• McGowen Rifle Barrel Review in .222 Remington

    McGowen barrel fitted to the author's single-shot varmint rifle.One of the most commonly asked question I see on the forum is "Which brand of aftermarket barrel should I buy?" The fact is that most aftermarket barrels are made using the same grade of steel and the same button-rifling process, so the only real difference will be in regards to the manufacturers attention to detail, whether or not the barrel was hand lapped, and whether or not the person doing the lapping has a clue what they're doing. Every barrel is different and every manufacturer has bad ones get out now and then, so basing one's selection by brand name is no guarantee that you'll get one that consistently shoots one-hole groups.

    This past spring I was approached by McGowen Barrels and asked to do a review on one of their barrels. It just happened that I was planning to build a new benchrest rig, so I requested a 22-inch stainless steel heavy barrel chambered in .222 Remington with a 1-12" twist rate. After a few months and having to send the barrel back twice due to chamber issues due to a rented reamer (McGowen did not have their own 222 Rem reamer at the time), we ultimately agreed that they would supply a contoured blank which I then had chambered and polished by Sharp Shooter Supply at my expense.

    Regarding the rented reamer problems, this is not an issue I can fully hold McGowen accountable for. The first reamer cut a very nice chamber but there was no throat. Even with my bullet seating die adjusted to seat the bullets as deep as possible they were still jammed 0.030 to 0.040" into the lands. After returning the barrel the first time to be rechambered and receiving it back (now 1/2" shorter), the second chamber was noticeably out of line with the centerline of the bore. It now had a throat, but when bore-scoped I found that the throat was cut so deeply into one side of the bore and never touched the other side and left the lands untouched. After returning the barrel a second time, it was at this point I decided to simply go with a contoured blank and have it finished out locally.

    The first problem could happen to anyone with a rented reamer, but McGowen's machinist should have noticed that it had no throat built into it. The second bad chamber was obviously an in-house error and was definitely something that should have been caught before the barrel was shipped back to me. Considering the barrel had been returned for a defect a second time, one would assume that extra measures would be taken to assure it was up to snuff before sending it out to the customer again - especially when it's a review barrel intended to promote your company and attract new sales. Clearly that never happened and it really makes me question McGowen's attention to detail. A simple once over with a bore-scope would have identified the problem and prevented the additional delays.

    Standard 11-degree target crownThe replacement contoured blank I received was threaded and crowned and just needing the chamber to be cut and the exterior finish polished out. Once that was taken care of by SSS, it was mated up to a trued and timed Savage single-shot action using a Competition recoil lug from SSS. To finish off the package the rifle was topped with a TPS picatinny rail, 30mm Burris Signature Zee rings and a Sightron SIII 6-24x50mm scope with Target Dot reticle.

    As noted above my initial plans were to build a benchrest rifle around this barrel, but after the delays I had missed the entire match season so I resorted to building it into a varmint setup. I had already purchased top quality components for my handloads in preparation for the benchrest season, so that's what I stuck with rather than switching to varmint bullets. The brass selected was virgin Norma, and CCI BR4 primers were used exclusively. For bullets I selected the Sierra 53gr Matchking, Bart's 53gr FB, and Berger 52gr Match/Target based on their dimensional and weight consistency. Last but not least, I chose to use Hodgden H4198, Hodgden BL-C2 and Ramshot TAC powders. Charge weights and bullet seating depths were adjusted accordingly for each combination to yield the best accuracy and consistency. Velocity wasn't a consideration as this rig will be limited to 200 yards or less.

    In the end, the best performing load turned out to be 25.5 grains of Hodgden BL-C2 with the 52gr Berger seated 0.040" off the lands and averaging 2920fps with an extreme spread of only 18fps. This load consistently grouped in the low 5's at 100 yards, ranging from 0.497 to 0.523" in size with a 3-group agg. of 0.518". Several other loads offered excellent consistency, but the group sizes just weren't in the same ballpark with the next closest yielding a 0.776" agg.

    For the barrel itself, I found that the finish of the bore was extremely smooth and consistent in feel while pushing a patch down the length. The minimal amount of fouling that would accumulate between cleaning sessions was further testament to the quality of McGowen's lapping. The crown was the standard 11-degree target style and free of any defects. The barrel definitely prefers a sizable jump to the lands and has a tendency to throw the first shot or two from a freshly cleaned bore, but aside from that I really can't fault it.

    My big complaint with the barrel though was the obvious [to the naked eye] bow in the bore of the barrel. The bow was bad enough that it would block about half of the view of the muzzle opening when looked through from the breech end and resembled a half moon. While a small bow in the bore may or may not affect accuracy, one this bad should never make it out to the customer, Most manufacturers will cull bowed barrels and give or sell them to employees at a discounted rate, but that doesn't appear to be the case at McGowen.

    In summary, I'm sufficiently happy with the accuracy, consistency and minimal fouling offered by the McGowen barrel. Had a usable sample arrived in time for the benchrest season however, the accuracy definitely wouldn't have lived up to my expectations. As a hunting barrel though, this sample proved to be more than adequate - though not much better than your run of the mill factory barrel.

    The initial setbacks were a hassle and prevented my getting to evaluate the barrel as intended, but sometimes things happen and you have to make due. However, given the hassles and issues I've experienced I really don't feel all that confident in recommending McGowen's barrels. I know others have reported having great experiences with their pre-fit Savage barrels chambered for more common cartridges, so they are capable of putting out a good product. My concern though is with McGowen's quality control and attention to detail as from what I've seen and experienced it leaves something to be desired.

    By: MrFurious

    McGowen Barrels
    740 West Railroad Street, Suite B
    Kalispell, MT 59901
    Phone: (406) 755-4907

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