Accuracy, A Game Of Strategy
By Jerry Stordah
©Copyright Precision Shooting Magazine
Expectations vary. Few shooters expect a factory rifle to shoot with a custom built gun, but some rifles can come close. It all depends on how accuracy is defined and how the “accuracy game” is being played. Oftentimes, the checkbook says, “Close is good enough.”
This Winchester Model 70 in Heavy Varmint configuration is equipped with a McMillan A5 stock as part of its accuracy strategy.
Once a factory rifle is selected, we eventually discover whether or not it shoots under the magic inch at 100 yards. This criterion for group size is often used to judge normal weight hunting rifle accuracy. If our rifle can do this, we have thrown the dice and moved ahead one square. But not every rifle owner limits his hunting to big game only. Some of us try to hit tiny varmints at the limits of our vision. If the equipment and ammunition produces .5 inch groups or better, riflemen are ahead two spaces in the accuracy game.
Accuracy is for sale. That means instead of throwing dice on the table, we need to toss dollars. When it comes to accurate rifles, gambling is something to avoid. That means we don’t leave “extras” to chance, but instead, we thoughtfully adopt a strategy that will enhance the performance of the chosen rifle.
Not every shooter believes that quality is worth paying extra cash to acquire, and the factories have specific lower tier products for the less discriminating shooter. That is an advantage for all of us, because even though some may only fire three rounds a year (two at a target to ascertain bullet strike and one at a deer) the capability of entering the accuracy game is always there. Many seasoned shooters buy the inexpensive version of a rifle and sell the stock and use the barrel for a garden stake. They pursue the accuracy game, using only the factory action and trigger, and sometimes these are reworked with polishing and blueprinting.
This Colt HBar Elite is a contender in the accuracy game for those who enjoy semiautomatic rifles.
These types already have a game strategy, and it involves a bunch of cash, a skilled machinist/gunsmith and a lot of bullets downrange to sort out the rifle’s preferred load. They do this because they want to know their rifle and all of its particular quirks. Discriminating shooters above all...know their rifles, and that is perhaps the single most important accuracy enhancement strategy. To gain this experience, these riflemen shoot their guns...a lot, and they learn from their rifles and the weather conditions.
Though we really can not expect a factory rifle to offer extreme performance, there are a few sleepers amongst the factory over-the-counter rifles...most notably the Winchester, CZ, Remington, Savage and Tikka heavy-barreled offerings classified as varmint rifles. A rifleman has the best chance of finding a “shooter” amongst these factory offerings because the barrel will be of heavy contour, thereby offering less vibration. Also, the stocks usually have wider fore-ends, giving greater stability for the shot. The greater mass of the barrel and stock make a heavy rifle, but the weight enhances that perfect steadiness and alignment of crosshairs from bipod or field rest. Again, expectations vary, but a factory varmint rifle will shoot very well.
Factory rifles are not bench rest rifles. They lack the attention to detail found in rifles coming from precision-oriented gunsmiths. The factory receivers may not be perfectly true. The barrels may exhibit some roughness that will contribute to copper fouling, and the often seen aluminum bedding block may not be a true fit to the receiver. But, the factory rifles will not set you back an excessive amount of cash, and they will get a rifle aficionado into the shooting game.
One of the general sayings we often hear is, “You get what you pay for.” In optics, mounts, and rifles it is a reality. An inexpensive rifle will have a cheap barrel that might satisfy someone’s accuracy requirements, but in the accuracy game the strategy is about making wise choices that advance our rifle’s potential. It is not prudent to purchase the most inexpensive offering available, unless it meets certain quality standards. Nor is it smart to pay an excessive price for an object...unless it fulfills the needs, wants or requirements of the individual or group. Even then, it is sensible to compare the material and build quality to the price, in order to readily evaluate whether or not the purchasing strategy is sound.
For those who want to bypass the factory rifle, the alternative is purchasing a custom action from Borden, Surgeon, Stiller, or one of the custom builders found in the pages of Precision Shooting magazine. Starting from the custom action and building from there has its advantages, mainly in the perfect machining and fit of the overall package. It is a quicker way to achieve perfection in accuracy, and those with the prerequisite cash can use this strategy very effectively.
AR-15 accuracy can be enhanced with a free floating fore-end tub and a quality barrel.
Quality requires greenbacks, and accuracy can be bought. But not everybody buys it all at once, thus the lower cost step of the factory rifle. We play the shooting game with what we have and toss the dollars on the table, then move another space forward. This way we stay in the game, and that is how I’ve played it over the years. The strategy works, and I don’t know anybody involved in shooting who hasn’t owned a factory rifle at some point. I like to think I took a short cut, because several years ago, I reentered the game with a new Winchester Model 70 Stealth, chambered in .223 Remington. The name “Stealth” is just a marketing term, because it is nothing more than an all black “Heavy Varmint” Model 70 with a thick 26 inch barrel. At the time, these rifles were difficult to locate, but I finally acquired one. And it shot lights out. I moved ahead a quick two spaces with this rifle as I began to develop a strategy for enhancement.
Of course, most rifles become recipients of optics, so I mounted an old Leupold 10x varmint scope, dating back to the mid-1970s. I knew it would be replaced with a newer model at a later date, so I concentrated on applying my cash to acquiring some of the best mounts that money could buy at that time, manufactured by Badger Ordnance. The steel rail offers a 20 minute of angle forward cant, to gain extra elevation adjustment range in the scope, and the perfectly matched rings offer a quality machined fit. All the parts are black phosphate-coated, and Badger Ordnance quality is well known to military and competition shooters around the globe. Though some may prefer a less expensive option, the Badgers are always an excellent choice.
The old Leupold isn’t a bad optic for its approximate 1977 time period, but I eventually installed a Leupold 4.5-14x with 40 mm objective that came with target turrets. The old 10x Leupold went back into the Styrofoam cradle to wait for its next rifle, and that one came in the form of an Anschütz .22 rimfire. The 10x liked that job, but since it had no target turrets, it soon crept back into its Styrofoam cradle in shame. Too much was demanded of its crew cut style friction adjustments.
The Stealth was black as midnight, and I adjusted the trigger to break at 2.8-3 pounds. Top of the line mounts were present, a good mid-range Leupold was installed, and the rifle loved Sierra 69 grain MatchKings. Life was good. The rifle shot tiny groups and it held .5 minute of angle to the 300 yard targets. Any shot beyond that range was a no-go for me, as the terrain simply wouldn’t allow it, due to planted crops, grass and trees. I’d moved at least six spaces forward in the game, I figured.
But then, I installed a McMillan A5 fiberglass stock on another rifle, a .308 Winchester chambered Model 70, and the Stealth just never felt the same again. I tried to be happy with the black fiberglass of the .223 rifle, but to no avail. The game strategy was assaulting my senses on a daily basis, and finally I gave in and ordered another McMillan. As I waited through the several weeks that it takes to receive one of these stocks, these words reverberated through my subconscious... quality requires greenbacks.
Accuracy requires a solid mounting system for the rifle's scope. Shown is a Larue Tactical SPR 1.5 attached to an AR-15 rifle. This mount allows positioning of the scope to achieve proper eye relief.
Having had prior experience with Williams Firearms Company one piece steel bottom metal, I had specified that the A5 be inletted for it. Technically, the bottom metal probably does not count as an accuracy enhancement, but the elimination of the middle screw on the Model 70 action’s bottom metal does offer a way to prevent any binding from any extra tension of the middle screw. I’ve always been careful about tightening that middle trigger guard screw to only minimum torque on Winchester 70s using the factory two piece floorplate/trigger guard combination. Using the new bottom metal was more of a desire for a quality, finely machined component to address the entire rifle package. Quality requires greenbacks, whether it is for accuracy or function.
When the stock finally arrived, I’d already been shooting the other A5-equipped Winchester 70, a Sharpshooter chambered in .308 Winchester, so there was no transition time needed to get used to it. Once the barreled action was bolted into place, it was right back to drilling those dime-sized groups, and later, the rifle was pillar bedded in Marine-Tex for a perfect mating of fiberglass and steel. The McMillan A5’s color pattern is “Campfire Camo,” a mix of olive green, woodland beige, tan and black. The texture on the grip and fore-end is molded in, and the stock provides for solid, easy handling of the rifle. Accuracy requires stability and consistency, and the McMillan provides it.
And that is one attribute the Model 70 action can also provide with its massive recoil lug and the wide flat behind it. When this is mated to cured Marine-Tex, the action is as rock solid as it can be, and the vibration of firing a cartridge will be consistent from the first to the last. The accuracy game is about eliminating variables that can cause a change in the behavior of the rifle. Move ahead a few more spaces in the accuracy game, but watch out for that ammunition snafu ahead. A precision rifle requires accurate ammunition, and this is easily achieved with handloading equipment. Those who pay little attention to ammunition will fall a few steps back in the accuracy game.
Accurate ammunition does not require match bullets, but it sure helps! Match grade bullets such as the various Sierra MatchKings will provide excellent shooting results with the least amount of trial and error. Those who want a game bullet, or in the case of the .223 Remington cartridge, a varmint bullet, can find a wide variety of weights and manufacturers. I have had great results with Sierra GameKing 55 grain Spitzers and Hornady V-MAX bullets. For a tougher bullet that will penetrate deeper and retain weight better, the Nosler 60 grain Partition is an excellent choice.
The key is to find a bullet/powder combination that consistently shoots like a laser, because only hits count. I always choose accuracy over velocity, and for this A5- equipped Winchester 70 in .223 Remington, I stick with 24.5 grains of Varget powder. A Sierra 69 grain MatchKing bullet is used in CCI BR-4 primed Winchester or Lapua brass. This load clocks 2910 to 2915 ft/sec. from the 26 inch barrel, and the powder charge was intentionally reduced to achieve tighter groups. This enhanced factory rifle has shot five rounds into the .3s on good days and .5 inch comes fairly easily. Certainly it is accurate enough for ground squirrels and gophers or the occasional marauding fox.
Another Sierra bullet that has shown exceptional accuracy in this Winchester is the 53 grain Sierra MatchKing. Seated over 26.5 grains of Varget, it runs 3271 ft/sec., and it really gives the 69 grain Sierra a run for its money...and there are others. As with any rifle/bullet combination, the wind will be a great factor, as will the shooter.
Accurate ammunition is required to move ahead in the accuracy game. These .223 Remington cartridges consist of Sierra MatchKings, Varget powder, Lapua brass and CCI primers
But not every shooter relies on bolt action rifles to pursue the accuracy game. Today’s riflemen have embraced the AR-15 style of fire-arm by the thousands. This is due in part to the vast availability of accessories and parts and the current widespread uneasiness concerning national and world events.
Today’s gun owner uses the AR-15 rifle for several purposes...including self defense, hunting and competition. In each category of use, accuracy is desirable, though for most purposes the pinpoint accuracy provided by a heavy-barreled varmint rig is not necessary to get the job done. But many still pursue pure accuracy with the AR-15, even though the accuracy enhancing components will be just a bit different. For example, there will be no pillar bedding in Marine-Tex on the AR-15. Instead, a free floating fore-end tube will be installed. Barrels and triggers are the other areas to look at for improvement, and these apply to bolt guns, also.
One of my personal AR-15s is a Colt Model 6724, also named the HBar Elite. This rifle carries a 4.5-14 Leupold with a 30mm tube, bolted into a Larue mount. The stainless steel barrel at 24 inches in length is moderately heavy, measuring .750 inches at the muzzle. With a 1/9 twist, the barrel is intended for bullets of 70 grains and under, and though it shoots a variety of bullets well under an inch, the “laser” is the 60 grain Hornady V-MAX over 26 grains of Winchester 748 or Varget. Either choice does well, clocking 3050-3065 ft/sec. and punching five into .5 with casual assurance.
In the past, I discovered that Varget offered exceptional accuracy, and Reloder 15 gave equal velocities with a touch better accuracy in both the Winchester 70 and the Colt HBar. Then I ran out of the Reloder 15 and purchased a new bottle, and that’s when the Winchester told me something was awry. The new powder was launching the bullets at greater speed with the same charge, and this behavior opened the groups. The powder charge needed to be cut back, and it is the small things like this that can change the accuracy game in a flash. It is one reason accuracy game players purchase large lots of the same powder. Variables must be eliminated to play a satisfactory game.
After completing the rifle to the owner’s accuracy satisfaction and finding the perfect bullet and powder combination, the accuracy game player nears the finish line. Whether the player wins or not is determined in field or range shooting, thus the previously written statement that discriminating shooters must know their rifles. It is quite important. Not only must they know their rifles and the cartridge used, but they must also be able to judge the wind. This knowledge prompts correct handling, sight alignment and elevation adjustment. Repeated effort causes it to become a built-in function...like breathing. Shoot the rifle. Fire it often, and you will win the accuracy game. Though it’s a game played with greenbacks and a wide range of choices, the accuracy game can be won at any level.
A winning strategy for accuracy involves handloading excellent ammunition using quality components.
But if there is just one caveat in the accuracy game...just one overall point that absolutely must be considered it would be the following. Accurate ammunition is required for cutting edge accuracy. A perfect rifle can not shoot great groups with substandard ammunition. Even though today’s factory ammunition is very accurate, the only way to control variables and match the perfect load to the rifle is to handload. That means an investment in time, tools and components. It means spending quality time with the rifle...shooting it. Excellent ammunition offers as few variables as possible, and it moves you several spaces forward in the accuracy game. By playing the game, shooters discover variables they may have taken for granted in the past.
Discriminating shooters, above all, know their rifles and their ammunition, and they make every effort to achieve stability and consistency. Shoot five rounds into that dime-sized group on the target board...you have won the game!
Disclaimer: Neither this publication nor the writer makes any representation as to the safety of loads quoted in this article in the firearms of others. The loads quoted were safe in the author’s firearms on the day of testing, period. Reduce these loads a minimum of ten percent to start your testing and then gradually increase, observing pressure signs as you go.
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