Switch-barrel rifles: from quick to slow, many rifles offer shooters a versatile multi-caliber battery on one action.

Author:Barsness, John

Many shooters think owning a switch-barrel rifle would be really cool. They could play with a bunch of different cartridges, and adding more barrels would be far less expensive than owning the same number of rifles. They could also take two or three barrels on a hunt, whether for prairie dogs in Wyoming or big game anywhere, switching barrels as they heated up in Wyoming, or for hunting animals from 100-pound pronghorns to elk, or impala to eland. Practice with a rimfire or .223 Remington barrel would be comfortable and inexpensive, and then a barrel for a more powerful round could be used with the same trigger, safety and stock dimensions. The extra barrels wouldn't take up much space in a gun case, and a smaller case could be used for airline travel.

This ideal dream world sometimes lasts only until some shooters actually own a switch-barrel rifle. Not that switch-barrel rifles don't work, but the switch is easiest with more expensive rifles, where another barrel costs more than buying another less expensive rifle.


This is especially true today, when modern manufacturing methods have brought the price of accurate centerfire rifles down to less than $500. One interesting example is what may be the most popular switch-barrel rifle made in America, the Thompson/Center Encore. The real-world retail price of a new Encore Pro Hunter rifle barrel starts around $300, while the price of a new T/C Venture rifle (one of those affordable, accurate modern bolt-actions) can run less than $450. It's not too tough to switch barrels on an Encore, but does take some time, due to having to remove the screws from the fore-end, tap out the hinge pin, and then reverse the process for the replacement barrel. In the meantime you could have just carried your T/C Venture to the pickup and be a few minutes closer to the range.

Many shooters now seem to regard the Venture, Ruger American, Savage Axis and other inexpensive but accurate rifles almost like kid's toys, something to be purchased and played with until we grow bored. Whereupon we sell 'em for $100 less than we paid, and buy another, because $100 is a relatively small price for a year or two of playtime.

Still, you can get by for less money with what might termed a "slow switch-barrel" rifle, using a barrel vise to twist other barrels in and out. There are probably more Remington 700's in America than any other bolt-action centerfire, and used or even brand-new barrels can frequently be found for less than $100, due to shooters growing bored with the factory chambering and wanting something more exotic, say a 6.5/.280 Remington Ackley Improved.

So they take their rifle to a gunsmith, who unscrews the boring .270 Winchester barrel and sells it on the Internet for $50. Or the shooter buys a...

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