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How to break-in a new rifle barrel

 

How to break in a new rifle barrel
Putting the Browning X-Bolt Hell's Canyon Long Range rifle with a Leupold VX-3i riflescope through the break-in process. All photo credits: Brady Miller

Let’s face it, getting a new rifle doesn’t happen very often. So when you finally decide on the rifle and caliber of your choice, a few simple steps should be taken to ensure you and your rifle will have many great years together. Some people might say you don’t need to break in a new rifle barrel and others will say it’s a must do procedure. My opinion, it can’t hurt to break in a new barrel. I'm also reminded of a quote from Col. Townsend Whelen, "Only accurate rifles are interesting." That furthers my drive to ensure I do what I can to have a repeatable rifle.

I’ve read a lot of things on this subject (mostly during the random years when I decide to pick up a new gun) and it seems that most people will agree that a rifle break-in period is a good thing. Each time you do this, understand that this isn’t a hurry up and shoot several rounds and call it good. If I’m breaking in a new rifle barrel, I like to get to my shooting area very early in the morning and prepare for at least 25-30 shots and possibly five hours of your time.

What items do you need?

Box of rifle ammo

  • At least 30-50 rounds of ammo
  • Comfortable shooting area
  • Cleaning equipment (see list here)

What's the purpose?

Basically, the process of breaking in a new barrel is essentially just conditioning the barrel to smooth everything out (remove small burrs). Some barrel materials may take more rounds, others might not need much at all. Keep in mind that you don't want to burn your barrel up in this process. Rifle barrels don't last forever, so like I mention at the end of this article, if your rifle shoots great using half the steps, then call it good.

Steps to break-in a new rifle barrel

Step 1

After getting set up at your shooting location, take one shot and then go through your preferred method for cleaning a rifle barrel.

Preparing to clean rifle barrel

You don’t need a thorough deep clean here, but you can follow a simple process for cleaning your rifle barrel here. At this stage, don’t really worry about where you’re hitting. I like to place a target at close range for this process, just for something to aim at. But, to save some time while this barrel break-in process is going on, I’ll also make some small adjustments to my scope so I’m hitting paper.

Step 2

Cleaning brush in rifle bore guide

Repeat step one for the first 10 shots through your barrel. This process will take you a while because you’re cleaning your rifle between each shot. Also, cleaning your rifle between each shot allows for your barrel to cool down. Depending on the size of your barrel, the cooling time can vary. I like to wait at least 5 to 10 minutes, but sometimes I will wait a full 20 minutes for a true cold bore shot (a true cold bore shot isn't really needed in this stage).

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Step 3

Cleaning patch through rifle barrel

Next, shoot a three round group and then clean your barrel. Again, don’t really worry where your bullets are hitting.

You will do this step for a total of fifteen rounds, so you will repeat the three shot and clean for a total of five sessions.

Step 4

Cleaning the rifle barrel again with a brush

Finally, you’ll want to shoot five rounds and then clean your barrel. After you’ve cleaned the barrel, you’ll want to take a foul shot.

Step 5

Now you can shoot three rounds to test for accuracy if you want, or call it day. From here on out, your rifle is now ready to handle anything you throw at it.

Now to throw you a curve...

Let’s say you take out a new rifle and shoot your first few rounds through the barrel and your shots are all sub or MOA accurate. You take several more shot and they are still grouping perfectly. In this situation, you can probably just stop right there. Every barrel has different life expectancies, so after figuring out that your new rifle shoots great, it might be best to spend the rest of your time at a later date testing loads and sighting in your rifle.

In conclusion

Here's a summary of the steps:

  • Take one shot. Clean the barrel.
    • Repeat for 10 shots.
  • Shoot a 3 shot group. Clean the barrel.
    • Repeat for 15 shots.
  • Shoot five rounds. Clean the barrel.
    • Take a foul shot.
  • Shoot three rounds for accuracy.

People might be on the fence if a barrel break-in process is necessary, but I lean toward to side of caution and will gladly spend the time to slowly shoot a new rifle that I want to get plenty years out of.

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18 Comments

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Brady J. Miller
Brady M. - posted 3 months ago on 07-17-2019 10:48:16 am
Las Vegas, NV
goHUNT Team

Glad you enjoyed it, Brennen! On my Vortex PST I used the .92" rings with a 20 MOA picatinny rail, easily could have gone with a .87". On a different Browning gun with a Leupold, I used .82" rings with a 20 MOA rail.

Brennen M. - posted 3 months ago on 07-17-2019 10:31:48 am

Great article. I just purchased the Hells Canyon Speed in 7RemMag and will be referencing this. What size rings do you have on the rifle with the Vortex PST?

John D. - posted 3 months ago on 06-23-2019 03:56:27 am

Look at the companies that make high-end long range rifles they recommend breaking the Barrel in I will follow the people that build the rifles advice over these so-called experts that say you shouldn't break the Barrel in who would you believe some person with antidotal evidence that didn't break their rifles in and say it shoots fine very antidotal or the experts who build them that's a you should break a barrel in I believe the guys that build them

Josh S. - posted 7 months ago on 03-17-2019 09:20:25 pm
Spokane Valley, WA
goHUNT INSIDER

Damn it Brady! I went with the x bolt speed cause you made it look so good. Plus I like the light weight of it. Was stumped between the long range and the speed version for awhile before I made my decision. Wish I read this before and saw that you prefer the long range over the speed. Don’t think I’ll be disappointed though!

Brandon B. - posted 1 year ago on 09-27-2018 11:02:08 am

Brady,

Really appreciate this great break in and rifle gun cleaning procedure. I am an archery hunter and just bought my first hunting rifle, Sako A7 RoughTech Stainless in a 7mm caliber. I was very curious of how to properly break in my barrel. Not sure if it is needed being a 5 shot sub moa from factory, but will at least doing the cleaning for saftey. Very curious of what product you think is best since you have used many? I have been looking at Montana Xtreme, KG, BoreTech and MPRO-7. Since I am a novice to gun cleaning, I figured the non ammonia, safer products might be best for me like the KG, BoreTech and MPRO. Please share your thoughts. Thank you again and look forward to hearing back from you.

Dawson S. - posted 1 year ago on 07-12-2018 03:41:00 pm

Really appreciate it Brady! I’m sure I’ll be getting the hells canyon long range. Your reply helped me quite a bit! Woul you pick a 7mm over the .300 win mag. I’m stuck in between both right now!

Brady J. Miller
Brady M. - posted 1 year ago on 07-12-2018 12:33:15 pm
Las Vegas, NV
goHUNT Team

Hey Dawson. Happy to help you out here. You won't be disappointed with a Browning X-Bolt Hells Canyon rifle. I'll try not to get too long-winded on my reply :) I've personally used the Hells Canyon Speed the past three seasons. It's a phenomenal gun, even with the small sporter barrel. I'm very comfortable with this gun and barrel combination out to 700 yards and routinely practice at that distance on the range to make those close shots that much easier. I've personally taken five mule deer bucks and a black bear with my Hells Canyon Speed and let two of my friends take mule deer with it as well. It's a shooter!!

But... if I was to do it over again with a rifle choice, I would lean toward the Hells Canyon Long Range over the speed. I have a love of tinkering with guns and bows, and I know I could get more out of the heavier sporter barrel that the Long Range has on it. With a heavier sporter barrel of the Long Range, the barrel heats up a lot slower, has less recoil energy and shot to shot dispersions. So your point of impact has less of a chance to shift if you take more shots in a row. Also, a heavier barrel can be stiffer and more consistent.

Your caliber choice is what I have used forever. I love a 300 win mag in my hunting rifles. I love knowing that if I make a bad shot somehow, that the gun has enough knockdown power to make things happen. Also, it's a good caliber choice if you like experimenting with hand loads like 215 Berger Hybrids or 200 Hornady ELD-X. Hope that helps some, happy to answer any other questions you might have.

Dawson S. - posted 1 year ago on 07-11-2018 07:08:58 pm

Hey Brady, just had a question on rifle choice. I’m wanting to pick up an x bolt hells canyon real soon but can’t decide on weather I want the speed or the long range. Being doing research on both and both seem to be outstanding. Caliber choice, I’m leaning towards the .300 win mag. Any feed back or suggestions, I’d definitely appreciate man!

gbowers19
Greg B. - posted 1 year ago on 01-29-2018 02:58:21 pm
Kincardine, Ontario
goHUNT INSIDER

Thanks guys, really appreciate the feedback. Definitely helps and leads me in the right direction. Exactly the info I was looking for.

Brady J. Miller
Brady M. - posted 1 year ago on 01-29-2018 11:04:17 am
Las Vegas, NV
goHUNT Team

Hey Greg. You are right, I currently own the Vortex PST (2016 version) on my Browning Hell's Canyon in .300 Win Mag and have been using this setup with great success the past two hunting seasons. I have been playing around with a few Leupolds on some friend's Browning rifles as well during that time and I really enjoy shooting them. I have a Leupold VX 3i 8.5-25x50 that I am waiting to put on a different Browning .300 win mag of mine, once the rifle is built.

After running both Vortex and Leupold for a while I will say they are very, very similar. The one thing I like about the Leupold is the larger turret (easy to grab and turn on the fly) and the true hard zero stop. I didn't have that on my older Vortex PST that I wish I had. I'm not sure if the new Gen II has that.

It is also nice that now the PST Gen II goes to 25 power. I really wish I had that on my older PST.

The Leupold is a lot lighter, but that doesn't really matter to me. Glass seems to be very similar. I do think the Leupold glass does better in low light and not as impacted by direct glare when shooting toward the sunset.

You'd be very happy with either setup. I'd be happy to dive deeper with you on questions too if needed.

SETH D. - posted 1 year ago on 01-29-2018 04:24:13 am
Sunny New Mexico
goHUNT INSIDER

Greg, keep it simple. Does Cabelas in Barrie have both the Vortex and the Leupold you want? Or maybe a local shop? See if you can manhandle the two of them. Either optic will do 100% of what you want it to do. Both companies have great customer service, and I guess it depends if you want a gold ring on the front of your scope or not. I own the Viper PST 1st focal, it is a great scope. Both Leupolds are as well. There are several 34mm scopes in the under $1000 price point that are "dumbed won" for the price. The next line up that you can jump to is the Leupold Mark 6/Mark 8, Nightforce PST/Beast and Swarovski Long Range, Schmidt Bender PM2, and so on. You have great choices in any of those 3. I personally like the PST, and I'll buy another one. It has the most features at that price point for me.

gbowers19
Greg B. - posted 1 year ago on 01-28-2018 09:48:27 pm
Kincardine, Ontario
goHUNT INSIDER

Hey Brady, not really related to this article but thought I'd ask. I have seen you have had a few of the Browning Hells Canyon rifles and have had different scopes on them (vortex and leupold). I just picked up a .300WSM Browning Hells Canyon Speed and was having a hard time deciding which scope to put on it. Ive had lower end Bushnells on my previous guns and wanted to put some better glass on this one. Hoping to get one off the ghunt gear shop. I'm between the Leopold VX5 3-55x44, Leopold VX3i LRP and the Vortex Viper PST Gen 2, (all about the same price range). You have any thoughts on these scopes or which ones were more comfortable on your Hells Canyon rifles. Ive been out west a few times for pronghorn and now have some good points hoping to draw elk this year, so that is what I will be using this scope/rifle for. Im comfortable out to about 400 yards. Any help from you or any one else is very much appreciated.
Thanks and cheers,
Greg

Joshua K. - posted 1 year ago on 01-12-2018 06:03:49 am
goHUNT INSIDER

I used to waste a ton of time "breaking in" barrels. I can't find any evidence that it is worth your time, and could actually be detrimental. I am glad I got over it. Just shoot.

Chris C. - posted 1 year ago on 12-21-2017 12:13:17 pm

Interesting article.....but I have owned several rifles through the years and have NEVER went through this process. I have however done a complete clean on it the day I bring it home just to get the factory oils and any other debris that may find it way on or in the barrel or the trigger mechanism. I’ve never had a problem with accuracy in any of my rifle. All firearms go through a firing process when they built to ensure there is no weaknesses in the barrels/chambers. So in my opinion going out and shooting and cleaning all day is a waste of ammo and cleaning products.

sboyce@srk.com
Steven B. - posted 1 year ago on 12-21-2017 09:10:19 am
Spring Creek, NV
goHUNT INSIDER

Good article and a simple and very safe approach. Kudos for keeping it simple and not going for shortcuts. This is exactly the method I used. I'm just not confident in my abilities to play around with any lapping or smoothing procedures other than this. One note: some manufacturers go through essentially this step or perform fine lapping steps at the factory. But again, this is a great and safe way to provide insurance that your rifle will shoot well as possible...nothing in this article can HURT your rifle's accuracy!!

SETH D. - posted 1 year ago on 12-19-2017 12:21:09 pm
Sunny New Mexico
goHUNT INSIDER

I was a military armorer for 20 years, and shoot F-Class and PRS Matches locally when I lived in America.

You can damage the barrel more by cleaning than you can in shooting it.

There are some factory barrels like Tikka/Sako, Howa and Savage that generally are free from tool marks. Ruger uses hammer forges and so does Steyr. These are generally in good shape. Breaking in a barrel can be necessary, but you can't damage a barrel by shooting it without breaking it in. You can damage it by cleaning with bad equipment, and bad technique.

A new barrel isn't cheap, but barrels are far from fragile.

A lot of guys get hung up on copper. I had a Remington 700 AAC in 308, I shoot 1400 rounds through with out much more than some Hoppes #9 on a barrel snake, every couple hundred rounds when I would think about it. I got worried about copper and stripped it down to bare metal using Barnes CR. It took 80 rounds of ammo to get enough copper back in it to shoot half a minute again.

Copper is not evil, it maybe in your rifle, and it might not. Copper might be evil on a 257 Weatherby or a 220 Swift, because it can increase pressure. For most rifles copper is more myth than a real problem.

Every shooter I know that shoots a couple thousand rounds a year long range gets to be a good shooter, even if they are dumb. They just figure out what works. Kill a lot of rocks before you try to kill an animal above 400 yards.

Every hunter should consider a barrel a commodity they will have to swap out. Heck worse case scenario, shoot a factory heavy barrel rifle like a Howa Varmint in 6.5 Creed or 300 Win, or a Tikka T3 in 6.5 Creed, or a 700 Sendaro and wear that barrel out. Then trade it in for a new one. You will beat the cost of a barrel by hundreds of dollars.

If nothing than for the education you get in long range shooting doing it. My goal is 3000 rounds a year, 600 or more would be good education killing rocks out on BLM land.

Martin D. - posted 1 year ago on 12-19-2017 11:54:31 am
goHUNT INSIDER

Good stuff Brady....I have seen some very dirty barrels on brand new rifles, so my experience has been that the most important cleaning takes place before you ever fire the first shot.
Just thought I'd share.

Gary H. - posted 1 year ago on 12-19-2017 07:03:24 am
goHUNT INSIDER

Modern Rifles that claim to shoot sub- MOA should do just that. RIGHT OUT OF THE BOX. After all, thats what your paying for right?