Precision rifle tech for hunting-The Barrel
It is often said that “nothing on a bolt action rifle is drop in”, and this statement has a lot of validity. Typically on a bolt action rifle, a gunsmith will turn a barrel blank on a lathe so that it can be mated to the receiver. After the barrel is installed, the chamber is cut and headspace is set based on the matching bolt. While most rifles available use this strategy, there are an increasing number of prefit barrels available on the market.
A prefit barrel system differs from the traditional shouldered barrel installation by having the chamber cut in the barrel while it is removed from the receiver. There are several different methods for attaching the barrel and setting headspace including barrel lock systems, barrel nuts, or using a receiver/barrel manufacturer that hold such tight tolerances that shouldered prefit barrels are drop in such as Impact Precision.
The advantage to a prefit barrel is in many cases comes down to cost and ease of replacement. To address cost, we must look at the time and care it takes a skilled gunsmith to turn, fit and chamber a barrel in the traditional method. That time and care spent by the gunsmith will typically cost north of $400. Then if we add the cost of the match grade barrel blank which are usually around $350, we are $750 invested in barreling the action. In some cases match grade prefit barrels cost just a little bit more than a barrel blank, and there is much less money invested in fitting the barrel to the action.
The second major advantage to a prefit barrel system is the ease of installation. Most prefit barrels available do not require anything more than a few simple tools for installation, and some headspace go/no go gauges. Most prefit barrels that use a lock or nut to set the headspace require threading the barrel into the receiver, then using the bolt and headspace gauges to properly set the headspace, then the lock or nut is tightened and the job is done. So if you are a do it yourself kind of person, or a competitive shooter that wears out several barrels a year, or just want the flexibility to change barrels easily, a prefit barrel system may be for you.
I will be using a prefit barrel from Criterion barrels for this application. Since this is primarily a hunting rifle the profile selected was a sporter contour at a 22” finished length with a threaded muzzle. This barrel is chambered for the versatile 6.5 creedmoor, and utilizes a 12 point barrel nut from Big Horn Arms. One of the major advantages to this system is that if I wanted to change the barrel to a different cartridge or profile like a 6mm Dasher in a heavy palma contour, it can be done in a garage with simple hand tools. It would not be surprising if prefit barrel systems rapidly grow in popularity in the coming years. Next we will be looking at the stock selected for this build.