ER Shaw Barrels

22 March 2004
By Joel Avila, 1LT(P), EN, USAR

Background

I purchased a Remington 700 PSS chambered in 308 over a year ago. The fluted barrel was 20 inches long. I removed the HS Precision stock that came with it and replaced it with an Accuracy International 1.5 system. Using 168 HPBT Sierra Matchking bullets, a typical 3-shot group was approximately 1 MOA. Through months of experimentation and trial and error, I eventually discovered that 110 Hornady V-Max bullets provided the best grouping. A typical three-shot group using 110 V-Max was approximately 0.4 MOA. Pretty good for an off the shelf rifle. However, I wished heavier bullets such as 168 performed just as well.

The New Barrel

My favorite 308 load is 168 HPBT Sierra Matchking and 168 Hornady A-Max for obvious reasons. Simply put, heavier bullets are more stable at longer range. But for some reason, these bullets did not perform as well as I wanted on my PSS. (I wonder if the flash suppressor that I installed affected heavier bullets.) I realized that a viable option was to re-barrel my rifle.

I visited the website of several well-known rifle barrel manufacturers Douglas, Shilen and Hart to name a few. These companies specialize in making match barrels and they have very good reputation. I debated whether to buy a brand new action (action alone is available through Brownells) or just send my PSS and replace the factory barrel. The typical turnaround time for these companies ranged anywhere from 12-20 weeks, and total cost can get up to at least $500 when everything is said and done.

At the recommendation of a fellow gunslinger, I visited the website of ER Shaw Barrel (www.ershawbarrels.com). The company is located in Southwest Pennsylvania. ER's website is very informative and user-friendly. There is even an option where the customer can custom-build his rifle and receive a quote.

ER Shaw had the type of target style barrel I was looking for. It was 24 inches long, 1.125 inches in diameter all the way, with straight fluting and made of Stainless Steel 416R. (Other contour, types of material, rates of twist, and lengths were also available.) I wanted to have a "parkerized" look, which ER was unable to do. But bead blasting the surface was an option I took into consideration.

I contacted the sales representative (Chris Murray) to see if ER Shaw guaranteed 1 MOA or better. Chris was very professional and honest. His response was that ER Shaw does not guarantee sub M.O.A. groups since they manufacture sporting rifle barrels, not "MATCH" grade barrels. But he also added that he has received letters from customers stating that their rifle fell into the sub MOA category. I figured that with proper break-in time and good reloads, ER Barrel should hit 1 MOA or better. I decided to go ahead and place my order.

I placed the order on the last week of January. I shipped my PSS (without the scope and stock) to ER the first week of February and I received my new and improved rifle the third week of February. ER Shaw's typical turnaround time is 10-12 weeks. But because a blank barrel was readily available, they were able to manufacture my order immediately. I also had my the rifle "accurized." The receiver face was trued, and lug was lapped. Total price for the makeover: $400.

Figure 1. PSS with new ER Barrel.

Performance

I was very excited when I picked up the rifle at the local UPS center. The barrel was beautifully manufactured. ER did a fine job. However, my preference is a tactical look. Even if the barrel was bead blasted the color was still too light for me. (Although it would have looked superb on a McMillan or HS Precision benchrest style stock.)

So I decided to paint the barrel black. I know the readers are thinking, "You idiot. You do not paint stainless steel." Well, it was just a temporary fix. I plan to send it to a local gunsmith who has the ability to professionally paint the barrel using "gun kote" technology and give it a "parkerized" look.

I wasted no time installing the action to my Accuracy International stock. Even if the overall diameter of the barrel was 1.125 inches there was enough air space between the barrel and the AI chassis, allowing it to free float, which is critical to accuracy. The screws were tightened to 65 in-lbs. My Leupold scope was also reinstalled and tightened to 65 in-lbs. I also checked the trigger pull, which registered at 2 lbs.

I handloaded 20 rounds of ammunition that night. Spec is as follows:


168 HPBT Sierra Matchking
Lapua Brass
Federal Match Primers
42.8 grains of Reloader 15
OAL of 2.8 inches

I went to the range the following day during lunch hour. I shot all twenty rounds using the break-in procedure outlined in this link.

"Get some copper solvent (I like Hoppes #9 Benchrest) and your cleaning gear, and head out to the range for an extended shooting session. Fire one round, then clean the barrel and let it cool. Do this after every shot for the first 10 rounds. After that, clean and cool after every 2 shots for the next 10 rounds. Then clean and cool after every 3 rounds for the next 9 rounds. At this point the barrel has been treated and is ready to go. Be sure to clean the barrel/rifle one last time with a standard cleaning solvent to remove the remains of the copper solvent."

I set my target at 100 yards. I shot my first round and could not tell the point of impact (POI). I shot the second round after cleaning the barrel; again the POI could not be determined. I decided to set another target at 25 yards. Sure enough, the POI was one foot low and 6 inches to the right. I readjusted my scope accordingly and went back to shooting the 100-yard target. The lesson learned: When a rifle is rebarreled never assume it will go back to zero. Either use a laser boresighter to at least get you on paper, or zero your rifle at 25 yards first.

The results were amazing. As shown in Figure 2, my 11th, 12th and 13th shots registered at 0.35 MOA. The rifle was supported by a Harris Bipod. The next 4 rounds were supported by a rifle rest (The Rock by Caldwell) and produced 0.28 MOA. Now, keep in mind that this took place in February in Northeast PA where the weather can be unbearable. I actually shot without wearing gloves. I was also under pressure because I had to get back to work ASAP. I suspect that I can conceivably obtain better results if it were on a weekend during spring or early summer when the climate is not a factor and I have more time to concentrate. I also plan to replace the factory trigger with a Jewell trigger. A competition trigger should improve accuracy.

To say that I am impressed with ER Shaw is an understatement. I am very pleased with the company's product and services. This rifle is the most accurate rifle I have ever had. Even with a hefty 1.125inch bull barrel, my new weapon system (including scope, empty magazine and Harris Bipod ) weighs approximately 14 pounds. (USMC M40A1 weighs 14.5 lbs, M40A3 weighs 16.5 lbs, and the US Army's M24 weighs 14.25 lbs.)

Figure 2. Three-shot group at 100 yards measuring 0.35 MOA. I used 168 HPBT Sierra Matchking, Federal Match Primers, Lapua Brass, 42.8 grains Reloader 15, and OAL of 2.8 inches.

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