Most shooters dream about having a custom barrel installed on their rifle or handgun. But are custom barrels all that they are cracked up to be? First is the cost. A good barrel will cost between $300 and $600 dollars installed. Most rifles will have to be re-bedded to fit the stock to the new contour of the custom barrel. A finish of some type will have to be put on the new barrel and in most cases you might as well have the entire gun refinished. While you are having the new barrel installed, you should have the action tuned up and squared. And last, you need to decide on what caliber and type of bullets you are going to shoot, so the right rate of twist can be made. You can’t expect a 30 caliber barrel to shoot everything from little 100 grain bullets to heavy 200 grain bullets. If you are going to shoot small bullets, the twist might be a 1 in 12 inch twist or if you are shooting long heavy bullets, the twist will have to be faster and may end up a 1 in 9 twist. You can also change calibers at this time. Just because you have a 30-06 rifle doesn’t mean you have to keep it a 30-06. You can change the caliber to a 25-06, a 270, a 280, a 35 Whelen or how about a wildcat like a 6.5-06 Ackley Improved. The range in what you want to do is only hampered by how creative you and the gunsmith can be and how much money you want to spend.
Picking the right barrel steel and taper depends on what you want to end up with when you are done. If you are trying to build a light-weight mountain rifle then don’t let your gunsmith talk you into a heavy number 4 or 5 taper barrel. You will want a light number 1 or 2 taper; the rifle will be considerably lighter and easier to carry. Remember you carry a hunting rifle 99% of the time and shoot it 1%. The barrel length is important to what you are doing. The barrel has to be long enough to burn the powder and get the velocity, but not too long that it will hang up in the alders in Alaska or be out of balance when you do an off hand shot. If you are hunting Elephant or Buffalo in the thick stuff, it might be a good idea to have a short barrel so you can swing the rifle better in case of a charge and not have it hang up on branches or vines. If you want a long range cartridge like a 300 Ultra or a 30-378, you will need a long barrel to make it perform to its full potential. But, if having a long barrel will affect the way you carry the rifle or if it will get hung up on everything while you are using it, then you might want to re-think your caliber of choice. A 300 Winchester with a 22 inch barrel might be a better choice for the type of hunting you are going to do. The same holds true for the type of steel to use. A stainless barrel will usually shoot better and is more user friendly as far as not rusting and being easier to clean. But, if you are trying to build a classic rifle with a fancy wood stock and engraved grip cap, then you will want a carbon steel barrel that you will be able to polish up and blue to a high luster. The same holds true for a Varmint rifle or a Target rifle. Pick the right taper for the barrel for what you are doing and don’t go so big that it won’t fit in the stock. If you want a Bench rifle with a huge barrel then you might as well plan on buying a new stock to go with it. Consider fluting the barrel on a Varmint rifle, it will save a little weight, add more surface area which helps with cooling and looks neat. You can pick straight flutes or spiral flutes or even double spiral flutes. It will just depend on what you like, can afford, and how good your gunsmith is.
There are many things that make a custom rifle barrel shoot better. First is the polish inside the barrel. Most custom barrels are lapped to the point that they shine which also makes cleaning easier. Having a well polished bore also makes it a straighter barrel. I have seen several gunsmith videos showing how out of round a factory barrel is on the outside. I don’t care about the outside; it’s what is on the inside that counts. The taper on the inside of the barrel has to stay the same or better yet, get slightly smaller or tighter as the bullet approaches the muzzle. If the barrel ever gets larger at the muzzle, then the rifle will never shoot. The rate of twist has to stay the same all the way through the barrel or better yet, it needs to have the twist increase as the bullet travels to the muzzle. If the rate of twist ever slows up then the rifle will never shoot. Last is the work of the gunsmith. A good gunsmith can make a bad barrel shoot well, but a bad gunsmith can make the best barrel shoot like junk. If you don’t feel good about the person working on your gun then find someone else. Just because a gunsmith is out of state or advertises more than your local gunsmith, that doesn’t make him better. Many small shops turn out some incredible work and it might end up costing much less. Make sure your gunsmith can work off centers and make sure he has the right tooling for blue printing your action. Many of the tools for this type of work are hand-made, so don’t let this scare you off and remember just because his machines are old and not state of the art CNC equipment doesn’t mean you won’t get a good job. You might get a better job because he will have to do more hands on work.
Deciding to have a custom barrel installed on your rifle is a lot to think about and can end up costing over $1,000.00 by the time you are done. What you get for this is a rifle that will shoot better than a factory rifle and cleans up easier and looks different. It is like building a custom car, you do it for the fun and not because you have to. A hot rod motor won’t make going to work every morning any easier, or better. Like a custom barrel won’t make that 180 point Whitetail walk out in front of you. But it is a great feeling just knowing that your car is faster than the one next to you, or that your rifle will out shoot the other rifles in the hunting camp.