Rebarreling a Rifle to .358 Winchester
By Rick Ryals
After reading several articles about the .358 Winchester, including Chuck Hawks' online article (see the Rifle Cartridge Page), I decided in that I had to have one. I considered the Browning BLR lever action, the only factory rifle at the time that was chambered for the .358, but I really wanted a bolt action rifle. (Subsequently, in 2007, the .358 was added to the Ruger M77 line.)
I prefer bolt action and single shot rifles because of their simplicity and ease of cleaning. Along with single shot and double rifles, they allow you to push a cleaning rod straight through from breach to muzzle.
Since no bolt actions were chambered for the .358 in 2005-2006, I first looked at the used market. I checked gun shows as well as publications like Gun List. It turns out that .358 Winchester is a rare chambering in virtually all of the rifles that were once chambered for it. Because of this, in addition to the difficulty of even finding a used .358 rifle, they demand premium prices. Winchester model 70 rifles in .358 are usually pre-64 models and go for $1500 and up. Ruger model 77's are also well above $1000 when you can find them. These are the only two used bolt action models I could find chambered for .358.
Another option was one of the semi-custom makers like New Ultra Light Arms, but again we are looking at more than two grand. I wanted a less expensive alternative.
For this reason I began looking at having a rifle rebarreled. I had a stainless steel Ruger KM77 Mk. II Compact in 7mm-08 that I could never get to shoot well. My average group sizes exceeded 2 inches with all the ammunition I tried in it, both factory and hand loads. That will certainly kill medium game animals out to 200 yards, but I expected more of a 7mm-08. It simply did not live up to the round's reputation for accuracy. So it seemed like a logical choice for this rebarrel job.
Illustration courtesy of Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc.
I had several goals in mind for a .358 for which the Ruger Compact seemed particularly suited. First, I wanted it weather proof. The stainless steel action and laminated stock fit well with this goal. I also wanted it to be short, handy, and reasonably lightweight, envisioning a powerful medium bore carbine. The Ruger Compact also allowed me to meet this goal. Finally, I wanted controlled round feed, which the Ruger Mk. II action supplies.
I began to look online at various rifle barrel manufacturers. I also read any magazine articles I could find on rebarreling rifles. Several names came up, including Hart, Krieger, Lilja, Pac-Nor, Shaw, and Shilen.
Of all these makers, Shaw was the most reasonable in the price department. Of course, if I were assembling a match rifle, cost would not be a major consideration. But a .358 is a hunting rifle for game like deer, elk, and bear, not a target rifle. While I wanted a quality barrel, I was not on a search for perfection. I had read some articles by writers like Ken Waters and Jon Sundra who had used Shaw barrels, and they seemed happy with them. E.R. Shaw seemed to provide both reasonable cost and decent quality, so I selected them for the job.
Since I do not have the tools necessary to remove and reinstall a barrel, I needed someone for that. Again, Shaw's web site had reasonable prices for chambering and installing their barrels. So I totaled up the cost of the barrel, installation, and shipping and sent off an e-mail inquiry to them. In a day or so I had a return e-mail verifying the prices, along with shipping instructions. They asked that I ship only the barreled action to them. They had no inletting services so would be unable to reinstall the stock, and did not want the scope attached because it would be in the way during barrel removal and installation.
The E.R. Shaw web site has an online ordering process. It is best to contact them before placing the order so questions are answered and services clarified beforehand. After a couple of e-mails back and forth I was ready.
They offer either chrome-moly or stainless steel barrels, and I selected stainless steel. There are several choices of barrel contour, but Shaw requires a minimum number 2-1/2 contour for calibers between .323 and .375, so I selected that as my choice of contour.
You have a choice of lengths in one inch increments from 16 to 26 inches. Since my goal was a powerful yet compact rifle, I settled on a barrel length of 19 inches. This gives me an overall length of around 39 inches, which makes for a very easy handling rifle.
Fluting is an option, either straight or helical. Although not really necessary, I decided to splurge a little and have the barrel straight fluted. I don't believe the dubious claims of extra stiffness or cooling, I just think it looks cool. It certainly adds a custom touch to a rifle.
Costs for the project were as follows: $200 for the barrel, $60 for installation, $75 for fluting the barrel, and $23 for shipping. The total came to $358. (Without fluting it could have been done for $283.) Since I originally paid around $540 for the rifle, my total cost for a .358 Winchester came to around $900.
A used .358 would have cost me several hundred dollars more than that. Most of that higher price would be for the collector value of the rare caliber. But I wanted this rifle for hunting, not collecting. So I found I could save some money and end up with a stainless steel rifle with a fluted barrel, laminated stock, controlled round feeding, and barrel length to my specification. In short, I would have a rifle that met all my original goals, at a cost lower than a used rifle.
Now it was time to prepare the rifle for shipping. I removed the scope, stock, trigger, trigger guard, floorplate, and magazine box from the barreled action. I left the bolt in the action so the headspace could be properly set. I then packed it in a long shipping box, making sure I cushioned it at both ends as well as all around.
When I showed up at the neighborhood Fed-Ex office my problems began. In our gun-phobic society, shipping a rifle is not an easy thing to do, even with the stock and trigger removed. Many shippers seem to be ignorant concerning the laws for shipping firearms, and would rather not be bothered with finding out. Some places simply have a policy of not shipping firearms, period. I finally contacted my local gun shop, which recommended a nearby shipping agent who understood the regulations, and I shipped it from there.
Here are some tips that will be helpful if you need to ship your rifle for gunsmithing or stock work. First, get the manufacturer or gunsmith license number from the company you will ship to. It is completely legal to ship to licensed manufacturers, gunsmiths, or dealers, and having the company's name, address, telephone, and license number readily available will save you hassle. Second, contact your local gun shop for recommendations on a shipping agent. Someone who regularly ships firearms will be easier to deal with. I have also heard that, as a general rule, UPS is easier to ship firearms with than Fed-Ex, although the shipper I finally went through was Fed-Ex. Just keep in mind that you may have to try several locations before you successfully ship your gun.
After shipping, then began the fun of waiting. Shaw had specified the turnaround time as 14 to 16 weeks. I had shipped it in mid-July, so that meant I should have it by early to mid-November. I hunt in Georgia, and hunting season starts the last week or so in October. It was going to be a close call whether I would get it in time for hunting season. As it turned out, Shaw returned it to me in early October, four weeks ahead of schedule.
The barrel had a nice satin sheen that looked good with the Ruger action. The flutes in the barrel added a nice touch. The number 2-1/2 contour required by Shaw for the .358 caliber turned out to be a nice thickness for the .358 bore. It also kept the rifle from being too light for the .358's recoil. The muzzle was nicely crowned. Overall, the barreled action seemed to have an unassuming, yet confident air of compact power.
Next came the task of opening up the barrel channel of the Ruger stock to accommodate the fatter barrel. I worked with a Dremel tool and some sand paper. It took a few evenings of work, but I finally got the stock fitted. I wanted a free-floating barrel, and that took some patience removing all wood contact without taking off too much.
Since I expected the .358 to kick harder than the 7mm-08, I also took this opportunity to install a pre-fit Limb-Saver recoil pad. I had previously installed one of these pads on a Ruger Compact in .308 Winchester, and it made a huge difference in felt recoil. This has become my favorite brand of recoil pad, and I have since installed it on some of my other rifles as well. Finally, I mounted a compact Leupold FX-II 2.5x20mm fixed power scope in low Ruger rings. This is an excellent scope for a compact medium bore rifle. I was finally ready to head to the range.
Since I wanted to use the rifle for the upcoming deer season, I reloaded some cartridges with Hornady 180 grain PSP bullets. Not having a lot of time for load development, I settled on a mid-range charge of 49 grains of Hodgen Varget in Winchester cases with WLR primers. (I later chronographed this load and its velocity was around 2500 fps.) I also loaded individual cartridges with 47 (the starting load) and 48 grains of powder to check for pressure before firing the 49 grain loads. I carefully checked the fired cases for signs of excessive pressure and found none with any of the loads. There had been no resistance to bolt lift and extraction, so I considered the 49 grain load safe.
I proceeded to sight in the little Leupold scope at 100 yards. My final 3-shot group measured 1.5 inches, about 2 inches above point of aim. I was ready to hunt.
It was Thanksgiving weekend before I finally found any deer. A group of four or five does trotted into view around 9:00 AM on Friday morning. Georgia's bag limits for deer are fairly liberal, allowing 10 does and 2 bucks per season. I shot the first two does in line before the others headed off. I really didn't want any more than that in one day anyway. Needless to say, the rest of the day was spent skinning and packaging venison for the freezer. It was exhausting but happy work. At seasons end I was happy I took two that day, as that was the only day I saw any deer that season.
It could be argued that a .358 Winchester is overkill for deer. Certainly many deer have been cleanly harvested with the .243, .257, .260, and 7mm-08 calibers. I have used a 7mm-08 myself. The difference is not so much in killing power, but in the blood trail. The deer I killed with the 7mm-08 left a blood trail, but it was drops and trickles. The blood trail left by the .358 was more like a spray can clearly marking the trail.
I have since worked up a load with Speer 220 FP bullets. I worked up to the maximum charge of 50 grains of Hodgen Varget with no pressure signs. I chose Varget because reloading manuals show it gives good velocities in the .358, and it is one of Hodgen's Extreme series of powders. These powders are supposed to be insensitive to temperatures, giving similar pressures and velocities from 0 to 90 degrees.
With this load I am getting just over 2400 fps, which should be fully adequate for anything on this continent, except perhaps large brown bears. It is reasonably accurate, giving an average group size of around 1.5 inches. My smallest group was 1.1 inches and largest was 1.9 inches.
It would be an understatement to say I am happy with my new .358 rifle. It is a short, handy rifle, unlike the .300 and .338 magnums. Yet the cartridge is powerful enough for the largest animals on this continent, while not being too much for deer. The trajectory will provide a maximum point blank range of 230 to 260 yards, which would be a long shot for me (and the great majority of hunters) under field conditions. I believe it is an outstanding compact all-around rifle for North American hunting. I think the .358 Winchester is one of the finest little big guns ever to come along.
Copyright 2006 by Rick Ryals. All rights reserved.