Carbines - small is beautiful
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- Last updated: 25/08/2017
We are all different in tastes, needs and build, that also transcends into the rifles we use for our sport and what is right for one is not necessary right for the other. There is a very common trend to just use what has worked in the past, without really thinking about why we are really doing it this way.
Barrel lengths are the case in point and it was not that long ago that .22 rimfire tubes where all 24”, as it was deemed more accurate and gave better velocity. Then it dawned on people that actually shortening a .22 Long Rifle barrel can achieve the same accuracy, with little or no velocity loss and adds in the practical use of the rifle in the field.
That’s why today, where ever possible, I tend to go for a short rifle barrel that aids in moderator fitment for a compact OAL, better handling but only if the calibre allows it. Not all benefit from a short barrel but many do. Most deer in Britain are shot under 100 yards and most I bet are even less than that, But yes, longer shots on the hills, or large cultivated fields, are necessary and I do that too but short range equals short rifles to me.
Look at the trend amongst manufacturers over the years, shorter is better and many know it and here in Britain we are offered shorter and often threaded tubes for sound moderators, because they know that’s what works for us. Traditionally, barrels have had a standard length of 24”, as it gives a good standard velocity for most rounds, but is not optimum.
Certain calibres do need a longer barrel to obtain the velocity required to match the quoted marketing figures I grant you, as slower powder burn rates need length to combust efficiently. Manufacturer’s muzzle velocity figures are measured approx 15 foot from the muzzle, if we say most deer are harvested at below 100 yards, then why need a longer barrel and the few 100 fps more velocity?
For example, a .308 Win 150-grain bullet travelling at 2800 fps will drop to 2600 and a .243 Win 100-grainstarting at 3000 fps will drop to 2700; do you think the deer will notice that from 15 foot to the 100 yard mark? So why do you need a 24” barrel? Legal requirements demand a minimum energy of 1700 or 1750 ft/lbs for England and Wales and Scotland respectively, with the addition of a minimum of 2450 fps velocity for Scotland. But many calibres are well above this figure, so a shorter barrel would still yield the required velocity/energy and give a much better handling rifle in the process.
Most deer class rifles will really benefit from a short barrel, much like the Battue-type rifles popular in Europe for driven game. People have this weird perception that accuracy only comes from long barrels, it’s a question I am asked all the time, the answer is definitively no.
Longer barrels in certain larger calibres do help velocity, but on the whole, the extra length just impedes handling. This is especially true when in Britain we almost exclusively now use sound moderators when stalking. Primarily for noise reduction but they will also reduce recoil and muzzle flip too, oh yes and stop you going deaf!
Most factory rifles have a short/carbinesized models in their range. With a custom build, you can obviously order a barrel length to suit you and also maximise performance with the correct rifling twist, throating and profile too. Factory versions like Tikka T3 and Sako 85 offer some of their models with shorter barrels of 20 inches, such as the Tikka Forest, Hunter and Lite, whilst Sako offer their Finnlight in 20” for certain calibres.
Others include Howa, who can offer most of their rifle range with a 20” tube and Mauser`s M03 can be had in 20 or even 18” for certain calibres, good lads! Ruger also have a couple of really nice short rifles. The older style Hawkeye Compact has a lovely 16.5” tube, whilst the newer American model is also available in Compact trim, with an 18” tube. The Scout rifle is probably the best of the bunch though.
Again, Sauer Hardwoods is a cracking short fast handling rifle and Blaser offer a Pro Tracking model in their R8 range at 19.5”!; perfect for British woods. The Mossberg MVP Scout is a cracking short barrelled carbine in .308 Win that offers excellent value for money. Savage have a good range of centre fire rifles and the Model 16 Accu Stalker is a short purposebuilt hunting rifle for the British market. It is available in .223, 243 and .308, so excellent for vermin/foxes or deer.
Tikka have a T3 Battue at 20” as standard, so nice and light and fast handling and good value. Sako have some nice short rifles, their Bear range is up my street at 21.25”; short and rugged, these include the Black, Brown, Grizzly and Kodiak models. The Sako Carbon light blends light weight and short length- so win, win. Regarding custom makers, any of them can make a barrel to any length you require.
The Pros are better handling, a lighter rifle and being perfect for sound moderator use. The cons however are more muzzle blast, additional cost of gunsmith work to reduce barrel and very important is that not all calibres are efficient in short barrels.
It’s important to remember that some cartridges do not respond well to reduction, there is a point at which some become non deer legal! As the length is reduced, the ammunition that works in a standard 24” is no longer efficient with say a 18 or 20” tube. That’s because the powder burn rate of most factory ammo is designed for longer use, so they can quote high muzzle velocity figures. Hence this is why reloads using a slightly faster burning powder and differing bullet weight to maximise efficiency in a short barrel length is advantageous if you reload.
For example, a .308 Win can be reduced from 24 to 18” and a 150-grain bullet will only lose 150-200 fps with a factory load. Pep it up a bit with a reload say a 150-grain Ballistic Tip with 39-grains of faster Reloader RL10X gives figures of 2655 fps/2348 ft/ lbs. However, it can go the wrong way, the .243 Win is a prime example at 24” it is deer legal with a 80 – 100-grain bullets, but reduce it to 18-20” and the energy can drop dramatically; below the legal large deer 1700 ft/lbs. EG a 24” tube with 80-grain bullets generates 3438fps/1968 ft/lbs, but in an 18” tube this drops to will drop to 3169fps/1672 ft/lbs and a 100-grain gives 2945 fps/1926ft/lb at 24”, but drops to 2597 fps/1498 ft/lb at 18 inches! (tests in Tikka M55 .243 rifle). It’s not a precise science but ballistic programs like Quickload from JMS Arms (07771 962121) can be very helpful in making your decision.
The other point that worries people is will the accuracy deteriorate if I shorten a barrel? No, is the answer; in fact, some barrels become better, especially if they have a slim profile, as the reduction in length makes it more rigid, so reducing whip lash effect. Barrels vibrate in harmony as the bullet passes up the bore and yes, if these harmonics are changed, group size and consistency can alter too.
The benefits of a shorter rifle can be really felt when toting it around the woods or fields, making it far less of a chore and more confident in handling. Fitting a sound moderator becomes easier too, and when slung over your shoulder the rifle sits far better and lower, importantly making it safer and is not constantly snagging on branches, or pivoting off your shoulder as you walk.
By shortening a rifle’s barrel, the weight is reduced and this means the inevitable addition of the weight of a scope and suppressor can be counteracted, making for a better overall weight and handling. Other than my varmint rifles that need longer barrels to achieve maximum velocity, nearly all my hunters have short tubes and I feel are no disadvantage at all. I have an RPA in 308 Win at just 14.5” and that still rolls over deer at ranges that might embarrass some and is still very much deer legal in energy.
The only thing I would say, is that certain calibres are wasted in shorter barrels, as so much power is just turned into a massive muzzle flash. For example, a 30-06 in a 20” tube is probably only generating 308 Win figures, so just bear that in mind before you get your hacksaw out!
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