainless alloy. Check your facts there, you'll find that P.O. Ackley and Hatcher both disagree...

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