Before the First Round is Fired: New Rifle Basics
Congratulations!!! You just made a great investment in a new rifle. With proper care, this firearm can safely be used and passed down through the generations. To ensure that happens, take a few minutes to perform these basic checks before the first round is fired.
1. Read the Owner's Manual
Reading the owner's manual will cover all the basics that are needed to safely load and shoot the firearm. Additionally, the little booklet will explain idiosyncrasies that may surface with the new rifle. Unless you have a photographic memory, store this important resource where it will be easy to locate years down the road.
THE FOLLOWING ITEMS ARE DONE WITH THE RIFLE UNLOADED
2. Once Over
Before the summer vacation, a mechanic usually performs a “once over” on the family station wagon. The objective is to visually check for issues that can lead to bigger problems down the road. Your new rifle needs the same “once over” in the following three areas.
2-1. Look for any chips or splits in the stock that missed attention. Take the rifle back or fix the imperfections ASAP. These may not be a big deal now, but changing environmental (and other) factors can quickly turn that small crack into the Grand Canyon.
2-2. Is the barrel free floated?.... Uhmmm….whaaaat?... The barrel is considered free floated if nothing is touching the barrel from the muzzle to the chamber. The general consensus is a free floated barrel is need for optimal precision. Next question please; is my barrel supposed to be? For most modern single shot and bolt action rifles the generic answer is yes, the barrel should not touch the stock at any point after the chamber. For AR type and other semiautomatic firearms, the answer is not so easy. A quick internet search will solidify the answer for your particular rifle.
This is easy to check on barrels that are supposed to be free floated. Starting close to the muzzle, slide a dollar bill down to the chamber between the stock and barrel. If George doesn’t make it to the chamber, the barrel channel in the stock needs to be widened for optimal precision. Depending on your skill level with a "dremel", this can be a DIY project or a gunsmith can handle the issue.
2-3. Lastly, make sure all screws are snug. The recommended ft/lbs of torque should be in the owner’s manual. If not, research before you put the death grip on the torque wrench.
This is a big one. All metal pieces should be cleaned including the bolt. Yes, this means the inside of the barrel. I know..I know..”I haven’t even shot it yet. Why would I clean it?” Answer = It is impossible to know when new rifles will be sold, therefore manufacturers apply a heavy dose of thick “protectant” to prevent rusting. Who wants to buy a new rifle that has rust on it? This film should be removed before the extreme heat and pressure of firing bakes it to the metal.
Many factory rifles are test fired before being shipped to the distributor. Oftentimes, these rifles are not cleaned. Yet another reason to clean the rifle.
4. Oil Metal & Grease the Lugs
The factory oil has been removed, now it is time to apply new oil. Yes…similar to digging a hole then filling it back up. However, now you are in control of what kind, how much, and where the oil is applied.
If there was a wager on the “duty” that is most overlooked, my money would be on greasing the lugs. A little “dab” of your favorite bolt grease on the back of the lugs can prevent galling and rust.
Experience Tip: After use, wear marks will show up on the bolt. I like to apply TW-25 to these areas, massage into the metal, then clean the excess with a rag.
5. Safety Tests
ALL TESTS ARE PERFORMED WITH THE RIFLE UNLOADED.
There are three safety tests that should be performed on all new rifles. The idea is to simulate “situations” that can happen in the field. If any of these tests produce the audible “click” of the firing pin, return the rifle or take it to a gunsmith to get repaired.
5-1. Insert and close the bolt, with the safety on, pull the trigger as you would in the field. No need for the circus strong man to bend metal. A slightly heavier than normal trigger pull will suffice.
5-2. Take the safety off and slam close the bolt. Rapidly repeat this four or five times. The idea is to replicate an excited bolt closing.
5-3. Cock the bolt and, with the safety off, drop the rifle (butt first) onto the carpet/towel/etc. from a height of just a few inches. This will simulate stepping off of a rock or jumping over a log, etc. I shouldn’t have to type this but... be mindful to catch the rifle on the “bounce”
Repeat: If any of the above tests produced the audible “click” of the firing pin, return the rifle or take it to a gunsmith to get repaired.
6. Trigger Test
With the rifle still unloaded, cock the bolt and dry fire the rifle. Pay close attention to the distance the trigger moves and how much pressure is applied before the audible click.
6.1. Any backward movement of the trigger before the “click” is called creep. Creep is an precision killer. Only you can decide how much creep is acceptable. A gunsmith may be able to lessen the creep. However, an oftentimes cheaper and better solution is to upgrade to a custom trigger
Experience Tip: A trigger with no creep is a game changer in terms of accuracy and precision. Once you experience a “clean” trigger, you’ll want one on all your rifles.
6.2 How much pressure you apply before the “click” is based on the poundage. Grandpa’s ol’ 30-06 probably has a four to five pound trigger. Many newer rifles have adjustable trigger poundage that allows the user to set to their preference. Read the owner's manual on how to adjust.
This can be done by feel or by using a trigger pull gauge.
Experience Tip: The sub one pound trigger might feel great in the room temperature gun room, but could be a safety hazard while using gloves in the field. On a hunting rifle, a trigger with no creep and a 1.5 - 2 pound pull is a wonderful thing.
My Thoughts, Opinions, and Experience with New Barrel Break-In
Should your new barrel be broken in? Oh baby!!! This has been a controversial question for decades. I believe in the merit behind “barrel” break-in; smoothing out small burrs left from machining so they do not enhance fouling.
A piece of this controversial puzzle originates from the term (barrel break-in) itself. Most custom barrels are hand-lapped. This process removes any small burrs in the bore of the barrel; therefore, there is nothing (in the barrel) to break in. Now...factory barrels? For those, the context of the word may be more appropriate. However, all barrels have their chamber cut with a chamber reamer. This is where most of the “break-in” needs to occur. So… chamber break-in or, even more specific, throat break-in might be better terms.
Second, it is hard to establish a direct correlation between barrel break-in and precision. In other words; will the barrel shoot tighter groups if it is broken-in? That is a very tough thing to test because each barrel is an individual. Meaning, there is no control item to base the results of a test on. See why there is controversy?
My break-in process is to shoot one round then clean. Shoot two rounds, clean, etc. up to 5 rounds. After the combined fifteen rounds, the rifle is thoroughly deep cleaned. At this point, I will shoot up to ten rounds before cleaning. These rounds might be fireforming or tuning. I consider the barrel to be “broken in” once the barrel cleans quickly after the ten rounds. Yes, you can actually notice the difference. This is usually around the 50-75 round count. After the barrel is broken in, the precision window will tell me when to clean.
With all that being typed; there are Hall of Fame shooters that do not break their barrels in and Hall of Fame shooters that swear by it. As is true with most things, find a process that makes sense and works for you.
Congratulations!!! You and the rifle are ready to fire some rounds. As always, be safe and have fun. It is now time to enjoy the experience.