Wolfe Publishing Group

    Walnut Hill

    Guaranteed? Sure, Pal.

    A Kenny Jarrett rifle, chambered in 300 Jarrett, with three targets shot by Kenny’s rifle tester, along with the note on ammunition. This is an accuracy guarantee that actually means something, but it’s expensive to do.
    A Kenny Jarrett rifle, chambered in 300 Jarrett, with three targets shot by Kenny’s rifle tester, along with the note on ammunition. This is an accuracy guarantee that actually means something, but it’s expensive to do.
    What is an accuracy guarantee worth in real terms? Exactly nothing. There, I’ve said it.

    This is not to say there are not highly-accurate rifles coming out of factories these days, because there are – more than ever before and, on average, they are more accurate. Where the problem arises is with the “guarantees” that have become, during the past 30 years or so, de rigueur for any riflemaker expecting to be taken seriously.

    The first such guarantee that I know of, with a mass-produced factory rifle, was Weatherby’s 1.5-inch guarantee that began sometime in the 1960s, after they introduced its Mark V magnum rifle. Three shots into 1.5 inches was pretty daring back then, when anything under a 4-inch group was considered adequate for a deer rifle. Weatherby even included a target with each rifle, with three neat round holes in it, supposedly shot with that rifle using Weatherby factory ammunition. Since the Weatherby factory ammunition was made by Norma, and that was all you could get, the parameters were pretty straightforward.

    I did not get a target with my first Weatherby, a 300 Weatherby I bought in 1975, but I did get one with the next one – a Safari Grade 257 in 1989. In fact, that rifle would do a whole lot better than 1.5 inches; I took it out of the box, went to the range with some factory 100-grain ammunition, and shot a five-shot group that measured .600 inches. Phenomenal.

    The following year, preparing for a trip to Africa, I took delivery of a then-new 416 Weatherby, complete with target.

    As with so many things Weatherby, its accuracy guarantee goaded others into doing the same. By this time, some of the questions mentioned above had been asked in various shooting magazines, so manufacturers started getting cagey. They started talking “averages” and stipulating types of ammunition. It was the beginning of a torrent of caveats, conditions, and weasel words.

    My next experience was Kenny Jarrett’s half-inch guarantee for his custom-made “beanfield” rifles in the 1980s. Kenny later told me he continually kicked himself for ever doing that, but it seemed like a good idea at the time and it certainly paid off.

    The guarantee was: Three shots into a half-inch or less, consistently, and Kenny included not one, but three targets with each rifle. His condition, though, was that it be shot with his custom-loaded ammunition, developed for that specific rifle just as a handloader would. Jarrett Rifles would, for a price, supply the ammunition as long as the buyer was willing to pay for it.

    In my experience, Jarrett rifles deliver the goods as advertised. Kenny’s later problem stemmed from the questionable shooting ability of some of his clients. The rifles could shoot half-inch groups but their owners could not. This is where accuracy guarantees, in general start to spring leaks.

    Every handloader knows that every rifle is an individual, with individual preferences and dislikes as to bullets, bullet weights and powders. Just because a rifle will deliver a half-inch group with a Nosler Ballistic Tip propelled by H-4350 doesn’t mean it will do that with a Barnes X with Norma MRP powder. This is part of the reason for – and the fascination of – handloading in the first place.

    To produce a factory rifle and then say that every single one of them will deliver tiny groups with this ammunition or that one is asking for trouble.

    Also, please don’t talk to me about CNC machinery, ultra-tight tolerances and hammer-forged barrels where everyone is absolutely identical. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but no manufacturer has yet achieved production of barrels where any two are exactly alike, much less all of them.

    These days, accuracy guarantees usually include a condition that the rifle be tested using a recognized brand of match-quality ammunition, not dime-store sale products or your brother-in-law’s handloads. That’s both understandable and fair enough.

    Some manufacturers also insist that to meet their criteria, the new owner has to condition the barrel (break it in, we used to say) according to strict guidelines. These would be along the line of firing one shot, scrubbing the bore of all cuprous fouling, then another shot, another cleaning; after 10 shots or so, you start shooting five-shot groups, then cleaning, and so on. Only after this rigid barrel conditioning can the rifle then be expected to meet its accuracy guarantee.

    If a guy comes back and complains that his rifle doesn’t meet the standard, who can prove what? He might or might not have followed the guidelines, he may have had a loose scope mount, or he may be the world’s worst rifleman. There are so many variables at work, none of them under the control of the manufacturer, that you finally fall back on goodwill, and either replace the rifle, refund the money, or do nothing at all and hope no one reads the bad reviews.

    Speaking of conditioning, in 1990, preparing to hunt Dall sheep in Alaska, I got a 270 Weatherby Mark V. It had the requisite target, but I could not get the thing to shoot. Finally, I consulted Siegfried Trillus, my local German master gunmaker.

    “Load 40 rounds, take it to the range, and fire them all off as fast as you can,” he advised.

    “But…” I gulped, “But won’t that ruin the barrel?”

    “Just do it,” he said. “Trust me.”

    Since Siegfried had been Weatherby’s warranty gunsmith in Canada for many years, I figured he knew what he was doing. So I did as instructed, then scrubbed the fouling out, took it back to the range and proceeded to deliver one tight group after another, the smallest of which measured .321 inch for three shots, with handloaded Sierra 130-grain MatchKings.

    There’s conditioning, and then there’s conditioning.

    It seems to me the best way of handling the whole accuracy guarantee question would be, first, for the factory itself to carry out the required conditioning program. That way, there’s no argument. It adds to the expense in the short term but saves arguments later on.

    Second, one of the ultra-skilled riflemen they have on staff would shoot three groups (three-shot, five-shot, whatever) and send the targets out with the rifle, along with the name of the shooter, the date the groups were fired and the ammunition used.

    This proves what the rifle is capable of in the right hands, with the right ammunition, properly fitted with a good scope. From then on, it’s up to the buyer to match that performance with no one to blame but himself.

    That’s more or less what Kenny Jarrett has done with his rifles, and he’s still had the odd complaint, but the alternative is to abandon accuracy guarantees altogether.

    Come to think of it, that’s not a bad idea.

    Wolfe Publishing Group