Sunday, March 8, 2009

Don't Shoot Your Mouth Off

Back to “The Elk Hunter’s Rifle

If the trigger is the “heart of The Elk Hunter’s Rifle,” then what body part exemplifies the barrel?

Unless you have a tendency to shoot your mouth off there probably isn’t a good metaphor.
No matter. As stated before (link) The Elk Hunter’s Rifle is simply a tool, and the barrel is an extension of that tool.

The quality of rifle barrels is such that for hunting purposes few rules need to be followed. My only rule would be to keep it short. Too many elk hunters bring rifles that are too much—cannon-like—or have barrels that are too long. Those two-to-four inches of extra length will only increase velocity a bit, but you have to lug that extra-long smoke pole around the hills and timber for many days. Heavy rifles, heavy barrels, long barrels, and heavy long barrels should stay on the target range where they are only carried from the trunk to the bench. Keep Your Elk Rifle Simple.

I do have a couple of “don’t” for The Elk Hunter’s Rifle:

  • Don't attach any of today's wonderful assortment of consumer-ready muzzle brakes
  • If you have a factory barrel, don't free-float the barrel

Muzzle brakes and bore evacuators belong on Patton’s Tanks and field artillery. If you think your rifle is artillery and needs a bunch of holes on the end, you probably have a rifle that is too large for elk. (more of this on caliber selection) A rifle that is too large for elk is a rifle that isn’t shot enough. It’s just no fun to shoot something that repeatedly kicks and kicks and kicks. I’ve had lots of mules in my life, and if I had one that kicked a lot, I sold it. They’re just no fun to be around.

Muzzle brakes and their kin make the barrel too long, which goes against my only rule for barrels. They also have holes that can let water, dirt, pine needles, and in some cases, “stuff” found in the end of a rifle scabbard. You may say that a rifle barrel already has one hole in the end. Yes, it does. But, before I go hunting, I shoot a couple rounds through it and then apply a piece of tape over the end. No dirt, no water, no problem.

Muzzles brakes also cause problems for outfitters and guides. (Most will not complain to their hunters about it._ About the time muzzle brakes became all the rage, scope manufacturers started to “improve” scope designs with large, larger, and largest objective bells. The combination of long barrels with muzzle brakes and large diameter scopes creates a rifle that won’t fit in a normal scabbard. Not to mention that it is an unwieldy piece of crap. For an example, you would not have found a sniper (I’m dating myself here) carrying an AN/PVS 2 night-vision scope on his XM-21 ALL DAY LONG! Are you crazy? It’s not handy.

Enough for trashing muzzle brakes. (I wish everyone would trash them)

It may seem blasphemous to tell people to not free-float their barrels, but it is good advice for two reasons:

  • It isn't desirable for factory rifles
  • Free-floating a hunting rifle is more exacting than most hunters think--it needs to be done correctly

Barrel on most factory rifles have not been stress relieved. On the first shot it won’t make any difference, but when they heat up they will make a move. That movement may not be in a consistent direction—meaning it may have a corkscrew motion. I will not use brand names, but some makers built their stocks to put positive pressure on the barrel, so that when they heat up they make a consistent movement in one direction. Free floating a custom barrel may make sense, but only if it is done correctly.

Barrels on AR-15 "space guns" (and David Tubb's 2000) are about the only rifles that are designed with free-floating barrrels from the ground up. Except for the gas tube, nothing touches a space gun's barrel except the barrel nut.

Done correctly for a hunting rifle is different than for a competition rifle. The Elk Hunter’s Rifle lives in extreme conditions. Competition rifles live very easy lives. Many competition rifles will have barrels so “free” that there may be an inch or more between the stock and the barrel. An inch or more would probably by great for a hunting rifle—it would allow dirt, water (and ice), pine needles, etc to not fill the gap. The old adage for free-floating a hunting rifle was to let a piece of notebook paper pass easily between the barrel and the barrel channel. Any more and stuff gets in and defeats the concepts behind free-floating.

Free-floating done incorrectly, may not only defeat the maker’s positive pressure, or leave a gap to be filled by stuff, but will also affect the resale value of the arm. Rounded edges and large gaps in the stock’s barrel channel indicate “junk-yard gunsmithing.” That will cause a direct reduction in the arm’s value. It also brings the question, “What else has been “smithed?”

Well, that’s about all I have to shoot my mouth off for today.


1 comment:

hodgeman said...

Excellent point. One hole in the muzzle end of a rifle is enough. Have I mentioned the time I shot my friend's chopped and braked .338WM. It was akin to lighting dynamite on the end of a broomstick. Loudest rifle ever devised.