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March 06, 2007

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Why Shorter is Better

I’m talking about rifle barrels. What the hell did you think I was talking about? Back when men smelled bad and carried Kentucky rifles, long barrels were just the ticket—44 inches was about standard. They decreased aiming error and having all that weight out there in front made offhand shooting that much easier.

This lasted until the Mountain Men (who smelled even worse) took over, and the Hawken rifle evolved. The Hawken brothers used the Kentucky as a model for their guns, but the barrels were much shorter (26 to 38 inches), because their users had discovered that a long-barreled rifle, regardless of its advantages, was a damned unhandy thing to hunt with from horseback.

It is a damned unhandy thing to hunt with in a lot of other situations, too. That’s why I think the most practical length for a big-game rifle barrel is 22 inches. If you have a magnum, 24 is the most you want, and you can get away with 23 inches unless you’re shooting something like a 7mm STW.

I’ve found that whatever small ballistic advantage you gain with a long (anything over 24 inches) barrel is more than offset by the added weight and length, and that 22 inches is just about ideal. About a year ago, I grew fed up with the 26-inch barrel on a .338 RUM Remington Model 700, and had it cut back to 23 1/2 inches. Despite the huge charge of slow powder that this cartridge uses, I lost only 38 fps, and the accuracy improved dramatically (which often happens, but not always, when you chop a barrel).

I have only two rifles with 26-inch barrels. One is a .220 Swift, where I want all the velocity I can get and other considerations come second, and the other is a .300 Weatherby, which I reserve for situations where I know I’m going to take long shots or none at all, and I won’t have to carry the thing around very much.


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O yeah. I agree with the shorter barrel…….when a shooter can get away with it. Usually you can in most big game calibers.

I don’t think 22” barrel length is proper in a varmint rifle, nor in calibers of huge case---small bore situations: e.g. 25-06, 264mag. However, I’m not a fan of barrels shorter than 22-inches.

FYI: Hey, folks. Got a new girl. Seven-months old, 21-lbs, orange-ticked Brittany. She’s a replacement for my last Setter. Training has started. I’ll no longer have those cock pheasants mocking me as they eat under my bird feeders during an open season!

See you in the Uplands!!!

ps: I'm really a grouse hunter.

Ralph the Rifleman

Grouse is the money bird-yep-Good luck with your new bird dog Mark-
As for shorter barrels, it is quite interesting how accurate a shorter(18.5)barrel can be had with some calibers.The increased felt recoil is worth the savings in weight carry, too.


The craft of the rifle and that of the written word are closely related. It was once fashionable to own fifteen-volume histories of the Roman Empire, and devote entire novels to the subject of preventing self-abuse. Delivering the goods in short, concise statements is a modern idea based on efficiency. And efficiency is what we should hope for in a rifle barrel, because in 2007 we undersand physics better than we did in 1907.

I think our schools should be teaching better writing habits - and, dare I say, ballistics? How else do you account for all these ridiculously SHORT barrels as well as the unnecessarily LONG ones? Who knows. Maybe we've reached post-history when it comes to barrel length.



Woodcock is the money bird. I've gotten the cost down to $400/oz.


::looks around sheepishly::
"I love my short barrel!!", he proclaims with conviction.

Bob from SD

I like short barrels too! I had my 460 Weatherby chopped down to 22 inches and shoot it everytime I catch a cold!


The 270 win. was the first to be designed and shoot the best in a 22"barrel. Can,t see being weaned on a 338 RUM,real overbore!



I hope this blog wasn't inspired by something as petty as barrel envy...


Hasn't Thompson proved this theory?

I have hear that the single action pistols can be very accurate. The M-16 has a 16" barrel. I think that having a shorter barrel is a very good thing especially when hunting in the woods (thick woods).

Larry rayburn

Barrel Length verses accuracy. A longer rifle barrel does not equal accuracy, but on opened sight rifles it does inhance sight picture. What it boils down to is what your rifle will be used for. if carrying a rifle through the mountains all day, tha weight savings of a shorter, lighter barrel will come in handy. if shooting from a stand or still position barrel length won't matter, Me, I prefer a long barrel on a bolt action, and the shorter barrel on the autos.


What's the preference out there on barrel length for O/U shotguns to be used for upland game (mostly grouse and pheasant)?
I've been offered a good deal on a Browning Citori w/a 26" barrel.



In my opinion the 26" will be fine for grouse, most shots are quick (sometimes faster than you). Where are you going to hunt Pheasant is the next question???? Some places you will need to take really long shots that may require a 28 or 30 inch barrel.



Citori's good gun. 26" barrels I found very good for the Uplands. I think the best upland gun I ever had was a 20-ga Upland Citori w/English stock and w/26" barrels back in the 80's. Foolishly I traded it for a try at another gun.

Don't know what the chokes are in your project, but for grouse you want very open chokes.

Why are the best guns owned are the ones you got rid of?

Ramblin Rich

I agree with shorter barrels. I personally like 22" to 24" and none longer unless it is on a shotgun where I prefer 28" on autos and pumps while I prefer 26" on a shotgun for upland game. Enough said. I was dissappointed in the unnecessary profnaity.


If you like shorter barrels I recommend the Ruger M77 Mark II - Compact. I have one in 7mm-08 the barrel length is just 16 1/2". I get groups at 100 yards with a Barnes Triple Shock X Bullet that you can cover with a nickel. This is also a handy gun when in a treestand, because the overall length is just 35 1/2".


Dave, I'm looking into purchasing a lever-action .45-70 and you have written fondly of the Marlin Guide Gun. I prefer heavy-for-caliber bullets, and wonder if the shorter barrel on the Guide Gun reduces the effective range. I do not anticipate any shots beyond 125 yards or so. Also - is Marlin still porting the barrel on that model? My ears hate ported barrels.


dear Dave have you ever loaded any barns triple shock bullets they told me that i would have to wacth how i seat them because there so long is this true

Dave Petzal

To KJ: I doubt if the short barrel cuts down on its range at all. It's a small charge of fast-burning powder and burns before it hits the muzzle. 125 yards is easy. I think they do still port the barrel. You just have to live with it.

To FIelds: Yes, I've loaded Triple Shocks and regular X bullets in a number of calibers and their length can cause problems. What I do is go to a lighter weight than I'd normally use. For example, in the .338, where I'd load a 250-grain bullet, I use a 225 grain Triple Shock. In the .30/06, instead of a 180, a 165, and so on. They're great bullets, by the way, and worth the extra trouble.



Actually Marlin does make a non-ported 1895G, though I'm not sure if they've done away completely with the ported barrels or if they're just optional now. Personally I think Marlin needs to make the limited edition 336 Guide Gun in .35 Remington a regular catalog item but maybe that's just me.


Well Dave, I took your advice and bought a Carbine SAKO .308 with a 20" barrel and Mannlicher stock. Unfired.

How would you break in a new rifle? I have heard many theories on the process.....

I am heading to the indoor range in Goshen on Saturday and would like to see how this gun performs.


Tom, you talkin' about the Davis range? If so, that place rocks!


yes I love that place.... I is a fair price for what you get. You never have to wait to "go down range"...


Hey Dave, good info as always. I noticed you mentioned the 7MM STW. I have been interested in this calibre for some time and was wondering what the best method of putting one together may be. I have been told that having a 7MM REM MAG rechambered was tha best bet. Does anyone have any thoughts on building a gun of this caliber? Thanks for your help.


For me, the long action and the 24” barrel just go together. I like the very slight extra weight for balance. My tests show that barrel length adds velocity and why else shoot a 270 is you don’t need high velocity?
My 308 has a 22” barrel and still is a great all-around hunting caliber, but if I choose a 30-06. 280 or 270 I want the longer barrel.
With magnums, such as the 300 Win. Mag. the 24” seems to be about ideal, but when faster rounds are used, such as, the 7 STW or 300 Jarrett, then a 26” tube is ideal.
It seems gun makers went to the shorter barrels for some years and now offer more choices with the 24” for standard length rounds. I don’t buy the “short barrel more accuracy argument” unless one is shooting bench rest competition, these arguments are spurious to the average hunter.
My feeling is if you can get by with a barrel shorter than 24” you can get buy with a 308 or one of its many siblings.

Roger E. Reeves,  Sr.

I;ve noticed in my latest gun magazines and books, that the Black powder rifles now have 26" to 28" and even 32' bbls. Most B.P guns we now own, except the Hawken, have 23 and 24 " bbls. Why have they added length to the B/p if longer bbls not advantage? I had always used a 22 " 30-06 to hunt the Rockies with until 2 yrs ago and bought a Rem 700 CDL with a 24" bbl, clean bbl.I will admit, the 24" had much longer range and accuracy than the 22"s. But,I was using a new bullet which could have added some range. Another advantage I found was less bullet drop beyond 200 yds. If using a woods gun,such as a 30-30 lever, 20" about right, but for longer shots I must go with a 24 or 26" bbl.I once had a 29" Custom built on a Mauser action, but was too long, so cut it down to 26" appeared I was hiting the longer bbl over evrything in sight.As for wt, I like my hunting rifles to be in the 9 to 10 lb range. Those tiny 5 to 6 lb cannons, turned me around. I also prefer the added wt to be in the stock end, rather than the front, as my arms so weak, is hard for me to hold steady on off hand shots. But, at 72 yrs old, just glad to be able to hunt with any type gun and length of bbls. Good hunting guys. Turkey season around the corner, and I will us my Rem ll00 with 30" full choke for the season. PS; Whats the opinion on a Auto handgun with no safety levers in dble action, mfgerd by Kel-Tec for a pocket gun in 380.

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