The “traditional” multigun rifle has an 18″ barrel and a rifle gas system, to create a soft-shooting rifle with plenty of velocity for longer range shots. Is this really necessary?
If we’re looking at matches, a large number will be organized under 3 Gun Nation rules or United Multi-gun League rules. Both of these tend to favor bay matches, with lots of shortish (100 yards and in) shooting. Often, this will be offhand position (i.e. standing, unsupported).
As always, there’s a tradeoff here. Lighter weight will swing faster. Heavier will be more stable, but it will also fatigue you more. Also, where the weight is matters. Weight out at the end of a longer ‘lever arm’ (like a long barrel) will be more fatiguing than weight on a short lever arm.
Now, everyone is going to bring up the long-range component. However, our first point is that there really isn’t much in most 3GN/UML matches, especially if the match director doesn’t want to screw over the PCC folks. Second, you can shoot fine out to longer ranges. If you don’t believe me, go look at Loose Rounds taking an M4 Socom barrel out to 1,000 yards. And that’s without a low-power variable optic with some sort of BDC/MOA-dot/mildot reference for holds. As ever, if you know your dope, you can get your hits. Long barrels are not required for long range work. It will be a little harder with less velocity, but 3-Gun scoring is based on hits; there are no extra points earned for putting rounds in the proverbial X-ring.1
Going with the shorter barrel optimizes for more of the common shots and handling. Most of the time in most matches governed by one of the competing rulesets will be spent shooting up close, and a shorter barrel makes that better.
How short should we go? Well, certainly 16″ is becoming increasingly popular; and that’s the minimum non-sbr length. 14.5 is shorter and lighter still, though that requires either Form 1 paperwork for an SBR or a pinned-and-welded compensator. Shorter than 14.5″ is almost certainly going to require being a registered SBR. Which may or may not be worth the trouble. That’s for the rifleman to decide.
14.5″ has some weight benefits, but it does require being happy with your choice of muzzle device. These days, I don’t think that’s a tremendous burden. There are lots of really effective muzzle devices out there. Picking one and just practicing with the damn rifle is a good idea. Doubly so if you’re an inveterate tinkerer like me.
- Which the three gun targets don’t even have. ↩