March 8th, 2008

One Gun, Many Barrels — The Advantages of Switch-Barrel Rigs

With any precision rifle you have a ton of money tied up in the action, trigger, stock, and optics. If you want to shoot a different caliber, you can buy a complete new gun of course. But if you want to get the most out of your existing investment, switching barrels is a very cost-effective alternative. For example, the SAKO Quad, shown below, comes from the factory with four different rimfire barrels, each with a different chambering:

There are also reasons to have multiple barrels in the same caliber, as Forum member Donovan explains:

“I switch barrels very often in my 1000-yard gun. One barrel is for fire-forming only, and a second is a dedicated test barrel. I have four more competition barrels; they all have different accuracy potentials. I change barrels at the range with a barrel vise and an action wrench. I use 40-lbs of torque on oiled threads. Each barrel has it’s own POI (Point of Impact) and is simple to re-zero the scope for each by simply having a POI Log.

I also have a second stock for varminting/hunting. This stock has a 2-1/4″ rounded fore-end, and is is five pounds lighter [than my comp stock]. Now my ‘highly accurate’ bench gun can go into the field for hunting off hand or for bi-pod use. So guess you could say I have a ‘switch barrel /switch stock’ gun.

Buy using one gun for multiple purposes, I save barrel life on the best competition barrels. I get more use out of my $1300.00 scope and $175 trigger. Importantly, by switching barrels and stocks, I retain the same action and trigger feel (with the exact same scope, heights, over all lengths, etc.).”

One Gun, One Hundred Barrels
Forum Member Hammer may be the king of switch barrels. He tells us: “I’ve played with switch-barrel rifles for over 30 years. I have had them on Montana, Remington, Ruger, Sako, Savage, and Weatherby actions. As stated by Donovan, there are real economies to having a single rifle share top-of-the-line scopes, triggers, and stocks, while switching between calibers just by changing the barrel. On a single barreled action, I may employ multiple stocks ranging from lead-weighted benchrest stocks to ultra-lightweight synthetic stocks.

There are also economies to having multiple barrels in the same caliber. I have been in the prairie dog towns and switched amongst a dozen barrels while some barrels cooled and soaked in cleaning solvent.

The rifle in the two pictures below has multiple bolt assemblies. This allows a single rifle to shoot cartridges ranging from the 14-221 Walker to the 470 Capstick. Currently, I have over 100 barrels for it. I can switch barrels in the field in less than five minutes.”

How to Get the Most from Your Switch-Barrel Rifles
Hammer offers this advice: “Quick-detachable scope rings allow easy changing of scopes based on the shooting situation. For example, on one Savage have five scopes — a 4X Leupold, a 6-24X Sightron, a 8-32X Bushell 4200, a Nightforce, etc taking advantage of different scope reticles, different field-of-views, different weights, etc. Scope settings for a given barrel and load are easily determined and returned to given a good scope with click settings. Some return well enough that you don’t even check them on paper in the prairie dog towns, just use the next prairie dog as the confirmation. Would always check the scope setting, maybe with a collimator tool, before going after big game.

Some switch-barrel rifle setups require a barrel wrench, some use a barrel wrench and an action wrench, some use a barrel vise and an action wrench, and some use other tools. The John Dustin Rifle barrel wrench can be carried in your pocket. None that I use require a sophisticated tool for measuring barrel tension or tightness, though some others might recommend it. Hand tight is my approach.

The rifle below is a left-hand Montana 1999 with 300 Wby, 375 H&H, and 458 Lott barrels allowing one rifle to be a complete three-gun set for Africa. The barrels can be changed in the field (though not between shots at charging cape buffalo). I Have a Sako setup made by John Dustin that allows field changing in under a couple of minutes.

Hammer freely admits that while switch barrels are fun, “switch barrels cannot be defended as a necessity. We really only need two rifles — a 22 long rifle and a 460 Wby — and I haven’t found a way to switch easily from rimfire to centerfire in a bolt action.”

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