The Proof Is In The Set Up

When you take the time to properly set up your new rifle, the results will speak for themselves

The topics of maintaining and keeping older firearms safe and functional are covered on a fairly regular basis, so I’m going to do something a little different here and discuss getting a brand new rifle set up and ready.

Photo by Al Voth.
Photo by Al Voth.

I start with giving the rifle a good once over and have any required alterations done right away. I feel that this is the best time to have the length of pull altered (whether that is lengthened or shortened), bedding if it’s required and/or any other work that is generally done by a qualified gunsmith. Typically, bedding is done for accuracy issues; however, with larger calibre rifles, it is a vital step in ensuring that the stock has a long service life and doesn’t crack or break under recoil. I am unfortunately far too familiar with this. This is an issue more prevalent in wood-stocked rifles, but I have had issues with synthetic stocks breaking under recoil as well. Having the length of pull correct for the shooter will greatly assist in comfort and function, as well getting the correct eye relief when installing the scope.

Mounting the scope in the bases and rings is a fairly straightforward procedure, although it has to be done correctly. If the scope and mounts aren’t correctly installed, it can have dire effects on the performance going forward. A scope that it isn’t mounted securely or aligned correctly to the action and bore may not ever be able to be sighted in. It doesn’t take much for the rings to be out of alignment and the scope simply run out of adjustment. If a scope runs out of adjustment, it is usually not the fault of the scope, but something out of whack between the action and mounts. Follow the manufacturer’s suggestion when it comes to torqueing screws on the bases and rings. Failure to follow those guides can lead to several issues, including stripped screw holes, screws coming loose under recoil and even a crushed main tube on the scope.

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With the bases and lower half of the rings installed, lay the scope in the rings and verify that it slides easily back forth in the rings. Sliding easily back and forth indicates that the scope and rings are aligned and the scope isn’t binding in the rings. Install the top rings and lightly tighten the screws so that the scope is held in place. If the scope being mounted is a variable power, make sure it is turned up to its highest power. Shoulder the rifle and slide the scope back and forth until you achieve the optimum sight picture and no vignetting of the image. Once this is achieved, square/level the scope to the rifle using a leveling tool and tighten the ring screws to the correct specs. With the scope on the highest power, it will ensure the correct eye relief through the power range of the optic. Variable scopes have the least amount of eye relief on the highest setting, so if it is correct on the high power, you should have no issues on any setting below that. I will try shouldering the rifle several times over the next few minutes, in various shooting positions, and even with a few different jackets on just to make sure it feels as natural as possible.

With the scope mounted, I will finish the mounting procedure by bore sighting the rifle and scope with a proven bore sighter.

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There are many theories and opinions on “breaking in” barrels and just as many procedures and theories on how to do it or even skipping it all together. Many say that barrels must be cleaned thoroughly after every shot for the first few shots, then after every few shots, while others say that there is no need to clean between shots. I am not sure which way is correct. I have tried them all and have achieved decent results with most of them. If you start with a good-quality product, results should be good if it is not abused. All barrels aren’t made the same, hammer forged versus a cut rifle barrel, so the breaking in of the barrel may not achieve the same results in the bore. Most firearms are fired during the manufacturing process (known as proofing) and there will be some fouling in the bore when the rifle is delivered. I will spend the time to thoroughly clean out the barrel prior to my first trip to the range. This initial cleaning may take several hours. I use a proper-fitting jag with a patch along with good solvent to remove all traces of fouling including copper. Once the bore is clean, I will push several dry patches though it to remove the solvent, followed up by a lightly oiled patch to protect it from corrosion. I will push a dry patch through it at the range just prior to shooting. Over the next several shooting sessions, I will determine the required shot/cleaning interval that the rifle likes for optimum accuracy. The first few shots go down range with the only purpose being to foul or season the bore. With a target set up at about 30 yards, I verify I am on paper, then move out to further distances to verify and achieve my desired zero.

Getting a rifle set up from scratch can be time consuming and technical. If you are a little apprehensive on doing it yourself, most reputable dealers will be able to do it for you. It is critical that the rifle is set up correctly. The next time you are setting up a new rifle, spend the time to get it done properly and it will be worth the effort on the range or in the field.