We all want to get the most value for our hard-earned dollar. We want the best we can get for what we are willing to spend: so how does one know when one is getting the most for one’s money when it comes to guns? For what characteristics does one look? Here are some factors that contribute to accuracy and are easy to notice if one knows what to look for.
One of the first things to look for is a smooth, tight action. If it is a bolt action rifle, check to see if the bolt works smoothly and easily or if it is hard to cycle throughout the full travel of the bolt. When fully extended, does it go back into the receiver in a straight line or does it bind as you push it back into battery? A bolt that works smoothly will work more quickly when a follow-up shot is needed and is a sign that the bolt fits the receiver well and that both are machined correctly. If it is not a tight fit, it will not be as accurate as one that is tightly fit. If the firearm you are shopping for is a semi-auto handgun, then ensure that the slide is tight against the frame and slides smoothly and easily for its full range of travel. If the firearm is a revolver, ensure that the cylinder locks up tightly into the frame, with no side to side wobble, and that the action does not feel gritty or loose: the parts should slide smoothly across each other with no looseness or roughness to your touch. A gritty feel to the interplay of the parts suggests a firearm which is not as well finished internally as one which feels smooth throughout the movement of the parts. It will not be as accurate as one that is internally well-finished.
For rifles, the next thing should be the mounting of the receiver and barrel into the stock of the rifle. Does the stock touch the barrel at any point past where the barrel comes out of the receiver? A rifle whose barrel is “floated”, meaning that the barrel is able to move freely after a round is fired, will be much more accurate than a rifle whose stock touches the barrel for the entire length of the stock. Why does this matter? It matters because anytime you fire a round through a barrel a vibration travels through the length of the barrel; this vibration is called a “harmonic”. When this vibration is undisturbed the next vibration will be exactly the same as the one before it, causing the bullet to go into exactly the same place as the last bullet fired. This is accuracy defined: placing the next round exactly where the prior round went. If everything occurs in exactly the same way for each round fired, then they should all go into the same big hole, which is ultimately our goal.
Perhaps this illustration will help. Think of a coffee cup full of water. If you dip your fingertip into it, you will see circular ripples circulate out from the point where you touched it: think of this as your barrel harmonic. This pattern should always be the same. Now dip your fingertip at several different places while this ripple effect is moving outward. You will see the circles intermix, disrupting the form of the original harmonic: this is what occurs when the stock of the rifle touches the barrel when a round is fired. Any bump under the barrel that touches the barrel causes stress on it and disrupts the harmonic, causing the round fired to be deterred from its originally intended course. This is inaccuracy: Bullets traveling everywhere but where we intend them to travel. Anything that disturbs the harmonic disturbs accuracy and your ability to hit your target where you intend it to be hit. Avoid this problem by buying a rifle with a “floated” barrel.
There are two ways to tell if your barrel is floated. One way is to look along the edge of the barrel where it curves down to meet the stock: if there is a gap between the barrel and the stock, then it is probably floated. The second way to tell, if you are still unsure after method one, is to take a dollar bill and wrap it width-wise around the barrel. Holding the two long ends of the dollar bill, slide it down the length of the barrel until it stops. If it stops in front of the receiver, then the barrel is “fully floated” and this will lead to your best accuracy since the barrel can freely vibrate and keep the harmonic undisturbed. If the bill slides down part, but not all, of the way then it will still be a more accurate rifle than one which is not floated at all, but probably not quite as accurate as one which is fully floated. Rifles having fully floated barrels right “off the rack” are the Tikka T3, Winchester Model 70, Thompson Icon, Weatherby S2 (Series 2 Sub-MOA), Thompson Venture, and some of the Savage rifles, to name a few. These are all at least “minute of angle” or “MOA” rifles right out of the box and will shoot at least 3 rounds into an inch at 100 yards.
The third thing to look for in a rifle is a “bedded” receiver. This means that, while the barrel is free to move, the receiver is locked down into the stock. “Bedding” a receiver keeps the entire action in line with the barrel and provides a rock-solid launch pad for the round fired. This contributes to accuracy as much as does floating the barrel and is especially important in a rifle with a stock made of wood. Having originally been a living organism before being cut down and shaped into a stock, wood is inherently affected by temperature and humidity. This is why your unbedded rifle, which you sighted in at the range during 95 degree heat and 98% humidity, missed the target you shot at on a 28 degree morning with 30% humidity: wood cells swell in hot weather and shrink during cold weather, causing your receiver to move enough to skew your shot. Bedding the receiver takes this variable out of the shooting equation and keeps all factors the same, resulting in a more accurate shot and putting the game down with one round. A rifle with a bedded receiver will be inherently more accurate than a receiver which is not, which is why snipers, benchrest shooters, and precision shooters of bolt action rifles always have their receivers bedded. Receivers of semi-auto rifles like AR-15’s are a bit different, but tightness of parts fit, smoothness of operation, and barrel floating are still of prime importance. Rifles available with bedded receivers are the Winchester Model 70, Thompson Icon, Weatherby S2 (Series 2 Sub-MOA), Thompson Venture, and some of the Savage rifles. Rifles capable of shooting MOA (minute of angle) are capable of placing 3 shots inside 1” at 100 yards; the Weatherby S2 is capable of sub-MOA groups measuring less than 1” at 100 yards … and retails for $499! Most rifles claiming sub-MOA performance easily retail for three times that price.
Buying an accurate rifle or handgun is easy. Remember that what a firearm looks like on the outside (fit of the outside parts, finish on the exterior parts) will tell you a lot about what quality of work on the inside is like, especially on a handgun. Buying an accurate rifle is easy if it is bedded, floated, and the weapon works smoothly as a whole. An adjustable trigger is also a huge contributor to accuracy since the harder you must pull the trigger, the greater the chances of pulling your sight picture off of the target. Accurate rifles are not necessarily expensive anymore, thanks to CNC machining and some pretty significant technology leaps in the past few years. There is no longer any reason to wait to shop for that new rifle with so many excellent choices out there.
By: Paul Alburl, Hunting Associate