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 2014-01-07 11.42.06

By Josh Wayner

I’ll preface this by stating that I am not in any way biased in respect to the use and application of traditional length rifle barrels or associated weapons, but my area of study has been mostly in making weapons more compact and useable for real-world scenarios. If anything, I suggest that readers try out my observations for themselves and draw their own conclusions. Since my last article, I’ve received a very large number of questions and stacks of hate mail regarding rifle barrel length from many individuals as well as members of our industry and community . . .

There seems to be a great deal of Freudian angst when barrel length and bullet performance are mentioned in the same sentence. As such, I was confronted by a vast array of conjectures and speculations that were, at best, unsupported and fairly biased. The truth of the matter is, there’s a great deal of difference in what a shorter barrel can yield and what the potential applications are. But maybe because I’m an optimist, I see advantages where others see impotence.

2014-01-07 11.29.47

The vast majority of criticisms I received were in regard to the speed of bullets fired out of said short tubes. It appears that a large number of individuals are fixated on the concept of velocity and that bullets must be moving at Mach 11 and call the remaining rounds in the magazine ‘Goose’ and ‘Iceman’ to be taken seriously when in flight. My first and only advice to anyone who drools over ballistic tables is to invest in a subscription to a quality financial periodical, because at least those numbers can get you somewhere when you apply them, and while you’re at it, subscribe every member of congress, too. Velocity is like the vain, fair-haired vixen that your friends are always talking about. You always want to get more of her, but you don’t really know why other than just superficial attraction. The allure of a high velocity number on your ballistic card is just too attractive for most to resist.

Loads and Specifications

In my personal opinion, the .308 Winchester is by far the best candidate for chambering in your short barrel. Other calibers will of course work, but not all do as well as others. The biggest complaint I have against sub-.300 caliber chamberings in shorter barrels is the reduced mass and limited selection of quality heavy bullets that are available currently. This might be a generalization, but unless you have a wildcat chamber, there’s little that the .308 can’t do in a short barrel that some other caliber can best. And believe me, I’ve looked.

2014-01-07 11.33.52

No other commonly available cartridge gives you the ability to push a 168gr .30cal bullet out of about 11 inches of rifling at 2380fps while not wasting powder or barrel life. There is a such thing as too short, and anyone looking to run a sub-12” .30 caliber should look seriously at 300 Blackout, as it’s more efficient in regard to powder used and velocity produced. Think a short barreled .300 Blackout is a close range brush popper? Travis Haley sure doesn’t think so, and neither do the targets he rang at 750m.

In point of fact, I don’t think that any rifle of any caliber really ever needs a barrel over 20”. I’m not alone in that sentiment, as many Magpul fans or long range students out there who own The Art of the Precision Rifle will know, cowboy patriot Todd Hodnett states that he will never own another .338 Lapua over 20” again. I can hear it now: “Heresy! Heresy! The big brand makers like Remington and Savage make .338s with 26” barrels plus brake and they must know better!” When those guys yell at you, just smile politely and sleep well knowing that the extra feet per second that they claim won’t save their ballistic souls.

I’ve found that short barreled rifles like my 13.5” .308 do their best with a medium weight bullet travelling at a moderate velocity propelled by a modest charge of medium burning powder. See a trend? The thing with shorter barrels is that you have to be mindful of what components you use to load them. And handload you must to get the best performance. Unless, that is, you count Lapua’s new 170gr FMJ load, which is supposed to be for .308s as short as 12” with a claimed 16” velocity of 2460fps using ‘low-flash’ powder, there isn’t a lot out there that really works well from the factory out there that gives good velocity and low flash signature.

The hands-down best powders for a short .308 are IMR4895 (not H4895, they are different actually), Hodgdon Benchmark, and Hodgdon Varget. Of those, good old IMR4895 provides the lowest flash signature and is the most temperature stable, which is really kind of laughable when you realize that the other two are billed as ‘Extreme’ and are supposed to be consistent across a wide range of temps. To top that off, the Hodgdon website has a graph claiming IMR4895 to be the worst performing powder of those listed. Somebody call Alex Jones, I smell a conspiracy!

Low pressure primers, specifically the CCI 200 Large Rifle variety, work very well for getting good loads without flattening the primers. Really, any number of quality 168gr-class bullets can be used that way, including Hornady, Sierra, Nosler, and Barnes. I personally like the Hornady BTHP, but the AMAX is good too. To push them, I use a charge of 42gr IMR4895 in Lapua brass loaded to 2.835”. This gets me an average 70 degree velocity of 2380fps at the muzzle from my 1:10 twist barrel.

Short Barrels and Bullet Flight

Here’s where people get confused and angry. What I’m about to say may offend some, but it’s the truth: velocity is abstract. I’ll give you a few minutes to think about what kind of things you’re going to write me in the comments section. When you get back, I’ll tell you why it doesn’t matter.

2014-01-07 11.45.42

The truth is that every shot is different and entirely dependent on a host of external and internal variables. Virtually every gun rag out there lists five shot averages on their data tables, and for good reason. Velocity is an abstract concept and isn’t concrete. Even if everything is exactly the same down to the powder kernel, there is still some variance in velocity even if it can’t be easily measured. That’s life.

My own .308 Win load isn’t a perfect 2380 fps. That number is an average – I’ve had bullets move as fast as 2390 fps and as slow as 2368 fps in the same batch, and I’m a seasoned precision handloader. Because of that, we get slight variances in point of impact.

Let’s say I’m on the 540 yard line at South Kent Sportsman’s Club, my home range. Off of the elevation setting of five mils at that distance from my 100 yard zero on a 70 degree day, the individual round moving at 2390 will impact in the same place at 5 mils, but the individual bullet moving at 2368 will impact at 5.1 mils. That may not seem like much, but the group just opened up by 2” if you were holding precisely. Now, let’s say those first two shots were already 4” apart. Now you just dropped that last one in low, making your overall group at that range kinda lame.

It wasn’t your fault; velocity is just a vain lady. She gets worse, but the thing that you have to remember is that velocity is nothing more than an estimate that begets another estimate. By averaging 2380 fps, we’re assuming that those shots are typical of the rest of the lot. But that may not be true.

If there were two hotter loads in that bunch, they raise the average and thus create error in the predicted trajectory. See how that can be a problem? Now imagine that you’re sitting behind your .338 and shooting at a distance of 1900 yards and your muzzle velocity estimate is 2900 fps. It’s actually 2839 for this particular cartridge. Yeah, you just made a $7 noise. But don’t worry, it wasn’t your fault. Velocity happens.

Now let’s go out into the snow. It’s 10 degrees and that sucks, and so does your velocity now. My loads drop down to a nice 2300fps average at this temperature, and my 540 yard setting is now 6.3 mils. That’s 1.3 mils on average more drop just from temperature and air density alone from my 70 degree point of impact. So in the extreme temperature range from 100 to 0 degrees, I have about 1.5 mils of variance at 540 yards. The effects of temperature are constant, and velocity is constantly affected by the environment. Do you see now how velocity isn’t something that can be used as a marker of effectiveness or efficiency? It’s constantly changing; therefore, the terminal and external ballistics of the bullet in flight are changing, too.

So, let’s rewind for a minute and put all that velocity talk into context. In my last piece, I noted that there was only a 15% variance between the 26” barrel and the 13.5” both firing the same 168gr handload. 15% isn’t enough to matter to me in the long run. When you fire your long 26” barreled rifle at 2805fps average, that bullet has slowed down to 2380 by the time it hits 200 yards. If you were to fire your 16” barreled rifle at an average 2610fps, you will be hitting 2380fps at only 100 yards.

At a range of 540 yards, the 26” barrel yields 3.5 mils of drop from the same 100 yard zero on a 70 degree day. That’s 30% less drop. When you take the 16” barrel and fire at that range, you’re looking at 4.1 mils of drop, which is only about a 20% difference over the 13.5” length. Let’s drop the temperatures a bit and see what happens. At 10 degrees, our 26” barreled rifle is now impacting at an estimated 4.1 mils. The 16” is now hitting at an average of 4.9 mils. Compare that to the 13.5”, which is at 6.3 mils of estimated drop. In other words, there’s a 17% difference between 26” and 16” and a 24% difference between 16” and 13.5”. On the extreme end, there is a 36% difference between 26” and 13.5”, which really isn’t a big deal. Here’s how it looks in graph form. Notice anything interesting?

Graph One

Graph Two

I thought you did. You can see that temperature alone can play havoc and make your 26” drop like your 16”, which is now dropping like your 13.5”. Abstract indeed. Temperature plays a huge role in how bullets fly, as does elevation and wind. So let’s close the distance a bit to a range most people can shoot at regularly without much environmental interference, like 300 yards.

So what? That still looks unimpressive? That’s like a million clicks of difference, Right? On a 70 degree day, there is only a 6.4” (2.1 MOA) difference in point of impact between the 13.5” and 26” barrels. On a 10 degree day, the difference is only 10.8” (3.6 MOA). That equates to very little real-world difference. If you happen to run a 16”, the differences are even less noticeable, those being 4.3” (1.4 MOA) at 70 degrees and 7.5” (2.5 MOA) at 10 degrees. None of this is really that big of a deal for real-world applications.

What? How is that not a big deal? Let me tell you: all bullets drop, that’s a fact of life. Modern high quality optics can account for it as simply as clicking the elevation turret or looking through the Horus reticule. Laser rangefinders can give you an accurate range estimate with which you can use to predict a flight path using a quality ballistic calculator. Some like the JBM Ballistics version are available free online and even can allow you to extrapolate a solution for any distance across any range of temperatures on a single data card. Range, click, bang. It’s that easy these days whether you are firing a 13.5” .308 at 1260 yards or a 30”.300 Win Mag at 368 yards.

“But Josh! What about wind?” Well, what about it? Just like talking to girls, reading the wind is tricky and can result in embarrassment if not done properly. I’m not going to detail wind or spin drift much, but I will say that you need to pay careful attention to both. A typical .308 will have as much as .2 mils of spin drift at 600 yards naturally in a no-wind environment. As far as wind is concerned, she is a cruel, cruel bitch that will break your heart as soon as make eyes at you. Reading the wind is a challenge for every shooter, as there isn’t a very reliable gauge to measure wind at every point along a given bullet’s path, just like there isn’t one to gauge a woman’s opinion of you during a conversation. Time, patience, and missed shots are part of the learning curve no matter what barrel length or velocity you shoot with when it comes to wind.

That is another reason I encourage proficiency at medium distances, as there’s significantly less wind influence at closer ranges. This might be a given, but it’s a good given in that there is very little significant difference in drift between a 300gr .338 Lapua at 2800fps (.4 mil drift) and a 168gr .308 at 2380fps (.8 mil drift) at 300 yards in a 10mph 90 degree left to right wind. Even though it is twice as much, it’s only a difference of 4.4” (1.4 MOA). The thing is the .308 gets there at less than 1/5 the cost, less than half the powder, and with a weapon shorter than the Lapua’s barrel when folded. If we’re talking semi-auto, the cost of the system alone can dictate choice, not to mention the availability of parts and weight penalties. That extra 1.4 MOA just got a bit pricy, in other words.

Applications of the Short Barreled Precision Rifle

So what does all this velocity and drop stuff matter, longer barrels are clearly superior on the graphs, right? Well, not really. Let’s take a look at typical engagement scenarios from three perspectives: police, military, and civilian. According to the American Sniper Association (ASA) literature I’ve got on hand, the average distance for a police sniper to fire at (not necessarily hit. Looking at you, NYPD…) his target was only 51 yards based on a 2005 report summing up over 200 sniper shots. That’s hardly far at all, but well within the realistic expectations of urban combat. At 50 yards, there is literally no disadvantage to having a short barrel. In the military, a shorter barrel isn’t something that’s new. The SCAR 17 with a 13” barrel is in use with the SEALs currently, and is no doubt the primary target of Lapua’s new 170gr offering. A shorter barreled weapon is also far easier to conceal and jump with, bonus if it has a folding stock as well.

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The civilian market has had a hard time grasping the benefits of a shorter weapon. For one, Americans are literally obsessed with the whole 1000+ yard thing. I seriously doubt that most people who own a .338 Lapua east of the Mississippi has had a chance to fire it past 900 yards enough to become truly

proficient. Besides private land and a few public ranges, there isn’t a great deal of support for extreme ranges compared to normal 3-400 yard setups. The only 1000 yard range that I can access within a couple hours driving is the Marksmanship Training Center (MTU) in Lake City, Michigan, and even then I have to be a member to get in, so I try to get on private land instead, which isn’t the safest thing to do sometimes. The most complete list of ranges over 500 yards I could find consists of only around 270 ranges across the whole country, which seems like a lot until you realize that there are over 25,000 ranges in operation according to public records available from NIOSH. That means that roughly 1% of ranges will allow you to get the most out of your long barrel. Why own a gun you can never get the full potential out of? Owning a .338 Lapua and firing it only at a 200 yard covered range on a bench is like going 30mph in your Lamborghini to pick up groceries. You’re better than that unless you’re Bruce Wayne, in which case you already have a Gatling gun that can fire fingerprint bullets into bricks or some shit in addition to your 4th Amendment-violating sonar goggles.

I’m not going to get into the reasons why people buy the guns they do, but I will say that in America, if it can’t be done by a .308Win, it really shouldn’t be done at all. I’m not trolling here, I’m just pointing out the facts, and don’t play the bear card on me, either. If you feel comfortable carrying a hot loaded .357 or .44 mag up north, realize that a 168gr .308Win, even a 13.5” one, has more force at 1/3 mile than a hot 240gr .44 does point blank. And to think, Fred Bear would have been horrified to learn that the polar bear he shot with an arrow back in 1966 could have laughed off a .308 according to some of the experts I received mail from recently. In short, a short barrel isn’t a handicap for hunting. It’s just the contrary. Encore pistols have been using short barrels in rifle calibers for years, but slap a bolt action and a stock on, and it suddenly becomes a CQB mall ninja’s toy found only in the hands of a Die hard villian. How is that right, Hans?

2014-01-07 11.36.09

My hunting rifle is one of my Scally Hill Systems Mk4Mod7 systems that uses a 13.5” barrel. When folded, it’s just 26.6” long and can maneuver through brush like it’s not even there. Even with the stock in position, it’s only 35.75” overall with a 13” length of pull. It’s smaller than most AR15s out there, uses AICS mags, and it’s still a .5 MOA gun after 4000+ rounds and counting out to 540 yards, and yes, that’s an average of .5 MOA. For hunting anything in America, that’s hard to beat when size and accuracy are concerned. Not to mention, it’s the ideal sized rifle for a guerrilla sniper or armed civilian marksman in a time of unrest.

For most realistic uses, a short barreled rifle isn’t a handicap. Considering that most hunting and shooting is done at around 100-300 yards given terrain, available practice areas, and shot ethics, there isn’t really a disadvantage to speak of. Yes, there is more wind drift and drop at extended distance, but a weapon needs to be fitted to its environment. If 540 yards is the maximum distance at which I practice regularly, it makes sense that I build a weapon that reaches its potential at that distance since I can regularly train with it at that range and not using an excessive amount of resources to get there. In my mind, carrying a 50” long .338 Ultra Magnum after deer knowing that the shot is going to be around 100-300 yards is akin to carrying a Custom Shop full size .500S&W Magnum as an EDC piece. Bigger bullets do not make up for poor marksmanship, nor does more velocity. Don’t sell yourself short by investing in a shoulder-bruising powder-hog that you can’t afford to practice with at any real distance in the hopes that you will be like Chris Kyle because Chris had a big gun and shot bad guys. Firstly, you

won’t ever be Chris Kyle and secondly, don’t get your hopes up about shooting bad guys. Go buy Modern Warfare 3 and learn to quickscope with the MSR. Trust me, it’s cheaper and you’ll only get bruised verbally by 12 year olds. Get something that you can fire comfortably, effectively, economically, and lethally at the maximum distance that you can fire at regularly. My bet is that you won’t need a 26” .338 Lapua or even a 20” .308 to do that. In other words, don’t try to make up for your shortcomings with more power. That will only magnify them.


So there you have it. Short barreled systems work and they fit what most people will need a rifle for. Can you go longer? Sure, you can. But the real question is why you would want to, knowing that you will probably never wring the full potential out of a short barrel to begin with at your typical range or hunting excursion. That being said, you’re the master of your own decisions, and fitting your weapon to your environment or preferences is ultimately your task. Personally, I’m a minimalist utilitarian in the true sense, and my practicality dictates that I keep going smaller and smaller until I reach the most compact, useful balance between size and power. Cars, guns, girls, all the same: the smaller, smarter, and more capable the better.

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      • I will indeed, I let my membership lapse when they redid the rules video but I may renew in the spring, SCAR 17 needs some distance to play with and Centershot up the road has heat but that won’t be near the selling point it is now come spring.

      • Hey Brother,

        I realize this is a long ago post. I did lots of stuff in the military and I agree barrel length is way over hyped. I am currently building a .308 AR with a 14.5 barrel. Do you have any suggestions of factory ammo or a good step off point for a hand-load?

        It will be a general purpose rifle from house gun to hunting.
        Thanks for your time,

    • So im taking my 308 to get it shortnd tomm. Does this mean i will have to shoot handloads only or can i still shoot my wal mart ammo… not a loader

  1. Velocity is like horsepower in a car or truck – too many people look only at that number as somehow indicative of “better” without regard to how that power is transferred and how it can be controlled.

  2. Wow. This guy makes bold statements BUT uses actual data to back it up.
    …you sure you’re right in the head? People don’t take kindly to that there empirical data…

    • I read through the entire thing and I agreed with every last bit, but by the end of it all I could think was “wow… The butthurt is strong in this one.”

      Nonetheless very well done.

  3. Well done, great article. Reminds me when a coworker of my dads from Germany heard the guys at the lunchroom table talking about sports cars (horsepower, torque, rev limits, and top speed). He simply asked “and where do you take those cars? I haven’t seen a speed limit above 70 in this country”. Sometimes we get so caught up in having the biggest and best because we can, we never really ask if we should or at least what purpose it will really serve. Don’t get me wrong I love my guns of all shapes and sizes, and will still collect a variety of them. But when it comes down to it there are only a couple that I would consider my go to guns, and they are always the shorter ones. I can complete 95% of what I need to with them and I complete that 95% more often because I am more likely to have them with me.

    • The speed limit outside Austin Texas is 85mph, and on I-10 west of the Hill country it is 80mph. Most of the interstates in Texas are at least 70mph except in urban areas.

      • Yeah, but my daily driver Tercel with a 1.5 liter 85 horse motor will cruise 80+ all day easily. I can’t even remember the last time I could open up my Evo VIII on the street (and that’s got a relatively modest 350 whp on Cali 93 octane). Pretty much anything over 300 hp is wasted on the street IMO.

        • If you have an Elise, 200hp is more than you can use on the street… 😀

          288whp, and the torque to go with it- GRINS!!! and tickets 🙁

        • What about mountains? What about passing? What about on-ramps?

          I don’t understand this kind of thinking. If someone wants a powerful car, more power to him. If someone wants a big gun, more power to him. I think it’s irrelevant if they can take full advantage of it. Some people (yours truly included) just like nice things (which may just happen to be big and powerful).

        • Well then by all means continue to be slow, and I will continue to waste my additional 450 horsepower.

        • And you receive as much pleasure from your Honda Fit as someone might in their BMW M3 or MB AMG or Ferrari? “Every man to his own taste,” said the farmer as he kissed the cow.

        • LMFAO! WHAT? A Honda FIT? Some of you people talking about excess in cars have obviously never driven anything seriously fast. A Honda Fit, GTFO of here with that BS.

    • Back-roads in the mountains of Tennessee and Kentucky; unofficial speed limit is whatever you can keep from killing yourself with in a drift-turn.

    • I’ve done 140MPH on the highway..paced by a LEO. We were checking the accuracy of my new speedometer as his was calibrated. Yes, he’s a friend….and that was in a pickup truck….450HP…it is never enough!

      Great article. I’ll be purchasing a .308 rifle this year and this article eliminates at least one decision I’ll need to make!

      • I’m a huge fan of the .308, but my gunsmith has me rethinking that. There are better rounds, especially for long distance. He’s currently building me an M40A1 replica in .260 Remington. It uses the same case as .308, but a more efficient bullet. If I ever have him build me another custom AR-10 (2, so far), it will probably be in .260 Remington. It gives great ballistics, but also not too much throat erosion and barrel wear. You should look into it before making your purchase.

        • 260 Rem is a great round just not significantly better than 7mm-08. What you gain is not worth what you lose.

  4. It’s articles like this that keep me coming back to TTAG. Looks like my search for a .308 barrel just changed considerably.

    Now, if we could only get rid of those pesky NFA restrictions…

    • If not for Newtown, the gun-rights organizations were gearing up to launch an assault on SBR and suppressor restrictions around this time last year.

  5. My 8 inch A.R. 15 does sub MOA groups at 100 yards all day every day. My 11.5 inch AR15 does sub MOA groups out 100 yards 200 yards and 300 yards all day every day. They are both probably the most handy rifles I’ve ever handled next to an iron sighted 10/22. I think people often get confused between velocity and accuracy when dealing with barrel length. This was an excellent article to dispel all these myths. Unfortunately our president is doing all he can to limit the amount of people who get to enjoy short-barreled rifles legally. Out of all my rifles my SBRs get the most use. Maybe this article will drive up interest in them.

  6. Great article. There’s always a lot of “vodoo ballistics” out there on the internet, and I’m always glad when it get’s put to rest.

  7. “In point of fact, I don’t think that any rifle of any caliber really ever needs a barrel over 20”.”

    The M-2 has a barrel length of 45″.

    I think there is less science than wishful thinking involved in this essay. Velocity is not just important for accuracy, it is also important for energy delivered to the target. Barrel length certainly has an affect on velocity and ballistics. Whether the affect is critical for one application or another is something to be discussed with reasoned thinking. But the blanket statement that “velocity is abstract” is simply ignorance.

        • M2 WAS used by someone to make a ridiculously long shot, and with that shot we figured out it’d be handy to have long range capabilities like that – and started developing purpose built rifles for that task.

          It is not something snipers currently do. They’d be more inclined to break links and load the 50 cal ammo into a Barrett for precision shots than they would be to use the M2.

        • The very best support I have found yet for some of my shooting “friends” who have been flaming me for getting the 18″ barrel instead of the 24″ on my new Sig Sauer SSG 3000. The 18″ will definitely do anything the 25″ will do with the right load.
          I have had both a Barrett 98B. .338 Lap Mag and a Sako TRG in same caliber. Both are awesome rifles and if I was still in the military and in Afghan or Iraq, I may still wish for them. But here, with only a 1100 meter range as my max distance shooting location, my 18″ Sig is just fine.
          Thanks for a great article, Josh.

    • I agree that the article offers nothing new in ballistics, seems to reject the actual value of velocity in long range shooting at small targets, or the value of longer barrels to allow the burn of much larger powder loads needed to drive heavier hunting bullets to modest velocities. But I go point by point below.

      To me the piece reads exactly like a “9mm isn’t nearly as good as .45ACP, and no one needs 10mm or a 5” barrel.

  8. This was a great read — very informative.

    And wouldn’t you know it, I inadvertently bought a great rifle for the distances I shoot and the purposes I’m likely to actually need it for. So…following your advice, I should stick with my trusty Marlin 30-30. (And get a scope if I want to be accurate beyond about 75 yards, cause even with the help of peep sights my eyes aren’t up to the task.) Although a modern semiauto would be fun and undoubtedly faster with follow-up shots and reloads, I figure I can be pretty darn effective within my limits with my chosen rifle…if I need to be.

    I’m okay with that. 🙂

  9. I’m cool with the short barrel, just hate the tax stamp and the fingerprint card only available on the second Tuesday of the month from 11:15 to 11:30 AM.

  10. Outstanding article. Thank you. I have a Rem 700 SPS .308 Tactical with the 20” bull barrel (1:12 twist) sitting on a XLR Chassis stock, along with a Leupold Mark 4 ER/T 6.5-20×50 TMR reticle, FFP scope. Here in San Diego, CA we have a ~1,000 yd range and I shoot Black Hills 175gr HPBT .308. The accuracy is amazing. 100 yd zero yields .25 MOA…average. All the best.

  11. Well this is a worthless article seen as all the author has done is confuse rifle precision with accuracy. Yes Precision is not determined by barrel length which is a no brainier, Accuracy is in part about the repeatability of applying that precision. simply put the shorter the barrel the more the round is going to vary based off of weather and as such be less accurate. A longer barrels had less change in bullet drop over temp ranges than the shorter barrels this is being glossed over with the excuse “because you wont notice it at the ranges you are shooting.” which although for most people might be a fair statement but it is not the same as there is no difference in accuracy.

    • You realize shorter barrels have less flex than a longer barrel when fire which provides greater accuracy than longer barrel. You are trading off velocity but gaining accuracy.

      • Seans you are right to an extent there is more visible flex but the forces on the barrel are the same short or long and how the action works affects the effects of flex more than anything. secondly you can oil sleeve, flute, dimple, or just add more material to make the barrel more rigid to reduce the amount of flex.

        In PLS forums yes they talk about shortening the barrel improves accuracy but that is because the reciprocation of the piston adds inconsistent flex to the barrel. the same happens in ar’s to a lesser extent but the flex that happens in a blot action when using a precision barrel is repeatable which is why you can still get extremely accurate (1/2 moa) groupings with long barrels.

        with all this said can I have no doubt that you can get the same precived accuracy out of a short barrel rifle with a quality barrel just not out to the same distances.

        • Dan, the flex is not the same ever between two shots, even with something such as a bolt action. A lot of factors contribute to that. How the powder initially burns, the state of the rifling inside the barrel, carbon and copper fouling of the rifling, these all contribute to different internal ballistics and flex of the barrel, minuscule I will admit, but for precision shooting they do come into play. But the biggest difference between two shots will come down temp of the barrel which changes from shot to shot. This has a huge effect on barrel flex. The best example I can think of is a video I watched in armourers school of a M2 .50cal under full automatic fire to the point the barrel was glowing white. The flex increased substantially the hotter it got. I have attended two separate branches sniper programs and have got to shoot at Tubbs, and I keep getting the same info, of trying and finding a balance between velocity and accuracy(barrel length). Faster velocity is better for the external ballistics versus the internal ballistics often do better with a shorter barrel. I am not advocating a 10 inch .338 over a 20inch, but that you do have a trade off of accuracy for velocity with a 18 inch compared to 20 inch. Its finding the balance that is the hard part between those two.

  12. An excellent article. I’ve believed this for years, the longest barrel I own is 20″ and the rest are minimum legal length. That being said, while faster is not always better, flatter is always better. I don’t know how to get flatter without faster, and that’s got me looking in the 26″ range for my next build in 260 rem. I’ve been looking into maximum point blank range calculations for hunting rifles, and it is harder to get a projectile to stay within the +-3″ of bore line range without slinging it pretty fast as far as I can tell.

  13. You don’t need a Ferrari Enzo to do something that you can very well do just as well (and just as fast) as a Ford Fiesta.

    Message received.

  14. A 20inch barrel is less accurate than a 18inch. You get better external ballistics with the longer barrel, but you have more flex in the longer barrel when firing, which detracts from the accuracy of the rifle. So a shorter barrel will have less variation at the muzzle, but worse external ballistics typically. So its a balance between the two, but I have seen 600yard first round hits out of MK18mod1 so I am def more inclined to the shorter barrels being able to perform. And will people stop referencing the Seals using scars, its one of the most hated guns that was forced upon the teams.

    • Stiffness of the barrel is directly proportional to length, while it varies as to the cube of diameter. So to go to 20 inches over 18, you would only need to vary the diameter by 3.5 percent which would increase barrel weight if steel were used by only 7%. Not to say that would be a useful compromise, but getting the stiffness back is not a huge problem. You look at the rifle at the top of this article, getting 7% of barrel weight out of it, could come out of a dozen places it is overbuilt. Size of mag, for instance. How many civilian shooters or hunters, to use the author’s metrics need large mags. Not talking the law here, you can have as many as you want, just saying how often do you use 10 rounds to put down a deer, or how often is a pistol grip or a fancy handguard set up, or a huge scope required.

    • There is absolutely nothing “forced” upon the teams. They have first choice of the equipment they want to run. Their armorer’s motto is “If you can dream it, we can build it”. Just a bit of FYI. Good day.

  15. In this essay you seem to beg that barrel length does affect accuracy out to extreme ranges ( > 300 yards). In your previous one, you seemed to argue against that idea.

    Did I get the correct idea from your essay? The first part of the essay was already getting the hacksaw out for my 26″ Rem 700 SPS Varmint chambered in 308. It’s a heavy beast! I bought the heavy barrel for the extra (perceived) accuracy. But you’ve got me tempted to cut it down now…

    However, if I was correct in your assumption that barrel length does matter at extreme ranges, I’d rather keep it. Although I do not currently shoot out past 300+ yards, I’ve been wanting to shoot at 1000 yards.

    • I hope I don’t get a double post here, my browser just crashed a second ago.
      I’m not a hacksaw guy, think lathe, man! And I didn’t use a 700 SPS, either. Here’s my advice to you I regard to your question: build your rifle for the 99% situation, not the rare 1% exception.
      I do the vast majority of my shooting inside 440yards, even though I can go further on a regular basis. Even if you have a shorty, the bullet will still be flying at 1K and most certainly lethal.
      Shooting that far is challenging, even with a .338 and a good read on the variables.
      Keep in mind, it took Craig Harrison 9 shots to kill those Taliban to set his record.

    • If you’re referring to what I think you are, he’s not talking about accuracy, he’s talking about point of impact shift due to velocity. If you shoot a 168gr round out of a 26″ barrel at 2900fps it will have a different point of impact than if you shoot the same 168gr bullet out of that same barrel but at 2700fps.

      • Point of impact shift? Of course there will be a different path in bullet flight, but POI is relative to the distance and sight setting. Two guns zeroed at 500 yards will have the same POI, even if one is a .338 Lapua and the other a .45-120 Sharps. Trajectory varies, but POI doesn’t in theory.

        In the odd case that you have a .308 zeroed at 300 yards and cut the barrel from 26″ to 16″ with a hacksaw and a recrowning tool, there may be a POI shift, but that isn’t a realistic situation that people face unless you’re into that kind of thing. By doing that, you essentially created a new barrel, at least in terms of velocity and flight path.

  16. I had similar thoughts when purchasing my 20″ barrel .308 LTR. I practiced out to 600 yards with my pet hunting ammo, and subsequently shot my deer at 41 yards (Bushnell laser rangefinder from stand to blood spatter). My buddy got his deer with his 16″ POF .308 at about 50 yards. Expansion and penetration where excellent, and both deer were anchored quickly. My load was a .308 Hornady SuperPerformace 165 grain GMX and his was a 180 grain .308 Trophy bonded tip. Neither round was recovered, and both heart shots did considerable internal damage.

    I would add this as a flip side, and this is one of the ways that velocity does matter. Expanding bullets have a practical operating range. Send a 150 grain .30 Cal slug at 3300 FPS from a .300 Whoopty-do (300 RUM, etc.) and it may very well explode if it his heavy bone. Take a long range shot where velocity drops below 1800-2000 FPS, and your bullet may fail to expand or will not expand as much. Punching paper is very forgiving.

    In handguns, this problem can be much more pronounced. JHPs which work just fine from a 4″ barrel may fail to expand from 1 7/8″ snub nose revolver whether it be a .38 +P or a .357. The .380 JHP can also fail to expand from micro pistols like the LCP.

    While shorter barrels usually don’t make a difference, it can and does happen. I recognize and respect your shooting experience. I have a inclination that you have considerable experience judging wind, spin drift, drop, coriolis effect, etc. Shooters with less experience want more velocity to less the effect of such factors, even though the effects can be negligible at short – medium range. Although you use the .308 as an example, 6.5 and 7mm pills have much greater velocity and higher BCs, and therefore make long range hits much simpler.

    As you have pointed out, the .300 AAC has been taken out to 750 yards and 1000 yards with some shooters. That’s a lot of drop. Back in the day, the .45-70 was a long range gun. I’ve got barrels long and short barrels, and don’t mind schlepping long, heavy guns through the woods all day (so long as I’ve got some game sighting). Of course I’ll also take a handgun or 16″ AR. To each their own.

  17. I thought the bullet dropping below the speed of sound caused some problems. That is the main reason for “The need for speed”. Not only that but having to spin the dial more takes more time and gives your target a chance to get away. If you add a compensating reticle then maybe it won’t take as much time but you are also loosing yardage on that reticle by slowing down the projectile. You could go from having a reticle that will reach out to 800 yards to having one that goes to 600 or even 500.

    I like 16″ barrels for AR’s and other defense type rifles. I don’t see the point however for a precision rifle, one that is just for longer ranges, not the close in stuff that an AR or such is for. I always imagine a guy stalking through his house in the middle of the night looking for a burglar. An AR fits the bill for this type of problem. Now imagine the same guy with a bolt action. Now try to stop laughing.

    If a short barreled bolt gun fills your needs then I’m happy for you. Your argument for short barreled bolt guns could also be turned the other way as an argument against them. You have to admit that going 13.5″ costs more money (NFA), costs more time and ammo for development (tons of ammo makers cater to the normal length barrel crowd and most reloader manuals do the same), and makes precision shooting for the average joe harder because you are now shooting somewhat hamstrung by by loosing 425 fps and causing that pesky sound barrier to come along alot sooner(2805 to 2380, hey it’s your numbers).

    I did enjoy your write up, and it did get me thinking about building a 16″ bolt gun in .308. Thank you either way!

    • I don’t have ballistics tables in front of me but I doubt many rifle calibers have difficulty staying supersonic to 540 yards, particularly with high-BC projectiles. The transonic issues come into play at somewhat longer ranges. Travis Haley can hit at 750 yards with a by-then-subsonic .300 Blackout, but he shoot more in a month than I have in my life.

      From what I have read the best bullet designs for the .30 caliber families in terms of BC would have to be over 200 grains and nobody wants to shoot a .308 with a 200+ grain bullet at 2700+ fps. At least, not twice. This is part of the argument for the 7mm/6.5mm family of high-BC projectiles, the recoil is manageable because the bullet weight is low enough to get velocity to stay supersonic to and beyond 1000 yards.

  18. I agree with a lot of the concept. It’s a known fact among handloaders you can’t get high speed and accuracy, the general rule is you add powder until the group starts opening up and then use the one that got the best results – not the fastest. I can see how velocity variance can cause it.

    I do have objections which the average shooter will understand. First, the use of a short barrel that requires an additional $200 tax stamp. Short is nice, short at a premium isn’t any recommendation. going long and having to deal with that in field doesn’t offer much for the return, either. It’s why I settled on a 16″ in the rifle I choose.

    Second, recoil. The point of loading up a 170 gr bullet and using it in a 13.5″ barrel is to maximize retained energy further downrange. I can see it to reach 540 yards – but – most shooters aren’t real good beyond 300, and since most hunt they never see it on the majority of game. A rifle optimized for 300 yards would do.That means if it’s carrying more than 1000 foot pound beyond that, it’s wasted energy, and has more recoil than needed.

    It’s exactly the reason many Battle Staffs looked at reducing power over the last 100 years – rifles optimized for ranges that actually met the ability of soldiers didn’t need turn of the century powder charges. And those rifles using smaller cartridges had less recoil, which meant the shooter was more likely to do so, and more accurately.

    It’s a bit apples and oranges in this context, but it is why the AR15 holds the top positions in Service Rifle against older rifles using larger calibers. They have less recoil, especially in rapid fire, and that means the shooter can put more rounds downrange more quickly with less delay in reacquiring the target.

    That sort of thing isn’t precision 540 yard shooting – but it is what many really would be better off using in hunting rifles. An intermediate cartridge delivers the effective range of the average shooter and does so with less punishment. It’s relevant that the AR shooter can go thru hundreds of round in a session, while the precision larger cartridge shooter limits it to less than a hundred. Recoil has a price.

    That doesn’t negate much if anything proposed – it actually uses the same reasoning and extends it to the next step. Why shoot .308 in an expensive short barrel gun with it’s commensurate recoil, when a slightly longer one in an intermediate can do the same job and better? It will be $200 cheaper right off the bat – and will be lighter as the receiver doesn’t need to be as robust.

    If the point is poking holes in paper their are a lot of alternatives, I take it the point of using a short barrel .308 is to hit a live target, not an artificial one. Since most of us aren’t going to attempt a long range shot and game doesn’t often give us time to react, the lighter rifle with more positive incentives to use it is my preference on live targets. I did try using a .308 in the HK91, 18″ barrel, but I much prefer my 16″ AR15 in 6.8SPC. Plenty of others do, too, but that’s not to say what was posted is wrong or inaccurate. I just choose to extend it even further.

    • Good ideas. A couple of quick points.
      -my barrel is pinned and welded, making it 16.2″ OAL, so no NFA.
      -I agree with you about cartridge selection. This article is mostly geared toward more commonly available rounds, which is why the .308 is used. The 6.8 is a great and very useful round, I actually prefer it over the 6.5 Grendel despite my affection for 6.5 bore rifles.
      -Recoil is avoidable, as is noise. That thing on my suppressor mount is a blast baffle, and it redirects noise forward while not interfering with recoil-reducing brakes. It’s a win-win.

      I built my gun for what I need, but I made sure to specify that this combination wasn’t for everyone.

  19. Thank you for a great write-up. Given your experience in this area, what specs on handloads would you recommend for a 10.5″ 5.56 with a suppressor for defense and/or target purposes?

    • I’ve got a couple of ideas for this, and both are valid. If it was my gun, I would opt for the P90 approach and try to fire a 35-40 grain meat-punching bullet as fast as possible from a 40 round PMAG while still being reliable, accuracy being secondary in this case.
      The second option would be to get the most out of a heavy projectile, like a 75-77 gr match bullet. This will give you better accuracy and force at distance in theory, but the slower velocity may give poorer terminal results due to bullet design.
      I don’t have enough trigger time on either load with a .223 SBR or pistol, so this project may be up to you to write if you want a challenge.

        • If you got 10.5 with a suppressor, use any MK262 LR type round, its going to be a open tip 77grain round. I have seen it hit guys at 600yards and drop them out of a 10.3inch suppressed, and I have personally used it up close, and it def can drop guys with a round to the chest.

  20. Reading your responses tells a lot about you and your character.
    You are one of those guys who knows how to teach others, and be taught by others. your advice makes sense and you use great examples to back your suggestions up.
    Dude I would buy you a drink any day. We don’t see a lot of people like you on the interwebs.

    • Thank you very much. Now, I’m not a real expert or a spook, I’m just an enthusiast. Learning is a lifelong process and as soon as you think you know it, chances are you’ve missed something. I’m a 24 year old recent college grad, and despite my best efforts to know it all, I haven’t even scratched the surface yet.
      As a community we have so much we can learn from each other, and the more we integrate, normalize, and demystify our culture into the mainstream the better. Education is the best weapon in our arsenal, just as ignorance is the chosen arm of our enemies.
      Although there will always be giants among us who use mighty and storied weapons, we all know the story of a small statured Finn with an iron-sighted Mosin. A force of scholars and thinkers is what we must be, as level heads and sound logic will win the day. If it comes to blows, take solace in knowing that there is no more savage a man as one civilized and educated.

  21. I agree with most of the article, but I’d add that you may need to pay more attention to bullet selection. Expanding bullets need a certain amount of velocity or they may effectively become full metal jackets. His .308 should be fine out to 300 yards or more, but at 540 yards maybe not. More significant is the use of M193 or M855 ammo in SBR ARs. At 2500+fps they tumble and disintegrate dumping all of their energy, but much below that they’ll zip right through carrying most of their energy on to other (non)targets. They will drop below that velocity at 175 yards or so out of a 16″ barrel, so if longer shots are possible you might want to find a different round. Overall though, I don’t think you need exceptionally powerful rounds unless you’re hunting dangerous game. Even elk or moose shouldn’t be too much of a challenge with a .308 SBR out to 300 yards and passed that making accurate shots becomes much more challenging.

    • You realize that the tumbling of the M193 was much more dependent on the barrel twist of the original M16 1 in 9 barrel twist. That is why the original M16 had such horrible range but such great lethality. And the issue with the 855 is it was designed to be penetrator. It came about with the increased wearing of body armor by Warsaw pact forces. Out of full size barrels it has always had problems dropping people. That is why the LR MK262 is so effective for both long range and short range. Its great up close due to its open tip design and still effective for dropping guys at distance out of a 10inch barrel.

      • Well I never said M193 or M855 was an excellent choice for self defense, although I think at close range either would do. Most any hollow point 5.56 round will leave a pineapple sized path of destruction dumping more energy than most .44 magnum rounds, so that would be my pick. But M193 and M855 costs half as much, so it might not be a bad choice for stocking up for zombies.

        By the way I was referring to the tumbling of the bullets AFTER they encountered soft tissue. Tumbling before that would not be advantageous under any circumstances.

        • The M193 flew unstable to begin with, that was what allowed it tumble in the body to begin with. It gave up range for stopping power. You talk about the shooting a M193 out of SBR, but it is still ineffective out of a current M16A4 due to it being designed for the old school twist of 1 and 9. And the 855 was designed for penetration, that is the overall problem with that round, it has never been a reliable stopper. Out of a M16 that thing just zips right thru people up close.

        • I believe that the first M16s actually had a 1 in 12 twist rate, which was not sufficient at all. However, long, spitzer bullets have a tendency to tumble when they hit soft tissue, even though they may be stable in the air. During WWI the British enhanced this characteristic by lightening the front of the .303 round, first with aluminum and later cellulose and plastic. It was only 15 years prior that everyone (except America) agreed to stop using expanding bullets on conscripts. The Japanese picked this idea up in WWII. This was the whole concept behind the 5.56 round for the military, the extra 1200lb/ft of energy did no good if it zipped right through you and demolished a rock.

          Anyway, we stopped shooting conscripts, or even contemplating shooting conscripts 25 years ago when the Soviet Union dissolved so it should be a moot point now.

    • Yep. It’s well-known that shorter barrels are often more accurate, less flex, bullet leaves the barrel more quickly, etc. But velocity isn’t desirable just for trajectory, often a certain threshold of velocity is important to ensuring the bullet performs as desired (to expand, fragment, yaw, etc.). That this article doesn’t mention terminal ballistics at all means I can’t recommend it, the omission is a critical shame.

      • In all fairness, if you’re using a .308 for self defense the terminal ballistics are a bit of a moot point. Even with 5.56, it’s probably not an issue inside of 150 yards. But taking 400 yard shots at game with a bullet that will not expand properly is not ethical IMHO.

  22. Josh,
    Fantastic article.
    I use the same powder and grain load for all of my .308’s.
    It runs my 51 just peachy and great accuracy out of all but an old FR8.
    Interesting note on temperature. My group went stringy on me last Sunday. After I got home and saw the temp, I realized why.

    I hope you do another follow up relating to scope cant and directional shooting in relation to the coriolis effect.

  23. Thanks for decoupling velocity from accuracy! My jurisdiction prohibits any SBRs, but my own experience supports your thesis. My own precision rifle has a 20″ barrel, and the most accurate rifle I’m ever likely to shoot also wore a 20″ barrel. As for the suppressor, well, I’m working on it.

  24. WOW. Mind blown. This article is amazing.

    But honestly, because of NFA I don’t currently nor have any plans to ever own a rifle, with a barrel, less then 16 inches. If I shop around right for ammo I can get 1000 rounds for my favorite rifle, which I only get to shoot out to 100 yards or less anyway, for the $200 the NFA stamp would cost me.
    Thank you for saving me money on the marketing tricks of longer barrels. But the same way you referenced in your article that the 26 inch barrel was costing thousands of dollars more for an improvement of only 1.4 M.O.A., the sub 16 inch barreled rifles are also cost prohibitive to me. And having rifles I own and love shortened would definitely be cost prohibitive. Thanks NFA.
    Now talk about pistols! I really want to understand if 1 or 2 inches of extra barrel length between pistols justifies owning duplicates or spare barrels. Does anyone really need to ditch their Glock 21 for a new Glock 41? or is a lot of it just marketing?

    • Depends on load, caliber, and barrel length. The 21 is 4.6″, the 41 is (when you can find it) 5.3″. The sight radius is obviously longer, but the velocity gains will probably be only 10-30 FPS. A 9mm tends to pick up velocity more abruptly with barrel length, perhaps a 30-100 FPS gain from a 4″ to a 5.3″. YMMV.

    • My .308 is 13.5 with a YMH suppressor mount pinned and welded, making 16.2″, so no NFA involved. Many ARs out there have M4 14.5″ barrels that are P/W.
      Ah, pistols! I’m not a big time pistol shooter whatsoever. There are significant differences to how pistols and rifles and their respective cartridges perform, but I don’t have enough experience to go into detail. There are many true pistol experts out there, and I’m sure there has been research done on the topic.
      Who knows, perhaps I’ll tackle it soon if I don’t find good research about it.

    • I just read your article I’ll be at a year and a half to two years after you wrote itand I must say the information that you covered mirrors that of the gun Smith who rebuilt and blueprinted my Remi 700. He too is a minimalist and explained barrel length and twists versus velocity.

      My 700 was originally a 26 inch barrel and was cut recrowned re-chambered Trude and remounted on a blue printed action. The bolt what’s refaced with lap blogs and fitted with an F in extractor. The length of the barrel overall with muzzle break is 20 1/2 inches and it is indeed a tack driver out to 1000 yards. I look forward to experimenting with another built perhaps this time using an 18 inch barrel. Thank you for clearing the air on the scientific principles involved in true long-range shooting. It doesn’t take a 26 or 28 inch barrel to achieve accuracy; rather oh well fitted and weld planned out platform.

  25. While I agree that velocity is not necessarily king when it comes to accuracy, good wind calls and DOPE matter a lot more, it does matter WRT terminal ballistics. Most .30 calibre hollow point bullets are designed to function well in the 1800-3000FPS range. Under that range they will likely fail to open and have somewhat lackluster wounding capability. In a lower velocity rifle this can severely hamper it’s range. While it’s certainly been shown that .300BLK can ring steel at 750m, most projectiles will drop below their effective velocities closer to 300m.

    While this can be solved with projectiles designed for lower velocities, they will still be generally less energetic than high-velocity projectiles and will therefore have less wounding potential on the whole.

  26. Most was great, but you should not have compared an arrow to a bullet. They don’t match up and don’t compare because they work on different principles, cutting vs. blunt trauma to enter the animal. The right arrow can kill a polar bear, and even bigger animals, they just usually take some time to die. A low powered bullet might not even get to the vitals.

  27. Great article. On a side but related note…The M1 tank has a ballistic computer that takes wind speed, round temperature, type of round, barometric pressure, outside air temperature, and other factors into consideration and controls the shot accordingly. It is a phenomenal piece of equipment.

    What you discuss here covers the variables that impact the round while it is in flight. It makes complete sense to consider these factors when shooting long range. Great writeup!

  28. Excuse me, I don’t know how I screwed that up with the twist rate, yes the original M16 was a 1 in 12 twist rate. But it was highly effective for the light M193 of 55grains. And what are you trying to suggest is the whole concept of the 5.56?

  29. Excellent article. I have a DPMS LR308B – 18″ heavy barrel. Absolute tackdriver with 168gr loads, and holds the accuracy over a long string of shots.

  30. I moved to Kansas 10 years ago. Bought a 24″ 7mm Mag barrel for my Encore and those “long” Kansas deer shots. Longest so far was 150 yd. Shot more deer with my Contender Super 14″ in .44 mag. Some of the shots were out to 130 yds. I have no complaints about “short barrel” accuracy(with or without a butt-stock).

  31. A LOT of good info. I hope to someday have the time, money and place to shoot that will allow me to confirm/refute what you’ve posted. I’m assuming that you’ve enjoyed yourself compiling the data, and in the long run that is probably what mattered most.

  32. Might be the best article I’ve read on TTAG. Still digesting it all. Now have to do some testing for myself and re think some previous assumptions… Man that was good

  33. This guy knows his shit better than a sod farmer! Who is he anyways? I’m a long time lurker, and THIS^^^ is what I want to see more of on TTAG. I don’t mind the politics, but getting some real TRUTH ABOUT GUNS is what I come here for and this author has it down. I bet it wont be long before some big rag picks him up, but after stepping on the toes of REMINGTON, SAVAGE, HODGEDON, and disporving tons of ‘WISDOM’, im sure he made some enemies. If the editors of TTAG read this, you need to get MORE OUT OF THIS AUTHOR! He is by far the best one on TTAG right now, and that’s saying a lot.
    hey Josh if you read this, i’d love to pick your brains. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK MAN!!!

      • I liked your article Josh and I have a question…What happens when the bullet gets to the target at slower speeds than everyone else’s? What are the proven implications of that?

  34. Interesting article, for sure, and thanks to the author for presenting it here for us to talk about.

    As others have stated, the article does not address how wounding is affected by impact velocities. Bullet performance is GREATLY affected by impact velocity. In this matter, velocity is anything but an abstraction.

    The article also fails to acknowledge that, all things being equal, it is simply “easier” to shoot with a higher degree of accuracy by virtue of the flatter trajectory and shorter time of flight that higher muzzle velocity brings: Both of these factors mean less dope needs to be applied, and less dope applied means less dope error. Shooter error is almost always the largest source of imprecision.

    That said, I always like to see contrarian positions taken, so I appreciated reading this piece and the comments that it has generated. The article is a useful (even if not entirely comprehensive) argument on the merits of shorter barrels for precision rifles. It’s very good, and I hope to see more like it. Thanks again to the author!

  35. This is Reddit worthy. By far and wide the best writer and work on this site. This needs to go viral in the shooting community.

  36. As a uk shooter looking to get into longer range stuff, you just saved me wasting money on something chambered in. 338! (probably an Aw338).

    There are less than five ranges in the country at which there is any point shooting this calibre, but I thought “well, still better for close range surely?”

    A shorter barreled. 308 rifle is in order after reading this 🙂

    • As a rule, the larger the caliber the less accurate it will be. .338’s are good for shooting at enemy trucks and engine blocks in the military but will never win any long range comps. And the bigger the caliber the more the ammunition will cost.

      In your shoes I would consider what is the maximum range you will shoot and if it’s 1,000yds or less don’t go any higher than .308. Over 1,000yds and you will need longer shooting calibres to reach the target (at the expense of accuracy).

      That said, 30cal is a 20th Century caliber. I would consider something more modern like 6.5*47, 260Rem or 6.5 Creedmore. 6.5*284 is also reasonable but it is a barrel burner. The reason is 6.5 projectiles have higher BC’s than 308, and so are more forgiving, which means more accurate. A case in point is the Sporting Rifle matches shot at Raton NM. There’s a box on the scorecard you tick if you are shooting .308, because they consider that a handicap and feel sorry for you. You end up shooting amongst other .308’s because you will never win against the 6.5’s.

      • This is so laughably incorrect. I’m in the Marines and this, sir, is utter bullshit. I’ve personally witnessed extreme range shooting on actual Taliban over the last several years and can tell you that .338 caliber rifles are among the best out there. I’ve personally attended clinics out to 2K with .338s and you are just so wrong about what you said. The bigger the bullet the less accurate? Get off that horse man. I’ve met Craig Harrison, the guy who holds the record now, and he did it with a .338. Try to tell him his gun was inaccurate and I’m sure he would just smile and laugh. Get out of here, troll.

        • I have a .338Lap in my safe, and am also ex-military. And have been shooting long range competition for more years than I care to admit. Those are my credentials.

          If .338lap, .410Cheytac and .50BMG were so inherently accurate they would feature in civilian long range shooting comps (caliber limitations for the discipline and range template granted). The world record for accuracy is held by 6mm, and prior to that .222. The big calibres are what they are past 1,000 as neither the 6mm or .222 have the legs to make it that far. With enough practice you can hit a man sized target, and occasionally even on the first shot, but they will never win any accuracy competitions against smaller calibres like 6.5 and 6mm.

  37. Clever writing from a guy who probably knows better. Ignore a few key issues in order to challenge conventional wisdom. That so he can stir up interest and debate, get his article published, and paid as an author.

    No argument that compact lighter rifles are preferable to heavier ones (unless you need the weight to make the shooting platform more stable (e.g. 8kg in F Class sand shooting competitively off spongy grass).

    Velocity gets you range. .223 for example will only make 1,000 out of 30″ barrels, nothing less. Longer barrels allow for slower powders which give higher velocities.

    Velocity kills more efficiently when hunting. Slower rounds leave smaller temporary wound cavities. Bullets designed to open-up on impact will not do so below 1,800fps (with a few eccentric exceptions; e.g. Barnes Black-Tip for the Blackout, Glaser Safety Slugs. LeHigh subsonic ME and Controlled Expansion).

    Unfortunately shorter barrels do not give the velocity you might need in whatever scenario you might be. If you’re only going to shoot in one scenario then sure, choose the shortest barrel you can, especially if only punching paper. But most people need a rifle that will work in more scenarios than less.

    His other rifles are probably all longer barrels.

    • Hey there bud. I’ve got a few points to make about your post.
      Firstly, I don’t get paid when TTAG publishes my articles. I write for the love of it.
      Secondly, I’m not sure where you’re getting your facts. When you wrote “Velocity gets you range. .223 for example will only make 1,000 out of 30″ barrels, nothing less.” is just so false I don’t even know where to start. So a 69gr 5.56mm load fired at about 2500fps from a 10.5″ barrel will simply stop at 999 yards? That’s awful strange considering I’ve fired exactly that on private land out to 1100 yards when I was doing my testing. It will get there with about 18 mils of drop. I dare you to stand in front of it down there and tell me it how it feels.
      About your velocity claims. They are, to put it lightly, nothing but trolling. This is the internet, but still man, don’t speak in absolutes. Only Sith do that. Look, velocity isn’t the end all in killing power. I don’t want to play the buffalo card, but I’m going to.
      Finally, I practice what I preach. My CMP gold medal K31 has a long barrel, and that’s it. I have no modern rifle over 14.5″.

      • Mate,
        If there was a shiteload of money in it I probably would stand downrange of a 69gr .223 fired from a 10.5″ barrel. Having shot .223 F Class (1,000yds) for many years I can tell you that trying to hit anything with this caliber at 1,000yds is like driving jelly. Even at 900 the group size is starting to blow-out, and that is with 30″ and 31″ barrels using 80gr (highest ballistic coefficient rds). 69gr (I am assuming you mean something like the SMK used in the M262). Let’s do the hypothetical on Quickload. The most efficient powder will get you only 2390fps. Plug that into an external program we both have access to, say JBM and we get 831fps at 1,100yds. The bullet went transonic at 600yds and let me counsel you that when that happens it gets buffeted around in the sky like Chuck Yeagers X1 and who know where it will lands by the time it gets to 1,100yds. Also at 1,100yds your 69gr bullet has dropped 87MOA which exceeds any forward angle rail and scope elevation travel that I am aware of. You could just point your gun 45degrees into the air and sure, if you hit anything at 1,100yds at 800fps it could kill them. Then again you could win the lottery that day too…So Justin, let’s stick in the real world shall we?

        Your 10.5″ .223 is good for home defense and that’s about it. Good for punching holes in paper out to 500Mts before it starts to wobble in the sky, and good for use on flesh out to 200yds, which is pretty good I’ll grant you. Nice and compact, but at 1,100yds it’s about as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike.

        • The author did point out that sub .30 cal rifles with short barrels did come with some severe sacrifices. In a .30 cal, there is more energy carried and the velocity sacrifice isn’t as great. A small case capacity translates into high chamber pressures. The volume of the .308 allows a quick powder to reach peak expansion later. It’s the same reason there are 75 grain loads for 22-250 with Hornady Superformance, but not in 5.56. That cavernous case allows the projectile to be accelerating toward Wylie Coyote at peak rate of expansion, where the 5.56 NATO is a confined space. Think about how a fart’s effect is inversely proportional to the size of the space in which you let it fly.

  38. Oh my god this is the best article i’ve ever seen about anything in the gun industry. thank you thank you thank you! this is alot to take in, but this has changed everything i thought about rifles and my shooting abilities. i’m gonna take everything i own by gabe suarez and john plaster and use it for target practice. those guys are trash and infantile in their concepts of what shooting is really like for the average man. im just so sick of all the spec ops mall ninja bullshit and im glad to see real numbers that put retired GI-know-it-alls in their place. This is what we need here all the time. real fact, real info. no corporate loyalty crap and book sale pitches.

      • Klem, you are doing your best to ruin a good thread. Get lost man. We don’t need your kind here. Stop trying to flame a guy who has the balls to publish something like this knowing there are losers like you out there.

        • So, by opposing this guys opinion I am ‘ruining’ the thread?

          Like going into a church full of religious zealots and arguing God doesn’t exist? Lighten-up. If this guy wants to proudly challenge shooting convention then he has to expect that the majority of experienced shooters are going to disagree (and are entitled to do so). If his premise holds weight then why not let it stand on its own merits? Don’t attack the person, attack the (my) arguments.

          I agree though, it takes balls to suggest that bullet trajectory is the be and end-all of shooting.

  39. Opposing claims about velocity, ‘trolling’? Getting a bit insecure are we Josh?

    If your treatise on short barrels was so definitive then trust me, the world would be full of only short barrels by now. But it is not, and for good reason.

    • I like that you refer to quickload for your ‘facts’. Perhaps you should go out and try it in real life. The thing is here, I’ve actually done this stuff for the sake of knowing. The only thing insecure is your grasp on the facts. Seriously, go out and try it. Guys online love to be armchair ballistics experts, but you gotta realize how foolish it is talk without firsthand knowledge or experience. Doubt if you will, but i sleep easy knowing that I’ve seen 69gr SMKs hit steel at that distance out of a short barrel. It’s not as hard as you might think actually.

      For your information, this article clearly states that you should find what is best for you. The principle of the piece was to get people thinking and to test things on their own. You clearly have your mind made up, and I’m not going to argue it with you. If you feel you need a 30″ barrel for your situation, feel free to use one, nobody can take that from you.

      • 69gr hitting steel from a 10.5″ barrel at 1,100yds…Rubbish. How big was the steel? The size of a house? What scope were you using with that drop? How many rounds did it take to get the bullet to hit the house? The only fact in this matter is you will never be competitive with your 69gr 10.5″ at 1,000yds in any long range bench rest or F Class match, in any country.

        As for suggesting I go out and try it… Why don’t you join an F Class club and make international headlines? Don’t shoot on your mates farm and then take photo’s of your favourite gun laced with a few technical looking graphs. Put your money where your mouth is. Enrol in an invitational match and prove the rest of the shooting world wrong.

        The reason I am so passionate about countering your premise is that you have a gift for convincing those with less experience and that is going to cost them money and associated disappointment (as they re-invent the wheel). Conventional wisdom built over centuries of shooting suggests otherwise but you want to make a name for yourself by conveniently excluding the reasons why we shoot.

        To all the other readers…If it’s merely about getting a bullet to a certain distance Josh’s premise can be correct. But it is not as simple as that. In all cases it is about expecting something to happen when the bullet gets there. In hunting it’s about expecting the bullet to kill quickly and humanely. For target shooting it’s about being able to group tightly and ‘drive’ the group according to the conditions to the center of the target.

        Slow bullets do not kill normal game as effectively as faster bullets. Temporary wound cavities are replaced by crush-trails, which need accurate shot placement to offset the loss of area damage. Anyone who has hunted Blackout subsonic knows this as the rounds penetrate wonderfully out the other side taking all that valuable energy with them. The majority of shooters are not shooting rhino’s and elephants which need the bullet to act as a monolith to penetrate.

        Velocity gives higher BC’s, which in turn is more forgiving with windage and elevation mistakes. Shooting ‘flatter’ is an example of this. The gun is no more accurate but higher BC’s counter mistakes made by the shooter, and we all make them, especially when judging distance without aids, or judging wind.

        Don’t listen to this guy. You need velocity to make things happen and to minimize human error. Without velocity you will not kill humanely, and in target shooting not win.

      • Rubbishing the respected internal ballistic software Quickload…That’s pretty telling from someone who claims to know better than conventional wisdom.

        Our argument is quite entertaining I’ll give you that but I’ll wait to see your name in the shooting headlines for winning a 1,000yd match with your 10.5″ Savage. I hope you don’t mind if I don’t hold my breath.

        • I think you didn’t really read this article before posting what you did. I’m curious as to know why you would assume that F-Class is the end all for shooting. Most guys out there aren’t going to shoot F-Class, and neither will I. You’re basing your points on an unimportant premise. If you shoot F-Class then you’re competing with comparable weapons in a regulated game. It’s a game, nothing more, man. You’re golfing with bullets. This article was written in regard to practical applications for common people at normal ranges. If you want F-Class, go to Accurate Shooter forums or something like that. Apples and oranges, man.

          Funny, I’ve not seen your name on the headlines of articles or matches. I also just find it incredible that you think bullets just stop flying at some arbitrary distance. If Quickload is your bible, find a new religion. It’s a program filled with estimates. Get outside man. I’m only posting what I find from experience on this site and others. If you want to be the expert, write some articles and send them in. I’m sure your unrivaled and unverified knowledge will benefit everyone. Until then, refer to the first sentence of this article, where you will see that this was not meant to flame, but simply challenge conventional wisdom. I don’t have a problem getting out there and actually testing and evaluating what I write about. You’ve only got armchair opinions, man.

  40. Klem, I figured you were some sort of foreign know-it-all. This guy never once mentioned competition shooting in his article, and somehow you and this other troll Doug made this about small caliber F-Class garbage. The author made so many valid points and you made so many baseless generalizations that it seems like it’s you that’s trying to validate yourselves. Nothing that Josh wrote was false, and he clearly said that he was laying out what he discovered. I don’t get why you had to make an interesting article like this into a d*ck measuring contest. Josh clearly wrote that most people can’t or don’t fire past 300 yards. He even called some place that keeps public record of ranges. He researched so many angles of this, and all your doing is nitpicking about something that wasn’t even in there to begin with.
    Something else, I’ve seen 5.56 rounds tear up guys past 1200 yards over there, and let me tell you, it ain’t pretty. You guys sound so stupid when you say that you would stand in front of bullets for money because your computer said it wouldn’t be possible.
    Lastly, you are just flat wrong about .338 caliber rifles. You’re just not looking at things right when you compare dedicated smallbore target guns to large bore combat rifles. You’ve been trolling this thread talking about long barreled smallbore guns, and then you compare them to .338, .408. and .50 cal. If those little PPC rounds were so good, how come my friends aren’t using them to lay guys out? Last I checked, we’ve got no F-Class toys around my base. You guys play your game and just keep trolling this thread. Hopefully the mods will delete your flame comments.

    • I’m ‘foreign’ am I, meaning you are not? Let’s celebrate US ethnocentrism at its best. We are the centre of the universe and everyone else is ‘foreign’.

      You want to pat each other on the back because you served in the military. You’re all hero’s in a country that deems every second soldier, ‘Special Forces’. Handing out medals in the US Navy for crossing the equator. What country put all their allies at risk by using another country’s holy book as toilet paper, and then urinating on enemy deceased? What country has a sergeant who decided to wreck years and tears of hard won trust by walking into a nearby town to murder 16 people, for no apparent reason. “Hey, they look like allied forces (Canadians forces an a UK journalists). Bombs away!” “Nice job!” We’re all foreigners, and you get a big shock realizing that someone on this forum could be a ‘foreigner’ and know a bit about guns. No unfortunately I don’t worship apple pie, or look like I’ve consumed 5,000. Why is it that half your country’s population does not even possess a passport?

      Cultural maturity at its best.

      • You can say all you want about us for serving our great and glorious nation, but many of us here take personal offense when you start talking trash about apple pie.

        • I appreciate you trying to salvage your thread Josh but this guy needs a lesson in manners. Let your argument stand and fall on its merits, and respect others for having a different opinion.

          Like I said, focus on the argument, not the person (unless you want it back in spades).

  41. Hey guys, I appreciate the spirited debate, but let’s bring it in, alright? Klem and Doug are entitled to their beliefs and opinions. Just like I wrote in the actual article, do what’s best for you. My situation greatly benefits from a short barrel, but I’m not an F-Class shooter. If these guys want to shoot at competitions, then they should build or buy to suit their interests and needs.
    I shoot long range alot, but I usually stay inside 540. Klen and Doug will both agree that it isn’t necessary to field a rifle with a 26″ barrel for distances inside that especially when the terrain and practical usages are considered. Most shots in Michigan are less than 200 yards on deer and coyote, so i fit my rifle to my environment. If I shot F-Class, I would probably prefer a 6mmBR with a long barrel, so there you have it. I wouldn’t take that same target gun hunting in the dense woods of my state for whitetail, though.
    To be fair, my 13.5″ .308 is still a .5MOA rifle at 540 on average. I’ll just have to see how i do in an F-Class match when they have one near my area. If I go, I’ll write about it.
    I do have to agree with JBP about the .338s, but that’s not what this article was about at all. I do all this to generate thinking and make people ask questions about what they think they know.

  42. Hi Josh,
    I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on shorter barrels. I am new to the sport, and have just purchased my first .308 rifle. I would be really interested to know what you think about different twist rates, and how this might come into play with shorter barrels. I note the barrel you used for testing was a 1:10 twist. After reading your articles I am very keen to cut my .308 down to 16 inches, but it has a 1:12 twist. Does this matter? For context I will primarily use this rifle for hunting, then target shooting, but only to improve my own skill level. I rarely have the opportunity to shoot out past 300 meters, and would only do so target shooting. I have no interest in trophies, or winning F-class competitions. I am interested in shortening the barrel of my rifle to reduce its weight and overall length so it is easier to carry when hunting. I have looked around for information on this but it seems to be hard to come by. Most information I have come across on twist rate seems to relate to the weight of the projectiles you are using, and doesn’t mention barrel length. From what I have read a faster twist rate like 1:10 is only required to stabilize heaver projectiles over 180 grains (in .308 Win). The concern I have with my 1:12 barrel is that the projectile might not have enough barrel time to properly stabilize if I shorten it, with this slower twist rate. I have no real need to go above 168 grain projectiles, and would only do so to get a better BC. Any thoughts you might have would be greatly appreciated.

    • Hey Dan,

      I’ve been asked this alot and it’s a two part answer. Firstly, the rifling twist isn’t really a big deal in the grand scheme. I know guys who shoot 178-200 gr. 308 in a 1:12 and other guys who swear they must be performing witchcraft with the results. I think that there is a general consensus that big bullets need fast twists, and this is generally true. The thing is, every individual barrel is unique and has its own personality so to speak. In my 1:10 twist, i fire bullets as light as 110 gr Nosler Varmegeddons and as heavy as 220gr SMKs and the accuracy is still the same for the most part. the .300 BLK typically has a 1:7 or 1:8 twist and barrels ranging from 6″ to 20″ and can interchangeably fire sub and supersonic rounds.
      That said, 16″ isn’t short on a 308. I ran a 16″ for years before going shorter and consider it the probably the best length for the caliber. Some people will debate that, but they aren’t the ones spending their own money cutting barrels apart to test their opinions.
      Here is what i recommend you do: cut the barrel and crown it or have your gunsmith do it. (In the past, I’d cut a barrel off with a hacksaw, file the muzzle flush and then i cut a crown by hand using a modified Lee case trimmer and brass pilot. Crude, but it worked.) With your newly trimmed rifle in hand, just start testing out factory loads or handloads if you roll your own. For the shooting you intend to do, i wouldn’t waste a minute worrying about velocity or stabilization factors or other bullshit that people are always talking about.
      Given your twist rate, i would probably go 168gr or less, although you could test heavier bullets if you desired. its not like they get depression or something if they don’t stabilize like a normal bullet, they just wont be accurate and might keyhole. Personally, i dont know what all the hubbub is about. i’ve fired lots of rifles with lots of ammunition and i’ve never cared about twist rate. I won a gold at Camp Perry last year in the CMP matches with a K31 and i haven’t the slightest what the twist rate is. I’ve also won medals with many other rifles and i just picked the load that was the most accurate at 200 yards, which is as far as they have to go in those matches regardless of twist rate, velocity, or bullet weight. BC doesnt matter to me inside of 300yds.
      Okay, so moral of the story: cut the barrel and test some loads. if it sucks, they do make more barrels. My bet is that you will find success with a 150-155 grain bullet and IMR4895 like so many hunters and shooters have over the years. The shorter length and slower twist rate shouldnt really matter at all in the long run. find what works best and stick with it.

  43. Great article! You didn’t mention barrel stiffness, giggidy, but the advantage of a shorter barrel and accuracy are gaining prevelance. Long, flimsy barrels may give you that great one or two first shots, but a shorter, thicker barrel will give you consistent results throughout an entire range session/urban zombie elimination mission.

  44. “Don’t sell yourself short by investing in a shoulder-bruising powder-hog that you can’t afford to practice with at any real distance in the hopes that you will be like Chris Kyle because Chris had a big gun and shot bad guys. Firstly, you won’t ever be Chris Kyle and secondly, don’t get your hopes up about shooting bad guys”

    Hope’s not necessary, your local Marine Corps (or Army for that matter) recruiting center has an “Infantry Option” readily available for anyone wanting to be something more than a Firearm Tourist (mall ninja, armchair operative, etc.) who only enjoys debating hypotheticals and not truly “testing the equipment”.

    Chris Kyle is just a Man remember, albeit one of the few who actually considers public service to be necessary, but nonetheless still very human.

    More impressive Confirmed Kills from generation to generation, and many in between, are common and constant.
    If someone here desires to shoot like this man, simply put yourself in the position to do so, and quit being “sports fans”.

    Forgive the poor grammar and Etiquette.

  45. Josh,

    Great article. What starting point do you recommend when loading the 170 grain in 762×51 nato brass versus 308 win brass? I understand the nato casing has less internal volume, just not sure where to start with that. I would also like to confirm that the OAL/COAL of the nato brass is the same as win brass.

    I am utilizing a 12.5 noveske leonidas barrel.


    • Hey, sorry for not responding faster. NATO brass is indeed a bit thicker, so I load mine back about two grains to start for any given load and work up from there. The two cartridges can be loaded to the same OAL unless you want to load longer if it can work in your magazines. In a semiauto, you may want to stick with SAAMI OAL

  46. To Skyler: when you find an M2 being used as a single shot sniper rifle, please contact me ASAP as I have never seen such in my entire military career. Now, if you are referring to the Barrett .50BMG, you still have no clue as to what you are talking about in reference to this article by trying to bring in the M2 or Barrett.

    Oh and by the way…. Chris Kyle made the majority of his kills with a .300 win mag for those who want to hate. There is a lot to take from this article and apply to the real world. I guarantee most that post any hate here have never shot more than a couple hundred yards ever.

    A friend of mine just recently hit a steel target with a Glock at 200 yds…. YouTube the video if you don’t believe me, it was also on his very first attempt.

    Training, knowledge, patience and practice build skill to which you could kill a man at 750 yds with a 10/22 if you really needed to.

    The big gun/big bullet thing is just for two types: ones who want one just because it is fun to have and can afford it and those who feel they must have it because of their inadequate skill and to make them look like badasses to those who don’t know better. Most who post hate here fall into the second category.

    A .38spcl snub nose is perfect for personal defense as a concealed carry but you will still have those who insist on having to have a desert eagle .50AE

    I know what works and what doesn’t, as I have been fortunate to have been one of the few to make the “elite” and do things 99.9% of people with a gun will never experience. Some of you are stuck in a fantasy world and think big guns and long distance shots are an all time thing…. Sorry, but they aren’t. You would be surprised to know most kills by snipers are really not at great distances. If they were, you wouldn’t have to spend so much time training to be invisible, quiet and accurate on your first shot.

    Movies and video games have caused wrong thinking in today’s society.

    I am sure many of you are going to blast what I have said with hate but I won’t respond to your “ignorance” due to the fact that if you start arguing with an idiot even tho you are right, pretty soon people are unable to tell which one of you is the idiot….

    The only easy day was yesterday.
    Rest in peace brother Chris, I hold you and memories with you in my heart. I know you are watching over me as I still continue the mission we set out to complete. I will again see you one day.

    • Unless Carlos Hathcock was lying, (I am 100% certain he was not), he mounted a Unertl scope to an M-2 and used it with some effect as a sniper rifle.
      If a sniper/observer uses a rifle from concealment, to engage the enemy, Is that rifle, at that time, a “sniper rifle?”
      I would argue, yes.
      Unconventional? To be sure.
      Lucky? I think not.

  47. Tom, sir you are correct on that although I don’t consider putting a scope on a heavy MG and firing it single shot as a “rifle”. It however can be effective, I just wouldn’t want to be the one having to sneak that heavy bastard into and out of a hide, ha ha.

    You know, that is where the whole idea came from for the system used in the movie shooter.

    More than anything honestly it sums up to what you the shooter is comfortable with and can get the job done right. As long as men and guns exist there will always be debates about what is best, but there will never be one rifle and one cartridge with one barrel that is perfect.

    Thanks for the input Tom and happy shooting my friend.

  48. I’ll jump in on this way late but some of these posts are absurd! I’ll address a few. 1.barrel length has no effect on accuracy at all. A short barrel, long barrel…either can be accurate as the other. Short and fat has an edge though. Ask the bench rest crowd. 2. The only difference length makes is velocity, which translates to more power on target. 3. Trajectory is not all that abstract…it’s more a constant and pretty predictable in an accurate rifle and good loads. Wind is what always gets you. The faster a bullet the less time wind has to effect that bullet. Speed has some advantage…less windage and more kinetic energy. Given that…I did hog control on a big ranch here in texas. Every three days I was out on 55000 acres of heaven shooting hogs. I considered myself pretty experienced. 24 years military, a police instructor, trained marksman, rifle builder. I learned more about long range shooting/exterior ballistics/terminal ballistics in 4 years than all my training and combat experience combined. I went from a 24 inch rem to an 18 inch .308 and never looked back. I’ve killed hogs from my muzzle to over 1300 yards with a .308. It will do it BUT. After 600 yds with a 165gr pill it’s an iffy killer. I’ve got volumes of records from my days. Reloads, effects, size of target etc. After you loose velocity, expansion gets iffy. The idea when hunting is to kill. Sure you can hit it. Does the bullet/rifle combo have the oomph to do the job? Hunting bullets have a velocity window that they reliably expand in. Too close and it comes apart, too far and it wont expand. That velocity window corresponds to a range window. You also have a supersonic to subsonic timeframe where a bullet destabilizes in flight when it goes through that sonic window. Look at the history of the 155gr palma bullet. It was designed specifically to stay super sonic past the 1000 yard target butts in palma matches. But it will not kill at hog at 10 yards or at a thousand. Its not made for it. It has its purpose on paper. If you name a bullet ive probably tried it and can tell you what works on hogs. Hogs are a great measure of a bullet/rifle. They can be small or huge but theyre all tough. They equate to anything else in north america except the largest bears. I only say that because a bear can/may try to bite big chunks out of you. Paper targets arent possibly lethal. If i was hunting from a high inaccessable stand id shot at a grizz all day with a 308. But its different if im on two legs or in thick stuff. I want a big fat slow bullet. I’ve found that most people, as was nearly said, cannot shoot past 300 to save their butt. 223, 243, 22-250 any hot rod you want. Unless you shoot a lot under field conditions you don’t have the skill to go long. If you shoot once a month you’re not up to the task. Back during my hog days I was shooting nearly 500 rounds a month at live critters on one ranch or the other or varmint hunting. Not to mention my range time. Not many can afford the time and money to invest in that. A short barrel is handy and effective, and .308 is great for it. There’s better. Heck a tiny little 6.5 Grendel has a ballistic advantage at longer ranges. That said. USE A TOOL THAT’S SUITABLE TO THE JOB AT HAND. You dont strip wire with a hammer. A .308 is my daily tool. My tool box is a handy place. I have an item for most jobs. Long or short. But that toolbox is too big to tote on my back. At most I’d have two rifles then. A .308 and a .338 ultra mag in the truck. If I needed the long gun I was usually in a place I could trot back and get my big gun. The duo covered most jobs.

    • J.D. hog kills at 1300 yds is very impressive! Not sure whether you’re still following this thread but I’d be curious to know what bullets you found were working at those longer distances. I’m getting ready to work up some slower loads for hunting with a suppressor (which sort of duplicates longer range velocities). The objective is to reduce the muzzle blast a bit while staying above supersonic, yet still good terminal performance. (All this to keep the neighbors happy about the levels of noise – actually kind of an issue in a lot of great hunting ground these days)
      I’ll start with the Barnes LRX bullet, which is billed to perform well at low speeds.

  49. This write up has some good arguments. I found it funny he was dogging people who like longer barrels to get more velocity for long range shooting, which does help with wind and extreme long range. Because that extra 200-300 fps lost makes a big difference when your BTHP bullet passes the transonic range and destabilizes. But he does mention that medium weight bullets at moderate velocities performs the best in .308 sbr’s. If velocity isn’t important then, why do you need to use medium weight bullets at higher velocities? Why not just use 220 gr bthp with higher B.C. ‘s that are suppose to be best for long range work?

  50. Good post, I got a lot of hate on Reddit for posting my 10 inch .308

    For those interested,

    I’ve shot the 155 VLD at 2510 fps with 43.5 grains of N530 2.8 OAL – HOT load, work up to it.

    The N530 at those pressures is very very temperamental, as such I’ve just tested a load using ADI 2206h, 45.5gr (compressed) with a 168 AMAX for 2380fps, still hot but very accurate.

    Longest shooting so far is gongs at 800m, it’s right around when the bullet goes transsonic (762m) but the AMAX likes slowish speeds for good expansion.

    The bonus? You can order a 34 inch ultra match barrel and make 3 🙂

  51. I am looking at a 308 for deer hunting. I already have a TIkka but was looking t Savage11BTH308 HF THS. I like the Savage because it has a thunbhole stock & has accutrigger & Accu stock. The problem is it is 22″ barrel. I was thinking of either cut barrel down to 18″ or order 18″ barrel. Do have any suggestions? Keep i mind a wood thumbstock & 18″ barrel 308

  52. What do you believe that the shortest practical barrel length for a 50 BMG rifle? I`ve always been a fan or short “handy” rifles and after reading an article put out by dillion precision and authored bt Barrett Tillman even more so. I still want to use 90-95+ % of the 50 BMG`s long range performance by using a angled scope mount as well as using nearly all of the scopes elevation travel in a lighter weight rifle system. Thanks in advance for any and all thoughts,opinions,or answers.

      • I’ve noticed 16 inch and 18 inch length barrels for 50 BMG AR-15 Uppers what does everyone think? I’m looking for the most compact lightweight and accurate 50 BMG rifle. I’m going to be putting a suppressor on the rifle so essentially the barrel will be longer than 16-18 inches. Or do you lose too much velocity out of that short of barrel to basically negate the ballistics of the 50 BMG ? Thanks in advance for any thoughts, opinions, and answers.

  53. Nice article. I shoot short barrel in various Encores .223 and 7mm-08 (both pistol and rifle).
    Curious why you rejected H4895 in favor of IMR. Slightly different burn rate, grain size, metering, velocity between them but pretty similar. Everything I read about them makes H4895 sound better. Do you honestly think the IMR has any advantage for short barrels?

    • I take that back, actually. Now that I’ve been testing it for a while, Varget and Benchmark are indeed superior to IMR4985. I may have been using a bad batch of Varget or a very good one of IMR4895, but there is a distinct edge in favor of the Extreme powder line. I’ll likely write a follow-up to this at a future date with the rest of my new data.

  54. Thanks much for this article which started few questions. I am hunting in Europe, mostly wild boar and using for this 9,3×62 Mauser with 20 inch barrel. I am using loads with Lapua Oryx 232 gr and Vo about 780 M/sec which is abou 2600 fts/sec.
    I am playing with an idea to shorten the barrel to 18, possible 16 inches which is I assume the limit for this caliber due it’s lenght.
    What will be your thought about this comparing with 308 Win which is 10 milimetr shorter but also thinner.

    • I have zero experience on that cartridge. I would love to offer advice, but I’d be making guesses at best. Maybe you should cut it and post your results for us here.

  55. Guys,I have been looking to replace my 308 which I have had for 25 years (remington 788 16 inch barrel) I have read countless posts by persons with far more understanding of ballistics than me, however I have shot 300 plus red and sika deer using 130 gr bullets and will note that I have never lost a deer, probably shot 50 plus deer with 223 same thing, it’s all in the placement of the pill, personally anywhere at the base of the neck. The small amount of difference in drop between most common calibres out to 300 is academic IMHO and personally this is the range where 99 percent of deer are shot, me I will stick with my old 308 albeight customized to make it a bit lighter and get rid of the terrible original finish, I hope this helps some aspiring hunters.

  56. Gents, I would like to offer a couple of comments, personally I have used a 308 with a 16 inch tube for 25 years, 300 plus deer using mostly 130 gr pills, never lost a deer, never shot a deer past 330 yards mostly 25 to 200 yd.
    IMHO most of the diffence in drop between calibres out to 300 yd is academic, place the pill correctly and you kill the deer, I have shot sika to elk with these no problems only use a 2.5 weaver steel scope seems to me people are trying to get too technical and need to get back to the basics of hunting.

  57. I haven’t seen the first comment on weighing the projectiles. Hornady is the worst, 178gr A-max in a box of 100 weighs 177.4-178.2, this is a great bullet design not a custom bullet by any means but it does help to weigh your bullets. Consistency equals accuracy.

  58. Excellent write up, just when I had points of contention you answered them. You have a good clear take it for what it’s worth analysis approach.

    That being said I agree for the most part with your reasoning. You can’t make a blanket statement that velocity doesn’t matter, and I don’t feel you did. The long range precision competition crowd beat their off topic point of view to death here, so I’ll leave that exception alone.

    The main issue I have with your assertions is max point blank range(PBR). You are correct that we can use modern equipment to range, calculate, and adjust for distance to target. When at a range this is fine, living targets are different though. They seldom appreciate being shot at, and avoid it. They don’t stand at defined ranges and tend to disappear as fast as they appear. The 2 most difficult things about shooting are acquisition of and ranging a target quickly. All rounds eventually reach a range where they drop fast, at that distance a 25yd error can mean a complete miss.

    These are difficult for pro’s, even more so for those of limited practice. This is why people try to stay within pbr. Pbr means your poa should make a good hit. This is not only determined by caliber, bullet, bc, and velocity, but also the target itself. A squirrel, elk and bipedal offender all have a different size vital area, and thus different pbr. The variables that are in a shooters control are bullet and velocity. Caliber and target almost need to be matched within reason(50 bmg on squirrel=no meat, .22lr on elephant=dead hunter) a round needs to perform the given task within pbr. Higher bc and velocity translate to farther pbr, and thus extending the usable range for anyone in a rushed scenario.

    The modern bdc reticles are based on the Soviet svd’s pso scope. It was designed with bdc turrets 100-1000m and hold over chevrons for 1100m, 1200m, 1300m with 150gr 7.62x 54r. In practice though the Spetsnaz often used pbr of about 300m, and the chevrons for holdovers out to a more practical 600-800m. The reticle has a simple range estimator in it. I mention this because to use holdovers you still need the range, which takes practice to be instinctive.

    Another concern is muzzle blast, my 308 CETME is atrocious with its 16″-18″ bbl(unsure). I couldn’t imagine the disorientation it would cause in a home defense situation from concussion and flash of that unburnt powder. A 300aac would be better. For hunting, that wouldn’t be an issue.

    Where I deer hunt however, shots range from 0-400yds. If I trained in summer at 70℉ then go out in 0℉ (as was the case for the past 2 yrs), the difference you show for sbr vs 20″ would be extreme.

    Why I still agree with you is, because I used to be an armchair ballistics expert. Until I actually got trigger time on various platforms. My Psl 54 is a joy to shoot from a rest, it is not identical but almost equivalent to the svd. At 10#’s with a 24″ bbl it is quite useless over 200yds while standing though. So handling and balance out weigh accuracy and ballistics in the real world where benches and sandbags are absent. There’s a limit to how short for each cartridge though, if the powder isn’t being burnt you may as well use a smaller cartridge of the same caliber.

    My vote is for best of both…20″ bullpup.

  59. Geez… How’d it take so long to find this article in a Google search? Can I say that I’m glad that I found it now? Lol anyways, great freakin article, Josh. Why aren’t you popping more articles like this out more often?

  60. I want to know about the 6.5 Creedmoor and 260 Rem in short barrels. Looking at the 6.5 Grendel in short barrel I believe the bigger cased 6.5’s may do pretty good too.

  61. I am from the American NorthWest, currently living in Montana but nonetheless still enjoying shooting in Wyoming, where I grew up. I recently happened upon the ownership of a PROOF Research 16″ .308 carbon fiber barrel, and, acknowledging that 800 yard shots are not uncommon in the middle of the desert, wanted to know what this article means for me. What would be my accuracy at long ranges? What should I expect with this AR build?

  62. I personally like a 20″ barrel for both my 7.62 and my 5.56 rifles. I have lost not one foot per second going from 24 to a 20 inch 308. Now in full disclosure I have to adjust my powder charge but the point is I didn’t loose a thing. I would like to ask you one question. what kind of impact engergy are you generating with a 13.5 inch barrel. I would specifically like to know at what distance does your round drop below 1000 foot pounds with a 13.5 inch barrel. The reason I ask is that would the outer limit that I would be willing to take a shot at a live animal.

  63. “Cars, guns, girls, all the same: the smaller, smarter, and more capable the better.”

    Yeah, how about no.

    A Mustang GT is the sweet spot, V8 exhaust note goodness, decent MPG(for a V8), a technically usable back seat, affordable, adaptable, and so very pretty. THAT is the perfect car, gun and girl.

  64. Dear All,

    I don’t normally engage in chat forums and realise that I am a little behind the play, however, I have only just stumbled across this thread and would like to add my 2 cents worth in case anyone is still listening.

    I did wonder how deep into the comments I’d have to go before some serious challenges were offered up against Josh’s interpretation of how and why things behave as they do, as well as challenges to his conclusions, and particularly his recommendations.

    I’ll go out on a limb here and declare that I am a former defence department ballistician (Senior Research Scientist) with almost a quarter of a century of hands-on and theoretical instruction in the areas of interior, intermediate and exterior ballistics, hard and soft terminal effects, light weapons engineering, ammunition design and ballistic protective systems. I am also a very keen hand loader, target shooter and pig hunter in my spare time.

    Whilst not claiming to know it all, I enjoyed Josh’s (at times, provocative) submission, but like a number of respondents, my experience, particularly with high performance, larger calibre, high case volume cartridges used to propel high mass, high BC projectiles for ultra long-range target engagement (well beyond 1,700m), with critical dispersion and threshold terminal effects, caused a number of flutters during that read.

    Without submitting my own treatise, I understand exactly why Josh received some ‘incoming’ from the likes of Doug, Klem and some others, and whilst I would have been more subtle, the general thrust of what they have said is quite valid.

    Having said that, it is good to see your passion and enthusiasm Josh, a good deal of what you have said is more than reasonable, and as a bonus, you have certainly got a well needed conversation going.

    Best regards to all,

    Alexander Krstic Ph.D.

    • Thanks for the good reply.
      Yeah, those guys in the comments here didn’t really get what I was getting at. This was about 13″ .308 rifles, specifically mine, not big bore stuff in military service. I get that there’s a difference, but that is not what I was trying to prove. I’ve got way more data now that I’ve been going with this project and I may publish it here if I get around to writing it.
      The problem with the commenters in this article is that they read it, but they didn’t grasp it. I just wanted to have a fun time writing this and wasn’t worried about stepping on people’s toes with my style. Can’t make every anonymous troll happy. This is the internet, after all.

    • Got on tonight because my email was blowing up with hate-spam from one of my other articles and I thought I’d take a trip down memory lane.

      No, I’m not making guns anymore and am really kinda out of the business in general. You can still find me beating ass in the Vintage Match or other CMP games at Camp Perry, but that’s about it these days. Got 8000+ rounds out of my little 13.5″ rifle I decided to keep and named ‘Bells’. Got into hog hunting and 600 yd matches with it and have been really successful. Still shoots .1 moa all day!

      To be honest with you about the rifle, it was outdated before it was even made. I arrived on the scene with a chassis system that used AR handguards a solid three years before the Ruger Precision Rifle, but it wasn’t up for mass production. Is my design and barrel nut more accurate? Hell yes. Is it as available as the RPR? Hell no. I built solid-ass guns and they shot great, but the market decided for me. I was in an awkward price bracket and just opted-out as the chassis guns became available and Desert Tech came out with a gun that was as small as mine but didn’t have to fold or sacrifice barrel length. They say on the internet that I sold the designs or went to work of the government, but that’s all bullshit. I just closed shop and finished college and got married to a woman so good that I’d swear off shooting the rest of my days if it meant seeing her for even one afternoon.

      If you want a gun that will truly perform that is semi-custom, do exactly this and don’t waver. Trust me, I’m a professional (slow-clap)

      Tikka T3 Tactical
      Plus this
      and like four of these
      and this×42-Tactical-Rifle-Scope-P62238.aspx in a set of these
      and add some sort of sling and a Harris BRMS and such and you’ll be good.

      I like building guns, but if I had to go about this whole stupid circus sideshow again complete with these laughable fetishists and armchair laureates, I wouldn’t. I hate gun people. Really, I do. Not because I don’t like any individuals in particular, but this industry has a way of making you tired and spin in circles and slam your head into a desk. I hate the culture surrounding the industry because it’s so damn dense and ignorant. (AKs are better than ARs…. and…GO!) But if I had to start over, that list is what I’d use to do it. There really isn’t anything better in the world besides a genuine SAKO TRG sidefolder. Say what you will, but Americans only think they can make guns. Trust the Scandinavians. They know their kit and it’s ten times better than anything available off the shelf from the states in the same price range. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about guns, it’s that those that have restrictions on their rights make better things because they are usually harder to get and meant to last longer. There’s more thinking that goes into them than what is available in America. We have too much of a good thing here to the point where it has made us cheap. Everyone wants a $500 rifle that shoots .000001 MOA at 20000 yards and they want ten of them because ‘Merica. So yeah, don’t waste your money on garbage. I’ll probably get chewed up again for posting this, but it’s true. All of it. I don’t build guns anymore because I wasn’t willing to get nickel-and-dimed by the shooting public and that’s that and it needed to be said.

      Anyways, I’ve got more comments to make and other people to piss off, so Evan, keep shooting and don’t buy into the culture of excess. Buy once and buy well. If I can’t sell you a gun, I’ll tell you the truth about what to get. This is the Truth About Guns, after all.

  65. Josh,

    The powder and amount used in your loads for your SBR, would you still recommend for a 12.5 piston Ar-10 ? Specifically the 716 ? The only difference is I would be using 150gr bullets.


    • So to be honest I have no idea. I’d think you should be safe with the listed combo, but I’d back it off a grain of Varget and work back up.. I actually need to do another writeup on the powders for SBRs and such as my initial data was a bit off. I think I had a bad or inconsistent batch of Varget or mixed up something in the recording phase of the writeup. Varget is WAY better than IMR4895. Benchmark is also excellent, but it has a far greater pressure than Varget, which is a tad slower burning. I don’t like faster powders in short barrels because they aren’t as consistent as a medium burning one.
      Try a few out and let us know what you find. I’d be curious to know for sure myself. Sorry that I couldn’t give you a straight answer, but I’m not going to pretend to know that when I don’t. Just be careful and don’t end up with some aluminum in your face.

  66. Josh,

    Just reading your article today – almost 2 years after you wrote it. Thank you so much for sharing your data and experience on short barrels. Completely consistent with my own findings and discussions with knowledgeable precision shooters I have spoken with here in Colorado.

    Re: “I’m a 24 year old recent college grad, and despite my best efforts to know it all, I haven’t even scratched the surface yet.”

    You know more than many of the commentators here think they know. You were more than polite with many of them.

    You are a class act. Please keep contributing.


    • Jack,

      Thanks for the kind words. Humility is lacking in this community for a variety of reasons, but I think it pays to be direct. People in the gun world can’t often express their innate emotional needs and are stuck defending the merits of inanimate objects to strangers and against the viewpoints of other sad souls. The thing I wish above all would be for people to get back into this hobby and pastime for the reasons they first fell in love with it. That’s where the passion is. It makes me sad to see good people consumed with frustration and even spite when confronted by adversity to a topic that they are sincere, but aimless, about.

      I’ve been responding to comments on this site all night on these articles I wrote years ago and I’m surprised about the negativity and lack of understanding on the part of so many people. Not one person came forward with alternate data or even a solid reason as to why I am incorrect. I hate that I did a good thing and got scorned for it, but that’s life and the reason I’ve not written more. I feel it falls on deaf ears.

      I’ll always be a nice and down-to-earth guy. I’ll tell the truth based on my experience and never lead another astray. I’ve lost friends in this business over trivial things, have been lied to, accused of cheating, asked to leave ranges, and all because I had a difference of opinion or beat a range favorite with an SBR at 600 yds. (True story). It is good to hear that you think I’m a class act, because I try my best to tell it like it is and that is often too much for people to handle. I’m like the Fox Mulder of ballistic theory haha.

      Anyways, thanks for reading and I’ll try to get another article out in the future if I can.


  67. Great write up I’ve always liked the short barrel more compact rifles because of their increased handeling capabilities, and if your research/testing on a short (20 inch) 338 Lapua is correct I wonder if a 16 inch and suppressor would work as well? Or one of the 16 or 18 inch 50 BMG AR-15 uppers would work ?

  68. Your write up here makes sense… Luckily for me I live on a 356 acre ranch and can shoot at ranges that most can’t even contemplate.


  69. Nice work Josh. However, you seem to have found yourself in the proverbial “when an irresistible force meets an immovable object” conundrum, as my late dad, rest his soul, was fond of saying. The shooting community is rather unforgiving of those who would knock their sacred cows. I am an experienced shooter, open to challenges to my preconceived ideas, no matter what they may be. That said, you presented an intelligent, well thought out, fact based argument. The funny thing is to see the viciousness with which the attacks are launched. I do not recall you once saying, “Okay everybody, based on my conclusions, you all must immediately go out and buy hacksaws and cut all your rifle barrels down to 13.5”.! I believe you were very clear that this works for you, but no one is obliged to take your path. I for one am intrigued, and would have bought one of your rifles if you were still building them. Since I already have a .308 bolt gun sitting around waiting for a change, I wonder if you would let me know how to build a rig similar to yours?

  70. And when was the last time a shooter with a 16″ .308 won a PRS match? Enough said….No doubt a quality 13″ 308 can hit a man sized target at 500 yards. Big whoop. But there are 1,000 other setups that can do it better and more consistently. The other end of the scale is the 16lb 28″ barrel 6mm somethingoranother built solely for F-Class match shooting that is purely a competition gun. It would be just as ridiculous for the F-class shooter to insist that his rifle is all anyone needs as you are for insisting yours is all anyone really needs. While we’re on that topic, who are you to tell anyone what he/she needs in a rifle? The setup you are advocating is the classic jack of all trades, master of none. What if the user needs a specific tool that excels at a specific purpose to accomplish a specific job? I especially love how you clearly mention performance differences between 30 and 100 percent and then casually act like it’s no big deal. Not sure how anyone can take this guy serious. BTW, I am actually a fan of short barreled 308’s. I think they serve a great purpose as short to mid range battle rifles and hunting guns. I really enjoy hunting with mine, but to act like they are the end all of precision guns, is a joke.

  71. I came across your article looking for a 223 load for a short barrel. One that would burn the powder in the barrel and not so much in a fireball just outside it. Do you have any recommendations ? You also made re rethink the fact that I left my 300WM barrel full length when I had a muzzle brake installed on it why back when brakes were witchcraft
    Thank You

  72. HK must have believed in this also, since they modified their G3(762×51) into the 12.7″ G3k. Good article, I’m seriously considering a similar bolt gun, I just wish I didn’t have to do the SBR tax thing. Thanks

  73. I have checked your website and i have found some duplicate content, that’s why you don’t rank high in google,
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  74. Thank you so much for the write up. Cannot believe how many writers give IMO with only cursory glance at some data usually not even there own or relative to the contest of the weapons use. Great to see a clearly presented and honest appraisal of things with solid data to back the argument! Appreciated for Australia

  75. I appreciate the time that clearly went into crafting the article and the bounty of worthwhile technical info. That said, what am I supposed to do other than laugh about “velocity doesn’t matter?” I got a chuckle out of this, at least. Perhaps that was the intent? Entertainment and information all in one place.

  76. You are not alone out there promoting a “practical” approach to ballistics and protection but,
    I appreciate your “no bs” attitude and will be reading more of your posts as I make my personal buying decisions in the future. Well done Zimmerman! This was helpful.



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