What Is the Best Barrel Length for Accuracy? | Optimal Guide


Accuracy is an essential aspect of any weapon. It’s why military personnel are trained to shoot at targets from 500 yards (457.2 m) away in basic training. That being said, what is the best barrel length for accuracy?

The best barrel length for accuracy ranges between 16 and 21 in (40.64 and 53.34 cm). Shorter barrels tend to vibrate convulsively, producing a more consistent and accurate rate of fire. Notably, the energy from each shot is absorbed into the barrel in less time, increasing the accuracy level.

Here is a detailed breakdown of the optimum barrel length by caliber:

The rest of this article discusses the best barrel lengths for different calibers and the extent to which these measurements affect shooting accuracy. Read on for in-depth information on these and tips on how to become a better shooter.

Optimum Barrel Length by Gun Types

As I mentioned, barrel length affects accuracy in a variety of ways. However, how it does so depends on what type of gun you’re using and what caliber you’re shooting.

Besides, bullet weight and velocity, trigger pull, and scope magnification power affects a gun’s accuracy.

Barrel Length for Hunting Rifles

Hunting rifles generally have longer barrels than military weapons. This is because they need to shoot from long distances away without damaging the target or using too much powder (which can happen if you fire at close range).

For hunting purposes, it’s best to choose a 26-28 inch (66.04-71.12 cm) barrel. Generally, over 30 inches (76.2 cm) doesn’t seem necessary unless it becomes an issue because of local laws or unfavorable weather conditions.

Barrel Length for Military Rifles

Soldiers Silouette Firing Two Different Types of Guns

Military weapons are designed primarily as close-range weapons, so their barrels tend to be shorter than hunting rifles.

This is because the goal of military weapons isn’t necessarily 100% accuracy-focused. Instead, they need speed and power to neutralize enemies before they can get too close.

This type of rifle doesn’t require it to shoot accurately from long distances—often less than 100 yards—(91.44 m). Besides, using more powder at closer ranges is more advantageous since lower recoil forces on the shooter’s shoulder reduce fatigue during prolonged shooting periods.

Barrel lengths for military rifles typically range between 16-18 inches (40.64-45.72 cm), with 18 inches (45.72 cm) being the optimal length when you want a faster rate of fire or longer distance capability like in sniping situations.

Barrel Length for Shotguns

The barrel length for a shotgun is typically 18-26 inches (45.72-66.04 cm). Shotguns are used on the close-range like military rifles but with less accuracy and more power.

They’re primarily used to take out multiple targets at once, so they need high firepower from closer distances

Unlike hunting rifles, shotguns don’t require barrels longer than 26 inches (66.04 cm) because of their different tactical application compared to long-distance shooting in hunting situations. Arguably, the speed needed during combat isn’t necessary if you’re shooting clay pigeons or ducks at 400 yards (365.76 m) away.

How Much Does Barrel Length Affect Accuracy?

Generally, barrel length only affects accuracy at longer distances and not so much at close ranges. Often, weapon configuration and the shooter’s ability are the main determinants of the accuracy of a rifle.

Also, sighting (scope) and trigger pull are critical factors determining whether someone can get steady aim with their rifle and fire accurately.

Additionally, the gravitational drop due to projectile range and target distance impacts the final shot placement.

This YouTube video explains the factors that affect rifle accuracy in detail:

Does a Longer Barrel Mean More Accuracy?

A longer barrel does not automatically mean more accuracy. However, these barrels can be more accurate when using iron sights, which offer a longer sight radius and precise aiming.

To understand why longer barrels don’t translate to improved accuracy, let’s consider how this happens in a vacuum-sealed tube of space and mathematics:

When you fire the gun, the motion and pressure create a gas bubble that expands behind the projectile as it moves through space.

Eventually, the gas reaches its point of equilibrium with the air around it. The bubble begins to drag on the bullet at an accelerating rate (depending on barrel length, increasing muzzle velocity, which doesn’t necessarily mean more accuracy.

In other words, just because your bullet starts quickly, that doesn’t automatically translate into “a better marksmanship score” when that faster bullet meets up against the target.

At this point, you’re probably asking: “If so, why are sniper rifles long?”

Here are two reasons for that:

  • Longer barrels ensure the cartridge burns all of the powder: Longer barrels have a larger volume. This increases the amount of powder the cartridge can burn before it leaves, resulting in higher muzzle velocity and less recoil on your shoulder.
  • Longer barrels help bullets stay supersonic longer: When you’re shooting at a long distance, the projectile starts to slow down. However, suppose your rounds have more inertia or energy than other ammunition. In that case, they will stay supersonic longer and maintain accuracy instead of dropping like rocks from 500 yards away.

Is a 20-Inch Barrel More Accurate?

A 20-inch barrel can be more accurate than another given length. However, this is not always the case—factors such as muzzle speed and the time the projectile takes to stabilize also affect a rifle’s accuracy.

Besides, suppose the gun is too heavy. In that case, it can throw off accuracy and make for a cumbersome experience on target or in close quarters combat situations where quick movement is needed to avoid being hit.

Does Shortening a Barrel Affect Accuracy?

Shortening a barrel can slightly increase accuracy. By removing mass from the surface of the muzzle, you reduce the moment of inertia since there is less of it to rotate around. This makes the rifle barrel more maneuverable and faster to react when aiming at a target on high velocities.

Does a Shorter Barrel Have More Recoil?

A short barrel has more recoil than a long one. In general, the shorter the barrel, the higher the pressure at the muzzle. Besides, unlike longer barrels that provide larger surface areas for absorbing the energy, shorter ones provide less mass, increasing recoil in the latter.

Besides barrel length, here are other factors that affect recoil:

  • Bullet weight: Heavier bullets create more recoil.
  • Bullet shape: Pointed bullet shapes produce less recoil than rounded ones.
  • Pistol grip (thickness): A pistol grip with a larger thickness reduces recoil.

Does Higher Velocity Mean More Recoil?

A higher velocity usually means more recoil. Generally, the amount of recoil is proportional to the energy and momentum of the projectile. Using Newton’s second law, a high-velocity bullet creates more kickback.

In other words, the equation for force is equal to mass times acceleration (F=ma). Therefore, when you shoot a high-velocity bullet, it creates more pressure and causes more recoil.

Should I Shorten My Barrel?

You can shorten your barrel to increase accuracy. However, by doing that, you risk reducing its resale value or voiding its warranty if it’s still effective. Besides, shortening the barrel results in louder muzzle noise and blast.

Caution: As a rule of thumb, you should never cut the stock to make your firearm more compact. Doing so makes your gun ill-fitting and may make shooting painful and uncomfortable.

Tips To Improve Shooting Accuracy

Shooting is a hobby that many people enjoy. It can also be an enjoyable way to spend time with your family and friends.

However, shooting a rifle takes some skill to do it well. If you are looking for ways to improve your shooting accuracy, then here are some helpful guidelines to follow:

Use a Rifle Rest

This helps to stabilize the rifle for you and will make it easier to shoot accurately. If you are looking into getting a rest, find out your current rifle caliber to get an appropriately sized one.

Here is a good general use one, found on Amazon. However, the best way to figure this out is by looking at the rifle’s instruction manual.

Use a Rifle Scope

There are many different types of rifle scopes, so it is crucial that you find one that works best for your needs and budget.

It would help to buy one with an illuminated reticle (the crosshairs). This will allow you to spot targets in low-light settings such as dusk or dawn.

A rifle scope is also helpful because it will make the target appear larger, making it easier to hit with precision shots.

If you’re in the market for a quality scope, I recommend this one. It comes with a Truplex Reticle, a HydroShield coating for a clear picture, SureGrip surfaces for easy adjustment in different conditions, and offers soft clicks.

Practice Regularly

This is one of the essential tips for shooting a rifle accurately. You cannot expect to be good at it if you do not put in some time and effort yourself.

Find out what works best with your schedule, and then stick to practicing that amount each week or day, depending on which suits you better.

Use the Right Ammunition

Only use high-quality, new, or clean ammo in your rifle to avoid jams and misfires. This is also an excellent way to check if you are using the wrong type of bullet for your weapon; this can be dangerous!

Make sure that when it comes time for you to choose what kind of recoil pad to put on your rifle, you select a soft option so that it isn’t too hard on the shooter’s shoulder.

Here is the ammo sales page for my recommended retailer. They have some of the best prices around and good bulk availability.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is the Best Barrel Length for a .308?

The best barrel length for a .308 rifle is in the 24-27 inch (60.96-68.58 cm) range. The longer barrels are usually favored by shooters looking for slightly higher muzzle velocities that offer reasonable accuracy at greater distances.

However, using these barrels come with negatives like decreased portability in hunting situations where rifles must often be carried over long distances through less than ideal environments.

What Is the Best Barrel Length for a 6.5 Creedmoor?

The best barrel length for a 6.5 Creedmoor is 24-26 inches (60.96-66.04 cm) for precision range shooting (PRS). However, if you use your weapon primarily for hunting, then an 18-22 inch (45.72-55.88 cm) barrel is more practical.

For PRS, a 24-26-inch (60.96-66.04 cm) barrel gives you plenty of room to use a high muzzle velocity round. On the other hand, the 18-22-inch (45.72-55.88 cm) barrel is more appropriate if you need a shorter-handle barrel that’s easier to carry around hunting.

What Is the Best Barrel Length for a .300?

A 16-inch (40.64 cm) barrel is the best barrel length for a .300 rifle ammunition. In general, this size balances between length and weight without sacrificing too much in either area.

Besides, it gives you a bigger window of opportunity so you can get your pointy end on target, whether shooting from close range or far away—and do so accurately.

What Is the Best Barrel Length for a 9mm?

The best barrel length for a 9mm is in the 5-8 inch (12.7-20.32 cm) range. When paired, the two offer fast, accurate follow-up shorts. Besides, the smaller size also makes it much easier to shoot in close quarters situations, such as inside a home.

However, this doesn’t mean you can’t use a 16-inch (40.64 cm) barrel on this weapon type. The main downside to that would be a bulky weapon with less maneuverability.

What Is the Best Barrel Length for a 5.56?

The best barrel length for a 5.56 caliber rifle is in the 18-20 inch (45.72-50.8 cm) range. While a longer barrel offers increased bullet velocity, this benefit is offset by the greater weight of longer barrels, which reduces handling in close-quarters environments, like inside buildings.

What Is the Best Barrel Length for a 7.62×39?

The best barrel length for a 7.62×39 is 16-in (40.64 cm). This is due to its lower velocity and accuracy at longer ranges. Also, the shorter barrel is easier to handle in tight areas than a 20 in (50.8 cm) or longer barrel. 

For example, it can be used in an average room size with minimal ricochet risk.

What Is the Best Barrel Length for a .223?

The best barrel length for a .223 caliber ranges between 20 and 24 in (50.8 and 60.96 cm). Typically, a 20-in (50.8 cm) is ideal for hunting, while a 21-22 in (53.34-55.88 cm) barrel is best for off-bench shooting. 

Additionally, a 22-24-in (55.88-60.96 cm) provides the highest velocity for this caliber rifle.

Bottom Line

Gun barrels are a relatively simple piece of equipment. What makes them crucial is that they can make or break accuracy levels, rate of fire, and how quickly energy from each shot can be absorbed into the barrel.

With all these variables in mind, it’s easy to see why gun owners tend to obsess over barrel length when choosing their next firearm purchase. It turns out there may not be one “best” option for everyone because 16-21 in (40.64-53.34 cm) seems optimal for most people.

Thanks for reading!

For more, check out What Is the Most Reliable Gun? | Ranked by Dependability.

Jim James

Hey, I'm Jim and the author of this website. I have always been interested in survival, fishing, camping, and anything in nature. In fact, while growing up I spent more time on the water than on land! I am also a best-selling author and have a degree in History, Anthropology, and Music. I hope you find value in the articles on this website. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or input!

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