Rough Barrel, Smooth Shooting

A shooter uses a bore scope to inspect a rifle barrel.

All this came about because I stuck the Hawkeye Bore Scope down the barrels of my nearly-new .308 Ruger Gunsite Scout Rifle and my brand-new 5.56 Ruger Ditto Ditto. (Click here for a gun test in which both rifles were evaluated.)

The .308 has now been shot a fair amount, while the 5.56 has probably not had 100 rounds through it. Both rifles are accurate. The .308 shoots well under an inch with a variety of loads, and the 5.56, with ammo it likes (Black Hills 5.56 77-grain Sierra Tipped Match King) will also put five shots in under an inch. I suspect it will do even better as it gets shot more.

(It’s interesting that Jeff Cooper, whose brainchild the Scout is, considered 300 yards the practical limit for shooting with a rifle such as this, and believed that minute-of-angle accuracy was not only not required, but irrelevant. And he would have had a seizure at the thought of a 5.56 Scout; he detested the cartridge.)

Both barrels are stainless steel. The .308 barrel is 18 inches long while the 5.56 is 16.1 inches. Both are “stepped;” i.e., they go through three diameters from breech to muzzle, which you don’t see very often these days. The triggers range between nasty and wretched. The .308 breaks at 6 pounds with creep; the 5.56 shifts from 6 pounds to 7 pounds with creep. I’m having them both replaced. Inletting on both rifles is quite good. The barreled actions snap into the stocks like steel on steel.

The view of a rifle’s bore, before cleaning, as seen through a bore scope.

But when you look down the bores, the view is quite horrid. There are pits, tool marks, annular rings, and blemishes galore. And yet not only do both Scouts shoot very well, they don’t pick up copper fouling, which by rights they should. I put the .308 through the standard rifle break-in process, but did not do so with the 5.56, and it made no difference. Both are a snap to clean.

That rough barrels can shoot well is not news. I have a .280 whose original barrel was cut-rifled by Bill Atkinson of Prescott, Arizona, who was regarded as a paragon of traditional craftsmanship. Mr. Atkinson’s barrel shot extremely well, but it was rough as a cob and picked up copper fouling like crazy, which was to be expected. I’ve shot and scoped three Bergara barrels, which are so accurate they take your breath away, and none of them is as uncannily perfect as I would have expected.

The Remington Model 783 that I shot a couple of years ago had a bore that was a true inanimate hideosity. It shot very well. The Winchester XPR, which is an economy bolt-action similar in concept to the 783, but much more nicely made, had a very good barrel, and shot about the same as the raunchy Remington.

A look down the bore of a bolt-action rifle, with the bolt removed.

Savage barrels, which are button rifled, are not particularly smooth, but Savage pays extreme care to straightness, concentricity, and uniformity of the bore. And those barrels shoot like hell. If I take a heavy-barrel Savage to the range, it’s a question of will it group under ½ MoA or right at ½ MoA.