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Gun barrel dents: what you need to know about safety, accuracy and repairs

Bruce Potts gives some key tips on inspecting gun barrels and when to visit a gunsmith

deer stalking

Can you shoot a rifle with a dent in the barrel?

Q: I noticed a small dent on the end of my barrel when I bumped it getting it out of the truck, will this affect accuracy?

A: Inspecting the muzzle crown on your barrel should be done regularly, as it’s one of the most neglected yet essential areas on any rifle that affects accuracy. Any damage, rust or non-uniformity to this vital area will cause the emerging bullet from the barrel to take a slightly different path each shot and therefore be less accurate.

It does not matter if the rifle is new, second-hand or just an old, cherished rifle; it is worth checking the muzzle crown of every rifle to check it is in good order. Accidents happen, even to new rifles. There are many differing muzzle crowns on rifles today, ranging from straight flat or recessed muzzles to 11-degree concave profiles, which are there to allow an unimpeded departure of the bullet. Any scratches, dings or irregularities spell problems. Having a muzzle recrowned is inexpensive by a gunsmith and is certainly worth it if accuracy falls off from your rifle. I would also fit an extended threaded protector if the muzzle is threaded for a sound moderator. That way, the crown is protected in the future.

More on barrel dents

Q: A few days ago whilst out shooting I accidentally hit a low branch with the barrel of my Beretta 687 and banged the rib. How can I remove the barrel dent, or should I go to a gunsmiths?

A: Don’t try a DIY cure for barrel dents. Above all, don’t try to lever up the dent by pushing a screwdriver underneath it.

This could make things worse, and in an extreme case transfer the dent to the top barrel.

The problem is that when metal gets dented it also becomes stretched, and probably work-hardened as well.  Removing a dent in a rib is a professional job for a gunsmith.

The same goes for barrel dents – leave them to the experts.

Muzzle flare damage

Q: I was on a shoot the other day and unknowingly plugged my barrel with soil. When I fired a cartridge the muzzle flared open, damaging the last two inches. Rather than run the expense of sending it to a gunsmith, can I just saw the barrel ends off at home or will I also need to have the barrels re-proofed?

A: For your own safety, I suggest an urgent visit to a good gunsmith. The cause of the damage would have been huge and dangerous pressure within the barrel, which could have weakened it throughout most, if not all, of its length.

Accepting that the undamaged part of the barrel remains sound, the damaged part can be cut off, but the removal of any metal from a barrel requires re-proof.

Cutting off the two inches at the muzzle will also remove most of the choke area, but multi-choke tubes can be fitted.

All this definitely isn’t a DIY job if the gun is to remain safe.

How often should I have my barrels checked?

Q: I have a Rizzini over-and-under shotgun which is about 16 years old. Do you think I would be wise to have the barrel checked, as I have fired thousands of cartridges with this gun.

A: It’s always a good idea to have any gun routinely checked and serviced by a gunsmith, particularly older guns that may develop faults, not just in their mechanisms but also in their material thinning barrel walls or small cracks in their actions, for example.

Modern guns, such as your Rizzini, are very robust because they are made with good-quality modern materials to very high standards of quality control and they are unlikely to develop material faults even after firing thousands of rounds.

Corrosion is also less likely to cause serious damage to a modern gun because of the use of rust-resistant steel alloys or plating.

Any gun that has fired a lot of cartridges may become loose in the action, particularly if heavy loads are used.  This needs immediate correction. But, in my experience, barrel wear is more likely to be caused by over-enthusiastic cleaning rather than heavy use. (Read Bruce’s advice on things that can affect rifle accuracy and how to correct it.)

How to check the condition of your barrels

Pits need to be assessed and while dents are indicative of accidental damage, bulges mean something more dangerous.

If in doubt, check with your gunsmith.

checking barrels

This article was originally published in 2014 and has been updated.