One thing I just got done that I had been working on for a while is getting a new barrel on my Noveske. The Noveske barrel, despite their reputation, just never was as precise as I wanted for the vision I have for the X15 (it’s what I call my AR as I experiment with it). I also have to concede the possibility that I could just suck as far as precision shooting goes.
Although I kept meticulous records of my round count for the first 3000 rounds or so of the Noveske barrel, I have to guesstimate that I probably have a total of 3500 rounds through it. I figure the barrel still has a significant amount of life in it, so I will probably put it on a close range blaster at a later time.
The new barrel is a Compass Lake Engineering ‘Recon’ barrel, which is a 16.1” barrel with a mid-length gas system made from a Douglas 1-8 blank. I picked the CLE chamber instead of the Wylde, based on a conversation with Bunny at CLE. Not having shot it yet, I worry about having compromised reliability for the sake of potentially better precision, but I’ll find out as I go. I got one of Compass Lake’s gas blocks, which is a set screw style instead of pinned. Again, it may not be as reliable, so the experimental designation is going to stick on this rifle for the time being. Also, I opted to get a bolt matched to the barrel. It may not have been necessary, but the only thing it can hurt is my wallet. I think when Frank matches the barrel to the bolt he says a secret incantation to get some extra mojo in it.
The smudge came from me. I apologize for not having my good camera on hand to properly document this for you.
It took several months before I got enough time to think about installing the barrel. When I finally did I found out that my friend’s upper vice block wouldn’t fit my Vltor MUR upper that came on my Noveske upper. I had to spend about $40 on a DPMS vice block that fits on the inside of the upper. I also needed a special crow’s foot wrench to fit the Noveske NSR barrel nut.
The installation itself was pretty uneventful. Never having done one before, I got some assistance from a meticulous friend who has done a few barrel installs. I can say with the utmost confidence that the handguard is as perfectly indexed to the upper receiver as is possible. As I received the upper from Noveske I could see some mis-alignment. No more.
I have a couple thousand Sierra 69 grain SMKs that I got from pulling them from a bad batch of Gold Medal Match several years back (a 69 grain bullet at 3400 feet per second is not a good thing). I really want these bullets to work in this AR so I can actually use them up. The Noveske barrel never shot them well.
I have a few pounds of N540, a pound of Varget, and about two thirds a keg of 844 pulldown to play with. Varget and N540 both sound about right for a 69 grain bullet, and since I have enough of the 540 to play around with a bit, I started there. I learned somewhere that between 24 and 25 grains should do the trick, so I loaded a few test loads in between there to play with.
At the range, I loaded all my test loads in a single magazine so I could test them round robin style. That means that each subsequent round I fire is a different load on a different target. I load mine in the magazine such that I shoot the lightest charged round first, each subsequent round being a heavier charge until I cycle back to the light round on the light target again. I do this so that the conditions of each group will be as similar as I can make them to each other group in the test. The downside is that it seems as though I end up with larger groups than if I fire them one at a time, but absolute size isn’t as critical in this step as a valid comparison between charge weights.
What I found most interesting, although of no real consequence, is that I didn’t have to touch the scope’s adjustment. I started at 25 yards, figuring on 1.2-1.4 mils of offset at that distance for a 100 yard zero. I started with two rounds, figuring that for what the barrel is, and the distance, that it would be enough to make further gross adjustments. Turns out I didn’t need to.
I moved to 100 and fired the remainder of the 10 rounds I had allocated for zeroing. I found out that my reticle covered that small bull on that target, so I had to replace the load testing targets with my standard target with the 4 MOA circle at 100. I tested five rounds of 24.0, 24.5, and 25.0 grains of N540. That could be construed as less than the bare minimum, but I just wanted an idea of what seemed to work. So far the 24.5 grain load seems to work in my rifle:
Sub half MOA. Must mean that I did my part. Whether that means it’s “sub MOA all day long if I do my part”, I’m not sure. I did my best to ensure that the photo is as close to actual size as possible on my screen.
As I mentioned, I didn’t have to touch my knobs to get this point of impact. In fact, I went to adjust my zero to get it closer, and with my scope’s funky 0.2 mil adjustments I can’t get my point of impact any closer than that. Why they use a 0.2 mil adjustment is beyond me. It’s a stupid idea for a capped turret that is more than likely just going to be zeroed and left alone. If the point is to get a good zero, which incidentally will be the basis for all further holds to compensate for trajectory and wind, why not enable the user to get a better zero?
So my current feeling is that the rifle is probably capable of shooting how I want it to. A mean radius of 0.191 MOA is very good (better than I’ve shot in a long time). The Noveske barrel never shot that well. How well that small initial sample predicts the future performance is unclear. There have been no malfunctions of any kind so far. Predicting the future performance of the nut behind the trigger may be well nigh impossible.