Competitive Shooting

AR-15 Barrel-Twist Rates

A barrel-twist rate is expressed in a chain of numbers that reflects on how far down the barrel a bullet must travel to make one full rotation. So, a 1-8 twist barrel is read as “one turn in eight inches,” and what will happen after 8 inches of its journey is a 360-degree bullet rotation.

The spin imparted to a bullet by the lands or rifling is necessary to stabilize the bullet in flight. What some shooters don’t understand is that it is bullet length, not weight, that determines the amount of rotation needed for stability, though almost always it’s a bullet weight that is associated with a particular twist. The weight/length distinction didn’t matter much until the advent of the “low-drag”–style bullets. These are long, or at least longer, than other bullets of equivalent weights. Longer bullets need more rotation (higher revolutions per minute) to “go to sleep” and fly wobble-free to the target.

52-grain Hornady Match .224-caliber bullet
This is a 52-grain Hornady Match .224-caliber bullet (the actual diameter used in .223 Remington/5.56mm NATO). I have shot a slew of perfect short-course targets with these through a 1-7 twist barrel.

When it comes to choosing a twist rate, I like to err on the quicker side. When it comes to twist rate, “adequate” is a word that makes me a little nervous. I prefer “certain.” I honestly can tell you that I have not seen the ill effects on target from twist rates that were slightly faster than “adequate.” I have, however, seen bullets that needed a little tighter spiral (faster spin) to group properly. Back in the day, which wasn’t really that long ago, there were different bullets appearing to bolster the longer-range potential of .223 Rem. Most decided that 1-8 was adequate to keep an 80-grain bullet flying flat. My experience with that was more nuanced: the Sierra design at that weight, yes; the JLK, maybe. Doing load work-ups on the JLK “VLD” (Very Low Drag) bullets, which are longer than the Sierra, I had a few hit sideways as I was determining the pressure ceiling. I do that by adding a tad more propellant, watching velocities and case condition to guide this little adventure to its end. Groups tightened only when I was close to what I considered a safe maximum charge. To maintain comfort in my world, I want to see stable bullet flights from at least one big step down from “max,” and let’s say that’s a full one grain of propellant.

All in, I think a 1-7 is a better choice than 1-8 for the longer-range shooter, unless that shooter wants to try some of the 90-grain bullets, then the twist rate can be 1-6.5. And, yes, there is a limit. 1-6 blows up bullets. By the way, when a bullet comes apart, it does so from the tail forward.

The point to the foregoing was, and is, not to rely on (high) velocity for bullet stability, just get a little faster barrel twist.

A twist rate that’s too fast for “some” bullet, mostly, may subvert velocity potentials, but it’s slight, in my experience. The reason is pretty simple, as just suggested: it’s more energy needed to push the bullet through extra resistance in the bore.

The original twist rate for the AR-15 was 1-12. That’s pretty slow. It’s good for 55-grain bullets. By the way, legend has it that intentionally unstabilized bullets were the goal and reason for the 1-12. You know, the “tumbling bullets.” Hmm. 1-14 will work for those also, and that’s the Benchrest twist standard for 52-grain .224s. Didn’t happen. Barrels with 1-12 twist rates launched 55-grain mil-spec bullets in balanced harmony.

Sierra 90-grain MatchKing .22 Cal .224 diameter hollowpoint bullets and box
These are big bullets, but mostly they are long bullets — Sierra 90-grain MatchKings loose and loaded in a case. As the box denotes, these need a 1-6.5 twist to stabilize. I have also shot good groups with lighter bullets (77s and 80s) from that twist barrel, but I consider the 1-6.5 twist a specialty choice. I also consider the 90-grain bullet to be a moot choice because it’s tough to get the velocity/ballistic-coefficient balance to favor it. In other words, the 90 has a higher ballistic coefficient, but the faster velocity possible with an 80-grain bullet makes them equal downrange, when fired from a 20-inch barrel. Thus, there’s no effective advantage to the longer bullet that warrants buying a new barrel with the specialty twist rate.

For a good while, 1-9 was the standard twist rate for most non-mil-spec barrels. Another more modern standard is 1-8. This is good for the 75- and 77-grain bullets that are commonly available in factory loads. The 1-9 hits the limit of its utility with a tangent-profile 70-grain-vicinity bullet, a 69-grain Sierra MatchKing for instance.

Some say the 1-7 twist that became standard for the A2 version of the AR-15/M16 is too fast. It’s overly fast. It’s not too fast. I’ve shot way on too many clean targets at reduced distance NRA High Power Rifle events with my 1-in-7s. For those I use either 52-grain (100 yards) or 62-grain (200 yards) bullets.

In Sum

For any available factory loading I know of, which covers me in case any manufacturer does something different later on, a 1-8 twist is fine and dandy. I would advise shooters buy a barrel with 1-8 twist over one with 1-9 twist or slower just in case the shooter wants to try anything up to and including something like the 75-grain Hornady A-Max.

For .308 Win., I like 1-10. That will deal well with anything up to and including a 190-grain tangent profile, which means anything from Sierra.

Share your thoughts about barrel twist with us in the comment section.

[gzediker]

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Comments (46)

  1. One of the better articles on twist rate. My experience with 1 in 12 224 55 grain is that you will get random wobblers with 55 grain. Some will produce ocassioal excellent 3 shot group where a 25 shot group will display the random wobbeling bullets. Unfortunantly the vast majority of shooters never shoot enough bullets into a target to see if the mythology they regurgitate about twist rates are truth.

  2. I know for a fact that 1/6 twist barrels do not “blow up bullets”. I have tested a couple 1/6 twist barrels for a manufacturer and this claim is flat out wrong. In fact the 10.5″ 1/6 twist barrel I tested shot better than a 10.3″ 1/7 twist barrel I had from DD. I have tested a 16″ barrel and the 10.5″ with bullet weights from 55 grain all the way up to 77 grain pills. I was actually shocked the the 55 grain bullets shot so well, in fact no different than a 1/7 or 1/8 accuracy wise, and with no signs of any bullet separation or stability issues. So your claim of “blowing up” any bullets. How many 1/6 twist barrels have you tested to back your finding?

  3. @ MrGman.

    Your right it doesn’t impart Twist Rate to the bullet. What does do is give the bullet the 20,000-gravity “Swift-Kick-In-the-Ass” Velocity to travel down the barrel…

  4. @ MrGman.

    I concede, you were and I was wrong. I apologize, my memory of Determining Bullet RPM’s was off, I forgot one of the components of the formula. MV (in fps) x (12/Twist Rate in inches) x 60 = Bullet rpm. I had to look it up in my DeskRef book. Sorry…

    1. your on the road to recovery. mass (M) is not part or this particular equation. Mass times velocity yields momentum in foot pound seconds or kilogram meter seconds not velocity in feet per second. To determine RPM or RPS all we need is Velocity in FPS X 12 / the twist rate number of the barrel, X 60 if converter to RPM. Mass never enters that specific equation.

  5. I still recall the good old days of the M16A1 in the Marines with the 1:12 twist. On the east coast you’d shoot out to 500 yards on the range to qualify and on the west coast out to 500 meters with the same rifle, same qualification spec’s. When we switched to the M16A2 in 1984/1985 with the 1:7 twist, we used the same ammo, 55grn FMJ, but everyone’s rifle scores went up. Much flatter trajectory.
    I have not yet heard if the sharper 1:7 rifling actually slows the FPS in the barrel by a few hundreds or thousands of a foot per second while the bullet is grinding against those lands before it exits the muzzle.
    Regarding the Abrams tank discussion, the very first main gun on this tank was a 105mm rifled barrel and supposedly had a maximum effective range of 3KM if I remember correctly. They later refitted the tanks with the 120mm smooth bore (at a cost of over $1M per tank) copy-catting the Russians T-72 main gun. I think that if the smooth bore is machined accurately enough, it is as accurate as a rifled barrel at least when you’re talking about projectiles that weigh several kilograms and the barrel whip is friendlier to the tank turret and barrel. And, obviously, there’s no lands to wear down that can be detrimental to accuracy. Rifling does cause a barrel to rotate, more obvious on a magnum load handgun. Interesting enough, the 106mm recoilless rifle does have a rifled barrel but I would not necessarily call it recoilless. Only because it has an open breech and the propellant pushes against the atmosphere does it have the label “recoilless”. The blast is like small bomb going off and it lights up the sky at night with a massive blinding white flash. And a 106mm recoilless rifle will make a Jeep dance when mounted to it.

    1. @ HighPerDude.

      There are three M1 ABRAMS Main Battle Tank models.
      1. M1, with M68 105mm/52-caliber rifled main gun tube.
      2. M1A1, with M256 120mm/44-caliber smoothbore main gun tube.
      3. M1A2, with M256 120mm/55-caliber smoothbore main gun tube.

  6. @ MrGman.

    I was taught that the greater the Rifling, the greater the Spin, the greater the Stabilization. Muzzle Velocity has nothing to do with Spin Rate, it applies to a given Powder Charge. A typical Smoothbore Rifle, bullet traveled between ~500-ft./sec. to ~750-ft./sec. and was about a accurate as modern pistol at “Close Ranges” ~25-yards.

    Example: The ABRAMS Main Battle Tank has a 120mm Smoothbore main gun that came in two calibers. The first was 120mm/44-caliber or 44 times the bore diameter of 120mm or 207.874-inch barrel length. With a projectile traveling at ~5,200-ft./sec. at a maximum range of 13,123.4-feet, travel time is ~2.52-sec. The 2nd was the 120mm/55-caliber or 259.843-inch long barrel with a projectile traveling at ~5,700-ft./sec. at a maximum range of 26,246.7-feet, travel time is ~4.6-sec. Now if the barrels were Rifled you could possible Triple or Quadruple the ranges.

    1. Secondius whatever you learned about projectiles out of tank barrels is not correct for rifles. What you just said is comparing apples to peanut butter. The greater rate of twist for a rifled barrel the higher the rate of spin. A smaller second number is a faster twist rate that yields much higher spin rates in RPS or RPM. 1:7 is a much faster twist rate than 1:9 every day of the week. A rate of twist is a “RATE” that most certainly is dependent on velocity if you are going to talk about revolutions per second or minute. Because if you don’t first have a bullet moving forward at a certain feet per second then spinning it means nothing. Since in rifles, the twist in the barrel is imparting that spin to the bullet then velocity is the first half of the equation. The primary factor for wanting to spin a bullet fast or slow is the ratio of length to diameter of the bullet because the longer the bullet is, the more it would want to wobble if not spun fast enough to stabilize it. Which is what these article was really all about. The secondary factor but still important is the velocity of that bullet coming out of the barrel because based on the “Rate” of twist and the math, that sets the actual spin in RPS or RPM. If you don’t understand or believe that, you are simply lost to this discussion and even a Howitzer will not help you.

    2. @ MrGman.

      You forgetting on thing sir, the cartridge casing itself is a “barrel”. The bullet is seated into the cartridge/barrel breach. So essentially it’s a barrel within a barrel.

    3. Totally meaningless dribble. What does this apply to that is of any value? The cartridge case doesn’t affect spin rate of a bullet. Again why do you add meaningless comments that add nothing to the original topic discussion. Just for the record, not expecting an answer. Not a useful one at the very least.

  7. Any comments on a longer 26 inch blot action using a 65 grain billet and a slower burning power to be accurate in a 1 in 10 twist? Different altogether I know, but what about your respected info? Many thanks, Larry

  8. Seems to me certain people have the math all wrong for the twist rate and what RPM that yields. So lets see if my math is correct. If not please show me what I did wrong. Using 3000 feet per second as my example standard reference for a 223 55 grain bullet out of a shorter than 20 inch barrel. 3000 feet per second must be converted to inches per second, so 3000fps X 12 inches becomes 36000 inches per second as the standard example velocity. Next to figure out the revolutions per second (not minute) we divide by the number of inches in the barrel twist. A 1:9 twist rate means of course that the barrel will turn the bullet 1 full revolution in 9 inches. so 36000 div. 9 is a nice even 4000 rps (not m) multiply that by 60 seconds to get RPM and we have a nice round 240000 RPM. A ridiculously fast number for something that may be in the air for up to roughly 1 second. I normally just compare RPS to RPS. So if the twist rate changes to 1:8 inches for the same bullet speed of this example. 36000 div by 8 becomes 4500 RPS. A higher number not lower because its doing one full revolution in a shorter not longer distance. 4500 RPS X 60 seconds becomes a ridiculous 270000 RPM. These are the comparative bullet rotating speeds at the muzzle for this given initial velocity. Using the same math for the same 3000FPS bullet that gives us respectively 5142.86 RPS and 308571.4 RPM. Very fast numbers. This will stabilize a much longer skinny 223 bullet much better. Again for the sake of example I kept the bullet velocity a constant so you could check the match. A faster twist rate has a smaller number of inches at the end of it not higher. 1:7 is much faster twist rate than 1:9 as far as I can see. Is this wrong???

  9. I currently have 4 ARs. 2 16″ Barrels with 1/9 twist rates, non free floated, carbine length gas systems, and collapsible stocks (short and lightest weight buffer systems. 1 wth 18 inch bull barrel, 1/9 twist mid length gas sytem and fixed stock with heavier buffer system. 16 inch barrel with mid length gas system but 1/8 twist rate and fixed stock with heaver buffer. It had a collapsible stock and lighter buffer system and did not group as well then with the fixed stock and heaver buffer. Also working with 3 different friends who reload and have several AR’s of 1/9, 1/8, 1/7 twist rates, 16, 18 and 20 inch barrels. Spent a boatload of money on various types of ammo in various grain weights and bullet types since I myself do not reload. I can say from our test experience 16 inch barrels with 1/9 and 1/8 twist rates are simply not impressive. Yes with a certain middle of the road bullet weights we can get some good groups at 100 yards with very expensive Hornady bullets/factory ammo or Black Hills ammo using Hornady bullets we can get more consistent groups. It would appear to me, (your mileage may vary) that we can get much more impressive performance and hit targets at 360 and 465 yards at a range we use with 18/20 inch barrels with 1/8 or 1/7 twist and takes better advantage of 69 through 77 grain bullets. Even at 100 yards these longer barrels and faster twist rates do better with a wider variety of the ammo we have tried. Since we have access to a range with various size steel plates set up at 360 yards and 465 yards, the goal is to consistently hit those plates that range in 16 inches down to 8 inches. Not doing it consistently at all with 16 inch barrels of any twist rate. Our best luck is with 18 inch or loner barrels 1/8 or 1/7 twist rates using the fixed stock with the heaver buffer and longer springs. Can’t say its just one shooter or one rifle or one brand of ammo as we have shot 9 different AR’s and a couple thousand rounds of different ammo types, some high quality reloads using Sierra Match King 77 grain bullets. From what I have learned I wish I had only bought 1 carbine with a 16 inch barrel and nothing with a 1/9 twist for myself. I don’t really want anything with less than 18 inches at 1/7 for that or 20 inches with 1/7 or 1/8 twist rates, mid length or rifle length gas system on the longer barrel and fixed stock with the heavier buffer.

  10. I, too have worked up loads just as you do. Comfort is a big word, and in working with the .223 Remington, the most comfortable gun was a Ruger #3 carbine. I am looking for another bolt action gun to play with my loads. My eye was on two: the Savage w/accutrigger & accustock.A 1 in 9″ twist. then Thompson Center caught my eye with guaranteed accuracy. But all calibres share a 1 in 12: twist. Time will tell. Thanks for your info, Larry

  11. Everyone saw their rifle scores go up when the USMC changed over to the A2 with the 1:7 barrels back in 1984. Still used the 55 grain FMJ bullets, rounds that we had been using on the A1. The only thing shooting the 62 grain at that time was the belt fed SAW (M249) that also had a 1:7 barrel.
    Our M40A1 sniper rifles had 1:12 barrels with a Lake City Match 173 grain bullet, round out to 1,000 yards/meters and this worked just fine.

    The 1:7 rifles and machineguns shot a remarkably flatter trajectory and that bullet was singing a different tune (louder crack) when it went over your head while pulling targets in the butts with the 55 grn rounds.

    Heavier is always better as is a faster rifling but you can pick and choose depending on your needs. 300 meters is point blank range with the M40A1, we never fired closer than 300 meters, period. We fired iron sights on the M16A1 and A2 to 500 meters with the standard 55 grain rounds.
    Most readers are too ignorant as to what long range shooting is really like and will probably never shoot at anything past 100 yards.
    The USMC introduced the SASR in 1983 that fired the .50 BMG out to an effective range of 1,600 yards and I can tell you that 1,000 yards was point blank range with that rifle. Very straight shooter that the wind didn’t move around very much. We fired the Norwegian Raufoss ammo that was somewhere between 600-700 grains. Forgot the weight since it’s been a long time.
    Rock on long range shooters.

  12. to “Secundius” –

    I’ve never seen such a bunch of BS delivered in such a sociopathically deliberate fashion. How long have you been off of your psychotropic meds?

    1. @OldNorthState.

      Believe what you want sir. In theory you can make .357Magnum revolver with a 3-1/2-inch barrel with a 1-20 twist barrel, Why Would You. The greater the twist, the faster the spin. It’s simple physics. LOOK IT UP!

  13. @Secondius – the way you ‘write information’ is at least misleading and/or incorrect. Example, you say: “The bullet was specifically design to be fired from a 1-7 twist rifle barrel. If you tried too fire the bullet from a, say 1-9 twist barrel or higher. The torque applied to the bullet will snap-it in half….”

    The GREATER ‘torque’ at any given velocity is applied by the “faster twist” – 1-7 is FASTER than 1-9! Bullet design, primarily, has the most impact on how ‘fast’ it can be run. I have seen an incorrectly constructed bullet out of a 220 Swift @ 4,000 fps turn to dust before ever going 15 yards!

    1. @ Firewagon.

      It’s like buy tire and wheels for your car, you can go either one size lower or one size higher without damaging the structural integrity of you car. You might get away with firing out of 1-8 twist barrel, but probably not out of a 1-9 twist barrel. In testing ammo loads, manufacturers usually put a 125% loading charge in the cartridge to test the performance characteristics and integrity of the bullet. The same can be done by using a standard load charge and using different barrel size twists.

    2. 4000fps from 1:7 twist barrel is 48000 inches per second. Divided by 7 for the number of inches it goes for each revolution that’s 6857 RPS and X 60 for RPM is 411428. That bullet will most likely tear itself apart.

      4000FPS from a 1:9 twist barrel is still 48000 inches per second. Divided by 9 instead of 7, for the slower twist rate yields 5333 RPS x60 seconds to give RPM is 320000. I don’t know how you got the second number right but the first number of your own example so far off base. Using your own example one number is correct but the other cannot possibly almost half of that as the math above shows. With all due respect your math and logic based on your math is flawed.

  14. If these comments truly are moderated, please explain how secundius can pollute and frankly destroy pretty much every thread with his delusional nonsense. This guy is either mentally ill or mentally handicapped. His misinformation pretty much cancels out the good work Glen has done trying to educate readers. If you want intelligent discussion in the comments you are hoinv to have to muzzle the morons and bs artists a bit.

    1. Cheaper Than Dirt! allows comments for the free exchange of information between readers. While we do moderate certain comments, our preference is to allow the readers to decide and debate in a free and open exchange. Thanks for reading T! ~Dave Dolbee

  15. For those of you that do your own “bullet/cartridge” reloads. The small “ribbed” band that encircles the bullet, are called “rifling bands” and have absolutely nothing to do on how well the bullet “grips” the cartridge. When the bullet travels down the barrel, the rifling band grips the rifling grooves in the barrel causing the bullet to spin. Without these bands, you essentially firing a “smooth-bore” projectile thought a piece of “cored” bar stock tubing. And if you looking really closely at the rifling bands, you’ll notice that they are either “left-hand or right-handed”. This will determine the “clockwise or counter-clockwise” spin on the bullet.

    Bullets can actually “disintegrate” coming out of a barrel, if you “over-spin” a bullet (example a 1-7 twist bullet going through a 1-20 twist barrel). A 5.56Nato round traveling at ~3,000-ft./sec. going through 1-7 twist rated barrel, will spin a bullet to ~313,500rpm’s. Something to keep in mind.

    1. Artillery projectiles have bands on them to engage the rifling in the tube, but they are not ribbed, nor directional. They have these mostly because the body of an artillery projectile is typically steel, and the bands, being brass, are softer and don’t wear out the barrels like direct contact with a steel projectile body would.

      Rifle cartridges don’t have rifling bands. Some have cannelures for seating depth, but many are just smooth sided. They don’t need rifling bands because the body of the projectile is typically copper, or even if steel, it’s coated with soft copper to protect the barrels.

    2. @ Ed Pritchard.

      I was aware of the use of ‘copper” banding, because there was a issue that “brass” world damage the inside barrel lining.

    3. Geezer,

      No offense to the fellow, but I think he’s a real “case”. See my comment to him on page two of the “comments” section, here. (I’d finally grown weary of his mess.)

  16. @ GRA:
    No offense meant in the following: I’m fully aware of gain-twist rifling and how it works. My question was asked, ‘Tongue-in-cheek’, in that I wanted Gene to explain the distance traveled by the bullet in a gain-twist barrel to achieve one full rotation since the rate of rotation of the rifling is not at a set rate, and in fact, continually (as it gains twist) the distance is shortening as it travels down the barrel. A set rate is somewhat easy to understand RE: distance / one complete revolution of bullet.
    The question was directed at Gene and I would appreciate it if he were to answer it. That is, unless the “G” in “GRA” is for “Gene”, and in that case, I would still expect an answer.
    WILL.

  17. FYI: Pete in Alaska and I collaborated on a 8x57IS/IRS round for other rifle calibers. And from the first, were baffled by the dismal performance characteristics of is round. The IS/IRS round is “Hour-Glass” shaped Spitzer-Pointed bullet. Which has a “moderate” velocity at it relatively short 300-meters or less range, with devastating impact power upon hitting its target. Whereupon after hitting the target, the bullet snaps in half (like Grape-Shot) go off in two different directions causing massive injuries to the animal. So even if you just wound the animal it die’s fast. The bullet was specifically design to be fired from a 1-7 twist rifle barrel. If you tried too fire the bullet from a, say 1-9 twist barrel or higher. The torque applied to the bullet will snap-it in half and now you have two projectiles coming out of the barrel instead of just one. Doing “God’s know’s what”, when leaving the barrel. Being a potential danger to anything or anyone in the “trajectories flight-path” of the now two-bullets.

    1. You have it backwards. There is more torque applied to a bullet going through a 1-7 twist barrel than a 1-9 twist.

  18. I don’t suppose that this would be a good time to ask how these LANs and groves for each of these twist were of are cut, would it? FYI, I like those that are button cut best. I’d bet that this might not be a good time for throwing in The effects from Cryogenic Tempering as it effects bullets in relation to rifling and accucery.
    Great read, solid info! Thanks Glen Z!

  19. For myself, I wouldn’t be so brash as to inquire about the performance of an 18″ three groove poly with a 1:8 rate over the gamut of loads.

    1. Gain Twist Rifling; Basically it is rifling that is cut with a slower twist at the breech and increases in speed toward the muzzle. I dont know if it is used very much nowadays but it was well-known during the muzzleloading years. I think there used to be a company that offered gain-twist rifled muzzleloader barrels. You could run a search and see what turns up if you need more informaiton.

  20. I shoot a two year old DPMS Oracle (1:9) and a new Delton Bandit (1:7). Both are capable of severtal touching pairs within 1moa at 100 yards.

    Rotations per unit travel modified by the diameter to length ratio of the bullet ranging from a short 36 grain buttet to a 77 grain Sierra would like reveal a graphic “band” that better deciphers what is happening.

    I can tell you that shooting Tulammo poly coat 55 FMJs out of an Oracle into a 3″ pattern at 200 yards is very rewarding with no wind or wind aligned with the target line. The 1:7 however is necessary to maintain the actual spin rate of the heavier longer 75 grain Hornady rounds so that windage is not as much of an issue.

    Of course this is not so critical out to 150 yards. But the target is 1/2 the size at 300 and 1/3 the size at 450. Meanwhile the advantage of the flatter initial trajectory of the 55 gives way to the 75 grain load which carries accuracy and killig power better beyond 300.

    For my purposes now, the Oracle is amazing; meanwhile the Delton is the far better all around choice for everything above 150 – 200 yards both for targets (less windage effects) and combatants for greater long range lethality.

  21. Excellent article. Had I read it last year I’d have skipped the 1:8 for my 18″ mid gas build and stuck with the 1:7. I may build a 20″ upper with 1:7. That would be more suitable for my MaTech rear sight anyway, utilizing the sights designed elevation parameters for 16″-20″ bbl BZOs. Thanks for providing a thorough, first hand examination.

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