Barrel Compromise: Weight Vs. Practicality
By Bryan Chatwell
It’s not a secret that heavier barrels give better and more repeatable accuracy. Bench rest shooters use either a heavy varmint or a light varmint contour barrel at around 20 inches overall length. This makes for a very rigid barrel, little barrel whip and vibration, hence the small groups. However the long range hunter does not have the option of having a short 20 inch barrel, and even the light varmint contour is too heavy to carry around mountain tops at high altitude. There has to be a compromise between weight and ability to carry. The Shilen number 5 contour is a popular choice but is a little on the light side for my personal liking. The Light Palma contour however is a perfect compromise. The Light Palma contour is heavier than the number five contour but lighter than the factory Remington varmint/Sendero profile.
There are countless numbers of Remington Sendero and varmint rifles in circulation. Until recently all of these rifles have worn HS Precision stocks which are factory inletted perfectly for the Light Palma contour, as are the new Bell and Carlson stocks. Not to exclude other manufacturers such as Savage and Winchester, whose heavy barreled rifles have a barrel channel big enough to carry the light contour without the extra cost of inletting.
My rifle is a Remington varmint rifle in 308. The factory barrel shot great and held accuracy for several thousand rounds before the throat eroded to the point that a round would not chamber. The gunsmith I took the rifle to asked me to try the Light Palma contour over the Remington varmint profile. This is advice I am glad I heeded -- weight savings of half a pound while giving up very little barrel stiffness, and as mentioned earlier no cost of stock inletting. Light Palma barrels are also heavy enough to flute for even more weight savings without sacrificing rigidity. Palma barrels come as 31 inch blanks so any hunting length is easily achieved. The chart below shows the measurements and weights of different barrel contours. The overall length of the Palma barrel depicts how big the barrel is at the muzzle due to its taper. My barrel measures .780” at the muzzle and a factory varmint measures .820”. Thirteen inches past the muzzle my barrel measures .880” and a factory varmint measures .885”. By these measurements it is easy to see the Palma barrel doesn’t really start to lose any size to the varmint contour until past the end of the stock.
This is the smallest five shot group to date, and with the 10x scope I doubt that I can do much better, but sub .5 moa groups are the normal for this rifle.
This picture shows that the barrel fits nicely in place of the varmint barrel, free floated but not too much gap on each side. Also as you can see in the picture that these groups were shot with heavy boat tail bullets, not the typical flat base bullets that short range BR shooters typically use in competition. The load shown here is higher than the Sierra manual suggests, so of course it cannot be assumed to be a safe load in other rifles, and I take no responsibility for someone duplicating this load.
Accuracy is great, which is the most important reason to buy any barrel. Accuracy is the whole reason we spend hours in the reloading room and at the shooting range, and this contour delivers! At one hundred yards I have shoot 2 different 5 shot groups that measure just over .300”. I have tons of respect for bench rest shooters; however I am not one and have not spent the time to learn to shoot over bench rest flags. It’s on the list to do, but not done as of now. So I test loads at one hundred yards based on mirage, wind blowing debris and on how the wind feels against my face and shooting rest. Not the best way to measure wind at short distance. So when I get great results I realize that a short range bench rest shooter could do better. Random good groups aren’t the best measure either, but a one hundred yard grand aggregate of half an inch shows promise. First grand aggregate at one hundred yards was .581” and I honestly think bench rest shooters could shoot .300” all day long.
This particular barrel is a 1-12tw Broughton 5c barrel. It’s my third Broughton 5c and I have been pleased with all three. Broughton barrels are button rifled and feature five canted lands. The barrels are hand lapped meticulously and are seen on the competitive firing lines frequently. I wouldn’t hesitate to buy another Broughton, or to recommend Broughton barrels to other people. However some shooters prefer cut rifled barrels, and there are several fine cut rifled barrel manufacturers. Krieger makes a Light Palma contour as does Brux. As a matter of fact the barrel chart came from the Brux website, and looks just like the chart on the Krieger website. I have recently purchased an MTU contour barrel from Lawton, who makes barrels and actions. Lawton offers button rifling as well as cut rifling in 3 or 8 groove barrels in any contour you can imagine. I don’t mean to leave out any barrel companies. This is just the group that I have had dealings with. Chances are your favorite company makes a Light Palma and with a little internet surfing you could have one in your hands shortly. So whatever brand you prefer, cut rifling or button pulled, the Light Palma is an excellent contour for a hunting rifle.