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GUNS Magazine May 2010 - Page 56
AccurAcy So much has changed. John Barsness out-of-the-box he question appears in letters-to-the-editor and Internet chat rooms: “What’s the most accurate factory rifle?” Oddly enough, the question is asked not because today’s mass-produced rifles are inaccurate, but because so many are very accurate. They got that way partly by stealing certain features from target rifles, mostly benchrest rifles. One of the pleasant by-products of being a gun writer is shooting a lot of rifles. Over the past decade or so I’ve made an informal study of the things that go into out-of-the box rifle accuracy, both through shooting bull’s-eyes and shooting-the-bull. The biggest factor? Most of the rifles with a reputation for super OTB accuracy have free-floated barrels. Examples run from “affordable” Savages to the Nosler Custom Model 48 costing close to $3,000. The Browning X-Bolt’s superb accuracy helped take this Colorado pronghorn at long range. T Some rifles with a good reputation for accuracy don’t have free-floated barrels. The Remington 700 is perhaps the prime example, with the fore-end tip pressing upward against the barrel. This was the most reliable way to bed a barrel when all stocks were made of wood, because the wood might warp slightly after the rifle was made. In fact, odds were it would warp. When alive, a tree is designed by Nature to suck water upward, and the basic mechanics for sucking water still exist in dead wood, even if it’s been defunct for years. Cutting the barrel channel so the fore-end pressed against the barrel meant if the wood did warp slightly, the barrel would tend to follow the foreend, thus maintaining the tight stock fit old-school riflemen associated with quality work. However, problems sometimes occur with tip-bedded wooden stocks. The stock may warp enough to change the point-of-impact of the rifle, often within a few days. The most extreme example I’ve ever seen was the walnut stock on the Ruger 77 a companion brought on a caribou hunt in Quebec, a province noted for rain, especially up north where the caribou roam. After a few days of hunting in wind-driven water, his .30-06 shot considerably high and left. He discovered this when he shot at a caribou from 200 yards, using his daypack as a rest, and hit the bull in the neck while aiming at the shoulder, and confirmed it on a paper target later that same day. Tip-bedded rifles may not shoot as accurately as possible, though there are disagreements about this. The folks at Weatherby claim they’ve tested their Vanguards both floated and tip-bedded, and found no difference. However, I’ve free-floated the barrels of a bunch of Remington 700s, Ruger 77s, and Weatherby Vanguards over the years and found many shot better floated. The only exceptions were rifles with really thin barrels, such as the Remington Mountain Rifles and Ruger Ultra Lights, and even some of those shot better floated. (This isn’t a secret, the reason another frequently-asked question in Internet 56 WWW.GUNSMAGAZINE.COM • MAY 2010