Switch-Barrel Rifles

Switch-Barrel Rifles

Rifles that easily convert from one caliber to another are growing in popularity

The ability to change a rifle’s chambering from one cartridge to another is an attractive trait that can be wonderfully convenient. It’s no surprise that this subject receives a fair amount of discussion in the shooting community, but a lot of that discussion is misinformed. It’s unlikely that any of us will ever have to change a rifle’s chambering on the clock, but the faster and easier it is to do the more useful this capability becomes.

The Quick-Change Rifles

These rifles are designed to use an Allen wrench to loosen a locking ring around the barrel, then the barrel simply unscrews from the action. Barrels can be installed hand-tight or snugged up with a crescent wrench, but there’s really no need for a torque wrench since the locking ring does the work of immobilizing the barrel.

Guns that fall into this category are any rifle from Accuracy International, the Seekins Precision HIT, and custom rifles built on the Terminus Zeus receiver. If you don’t mind using barrels that must first have barrel extensions installed to set the correct headspace, the Desert Tech SRS A2, Barret MRAD, Gunwerks NEXUS, and Sako TRG M10 also become candidates. These are all amazing rifles that allow the shooter to swap chamberings with a barrel change and, potentially, a bolt/bolt head and magazine. These are expensive rifles with the exception of the Seekins HIT, which fights well above its weight class and costs around $2,000.

The Still-Pretty-Quick Change Rifles

Given the marvels of today’s manufacturing, custom actions from Zermatt, Impact Precision, American Rifle Company, and Lone Peak are all consistent enough that the shooter can order pre-fit barrels, screw one on, and go shooting. It’s always a good idea to check headspace with Go/No-Go gauges as a safety precaution, but custom rifles built on these actions never need to go to a gunsmith for barreling or caliber conversion. A shooter does need to use a barrel vise and action wrench to install the pre-fit barrel to the correct torque value. These rifles aren’t quite as convenient as the guns listed above, but they still allow for easy caliber and chambering conversion at home.

Why Does It Matter?

Being able to easily change calibers and cartridges matters a lot in a couple scenarios. The first is for high-volume shooters that burn barrels out regularly. Most competitive rifle shooters fall into this category. The benefit for this type of shooter is he can install a new barrel on the rifle in a minute or two, obviating the need to send the rifle to a gunsmith. Most talented gunsmiths have a backlog of work, so it’s possible to be without a gun for several months just to replace a barrel. None of that is necessary with a quick-change system.

The second category that benefits from the caliber and cartridge conversion rifles is the tinkerer. Anyone that finds themselves experimenting with new cartridges or that likes to keep options open for easily reconfiguring the rifle will be well served by caliber conversion. As an example, I have a lightweight hunting rifle built on a Zermatt titanium action and it’s chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor. It’s a great general-use hunting gun. A new barrel is all that’s needed to shoot the same rifle in 6mm GT (if I wanted less recoil for hunting coyotes) or new barrel, bolt head, and magazine to shoot 6.5 PRC (if I wanted more velocity for bigger game like elk). I’ll likely never change it from a 6.5 Creedmoor, but the receiver and pre-fit barrels give me the option to do whatever I like without needing a gunsmith.

Going Mainstream

Caliber and cartridge conversion rifles are becoming mainstream because advancements in manufacturing make it possible for manufacturers to create these firearms at a reasonable cost. As customers become increasingly informed of the advantages these firearms offer, this feature will transition from a novelty to an expectation.

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