Rifle bedding is fundamental to rifle accuracy. The term bedding refers to the fit and stability of a barreled action within the rifle stock. If the fit and stability of the metal work in relationship to the stock is poor, the rifle will be in-accurate. Bedding a rifle with epoxy resin is the optimum method of obtaining a correct fit, long term stock stability and optimum rifle accuracy.
In order for a rifle to shoot accurately, the number one rule is that everything needs to be the same with each shot. There are several variables to rifle accuracy and each variable must be addressed. The shooter needs to be in the same position for each shot, each cartridge must be the same as the one before it, and the scope must hold the same zero while the rifle needs to produce the same results each and every time.
With every shot, the barreled rifle action moves and vibrates within the rifle stock. The best way to picture the barrel is by using the analogy of a baseball pitcher. As the pitcher throws his ball, the slightest difference in his point of release will change the point of impact at the batter. The rifle barrel is just the same and "whips" with each shot. If the barrel is unable to whip the same way each time, the bullet will strike to a different point of impact.
The rifle action also undergoes movement and stress. When a shot is fired, the pressure of the cartridge produces recoil within the stock, the action is forced backwards and then returns forwards. If the action does not return the same point after each shot (this term called "battery") then the rifle will be in-accurate. If any areas of the stock are pinching or exerting excess pressure against the barreled action, accuracy will be poor.
To set up the best platform for accuracy potential, gunsmiths, custom rifle builders, target shooters and hobbyists "bed" the rifle action and free float the barrel. Bedding involves filling the gun stock with a strong as steel resin, the action is then set down into the resin which when dry, creates a mirror image of the action. The mirror image of the action is a precise bedding platform which allows the action to recoil and return to battery with each shot. This explanation is however oversimplified as several areas of the action need to be relieved to create relief points and allow for the piston like movement of the action within the stock. (see MatchGrade instructions).
Free floating the barrel involves removing all wood or plastic along the barrel channel so that the barrel has no contact points with the barrel to interrupt its natural whip. The only point of contact should be the bedding under the barrel "parallel" closest to the chamber. This helps ensure that the action is not having to hold all of the weight of the whole system. Never ever free float a plastic stock without bedding the rifle. An unbeddded free floated plastic stocked rifle may produce extremely poor accuracy.
Unfortunately, bedding is too costly a procedure for most rifle manufacturers to perform. However, exceptions include:
Semi custom rifles - These may have some form of expoxy bedding however in recent years, some manufacturers have used blank actions for bedding rather than the actual action that comes with the rifle in order to speed up operations (not having to clean epoxy from a finished action). The blank method is acceptable but may not provide the true custom fit that one was expecting to pay for. Both styles of bedding (blank / actual action) are still dependent on the knowledge of the operator. If the operator employs flawed methods (more common than you might expect), the rifle will not produce optimum performance.
Epoxy bedding at the recoil lug - As found on the Winchester, Browning and Weatherby rifles. Appears simply as a dollop of epoxy (much like a hot glue gun) at the area of the recoil lug. This method can prove sufficient but in some instances, the bedding will loosen over time. This method can also create pinch points leading to double groups but is generally better than having no bedding whatsoever.
These methods aside, a typical production sporting, varmint or tactical / target rifle may be assembled in such a way that the barrel is forced upwards at the tip of the forend. This point of force is called pressure point bedding. Pressure point bedding will usually allow a rifle to shoot groups of between 1.5 to 3" at 100 yards. This level of accuracy is adequate for close range shooting using a cold barrel but hopeless for moderate to long range shooting. Pressure point bedding is counter productive to accuracy when firing multiple shots- as the barrel heats up, it move upwards due to the force of the pressure point which results in stringing shots. On wood stocked rifles, pressure point bedding will eventually become a problem as moisture shifts the stock around.
To check whether your rifle is bedded, remove the barreled action from the stock. The bedding is instantly recognizable as a layer of resin that appears as a mirror imprint of the action. Be aware however, that not all bedding jobs are a success. If the rifle has been bedded prior to your ownership of the rifle, but the rifle is in-accurate, it may well need to be re-bedded with better attention to detail.
Please also be aware that many companies now advertise their production rifles as factory bedded when in truth, the rifles have no such bedding. A common marketing tool is the use of the term 'pillar bedded'. Unfortunately, the addiction of two steel tubes (pillars) does not in any way constitute a bedding job. As suggested, true bedding is recognizable as a layer of epoxy within the stock which produces a mirror imprint of the action. But also as suggested, looks can be deceiving. To be successful, the bedding job must feature a mixture of contact areas combined with areas of critical relief.
Now that you know what bedding is, have a look at our how to's for stock and action bedding from the links below;
Rifle Bedding Instructions
Synthetic Stock Stabilizer Instructions
Disclaimer/ WARNING: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and are not endorsed by any manufacturers. Terminal Ballistics Research and the author take no responsibility for the use or misuse of any views, opinions or information expressed in this article.
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