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December 18, 2007

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The Great Barrel Break-In Fad

Rifle shooting, like anything else, suffers through fads. There was the moly-coated bullet fad, which left thousands of barrels permanently bemucked with unremovable dark ugh. Then there was the cryogenics fad, in which folks would freeze your barrel for a fee, resulting in an accuracy increase of .00012 percent. And still with us is the great barrel break-in fad.

If you are not familiar with it, the GBBF states that all new barrels must be broken in according to a formula which will smooth the barrel. This consists of firing a single shot, cleaning the bore, firing another shot, cleaning, and so on until you've done it five times. Then you fire five shots and clean, then ten and clean. Under some formulas I've seen, you keep this up for 100 shots.

If this is done, sayeth the GBBF, your bore will be as smooth as glass. It will never foul and your barrel will shoot better than anything Harry Pope ever dreamed of. If you do not follow this procedure, your bore will collect more copper than there is in all the mines of Zambia, your accuracy will be nil, and your kids will develop yaws.

Now let's return to the real world. If a barrel maker wants to turn out a really smooth bore, he will cast a lead slug on the end of a steel rod, charge it with polishing compound, and run it back and forward through the bore a thousand times or so, occasionally casting a new slug when the old one wears down. The back and forth is done by hand, because knowing when to stop depends on "feel." It is a lot of work.

How the shoot-and-clean process duplicates this escapes me. And rough barrels shoot just fine anyway. I've seen cut-rifled bores, broached bores, and hammer-forged bores that looked like the battlefield at the Somme and still shot spectacularly.


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Dr. Ralph

I think any barrel shoots better after a hundred rounds have been fired through it. There's definitely a break in period that smooths the bore but whether cleaning after so many shots or whatever has anything to do with it I can't say. Maybe there is such a thing as the perfect barrel with no imperfections and from day one it starts to deteriorate, but I doubt it. I have noticed that a copper brush run through a gun for an hour or three will vastly improve the accuracy. I have done this with several rifles some of which were old and dirty and some of which were almost brand new with the same result.


I've had good barrels that shot bad and bad barrels that shot good. Generally a barrel from one of the big name makers will work OK to exceptional regardless of manufacturing method or system of break-in. I have used Dr. Ralph's copper brush method upon advise of an old prairie dog shooter who went to the big dawg town in the sky back in '99 and have found it to work amazing well. Must be something to it. We always attempt to make a science out of riflery but somehow the art always slips back into the picture.


Awesome, Dave, thank you. This actually was something I was worried about...not in a panic or anything, but something that made me cringe a little when I thought about it. Now I feel a lot better for not having done this, ever. Was wondering why my rifles all still shot so well anyway. And now I can rest knowing that a shoe will not drop unexpectedly.

You are a definite nerve calmer, Dave. Thanks.


Well,.. if you ask me

( realizing no one did)

Here again is my two cents.
My father was a gun smith of a very paracticle nature,..
Having been one in the army (WWII) he had a lot of barrel experiance by the time he was a lot younger than 90% of any on this blog.
Plus he worked for Olin or a number of years.
Where they shoot guns to determine barrel life until they wear out.

His take was that on occasion a barel will shoot better after a certain number of rounds through it. Yet on no consistent basis, nor should it be considered a given or rule..

A lot of "accuacy" being accounted for by either barrel vibration,.. and or the tigger.
Or the shooter getting "the feel" for the gun.
Personally I have had only one rifle that shot better after about 40 rounds.
It is an 1895 Marlin in the 45-70. New out of the box,. the targets for first 20-25 rounds looked like I shot it with a punt gun,..but along about round # 40 ( had cleaned in once atlike 28-29) it settled down,. and now shoots to a very respectable zero.
Just my two cents.


I hear you, Dave.

Whether myth or legend, my Weatherby Mk V with a button rifled Krieger Criterion barrel seems to group better now that I have about 250 rounds through it, always with good cleanings. My son's 7mm Rem Mag maintains very good accuracy with only infrequent superficial cleaning. My .257 Roberts shoot well whether clean or dirty. So who knows?


My dad and I shot Benchrest competition for a number of years before he passed away in '98. Everyone had their own method of cleaning and Barrel Break in rules for New barrels. We subscribed to the 1 shot clean for 5 shots, then 2 shots for the next 10 etc. We tried lots of different products and concoctions to try to get them clean faster. Since you would always clean between record matches, you would clean a gun as much as ten times a day. We found that during the day we would use Sweets (heavy amonia content) and at the end of the day JB Bore Paste worked the best. The JB is abrasive and will remove anything including Molly. It also acted as a rubbing compound and would smooth the tool marks in the bbl and a smoother bore fouled less. I still use it especially on new bbl. I don't use molly coated bullets anymore, instead I coat most of them with Danzak. With danzak you don't put Canuduram wax on them to keep the molly in place. I don't compete in Bench Rest anymore and I'm sure the BR boys have many new and interesting ways and theory's on how to make a rifle more accurate. Most of them will envolve the purchase of their new can't miss formula or gadget. Some will actually work. And trust me they are WAY ahead of the Manufactures on R&D.

Merry Christmas and Good Shooting to all.


It seems that shooting 100 rounds through a new barrel resembles something some folks call practice.

[shuffles back to the cave]


My thoughts exactly jack.

Ralph the Rifleman

Dave...you know this topic brings out all the gun experts;thus my 2 cents worth.
I still am not sold on the barrel break in theory, but on a recent article from a competitor's magazine the author claimed that MOST CUSTOM rifle builders break in a barrel BEFORE it is delivered to the customer.
Now, as I have stated before most of the military snipers I know use a barrel break in method, as well.
Is this science? Of course not, but a barrel being new only once are we doing any injustice to the accuracy Gods by braking in a barrel? It may even give you a slight psychological edge in paying attention to trigger control,breathing, and hitting the target!

Mike Strehlow

On the subject of various accuracy tips and gun voodoo, Jeff Cooper used to write, "If you think something helps, then it probably does." 100 rounds down the barrel won't hurt it any, and might seat the action just a little bit more firmly into the stock bedding, if there is any give there. And confidence is half the battle.

All my guns that shot well, shot well right out of the box, except for those that never shot well no matter what I did. But for me, 1" at 100 yards for three shots is shooting very well. Benchresters and other target shooters, who measure groups to the hundredth part of an inch at that range, don't look at .1" as a negligible gain; they look at it as enough to win a match. I'll bet Dave fusses with his target rifles as much as the next man.


I don't care if my kids get yaws. I just don't want them to pitch or roll.

Merry Christmas to all. Have a happy and prosperous New Year.

Trae B.

Hmm.I read just a while ago that gun makers will run a wire brush down a barrel to rough up the grooves in the barrel so the bullet wil catch and spin a bit faster to make them more accurate.so I think its a good thing to keep them clean but rough is ok too.


I have been on both sides of the break in fence. I have done it with some rifles, and not with others. On the other hand, most of the rifles I buy are used (already "broke-in", just in need of a good cleaning). However, I just finished building a mauser sporter, of course with a new barrel. The barrel is floated, the action is glassed, the bolt lugs lapped, the head space is correct, the trigger is crisp and consistant at 4.5 pounds, and the scope is a rather nice Nikon that is mounted tightly and in good alignment; I decided to break in the barrel. I am not as obsesive about my breaking in as I have heard others are, and did a 30 round quick break in method I have read about. I have since been out to sight in the rifle, only to find that it will not group better than 7 inches at 100 yards with 150 grain slugs. With 180 grain slugs, it won't even stay on paper. I have put 70 to 80 rounds through it so far, and can only hope it gets better after 100 rounds, but I cannot figure it will go from 7 inch groups to less than 3 inch groups (minute of deer or bear) just by putting a few more rounds through it.

By the way, anybody want to buy a beautiful .308 mauser sporter? :)


To ishawooa:
What is Dr. Ralph's copper brush method? I did a couple of searches and didn't find anything...
Just interested in an old P'dog shooters advice.



Occasionally I wake up thinking. Which is on occasion dangerous
As a Stock Broker I
"cogitate" now an again upon what is best for clints and my own financial well being
Tonight I decided ,..didnt like the direction I was thinking and so turned to this blog to clear my thoughts
Read you comment in another section about Grouse and what are refeirred to as Skies ( musky).
As known Locally up in Madison WI

I dont think its regionally known that the smallest lake of the four in that city (lake Wingra) is swarming with Musky ,.. the two bigger lakes Monona nd Mendota also support a truck load of the skies.

Its a pretty town too,.. not what you would consider cheap but certianly not a Chicago price structure,..
I was fly roding for blue gills there a few years ago and the strangest thing happned.
A musky guessing 40 + inches pretty much "sipped" a number 12 spidder
I thought what the heck, took up slack ,.. hooked it just inside upper lip played that puppy ( on 4 lb leader) for nearly an hour,.. had it to within neting range ,.. but as I was blue gill fishing ,. no net
So,.. I reeled rod tip in close to fish ,.. was going to try knocking fly out with rod tip.
No go,.. fish didnt like it and broke off ,..

But this to say there is some very good Musky fishing right in the state capital of WI,..as well as the ledgeondary Manitowish water area.

Grouse are down now in Southern WI ,.. have fanatic grouse hunting friends who go up there ,.. all te time,..
They say that now you need to go way north to get into decent populations.
I spent a littel time hunting deer near Eagle River WI this year ( gun seson) and I saw some grouse.
Whicj usually neans if youeseem when your not looking for them ther is afew around.

Grouse are amazing,.. have had em watch me as I walked by on logging trail,.. could have killed em with a stick and have seen em so spooky they flush at the click of a car door closing.

Oh well grilled venison and ,.. bacon wraped grouse breast on a bed of wild rice cream corn cranbery sause along with some good sourdough bread ,.. is enough to get me in the woods most years.



Check the locking lugs especially front ones,. sometimes they don't bear equally when closed ,.
which can affect accuracy in a rather spectacular way.
Use magic marker on inside of lugs work the bolt a few times.
If marker on one side does not wear off or wears significantly less likely need a gunsmith to help that situation out.
Its a lapping procedure.

Had one like that years ago couldnt hit a cerial box a 50 yds.
When the smith got done with it ,.
it was a vertual tac driver.


WOW! I love finding out that I didn't ruin my gun barrel after all!

The fact that it's a 45-70, which lobs 300 grain jacketed hollow points, with nearly the worst possible ballistic coeffecient, at 2000fps into just barely over MOA groups(and I mean 1/16th of an inch barely over!), was never really enough to keep me from feeling guilty over screwing up that "break in" formula! WOW! Now I feel great!

But then, maybe it would be sub-MOA if I'd only listened to the experts...

Ralph the Rifleman

My Marlin 1895SS seems to favor heavy bullets better then the 300 grainers.I must admit I have not been shooting it as much as I would like, and maybe with some time at the reloading bench I can get find a load more pleasing to my pumpkin thrower?
My next project is shooting my new rifle;M700-Whelen...and so the barrel break in question haunts me again!

Ralph the Rifleman

Correction... I meant Rem-700 in .35 Whelen

retired waycar rider

Right-on Jack--100 rounds--(practice)--and the copper brush always works wonders for me


I got tired of the GBBF and just use GB on a swab for about 50 strokes. Seems to work OK for me.




I use a ram-rod to run a wire brush through my barrel after soaking with some liquid gun-scrubber. It does a great job; once a year after the deer season; the 45 cal, the 30.06 and the .22 just to say I did. The 45 cal is a muzz. so I do it 3 or 4 times a season. You can usually find attachments in most inexpensive gun cleanig kits. It surley gets the rest of the ugh out, which in my opinion, is what helps the barrel shoot better.


I don't like this tagging out early crap.
Seven deer in the yard this morning chewing clover - with impunity! Driving the dogs up and down the place.
I can get extra doe tags for the first time in NC this year. But I don't have the heart anymore this season. Plus, I still have concerns if "he" were to step out.
You know - him?
What an idea for F what to do when on an extra doe tag hunt, and the biggest buck you've ever seen steps out.


Before one could truthful say that their barrel shot better after this many rounds or after this many freeze shootings, i would think that to be honest, each round would have to be exactly the same, shot under controlled conditions etc. Grant you I've seen barrel shoot different after alot of shootings. some time improving anly to deteriate a little latter. Reminds me of the testing on the new M-4 issued to the army. It was on this wise: 10 M-4s. (new). 60,000 rounds, 886 hang-ups. this was determined to be:6,000 rounds each with 6.8 Jams for each 1000 rounds. 98% of the rounds fired OO.K. 868 minor stopage, wiyh 19 requiring an armorer to clear. what they for got to mention were if the jams were in, say three or four of the weapons with the other seven or eight with no jams. .. by the way this info is at: Military.com. and wwereconducted in a very sand condition. IS this a very good test..was the results calculed .or bias. openions?


sorry about the typing, need to proofread. in hurry this morming.
(need to learn how to type)

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