* “What’s the best length for a rifle barrel?” is
surely one of the more hotly-contested topics in gundom. Just as there
is no “best” caliber, no one barrel length is equally suited
to all jobs. Ideally, one’s choice should be based on the
cartridges and the general application for which the rifle will be used.
Unlike the .22 rimfire which develops its optimum velocity within
about 16 inches of barrel, a high-powdered centerfire cartridge benefits
from a longer tube in terms of increased velocity. Exactly how much
velocity is gained or lost by lengthening for the most part by the
expansion ratio of the cartridge and the powder’s burning rate.
Assuming the “standard” barrel length of 24 inches now used to
establish nominal muzzle velocities for factory cartridges, as much as
60 feet per second (fps) or more can be gained or lost by going to a
26-inch barrel or 22-inch one, respectively.
Cartridges with high expansion ratios, i.e., case volume versus
total bore volume, lose less velocity as barrels are cut back. In other
words, a .308 Winchester will suffer less loss if we did the same to a
.300 winchester Magnum; but again, it’s due to the fact that the
big magnums with low expansion ratios are stuffed with slower-burning
powders which need long barrels in which to do their stuff.
I once cut the 24-inch barrel of a 7mn Magnum back to 20 inches and
in so doing, negated entirely the 95 fps edge it had over the .280
Remington I was comparing it with. In both instances I was using
factory 150-grain loads. Want to make a .30-06 out of your .300 Magnum?
Just have 4 inches whacked off the muzzle end.
Anyway, unless you’re building a custom rifle or having one
rebarreled, the decision as to length is made for you. Generally
speaking, the major manufacturers put 24-inch spouts on all belted
magnums and on the .22-250 and .25-06. All other game cartridge
chamberings such as .243, .30-06, .270, etc., wear 22-inch barrels. For
the most part, those standards make a lot of sense. In Europe, where
longer barrels are more accepted, most manufacturers who export here
provide all non-magnum calibers in 24-inch lengths, and many magnums in
the 26-inch length. Weatherby gives you a choice between 24 and 26.
When there’s a chice, I’d say the majority of hunters
prefer the shorter barrels strictly from the handling and carrying
advantages with little thought to performance loss. A 22-inch barreled
rifle definitely handles better than a 24-inch one. And a 20-incher
feels and carries better yet. But there are trade-offs in performance
that must be weighed.
For eastern whitetail and black bear hunting, for example, a
20-inch barrel on a 7X57, a .308 Winchester or .30-06 is a delight to
carry and ballistically still would have all the performance necessary
to handle any likely situation. But I wouldn’t want to head west
for an antelope hunt with that same fifle. There I’d want every
fps I could get. As for handling qualities, that consideration hardly
enters the picture in that sort of hunting where you search out game by
vehicle and carry the gun only on stalks.
For a dangerous game rifle (DGR), I wouldn’t even consider
carrying anything longer than 22 inches. After all, A DGR earns its
keep up close-under 50 yards–and in those first 50 yards a one to two
percent loss in ballistic performance is far outweighed by the faster
handling qualities. Even a 20-inch barrel on a .458 ins’t too
short providing the gun has the weight necessary for a DGR-like at least
9 pounds naked.
For any belted magnum under .375, I wouldn’t consider anything
less than 24 inches. To do so would make the performance edge minimal
enough over the standard-caliber equivalent as to not make it
DIFFERENT STYLE GUN SHOW
One of the things I don’t do very often is go to gun shows.
The relatively few I have attended over the years were disappointing in
that 90 percent of what I saw was just plain junk. In my experience,
the “gun show” moniker was a misnomer; most of what I saw on
display was more befitting the kind of flea market where a 1940s-vintage
Coke bottle would be touted as an antique.
I am not a gun collector, but based on those few shows I’ve
attended, I can see why the truly serious collector is often frustrated
to the point that wading through the militaria, old dishes, utensils,
coins, and quasi-jewelry just isn’t worth it any longer. And
trying to find specific items of interest among the thousand or so pages
each month in the buy-sell-trade tabloid requires more time than most of
The solution? Well, one of ’em, anyway, is the mail bid
firearms auction as introduced over a year ago by the firm of Guy,
Winslow & Cass, 61 Fourth Street, Dept. GA, Stamford, CT 06905.
As a yearly subscriber to GW&C, you can sit in the comfort of
your living room or den with a descriptive catalog in one hand, your
Master Charge or Visa card in the other, and “attend,” as it
were, a firearms auction. Six such auction are held each year and
subscribers are notified of the dates well in advance. Each item is
thoroughly and professionally described in the catalog, with the rarer
and more unusual pieces illustrated as well. Among the three principals
at GW&C is the combined experience of over 100 years in the gun
business and it’s rather evident when you read the descriptions of
the various firearms offered for sale. All items are guaranteed as
described with full return privileges. Sellers are charged a 15 percent
commission on a sale, the buyer nothing at all.
Aside from the obvious advantage of convenience and privacy,
bidding by mail eliminates the chance of a “shill” bidding
with the auctioneer’s money to jack up prices. Also, at a live
auction there’s the chance of getting caught up in the excitement
of the moment and bidding beyond what you really want to spend on a
given item. There’s no chance of that here; you set the exact
limit you want to spend on a piece–it must be realistic, of course-then
sit back and wait for the results. I can see where the anticipation in
the waiting alone would provide one’s money’s worth in terms
Bidders need only to fill out the form supplied with the catalog or
they can use their own letterhead statiionery, supplying their Master
Charge of Visa card number and expiration date, along with their bid for
each item number. Those not wishing to use plastic can send a money
order or cashier’s check for 25 percent of the bid amount. In the
case of a successful bid, the remaining 75 percent is due immediately.
Based on the first four auctions conducted thus far, 80 percent of the
bidders have won the bid on at least one item.
Another aspect of GW&C’s auction that I especially like is
that the winning bids of the previous auction are listed in the next
catalog so bidders get a realistic picture of what fair market value for
certain items are and can set prices for their own pieces or bid,
Each of the four auctions thus far have averaged over 200 items,
most of which were antique and collectible firearms, but there was also
a good assortment of the better militaria, old sporting books, rare
cartridges, edged weapons, etc. There’s also been a good selection
of modern rifles and shotguns–like pre-64 Model 70s, custom rifles by
big name ‘smiths and old-line companies like Griffin & Howe,
Hoffman Arms & Jaeger. There’s also been a good number of
Model 21s, Parkers, and L.C. Smiths, along with high grade British guns
like Holland & Holands, Greeners, Purdeys . . . good stuff.
A yearly subscription to the Guy, Winslow & Cass auction is
$45, enough to ensure that participants are serious enough, yet it
entitles them to “attend” six auctions per year at a cost of
less than eight dollars per. Hell, I’ve known collectors to spend
ten times that in phone calls alone trying to hunt down specific items.
I think GW&C have a good idea here and if the collecting
fraternity agrees, the number of items offered at each auction will grow
and grow as the membership does. For more information and a
subscription form write Guy, Winslow & Cass or call Bob Gillie at
.32-20 T/C CONTENDER
There are many of us who would probably do a double take upon
seeing a press release announging a major manufacturer has added the
.32-20 Winchester cartridge to its handgun lineup, yet such was the case
recently when Thompson/Center unveiled the old cartridge in its popular
I mean, we’re talking old here! The .32-20 goes back to 1882
when Winchester introduced it as a black powder round for the Model 73
lever action. Though the .32-20 went on to become quite become popular
as a smokeless round in both pistol and rifle, it has been obsolete for
quite some time.
Why then would T/C come up with a Contender barrel chambered for
the 102 year old cartridge? The NRA’s Hunter Pistol Silhouttte
competition, that’s why. It’s a course that has the steel
critters half the size of those used for centerfire rifle, set up .25,
50, 75 and 100 meters, thereby requiring far less room than the 200
meters needed for IHMSA and NRA long-range handgun silhouete.
With Hunter Pistol rules restricting gun weight to 3-1/4 pounds,
barrel length to 10 inches, the use of sthe standing position only, the
.32-20 has proven itself to be very well adapted to this particular
game, even though more potent rounds like the .357, .41 and .44 Magnums
are allowed. After all, the best silhouette cartridges are the ones
which are the most accurate and pleasnant to shoot, yet have just enough
power to ensure knock-downs on the borrego. Apparently, this
century-old cartridge has just the right level of performance to
The 10-inch bull barrel Contender in .32-20 retails for $265.
Purchased as an accessory barrel only, it’s $110. For more info
write Thompson/Center Arms, Dept. GA, Box 2426, Rochester, NH 03867.
NO MORE S&W LONG GUNS
Smith & Wesson announced recently it was terminating its import
agreement with Japan’s Howa Machining, Ltd., the company which
makes the centerfire rifles, pumps and semi-auto shotguns that
S&W’s been distributing here for the last 10 years.
Each year we’ve seen the S&W long gun line get more and
more comprehensive so it was all the more surprising to me when I heard
the news. According to a release from Smith & Wesson,” . . .
the shrinking world-wide market for these (long gun) products has caused
us to regretfully arrive at this decision.”
The S&W folks say they and Howa are looking for a successor but
nothing’s been finalized as of mid-September. In the meantime,
S&W says it will continue to sell and ship all the long guns it has
on order. More important to the many S&W rifle and shotgun owners
out there, the company assures us it will fully back all warranties on
guns. Repair parts will continue to be available from S&W or its
yet-to-be-named successor, and guns will be repaired promptly,
regardless of what those final distribution arrangements happen to be.
WINCHESTER TRAP/SKEET GUNS
Winchester division of the Olin Corporation announced a couple of
new guns which should please competitive clay target shooters. For the
first time ever, a four-barrel over/under skeet set is being offered
with the Winchester name, albeit the by now well-accepted Japanese-made
Model 101 produced for them by Olin-Kodensha.
Called the Winchester Diamond Grade Skeet Set, all four gauges-12,
20, 28 and .410-will have 27-1/2-inch skeet-choked barrels, will weigh
the same (8 pounds), and will provide the shooter with the same sight
picture in all gauges, thanks to the vent rib being height-adjusted to
compensate for the varying barrel conformation.
The 12 and 20 gauge barrel sets are vented behind the muzzle to
reduce recoil, hence fatigue. The trigger is of the single selective,
mechanical type and the safety thumbpiece also serves as a barrel
selector. Each gun is furnished with a specially fitted, compartmented
case approved for airline travel. Like any over/under with
interchangeable barrel sets, Winchester’s Diamond Grade Skeet Set
isn’t cheap–$3,950 retail, but compared to some other like
offerings from other makers, it’s not at all out of line.
For the trapshooters, Winchester went and made a limited production
run of 250 combo over/under 12 gauge guns to commemorate the Amateur
Trapshooting Association’s Hall of Fame. The first 60 guns will be
allocated to the 50 states, the Canal Zone, District of Columbia and the
Provinces of Canada, for auction at the state and provincial shoots
during 1985. The remaining 190 guns will be made available to members
of the ATA through normal channels.
For the doubles event, the 30-inch barrel set features a top barrel
choked full, with the underspout set up with Winchoke, Winchester’s
interchangeable choke tube system. For the singles and handicap events
there’s a single, 34-inch over-barrel, also equipped with the
Winchoke. Four winchoke tubes are provided that will interchange on
both barrel sets: full, extra full, modified and improved modified.
Special accents and engraving on the sides of the receiver identify
these as special, limited-edition Hall of Fame trap gun sets. Retail
price has been set at $2,795, including a fitted, luggage-style case
with brass latches and key locks. A portion of the monies derived from
the sale of these guns will go to the ATA’s special Hall of Fame
Just as I was about to mail this month’s deathless prose . . .
late as usual, news of a brand-new Ruger gun came across my desk.
It’s called the XGI, a rather clever play on words to describe a
type and caliber gun with which many ex-GIs should be familiar: a
gas-operated semi-auto in .308 Winchester (7.62mm).
As one might expect, it looks like the big brother of Ruger’s
phenomenally successful Mini-14, though in actual fact is only slightly
larger and heavier. Briefly, the gun is almost a cosmetic and
mechanical duplicat of the Mini-14 Ranch Rifle, right down to the
fiberglass-vented handguard, integral Ruger scope ring bases and folding
apertue auxilliary rear sight. A detachable, five-round box magazine
fits flush with the stock belly and is interchangeable with U.S. M14
magazines. It weighs in at 7.9 pounds empty; overall length of the XGI
is 39.88 inches.
Ruger has already announced plans to chamber the XGI for the .243
Winchester. That’s all I know at this point.