Most hunters are a mite confused about the advantages and disadvantages of a short rifle barrel. You might say they are long on fear and short on information. Maybe we can fix that.
We detailed short rifle barrel ballistic performance loss in an earlier article on RSO. You can read it here. Basically it shows there is surprisingly little performance lost to a short barrel. Great. But what are the gains? Why bother with a shorter barrel? Let’s investigate the advantages of short barrels.
Short Rifle Barrel Advantages
A short rifle barrel offers advantageous because it is lighter and easier to carry than a long barrel. Short barrels are faster to whip into action, too. They are stiffer and thus potentially more accurate. There’s less flex, less harmonic vibration and less muzzle whip. All of this contributes to accuracy.
Additional convenience accrues when carrying a short barreled rifle in brush and woods, especially slung over your shoulder. Long barrels entangle branches when you try to aim and swing. Slung on your shoulder, a 24-inch barrel snags branches as you duck under limbs. Knowing this, I recently chose a 20-inch barrel Mossberg Patriot Youth Super Bantam Rifle in 243 Win. for a north Idaho cougar hunt.
Short Rifle Barrel on the Hunt
I knew we’d be climbing high, hard and at incredibly steep angles on this hunt. There’s more up and down than back and forth in north Idaho. I assumed we’d also fight deep snow and plenty of brush and limbs. I wasn’t disappointed.
The hunt was brutal, but the statistics don’t sound too impressive. We climbed about 1,400 feet and traversed about 5 miles each day, most of it zigging and zagging. Snow varied from recently melted to waist deep, the crust sometimes holding, sometimes breaking. With each step I appreciated that compact, light, short rifle barrel. If it had been shorter, more compact and lighter yet, I’d have loved it even more. Even with a 20-inch barrel, the muzzle caught a few limbs and branches. This doesn’t sound like a big deal until you’re bulling through waist deep snow at the end of 6 hours, 4 miles and 1,399 feet of elevation gain. At that point the little insult of a springy limb tugging at the muzzle above your shoulder comes like a slap in the face, Nature’s subtle reminder of the relentless pull of gravity. It’s an attitude killer.
Stratus Support System Lends A Helping Hand
I found relief, oddly enough, in a simple little gizmo called a Stratus Support System. It has nothing to do with undergarments. It’s a two piece gun holder consisting of a polymer clip that slides onto your belt and a matching peg that wraps around your rifle butt. You slide the peg into a notch on the belt unit and it holds your rifle, putting the weight on your hip and leg. You can watch a quick video demonstration here.
The peg swivels 180-degrees in the notch, so the rifle can be carried muzzle up, down, forward or back. Best of all, it can be leaned left or right. When I leaned my Patriot right across my chest, I discovered it would clip under the sternum strap of my ALPS Extreme Pursuit X pack (buy here.) This combination of pack strap and Stratus butt peg/belt holder left me hands free with the Patriot’s muzzle protruding just a few inches past my left shoulder. And below it. No more overhead branch snagging. And I was free to grab brush to pull myself into the rarified air of mountainous Idaho.
Short Rifle Barrel Advantages in Mountains
I’ve also found short barrels to be convenient in steep, rocky country where long tubes tend to jut into overhead rocks as you climb, lean forward and ease around ledges. During a mountain goat hunt with guide Bryan Martin of Canadian Mountain Outfitters in the wilds of north-central British Columbia, I employed a Kifaru Rambling Rifle in 7mm-08 Rem. with an 18.5-inch barrel. At barely more than 4 pounds with a Leupold 2-7×33 scope, it carried easily without getting hung up, even as we scaled narrow chimneys near the tops of 7,000-foot ridges. I strapped the rifle onto my pack and it barely stuck above it. Perfect for hands-free climbing without interruption. Despite that “too-short” barrel, I put two 140-grain Swift A-Frames into a big billy 350 yards away.
Not even the biggest game seems to need magnum length barrels. Drew Goodlin of Federal Premium used an extra short 16.5-inch barrel on a Ruger Hawkeye Compact chambered for the overlooked but deadly effective 338 Federal to take a moose with a couple of well placed shots at about 200 yards.
You don’t have to hunt the mountains to appreciate short rifle barrels. You’ll find them easy to maneuver in and out of trucks, ATVs, bush planes, horse scabbards and even airports. Traveling in any conveyance with a long rifle case can be a pain. Why suffer?
Again, as this short barrel ballistics article shows, cutting six inches from a barrel might reduce bullet muzzle velocity by 300 fps, but at 300 yards that results in only one more inch of drop and one of drift. Seems a small price to pay for all the conveniences a short barrel brings.
Author and global hunter Ron Spomer has sometimes found himself short-barreled but never short-changed.