The official Mike Bellm's

Bellm TCs

TC Contender, G2, Encore/ProHunter Performance Center


What is the best barrel length?

I get this question routinely, and it all goes back to how it is to be used.

Well, odds are it is not a 28” barrel for starters.

If you
1) get accuracy sufficient to place the shot at the longer ranges a few extra feet per second give from the extra inches of barrel, and
2) your mode of hunting is not hindered by swinging all that extra barrel length, or
3) you are trying to emulate a 21st Century version of a Zulu warrior with a long spear, then
4) a 28” barrel may be perfect for you.

I do comprehend 28” muzzle loader barrels that need some length to get the speed up, but the more efficient cartridges like .308 Win., .30/06, .223 Rem., etc. gain very little past roughly 22”.
OK, so the Pro Hunter 28” barrels maintain somewhat the same balance and feel as the muzzle loader barrels that are a significant part of TC’s market appeal.
That I understand, but I also go back to the work David White did demonstrating much improved accuracy simply lopping 28” barrels back to 23”:

Is 23” the magic number for barrel length?
That I cannot say.
In some instances such as with .300 Win. Mag, the balance may favor 24 to 26”.
When cutting and braking .300 Win. Mag. barrels I generally recommend a 25” overall length including the brake and giving 24” of effective barrel length.
But I have done .300 Win. Mag. barrels as short as 15” with about a 200 fps gain over .308 Winchester at the expense of a lot of muzzle blast.
My eyebrows raise a tad when the work order calls for cutting one back to 20” or less, but figure the customer has a specific need in mind for that combination…. for HIM.
And that is what “custom” is all about. Nothing I know of is as easy and cost effective to customize as the TC break open guns.

For your hunting style and needs you may want something easier to handle in close cover where shots are close, and a 16 1/2” barrel may be better suited, in which case it is prudent to
choose cartridges that are more efficient in short barrels for less muzzle blast and less recoil.
.44 Magnum might be perfect for your hunting style, or of course my favorite the .357 Rem. Maximum that is also becoming the favorite of a growing number of shooters.

When it comes to long barrels, my thesis is that
1) your goal may be getting the last few feet per second out of a barrel to make, say, 500 yard shots easier to make with less bullet drop and less wind drift, BUT
2) if you do not have the accuracy to PLACE the shot at more extreme ranges, then
3) all you do is plow a little deeper furrow in Mother Earth when you miss….. or just wound and potentially lose game, neither of which is your presumed objective.

I find too much of shooting is about pie in the sky imagination and marketing and not enough about reality, but generally respect your right to your own cherished delusion.

From my own personal experience after my first elk hunt trying to quietly negotiate thick downed timber in Colorado’s mountains with a 22” barrelled bolt action, I promptly went to the drawing board and built my first from-the-ground-up timber gun, a .358 Winchester with a light 19” barrel.
For a bolt gun it was short, compact, and weighed in at 7 pounds 14 ounces, scoped.

1976 was my first introduction to Contender carbines, a love affair that continues to this day having fired thousands of rounds through many, many different barrels over the years.
Long barrels, short barrels… I’ve shot them all and long ago came to the conclusion that anything over 20” on the Contender platform simply does not feel right at all.
So if you ask me what the best barrel length is for a Contender carbine, my answer is bound to be tainted.
It is not a 23” G2 barrel, nor is it even the older vintage 21” tapered Contender barrels.
20” is just right to me for a maximum length, and 18” in some instances is better yet.

There are some rules I apply.
For example, one of the very best long range cartridges for the Encore is the .280 Ackley Improved that does need about 24” of barrel length for its volume of slow powder to affect the velocity potentials that justify it over the standard .280 Remington.
For a long range proposition, I would not recommend anything shorter than 24” for the .280 Imp.
Likewise for the flat shooting .240 Weatherby, in which case 26” is a better choice IF the longest range shots are your goal.

There is a place for longer barrels ok, but 9 times out of 10 it is not for the cartridges most commonly used and at the distances most game is shot.
And if long range shots are really what you build the Encore for, then I would, yes, opt for longer barrels, but also opt for full custom barrels with a heavier weight than the Pro Hunter barrels.

If you do some trolling around on the internet you will find some very interesting tests of velocity v. barrel length.
Using those tests as a basis for the velocity expected, compare the drop figures found in reloading manuals such as Hornady’s and others or ballistics calculator programs and do a reality check.
How far do you actually shoot?
How much additional drop is there at that distance?
Often times you will find it surprisingly amounts to no more than an inch or so.

Picking .300 Win. Mag. with Hornady’s 180 gr. spire point bullet, Hornady lists only two loads from my 2000 edition manual that reach 3,000 fps.
Most loads listed are at 2,900 fps.
Going to their ballistics tables, at 400 yards the difference 100 fps makes is only 1.6”.
At closer ranges, the difference is even less.
Loosely speaking, my best guesstimate is it takes about 2” of barrel length cut off to result in a 100 fps loss in velocity.

Ask yourself for an honest answer.
How proficient am I to reliably make a good, clean 400 yard shot in the first place?
How far am I normally taking game on average?

Velocity change, + or -, with barrel length varies quite a bit depending on the burning rate of the powders used, volume of powder, and bore size.
I picked .300 Win. Mag. as a more extreme example while smaller volume cartridges working with faster powders are effected less by barrel length.

One test I participated in back in the 1980’s starting with a 26” .30/06 barrel, it lost only about 20 fps per inch down to around 22”. Meaning, losing 4” of barrel length only dropped velocity about 80 fps.
Below 22” the loss approached 25 fps per inch. Where the test stopped, I do not recall now but have copies of the test salted away somewhere in my stash.

What is the best barrel length?
It depends on the cartridge and how YOU use it.
Most factory barrels currently produced are significantly longer than prudent for the majority of shooters and their actual needs.
A 20” barrel on an Encore handles quite nicely on one hand, and with a good percentage of cartridges, 22” is ample for the vast spectrum of hunting conditions.
If you want to compromise a bit and if David White’s test results give a reliable expectation for most barrels, 23” may be the optimum length for most shooters.
But only in certain conditions are even 26” barrels called for, let alone 28”.

I am not a factory engineer, nor am I a TC marketing strategist selling lures to catch fishermen.
So what do I know?

Mike Bellm


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