Ruger Precision Rifle Barrel Swap

Ruger Precision Rifle Part 3: Swapping Ruger Precision Rifle Barrel

In Blog by Don32 Comments

Hey everyone, it’s the bearded Batavi again. Today I’m bringing you guys a bit of information that has the potential for saving you a few days of aggravation if you’re looking at changing some parts on your Ruger Precision Rifle. Specifically I’m going to talk about swapping Ruger Precision Rifle Barrel. If I’d known then what I know now I would have saved myself about two days of annoyance, and at least one busted knuckle. Once again this is a case of “See that man over there? Be nothing like him!”

The Tedious Background

Those of you that follow what we post on Facebook will have seen a post about a week ago saying that my long awaited barrel from Criterion had arrived. I actually had reason to call Josh over at Criterion earlier that day, and since I had him on the phone I asked if he had any idea when my barrel was due to ship out. Turns out that it had actually shipped on the previous Friday. I was stoked to probably see my barrel showing up in the next few days, but instead less than 20 minutes later my doorbell was ringing and it was in my hands. There have been very few occasions in my life that have made me as excited as I was at that moment.

Removing The Ruger Precision Rifle Barrel

There are a few tools you’re going to need on hand. I HIGHLY advise anyone who reads this and wants to follow me in this whole process listen to me regarding these tools. I truly can’t stress this enough. If you don’t listen to me, you are potentially setting yourself up for a ton of aggravation. Remember how I said “See that man over there? Be nothing like him!”? So here’s the list of what you will need.

  1. Set of SAE Standard Allen wrenches – link
  2. AR-15 Armorer’s Wrench – link
  3. A big beefy pipe about 4 feet long that will fit over your wrench
  4. A big beefy vice that’s properly attached to a sturdy bench
  5. Brownell’s AR-15/M16 Barrel Vice Jaws – Link
  6. Headspace gauges for the caliber of your choice
  7. Anti-seize lubricant – Link

Some of you are no doubt wondering why I’m including everything that I did, realize there are reasons for each and every one. And the particular versions or styles of tools that I’m including are important too.

So now let’s talk about how to disassemble your rifle. You will need to remove your lower assembly, and your handguard. For those of you who do not know how to do this, here are two videos which do a great job tearing everything down. Remember, you just need to remove your lower and handguard. You don’t need to remove the trigger or anything else.

Alright now that you have that done we can get rolling. After you have the handguard and the lower removed from the rifle, you need to remove the barrel nut retainer. I can hear you now saying “Oh well that was all nice and easy Don. Why did you make such a big deal over this?” This is the point where if you don’t listen to me this can potentially turn into the project from hell.

The Best Laid Plans – Swapping Ruger Precision Rifle Barrel

The next step is to remove the barrel nut using your AR-15 Armorer’s Wrench, because you need to reuse this nut. The natural reaction here is to put your action in the vice and start cranking on the nut. If you do this you will end up with nothing but frustration and nothing to show for it. There reason why I linked the particular wrench I did is simple. Here’s the wrench that I had. The problem I faced with this wrench was that the opening in the wrench was not big enough to fit around the barrel. My buddy, who works for a local manufacturer of some note, was helping me out with this project. As was his dog. He didn’t have another wrench with a wider opening we could have tried, and because we thought it was a standard opening on my wrench we thought we might have actually needed an AR-10 wrench. We also tried a few other ways of getting the barrel nut to move. We torched the action twice actually, and used penetrating lubricants, and tried a big set of channel locks he had. This thing would not budge. So we lost one day completely on having the wrong tool for the job.

Torching the action, with the action stripped down

Torching the action, with the action stripped down

The difference in size as shown using a JP barrel nut

The difference in size as shown using a JP barrel nut

Obligatory helper dog picture

Obligatory helper dog picture

The second day my friend brought home an AR-10 wrench from work. I brought beer, which actually turned out to be more useful. See the barrel nut is actually a standard AR-15 size. The problem was with my wrench not having a wide enough opening to get around the barrel. We actually broke out his bench grinder, and made the opening on my wrench larger. I sent Rich a picture of us modifying the wrench captioned “You know a project is going well when you’ve broken out the bench grinder to modify your tools.” With our modification done we then tried the wrench on the nut again. Once again it wasn’t going to give up, so we decided to have another beer and think about this. We spent more time faffing about trying to make what we had work, and all I really managed to do was tear open one knuckle. We did some digging on the internet and came up with some very interesting things that don’t seem to be all that well known about removing the barrel. Apparently the barrel nut is the absolute worst part of this whole project, that it only requires 1/8 of a turn to come loose, and that you’re actually best off putting the whole thing in a barrel vice.

Modification of tools is never a sign of a project going well

Modification of tools is never a sign of a project going well

At this point in time my buddy’s lovely, and understanding, wife was on her way home and it was time to get dinner going. Over more beer and dinner we talked about what the best move was from here, and a bunch of other things. Originally I’d wanted to do this swap myself if I could, instead after dinner I talked to my boss and made arrangements to get it done one way or another on Thursday. The simple lesson here is get the wrench I linked and don’t be like me. Once again Robert Burns comes immediately to mind, the best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley.

So Put It In A Barrel Vice

This is one of the potential key things that people aren’t talking about when they say they swapped the barrel on their Ruger Precision Rifle. Putting it in a barrel vice will give you a much easier time applying torque to the nut. Well we put my barrel in the barrel vice, and broke out the right wrench for the job. If everything was right in the world then this would be it, but sadly it isn’t. The fact is the barrel nut on the Ruger Precision Rifle is an absolute bitch to get off. They haven’t used any thread locker on it that I saw either. Regardless after I tried just using the barrel vice and proper wrench, I was still where I had started. So we broke out Mother.

Mother. Enough said.

Mother. Enough said.

Mother is nothing more than a source of torque. Specifically it’s a 4 foot section of pipe that we use as a breaker bar extension to our tools when we need much more torque. It garnered the nickname Mother after the tendency of being very angry at what you need the additional torque for, and the tendency of someone using it to say “Mother …..” and having whatever you needed to use it on finally break loose. You generally don’t finish that two word sentence or if you do it’s usually punctuated by some loud noises. Even with Mother on the wrench the barrel nut still tried to fight. Mother always wins. This is perhaps an opportune moment to mention that it’s one week to Mother’s Day, by the way.

The barrel is finally off

The barrel is finally off

Now That The Nut Is Off

Okay so now we are REALLY cooking. The barrel nut is off and everything is going to be smooth from here on out. Seriously. If you’re listening to me and my story, you’ve just passed the worst of it. Remove the receiver from the old barrel, and then remove the barrel nut from the old barrel. Set your old barrel aside, and put the new barrel in your vice. Apply some of the anti-seize lubricant to the new barrel. You don’t need to slop it on, you need just enough to prevent galling. Thread on the barrel nut and then begin to thread the action onto the barrel. At this point in time you need to break out your headspace gauge and use them to ensure your headspace is correct. This being somewhat similar to a how a Savage action headspaces, you can actually do this with only a go-gauge. However I advocate that you follow the traditional method of headspacing your rifle.



Brand new Criterion barrel

Brand new Criterion barrel about to torque down the barrel nut with Mother.

With your rifle properly headspaced you lock it down with the barrel nut. Once that’s complete then lock it down with the barrel nut retainer. Reattach the lower and handguard. Be aware however that your barrel nut retainer may have shifted posistion along with your barrel nut, and this could have implications for whatever handguard you are using. At this point in time you should be done and your barrel should be changed out. Remember, don’t be like me. Use the right tools and this will be less than an hour.

Reattaching the handguard

Reattaching the handguard

The Axe of My Father

At this point I’m going to wax a bit philosophical and I’m going to take a step back from the rifle and everything I’ve done to it since I got it. There’s a story of a man speaking to another man regarding his family’s axe.

This, milord, is my family’s axe. We have owned it for almost nine hundred years, see. Of course, sometimes it needed a new blade. And sometimes it has required a new handle, new designs on the metalwork, a little refreshing of the ornamentation . . . but is this not the nine hundred-year-old axe of my family?

This is a variation of the Theseus’ Paradox recorded by Plutarch in the late first century, but also discussed by Heraclitus and Plato before Plutarch’s writings. I’ve changed out the handguard, the stock, and now the barrel. I asked myself if this was still the very same rifle that I began with many months ago? While I haven’t replaced every single part of the rifle I’ve found that I’m asking if this is the same rifle after all I’ve done with it. So what do you, the readers, think? Is this still the same rifle after everything I’ve done to it?

Don is a Minnesota college student working his way through school as a firearms coatings specialist. An avid shooter with a love for just about all things gun related, gladly sharing his somewhat unique experiences with anyone who will listen. If you have any questions for me, email us!


  1. I did not see the link for the correct wrench, just the one that did not work, would it be possible to get the part number ?

    1. Author

      The link should have been in the list of parts I said you needed. But just for further clarification it is the DPMS AR-15 Armorers wrench. Brownells has it listed as part 231-000-007WB so just copy and paste that string into the search box on Brownells and it should come up. Primary Arms has it for about $20 cheaper, and it can be found on their website by searching for “DPMS AR15 Tool”

      Here are some links:

      Hope that helps and sorry about not getting back to you sooner!

  2. So…. How does it shoot with the new barrel? did you break it in by just shooting it?

    1. Author

      It’s shooting half MOA or better in the break in period here. I’ve still got a lot more factory rounds to get through it.

      1. Are you doing anything ‘special’ during the break-in such as
        Shoot one – clean, repeat for # shots, then move on to another scheme?
        Or are you just taking it to the range and pretty much just banging away with cleaning after the session?

        1. Author

          Following the method that Rich wrote an article on. It’s actually been really hard for me to get to the range lately because of all the things I’ve had on my plate. Hopefully though I should have some stuff rolling out here again soon.

  3. I am also curious as to how the new Criterion barrel works out since I’ve got one on order that should be here around the end of June. I went with a 26″ Heavy Varmint barrel with fluting and their ‘blended’ muzzle brake. Debating on whether to jump on the barrel change as soon as I get it or wait a while because the factory barrel is still shooting 3/4 MOA or better and only has 1,059 rounds through it. Getting very good results with the new Hornady 143gr ELD-X and had equally good results with the Prime 130gr Match+ factory loads.

    Now – to the basic question you asked: is it still the same rifle. Yes and no :). Yes, since you haven’t changed the serial number. No because it doesn’t have the original barrel any more. But it is still “THE” or “YOUR” Ruger Precision Rifle – you’ve just sharpened the edge of the blade on it a bit, to follow the analogy.

      1. Rich – and if you look close, he’s already swapped out the bolt cover (so have I), the stock for a MagPul PRS (as have I) and the bolt handle (I haven’t) and when I swap my barrel (seems it may get here next week! I expect it to ship on the 16th) I will also swap for a Seekins handguard and even with all that surely that means it’s still the ‘same rifle’. Perhaps the question might be just when does it become a different rifle? Receiver swap out? I lean toward that for a couple of reasons: It’s basically the piece that links everything else so that the components become a firearm, and from a legal view point it’s most often the piece that’s serial numbered.

        1. I agree 100% J! The receiver is the rifle, which is part of the sum of the parts, but not defined by them!

    1. Author

      The next one on the subject here is probably going to be a double header. Not going to say what it’s going to cover completely, but it should be well worth it. Thus far though I’m getting half MOA or better for the most part. The times I don’t I blame on shooter errors more than anything. I have to say this barrel was completely worth it. Just remember to follow my advice here about getting the factory barrel off and you shouldn’t have any problems.

      As to the hypothetical, in some ways I have to say I don’t think it is the same rifle any more, but at the same time it is. The only thing truly linking all the parts together is still the receiver which is legally the same gun. But in your case with your Rem/Age conversion even the receiver has been modified and had bits hacked off and added so it’s not what it was. The components that comprise the rifle are so completely different and it’s performance is so vastly different that it’s not really the same gun. The question was meant more as a hypothetical exercise, not a legal one.

      1. Good to hear that you consider it worth it – but it makes my decision about just when to put my new one on the rifle a bit more difficult because of Gibb’s Rule #5 – “You don’t waste good.” and with just over 1,000 rounds through the factory barrel on a good day, with a little luck and when I bite my tongue just right I can get 1/2 MOA 5-shot groups at 100 yards with Hornady 120gr AMAX, Hornady 143gr ELD-X and Prime 130gr Match+ factory loads. Like you, when I don’t, I blame me more than either the rifle or the bullets. Even on a ‘bad day’ I can hold very close to 1 MOA with any of those. That’s typically shot off of an Atlas bipod with a rice-filled tube sock at the butt using a Vortex Razor HD Gen II scope cranked all the way up to 27x. So as eager as I am to try out the new barrel, it looks like there’s still a lot of “good” left in the factory barrel.

        Now – if I hand loaded (no space and some safety issues involved) I would expect even more consistent tight groups also, so I’m at a point of ‘about as good as it can get for me’ now. One topic that might be worthwhile at some point would be “where can I get quality factory loaded 6.5 Creedmoor?” The sources still seem to be a bit limited; ones I’ve tried are:
        Hornady (best selection of various weights/types with SST, AMAX, ELD-M and ELD-X)
        Prime (excellent shooting 130grain load with Norma brass & bullet – better MV consistency than even the Hornady choices)
        Winchester (a 140grain load that does not meet my idea of “match quality” regardless of the name they put on the box)
        Ones I’ve seen but not tried would be
        Federal American Eagle
        Copper Creek

          1. Rich, The only sources I know of for 6.5 Creedmoor ‘factory’ loads are these right now:
            Federal (American Eagle)
            Copper Creek

            I took a small plunge yesterday and ordered up two boxes each of Nosler, the new American Eagle and also Copper Creek. Once all of them get here, I’ll do some shooting with each and use my MagnetoSpeed V3 to get some MV info for each and to look at how they group at 100 yards on an indoor range. I’ll do what I can to take me out of the equation by dragging out a Caldwell Lead Sled to shoot from.

            Dammit! Got word from Criterion yesterday that it’ll be another 2-4 weeks on my new barrel. Seems that they tried shipping it to me, but then realized they had not fluted it and so had to recall it from transit to finish it up. Maybe not such a disaster because it definitely means I’ll still be shooting with the factory barrel when I do this ‘testing’ – so things like having MV change in the first couple of hundred rounds and such as that will not be a bother.

          2. Rich – I have completed my small-sample (40-rounds each) of 7 offerings. The bottom line is that with my RPR I can come up with at least 1 (and usually more) .5 to .6 MOA 5-shot groups at 100 yards. Shooter skill problem :(. But even with that, it boils down that there wasn’t a clear winner in the results-on-paper or the velocity/standard deviation measurements. Hornady, Federal, Copper Creek, Nosler and Prime are all in the same ball-park of 15-20 fps for Standard Deviation, although in a couple of cases the muzzle velocity was off by quite a bit from what was printed on the box.

            So it almost boils down to find/choose one you like and buy it as inexpensively as you can find. Since I’ve found a source of 143 grain ELD-X from Hornady I can get shipped to me for right at $26/box (a few cents cheaper than the currently out-of-stock Prime 130 Match+), I’ll probably stock up on those very soon. It was as good as any of the ones tested, and I’ve got my Browning X-Bolt all set up for a dead-center cold bore shot with them at 100.

            Anyone want to read my opinions on the cartridges, see some pictures of ‘best group’ from each and such as that can download this .pdf file:

            And anyone wanting the chrony information can download this Excel workbook:

            It was fun to say the least. And I’m still waiting on the Criterion barrel :(.

          3. Great post J! I’m going to read through this, I may email you in the next few days as well if that’s alright!

        1. Author

          My experience with my original barrel was that I could only managed to do 1 MOA on it. To me that wasn’t really good so much as it was sufficient. For me it was a case of “I know this rifle has the potential to do much better. I need to do a sufficient amount of rounds down the barrel for testing purposes, but if it’s not performing where it needs to then I’m not going to martyr myself to a single component.” Yes the barrel is still good and not shot out, but it’s not performing how I would like it.

          Copper Creek does a great job on their ammo in my experience. We were shooting some of that when I was out in Germantown with Criterion, and I don’t have any complaints. Unfortunately I can’t offer any opinion regarding Winchester, Prime, Federal, or Nosler aside from superficial examination on the internet rather than any practical testing. My ammunition of choice thus far for breaking in my rifle has been Hornady’s offerings, but that’s mainly due to me being able to source it easily. I think I’m going to have some work to do here this summer.

          1. Understood – and so I may hold off a while on my own barrel swap. I went to the range today and managed one 1/2 MOA group at 100 yards with Hornady 143 gr ELD-X. But other groups were not really impressive at all. I’m of an opinion that this particular barrel likes a lighter bullet: I had great groups with 120gr AMAX, but they seemed to open up when I went to 140 AMAX. One other RPR owner I knows feels the same way about his 6.5 CRM. That’s why I tried out the Prime 130gr Match+ loads and they have been great, but I’m out and Prime waiting on new shipment. I plan on buying at least 2 perhaps 4 cases when they get restocked.

            I’d love to try the Federal and Nosler loads – may have to spring the bucks for a couple of boxes of them.

            Here are some numbers I had for the Winchester 140 gr Match loads:
            First, in defense of Winchester – these are from a small sampling – I had 3 boxes, only got chrony data on 51 rounds.
            Published MV:
            2910 fps
            Measured average MV: 2809 (101 fps lower than published)
            Minimum MV: 2727
            Maximum MV: 2909
            Extreme Spread (maximum – minimum): 182 fps
            Standard Deviation (SD): 63.2 fps (with both Hornady and Prime just under 19 FPS !!)

            What gets me is that with 2 boxes out of a case from Prime, the average MV was 2852 fps, only 1 fps off of published, and SD was 14.9 fps for the 2 boxes. As noted earlier the average MV for 287 rounds is 2858 (7 fps off published) with SD of 18.9 fps.

            I’d love to see more quality sources – Black Hills and Eagle Eye come to mind right away. If they could hit the $26-$27/box range for high quality factory match loads, I think there’s definitely a market waiting for them. Meanwhile for economy target practice, I’d probably go for the 120gr AMAX from Hornady, but while I can afford them, I’ll go with the 130gr Prime for the RPR until the new barrel proves I could move over to the ELD-X.

  4. Find a 140g bullet that shoots out of the tube at about 2700fps and you’ll be surprised how well this (stock) rifle will shoot…I do my own reloading and have the SD down at 4 with an ES of 14 at 2701fps.

    Cold bore shot at 1200 yards with 3 follow-up shots all on target last Saturday morning (granted, it was a very generous 2x IPSC – organizers wanted everybody get that “feel good” feeling…) Second stage was multiple (smaller targets) 933 yards and I shot that clean also..

    I’ve only shot 1 over-MOA group at 100 and that was because of a pulled shot. I do agree that a quality match barrel will make this a MUCH better shooter. It’s nowhere near as accurate as my (also) stock Savage .308 target rifle.

    I have seen a lot of Internet talk about 120s and 130s shooting better, but I’d rather have that extra weight and therefore BC at long range. Shooting groups at 100 yards is not what this rifle was made for…

    1. That’s an excellent Handload, Richard! Sounds like a fun match too! There’s more to come on the Ruger so stay tuned!

      1. Author

        Rich is right, there is more to come. I’ve just sworn him to secrecy about it.

    2. Interesting info on your hand loads – wanna send me about a case to confirm your results 🙂 .
      Actually, I had some hand loads (by a fellow shooter) he used Hornady brass and the 140gr Amax. Had an average MV of 2744fps with SD of 14.5fps and my best group of 5 at 100 was .571 inches. I’ve done better in the past, but right now at my skill level I can get about 50% 1/2-MOA and 50% right at 1 MOA on a given trip to the range. Anyhow, using those results as a baseline to compare 7 commercially available loads – haven’t finished yet (still have 2 loads from Copper Creek plus an offering from Nosler to send downrange). But I’ll tell you this: right at this point the new Hornady 143gr ELD-X / Precision Hunter is looking very, very good: Average MV of 2684fps with SD of 14.9fps and a best group of .541 inches. My best ever 5-shot group was with Hornady 120gr AMAX at .245 inches – looks like two overlapping shots. I figure a couple of more weekends before I finish it all up, then I’ll ‘publish’ the results and provide a link to them for future reference.

  5. I purchased a Proof Research barrel in 6.5CM. One aspect that will differ from the above mentioned procedure is installing a carbon wrapped barrel. Clamping this in a barrel vice is a no go. Therefore I plan on using padded vice jaws to hold the receiver when torquing the barrel nut. I just hope the retainer will line up to the barrel nut. If not, I’ll be forced to shim the underneath side of the nut.

    What torque value did you use after installing your new barrel?

    1. Author

      I did 55 foot pounds if I remember right. But another point to stress is that you don’t need to install your new barrel using a barrel vice. You can just fit it by hand using your gauges. After that you can just put the receiver into your padded vice instead of using a barrel vice.

  6. Doing a barrel swap myself. Struggling with the barrel nut. Looking butt to muzzle does the nut turn first clockwise to separate it from the receiver? Or does the whole thing turn counterclockwise with the receiver. Can’t seem to get this answer. Already broke my cheap armorers wrench.

  7. Could you explain the reasoning behind choosing Criterion vs LRI or Proof for your new barrel?

    1. I’m sure he’ll chime in shortly, Jake. Partly it was my experience with Criterion and certainly part of it is budget/monetary. There’s nothing wrong with KP barrels from LRI or Proof barrels. In our experience Criterion provides exceptional value for the dollar.

    2. Author

      I can’t not make an appearance after a comment like that, Rich. Rich brings up some great points, but I’ll go into a bit more detail here.

      At the time when I was originally working on all this, which was very early in the life of the Ruger Precision Rifle, Frank Galli over at Sniper’s Hide had pretty thoroughly covered the LRI barrels. Chad Dixon over at LRI does some pretty awesome work and I’ve got a lot of respect for him. I wanted to do something different however because this was still essentially a new world, and rehashing old ground doesn’t do the community as a whole any good.

      So I started to look around at other companies that were making barrels and came up with proof research. And promptly fainted at the price. I make it no secret, I’m not a wealthy man by any means. I’m paying my own way through college rather than taking student loans. I reached out to Proof Research to see what we could make happen. They were not interested at the time, but my door is still open to them any time.

      And so after changing a few parts on this rifle I made some comments in an article about how I was looking for a barrel. Enter Josh Buege from Criterion barrels. Apparently we’d become part of Criterion Barrels list of people to follow after Rich’s article on the Rem/Age conversion for his rifle. They did a custom order for my barrel, and even went so far as to invite me out to go shooting with them, which lead to my Road Trip series of articles. In that series I was able to do a side by side comparison of the factory barrel vs a Criterion barrel of the same contours. I was very impressed with the results as you can see in the article. Overall they made a real positive experience for me, and because of that they were the first people I went to when I came up with another project I’m now currently working on.

      So in short I didn’t want to rehash LRI because Frank Galli had it covered way better than I ever would, I just flat can’t afford Proof, and Criterion went above and beyond any expectations I could have had.

  8. Im considering a barrel change too – do you happen to know what the RPR 20″ 308 factory barrel (only) weighs? Regards

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