Do gun barrels wear out?


A couple of commonly asked questions are “do gun barrels wear out?” and “how long does it take for a gun barrel to wear out?”.  These are very good questions and the answer to the latter isn’t quite so easy of a question to answer. The short answer to the first question is, yes, gun barrels do wear out.  But with that said, most gun barrels will last for the lifetime of the gun for average shooter.  This leads us to the question of how long does it take for a gun barrel to wear out, well one thing to keep in mind is that a hotter load, which translates as a faster cartridge will wear out a gun barrel quicker.  Also, the old notion of “you get what you pay for” holds true in this case.  A quality gun will have a longer barrel life than a gun made with inferior products.  This doesn’t mean that you need to go out and buy the most expensive gun available, but it also means that a gun that is far cheaper than similar guns may be suspect.  There are many bench rest shooters who will shoot up to 5000 rounds before considering replacing their barrels.  However, there are some professional shooters that will consider replacing a barrel after 2000 – 3000 rounds or sooner when they determine their accuracy has diminished noticeably.  This is because even a minimal loss of accuracy could cost them a tournament.  However, for the average shooter a fraction of an inch loss in accuracy probably wouldn’t ever be noticed.  Also, consider that in order to shoot 3000 rounds through a gun, one would have to purchase and shoot 150 boxes of ammo (20 rounds per box).  Let’s just say that an average box of shells cots $20 per box, that would total a whopping $3000!  That number is actually pretty conservative considering that shells for some of the premium magnums out there costs at least double that amount.  I would venture to say that most average gun owners don’t shoot more than 3 boxes of ammo a year.  Shooting at that rate, the barrel would last 50 years!  Of course some people will shoot more than that, but others will shoot less. 

There are some things that one should consider which vastly improves barrel life.  One of the most important things a gun owner should do is to clean their gun barrel after shooting.  However, one must be careful during these frequent cleanings because careless cleaning can damage the lands, greatly reducing barrel life and affecting accuracy.  Another point to consider is how shooting an over heated barrel causes damage.  As the barrel heats up, the metal becomes softer which increases barrel wear, so obviously continuing to shoot an over heated barrel is a bad idea.  Another important factor to consider for prolonged barrel life is the use of a bore guide when cleaning a gun.  The guide protects the bore throat and is a must.  Also, consider the use of a coated cleaning rod when cleaning your gun barrel.  Adherence to the preceding tips cannot be over emphasized, so please put them into practice.

Another factor in barrel wear is the type of bullet fired in a particular gun.  Bullets made of softer materials such as lead, will cause less wear than jacket bullets or bullets made of bronze or some other type of hardened steel.  There is no doubt that lead rounds will leave behind lead deposits which require frequent and thorough cleaning, but the reduced friction between the bullet and the barrels riflings will help to increase the barrel life.  Another factor that contributes to barrel wear is the shape of the round being fired.  It is said that certain bullet designs, such as a boat tail design, actually increases barrel wear because of the increased pressures generated within the barrel.

Finally, keep track of the number of rounds fired through your gun.  This is the only way to really know how much barrel wear a gun has experienced due to rounds fired.  Simply keep all of your empty shell boxes or keep just keep the end flap from each box of shells.  If that doesn’t work for you, keep a piece of paper posted in your gun cabinet or lying in your gun case and mark it for every box of ammo fired through your gun.  Being aware of the above facts and using the suggestions listed previously, you will find that your gun barrel really should last a lifetime.