June 13th, 2008

Speed Variance in Barrels — You May Be Surprised

Put the same load in a variety of barrels (with the same length and chamberings) and you’ll see a wide variance in muzzle velocity. In fact, it’s not unusual to see up to 100 fps difference from one barrel to the next. We demonstrated this with a comparison test of Lapua factory ammo.

Chron Testing Lapua Factory Ammo
We recently chronographed Lapua 105gr 6mmBR factory ammo in three different 8-twist barrels of similar length. The results were fascinating. Lapua specs this ammo at 2790 fps, based on Lapua’s testing with its own 26″ test barrel. We observed a speed variance of 67 fps based on tests with three aftermarket barrels.

barrel speed testing

Brand ‘S’ and Brand ‘PN’ were pre-fit barrels shot on Savage actions. Brand ‘K’ was fitted to a custom action. All test barrels were throated for the 100-108 grain bullets, though there may have been some slight variances in barrel freebore. With a COAL of 2.330″, the rounds were “jumping” to the rifling in all barrels. Among the four barrels, Brand ‘PN’ was the fastest at 2824 fps average — 67 fps faster than the slowest barrel. Roughly 10 fps can be attributed to the slightly longer length (27″ vs. 26″), but otherwise this particular barrel was simply faster than the rest.

Results Are Barrel-Specific, Not Brand-Specific
These tests demonstrate that the exact same load can perform very differently in different barrels. We aren’t publishing the barrel-makers’ names, because it would be wrong to assume that ‘Brand X’ is always going to be faster than ‘Brand Y’ based on test results from a single barrel. In fact, velocities can vary up to 100 fps with two identical-spec barrels from the SAME manufacturer. That’s right, you can have two 8-twist, 26″ barrels, with the same land-groove configuration and contour, from the same manufacturer, and one can be much faster than another.

Don’t Demand More Than Your Barrel Can Deliver
We often hear guys lament, “I don’t get it… how can you guys get 2900 fps with your 6BRs and I can only get 2840?” The answer may simply be that the barrel is slower than average. If you have a slow barrel, you can try using more powder, but there is a good chance it may never run as fast as an inherently fast barrel. You shouldn’t knock yourself out (and over-stress your brass) trying to duplicate the velocities someone else may be getting. You need to work within the limits of your barrel.

Factory Ammo Provides a Benchmark
If you have a .223 Rem, 6BR, .243 Win, 6.5×47 Lapua, 6.5×55, .308 Win, 30-06, or 300 WM Rifle, we recommend you buy a box of Lapua factory-loaded ammo. This stuff will shoot great (typically around half-MOA), and it can give you a baseline to determine how your barrel stacks up speedwise. When you complete a new 6BR rifle, it’s wise to get a box of the factory ammo and chronograph it. That will immediately give you a good idea whether you have a slow, average, or fast barrel. Then you can set your velocity goals accordingly. For example, if the factory 6BR ammo runs about 2780-2790 fps in your gun, it has an average barrel. If it runs 2820+ in a 26″ barrel (or 2835 fps in a 28″), you’ve got a fast tube.

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June 13th, 2008

Berger to make 55gr 20-Caliber Bullet

Erik Stecker of Berger Bullets confirmed that his company will be producing a new, high-BC 20-Caliber bullet this fall. The new bullet features a conventional, non-VLD tangent-ogive design for greater seating flexibility and, hopefully, increased precision. The new bullet should be the highest-BC bullet available to 20-Cal shooters from a major bullet-maker. Although production dies aren’t ready yet, Berger has set a 0.400 Ballistic Coefficient design goal for the bullet. That would be a significant step up from Berger’s current 50gr, 20-caliber bullet, which has a published BC of 0.295.

We expect the new 55-grainer to require an 1:8″ or faster twist barrel, but the exact twist required will depend on the final bullet dimensions when it is put into production. Expected ship date for the new 55gr bullet is “late August to early September”, according to Stecker. With the correct-twist barrel, the new bullet should work well in most popular 20-caliber chamberings, including 20 VarTarg, 20-223, 20 PPC, 20 BR, and .204 Ruger.

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