How much does barrel length matter?

The timer and the target sometimes tell interesting and unexpected tales. A long held opinion is that a longer barrel is easier to shoot, both in terms of accuracy and shot to shot recovery, than a shorter barrel. For #wheelgunwednesday, I decided to put this theory to the test. Several different revolvers of varying frame sizes, weights, and barrel lengths were used to shoot a standard drill and compare results.

Justin Dyal wrote an article for SWAT Magazine about a drill he created called Five-Yard Roundup. It was used as the semi-final test at the Rangemaster 2018 Tactical Conference. Especially in the context of snub revolvers, it’s a good test of skills that may be required for personal protection.

Since the drill is only 10 rounds, it allows a variety of handguns to be shot in the same day without fatigue setting in and skewing the results. Since I was using a timer, I recorded the actual times for each string. The original concept of the drill is to use a 2.5 second PAR (fixed) time for all the strings.

To give the drill a more meaningful degree of precision for most shooters, I substituted an IDPA target for the B-8. I further modified it by using an Negative target. For those unfamiliar, a Negative target has a cutout center. Rounds striking anywhere in the cutout zone are scored equally, further accentuating the concept of meaningful degree of precision. Using a highlighted Negative target trains the shooter to visualize the appropriate aiming area in a defensive situation.

MP boot b

Since Five Yard Roundup has no reloading on the clock, I was able to put a dent in my supply of Tula 130 grain ammo. It’s not bad shooting ammo but extraction can be difficult. Often, I found it necessary to tap the extractor rod with a rubber mallet to get the cases to extract. I don’t have a chrono so I can’t say about the velocity, but it seems to have slightly more recoil than US 130 grain loadings.

The surprise winner: My Smith & Wesson Post-war M&P 5 screw 2 inch snub with Uncle Mikes Boot Stocks, as pictured above. It has a short barrel, smaller stocks, and narrow sights. The front sights has been filed to a flattened ramp, serrated, and painted. The trigger pull is very smooth, although not particularly light,  regardless of what mainspring is installed in it.

That being said, I’m not sure there’s much of a meaningful difference between barrel lengths, weight, and frame size. Even the difference between J Frames and K Frames wasn’t that much to rave about. The question of ‘meaningful degrees of precision’ definitely comes into play. The spread between the highest and the lowest is only about two seconds.

Five Yard Roundup comparison 2

Another aspect of the analysis to consider is that the originator set this drill up for a PAR time of 2.5 seconds for each run. If I shot this again working only to beat the PAR time and not to go as quickly as I could, there would probably be no difference at all. I was well under the PAR on all these runs. The few -1 hits I had were only slightly outside the -0 zone.

At the end of the day, this is what the target looked like. I shot the Model 10 a second time as a control for the Training Effect. The masking tape is where the -1 hits were.

Model 10 2nd b

Although I used to think of 5^5 as a general standard of performance, I’ve changed my mind. Over the course of several years of testing and nearly 100 testees, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s more of a Black Belt test than a general performance standard. Even Five Yard Roundup is more of an Intermediate level performance standard but it’s a worthy addition to every shooter’s drill set.

7 responses

  1. Greg Molyneux


    Thank you for the article, I really enjoy seeing the actual results on paper of tests like this. I would be curious to see this same routine run with semi-autos of various barrel lengths. I’d expect differing results from different models of a given caliber, but I recently replaced my 4″ barrel Springfield XD .45ACP with a 5″ barrel version, which is otherwise of the same make/model, and it definitely feels different.

    I’ve never taken the time to map the difference as precisely as you do here, but I’d think there would be something noticeable with the longer barrel on paper if I did – there’s a lot more movement in the semi-autos than the revolvers. Any thoughts?

    Thanks again for all our work, it’s a pleasure to come here and learn something new.

  2. Law of Self Defense

    That’s what SHE said.

  3. Michael Harris

    Mr. Werner, what stocks are you using on the model 10 pictured?

    1. Michael Harris

      Oops, pardon me. Just saw the chart.

  4. Reblogged this on disturbeddeputy and commented:
    Train constantly!

  5. One other aspect of barrel length comes to mind, and that is it’s significant effect on terminal bullet performance. It is easier to find a particular loading that performs well out of a 4″ (or dare I say, 6″) barrel than from a 2″ barrel. This is particularly relevant in handguns chambered for .38 Special. With that cartridge, I’ve always considered 3″ a bare minimum (and no more difficult to conceal than 1-7/8″ or 2″) and better yet, 4″.

    In some of my past employment, admittedly decades ago, this was a vital consideration, to my mind, when the most potent cartridge I was allowed to carry was .38 Special. In that instance, I settled on my beloved K-38 M14 Masterpiece, 6″ barrel, which had placed many rabbits in the pot -humane head shots only, if you please. I never felt undergunned, and it served me well in action when it counted.

    At 25 yards and beyond, to 50 yards, I think the longer barrel clearly starts to really show the advantage of the longer sight radius. At closer ranges, I have always felt sight alignment could be more “casual” and thus quicker with a longer barrel.

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