Rifle Care

Centerfire Rifle Barrel Break-In

Barrel break-in procedures have been "cussed and discussed" for many, many years. From my point of view, it comes down to this.

Are you a :

  • "Once-a-year" hunter;
  • Tyro (new or novice shooter) that has inherited a rifle from a relative or purchased your first used center-fire rifle;
  • Prospective competition shooter with a new match barrel;
  • Hard-core rifleman (It has to be perfect!) or;
  • Shooter that wants that special hunting rifle barrel to shoot its very best for a long time?

If you're a once-a-year hunter, breaking in a barrel makes no sense. This is due to the limited amount of shooting that you're going to do. The typical "once-a-year" hunter shoots less than a 20 round box of ammo through his or her rifle annually. This being the case, it'll take 10+ years before the barrel powder fouls and copper's up to the point of needing professional help to get it back to peak accuracy. The exception to the 10+ year rule involves fast and flat shooting magnum cartridges. Rifles chambered for these cartridges can powder and copper foul very quickly, especially when fired while the barrel is too hot to touch.

If you're a Tyro, another culprit could be a used barrel with a bore that's a little on the rough side. Rough bores are carbon residue and copper grabbers! If this happens and you live in Northern Nevada, please feel free to contact me. I'll be more than happy to recommend a Reno/Carson City-area gunsmith that can resolve the issue for you. They won't do this service for free. It takes time to fix 10+ years worth of powder and copper fouling. Their time is worth something, if you know what I mean. If you've recently inherited a rifle from a relative, there's no telling whether the barrel was properly broken-in or, in the worst case, neglected. Regardless of the circumstance, your barrel is going to need "some love" from a professional.

If you're a prospective competition shooter, a hard-core rifleman or just want your hunting barrels to shoot much better than average, I'd highly recommend utilizing a barrel break-in procedure. Does barrel break-in help extend the accurate life of your barrel and make clean-up easier? You betcha ya!!! If you've had an after-market barrel recently installed on your action, please check with the barrel manufacturer regarding their barrel break-in procedure. There are many break-in procedures out there..they're all good and none are bad. Heck, you're at least interested in the process so how could it be a bad thing?

By utilizing barrel break-in, I've been able to extend the accurate usable life of my match rifle barrels a minimum of 2,000 rounds. Sound strange to you? Shouldn't but, here's what I mean. Hard core bulls-eye paper punchers change out their competition rifle barrels at ~1500 rounds or less. Cool! However, when you consider that a new "super duper" match-grade barrel blank runs $400 - $700 these days; why not get the most "bang for your buck?" Being an old Silhouette (Siluetas) shooter on a limited budget, I've stretched match-quality barrel replacement big time. At times, I've been able to extend the usable life of these barrels to 10,000 or 12,000 total rounds. Did the barrel's accuracy "go South" on me after so many rounds, you bet! But, I could not have extended the usable accurate barrel life without proper barrel break-in and, because I was single loading the action, "chasing the lands" by seating the bullet out as the barrel throat wore (Hmmm...subject for another blog article.)


The barrel break-in procedure referenced below has served me well for 35+ years. It's a slight modification of the US Army Marksmanship Team's procedure circa 1960. This procedure is geared toward bolt-action high power cartridge rifle but, can be utilized during the break-in of a semi-auto, pump, lever, or single shot break-action rifle. For semis and pumps, you may need to utilize pull-through (protected cable and T-handle) cleaning gear minus the bore guide. If you have questions regarding a non-bolt action barrel break-in, let me know and I'll be happy to share with you the proper equipment necessary to make it work for you.

Needed Items:

  • One-piece, quality cleaning rod (correct for caliber). I prefer one-piece, stainless steel rods with ball-bearing handles;
  • Adjustable bore guide to replace bolt during cleaning;
  • Bore brush one diameter over size (i.e., 8mm brush for a .30 cal bore). Bore brush should be of stiff nylon-type construction;
  • Good quality solvent (like Shooter's Choice or Butch's Bore Shine);
  • Patches for your bore size. Bring more patches than you think you'll need;
  • Patch jag tip for your bore diameter (i.e., 6mm, .25, .28, .30 cal). Needed to push patches down the bore;
  • Rifle maintenance/cleaning vise to hold rifle during cleaning; and
  • Approximately 40 to 60 rounds of ammo.



Stage 1 -

  • Before shooting, clean barrel to remove all factory preservative and test firing residue. Always clean from the chamber to barrel muzzle!!! Use the oversize bore brush throughout the entire break-in process.
  • Fire one round and clean the bore until all residue is gone. Do this 10 times. Make sure to check barrel temp, in front of forearm with your hand. You should be able to grip barrel for a solid 10 second count before letting go.

Stage 2 - 

  • After completing the "fire one and clean" process, start a "fire three and clean" process. Fire three rounds and clean barrel until all residue is gone. Keep checking barrel temp by grabbing barrel in front of forearm between each three shot session. If too hot to hold for a 10 count, let it cool!!!
  • When the barrel breaks, you'll feel the bore brush get easier to push through the bore and it'll only take about 2 to 3 patches to get the bore clean. This may take 3 to 10 three-shot groups, so bring enough ammo!

Note: Some folks will recommend utilizing Sweet's 7.62 solvent or other heavy ammonia-based solvents during the barrel break-in procedure. Sweet's is a fantastic product (especially in regard to copper build-up removal), but unless you are very experienced with it, leave this and other similar solvents alone. Inexperience with this solvent can cause more heart-ache than you can imagine (Ah-hah...subject for another blog article).

Post Break-in:

Figure on half-a-day at the range to complete this procedure. Once the barrel breaks-in, clean well and let it completely cool down before shooting for point-of-impact and accuracy. Future cleaning should be accomplished utilizing the standard diameter brush, patches and jag for your bore diameter.

Go for broke and have fun!