Can You Shoot Out a Rifle Barrel?

Generally, it takes a few thousands rounds—and in some cases, many thousands—to affect the accuracy of a rifle barrel. The author’s advice: Shoot the thing and enjoy it, because if you need to get a new barrel, it will probably be better than the original. (photo from[].

One of the questions I get pretty often from gun owners 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 a barrel before it’s worn out. But before we get to actual numbers, here are some factors to consider:

• Very few barrels are actually shot out. Most die hideous, unnatural deaths from cleaning-rod misuse and neglect.

• The hotter your barrel is when you shoot, the quicker it goes.

• 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.