October 06, 2021
By Joseph von Benedikt
Pre-fit barrels are a relatively new thing. Machined to extremely tight tolerances, they can be screwed onto compatible actions—also machined to equally precise tolerances—by gun owners. Note: No gunsmith is required.
Development of the pre-fit barrel concept was driven by PRS (Precision Rifle Series) shooting competitors. Unlike any previous shooting discipline, PRS shooting burns out barrels. Serious competitors shoot 1,000 to 2,000 rounds per month. They have to replace their barrels every two to four months. Gunsmithing costs for custom-fit barrels are high, but more than that, a match rifle is out of commission while it’s off getting a new barrel installed.
For several years, it was common practice for a competitor to send three or four new barrel blanks to the gunsmith at once and get them all threaded and chambered to the same action. Then, using a barrel vise and a torque wrench, the shooter could simply replace barrels as needed.
Custom-barrel companies caught on, collaborated with custom actionmakers, and the pre-fit aftermarket rifle barrel was born. CarbonSix, McGowan, Shilen, Krieger, Proof Research, and other makers offer pre-fits. Such barrels run from $180 for a basic, production-grade barrel for a Savage up to near $1,000 for a premium, match-grade, carbon-fiber-wrapped barrel by Proof Research.
Most custom actionmakers now list which actions are compatible with pre-fit barrels, and many top barrelmakers have an entire family of pre-fit barrels, with variations that fit most of the custom actions. Defiance Machine, Lone Peak Arms, Zermatt Arms, and others are excellent examples.
Some production-grade actions are made precisely enough that barrelmakers can create pre-fit barrels for them. Tikka is the most notable. Others may not be machined to particularly snug tolerances but have adjustable headspacing capability built into the way the barrel mounts (Savage Arms and Ruger’s RPR for example) and are also compatible with pre-fit barrels.
What’s the Benefit to You?
If you’re a competitive PRS shooter, you already know what the benefit to you is—and likely use the pre-fit barrel concept. But what if you’re not? What if you’re simply a recreational shooter that likes ringing steel way out there, or perhaps a hunter with a hankering for premium accuracy but no desire to pay for a custom rifle?
Pre-fit barrels open a world of possibilities.
Let’s take the first chap, the recreational long-range shooter. Let’s say you own a Ruger RPR in 6mm Creedmoor and either have shot it so much accuracy has begun to degrade or simply want a cutting-edge custom barrel for your rifle. No need to send it off to a gunsmith. Order a pre-fit barrel online (my favorites are by Proof Research) and follow instructions to install it yourself. It’s a DIY solution that saves money, is sure to have excellent results, and gives you the satisfaction of knowing you did it yourself.
If you’re that hunter in search of increased range and precision, the process is the same. Say you have a well-used Tikka in .308 Winchester but want a new barrel in 6.5 Creedmoor. Get on Proof’s website, browse the available barrels, and purchase one. It’ll cost you $599, but that’s a match-grade, handlapped, carbon-fiber-wrapped barrel—and there are no gunsmith costs associated! Using a homemade barrel block in your vise and a simple action wrench (YouTube it), spin your old barrel off, and spin on and torque the new Proof barrel. Voilà! You’ve given your rifle a whole new life.
It’s worth noting that in addition to revitalizing an existing rifle, a pre-fit barrel is a great way to build a near-custom-level precision rifle. You can order a space-age carbon-fiber stock from McMillan or Manners or Peak 44 or Gunwerks or HS Precision or whatnot; purchase a used Tikka action cheap; and buy a cutting-edge, custom, match-grade, pre-fit barrel. Spin on the barrel and do your best DIY job of glass and pillar bedding the action and you’ll have an exceptional rifle capable of shooting darn near as well as a Gunwerks, AllTerra Arms, or Proof Research custom rifle. At a fraction of the cost.
Also, you can go the all-premium-components route. Get a top-shelf action, such as Defiance’s Anti-X (pictured); a premium barrel, such as Proof’s carbon-fiber-wrapped Sendero; and a modern high-performance carbon-fiber stock and assemble the components yourself. For around three grand, you’ll have a truly spectacular rifle.
Recently, I did just that, choosing to build an ultralight 6mm Creedmoor precision hunting rifle for deer and long shots on predators. I did cave and have the action bedded professionally by a gunsmith who really knows his business, but the rest I assembled myself. I put in a Timney Trigger and Pacific Tool & Gauge bottom metal.
It’s now one of my all-time favorite rifles: sleek, lightweight, and oh-so-capable. It feels so good and shoots so well, I have to hide it from my wife and kids or I never get to use it.
Do you need a pre-fit barrel? If you’re looking for a DIY project that will result in one of the best-shooting rifles you’ve ever laid a trigger finger on, the answer is yes. Give one a try. You can thank me later.