One of my recent columns...

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Ian M, Jul 6, 2006.

  1. Ian M

    Ian M Well-Known Member

    May 3, 2001
    This came out a while back in a Canadian magazine - thought you guys might enjoy a read.

    Rifle accuracy is an interesting topic since we all have different opinions on what it is. I know people who fire three shots at a paper target at one hundred yards and if two hit anywhere on the paper they consider the rifle ready to go. I also know individuals who expect every bullet to be touching or overlapping in their one hundred yard groups.

    First, we should define accuracy. I am talking real world accuracy in terms that hunters can relate to. Seems in recent years the magic minute of angle that used to be the standard has shrunk to “a half inch at one hundred yards”. Matter of fact I hear a lot of three-eights and quarter-inch groups being casually mentioned in the gun shops. When I look at gun-test articles at the local magazine vendor I am literally in awe of the accuracy claimed by some writers. Five-shot groups averaging 0.12345” are not uncommon these days!

    I shoot a lot. Probably more than most guys I know, including a lot of writers. For some reason I have a tough time averaging one-inch groups with most rifles I test. Matter of fact many groups I shoot average closer to two inches. That happens in perfect weather, with a four-hundred dollar rifle rest system, from a concrete shooting bench with a good scope in good mounts. Maybe it’s the Regina water, but I can’t shoot consistent “half-inch” groups for the life of me.

    So what kind of accuracy do I get? Most factory rifles, right out of the box, shoot around two to three inches with factory ammo. Some will not come close to that mark despite trying several makes of ammo. Find ammo the rifle likes and this can shrink down to the inch mark if you are lucky. I am talking sporter-weight bolt rifles primarily since I rarely shoot pumps, lever-actions or semi-autos.

    Heavy varmint rifles will shoot better but rarely to their potential. Most rifles today suffer from triggers that prevent good shooting. I also doubt that more than seven seconds is spent on the bedding, despite the fact that bedding is so crucial to accuracy. Winchester, Remington, Savage, Sako, Tikka and Weatherby heavy barrels can be incredibly accurate, reliable performers if you happen to get lucky. Seems that Sako and Tikka require less luck than the U.S. brands with the exception of Weatherbys, particularly Vanguards.

    What do I mean by getting lucky? Some rifles are tack-drivers right out of the box. I believe that the odds are strongly against this happening with most brands. One exception is the Weatherby Vanguard MOA model. They are amazingly accurate, but then a real live human being has shot each one to ensure standards are met!

    So what is good accuracy today? Here are some numbers – they are only numbers but they work for me. I am talking one hundred yard five shot groups with rifles as described. Quality scopes properly mounted are a given. Factory or handloads as indicated. This is an average of four five-shot groups.

    Lightweight bolt action hunting rifles should shoot inside three inches out of the box with factory ammo. Find the right ammo and this will shrink to two inches or less. Reload for this rifle and you might approach the one to one and one-half inch mark. Glass-bed and have the trigger pull improved to a crisp three or four pounds and you should get into the one inch mark for five shots and the rifle should stay there.

    Heavy varminters should shoot into two inches out of the box, hopefully better. Find the right ammo and this can go below an inch. Reloading will probably ensure sub one-inch groups. Bed and do a trigger job and the rifle should shoot handloads from one-half to one inch consistently. Some rifles will create groups that are significantly better than one-half inch, but try to do that four or five times in succession.

    How does this compare with custom-built rifles? My GA Precision rifles shoot inside one half inch with factory loaded Black Hills Match ammo all day long IF I am up to the challenge. They will beat that accuracy if I do a bunch of tedious handloading chores – with one-quarter to one half-inch groups not un-common. Fact is, so are one and one half inch groups if I shank one because of lack of concentration on the basics of marksmanship.

    I have some semi-custom rifles that are significantly more accurate than factory models. The Cooper Phoenix is just plain amazing. Point that sucker right and the bullets pile-up on one another. My H-S Precision rifle also makes their one-half inch accuracy guarantee easily. Although the rifle is a varminter I carry it on deer hunts with ease.

    I have shot several Dakota rifles recently that were also solid sub-half minute shooters. Dakota does things right with Lilja barrels and incredibly precise actions and bedding.

    Now let’s go back to factory rifles. The best shooting factory rifles that I have encountered recently have been the Vanguard MOA models, in calibers right up to .300 Weatherby. At a recent Weatherby writer seminar I managed to put three factory one-eighty grain rounds into exactly one inch with an out of the box Vanguard. This was at two hundred yards! What makes the MOA so accurate – one remarkably simple fact. They are hand-selected during the final accuracy assessment. Put the really hot shooters aside and market them as such – that is a clever idea isn’t it!

    Another rifle that continually amazes me is the Thompson Center Encore. I have shot Encores shoulder to shoulder with some very expensive custom-built rifles on prairie dog shoots. And held my own. Matter of fact my Encores kicked-butt on one occasion against someone shooting a rifle valued at over eight thousand bucks! I understand that the Encore is about to get even better.

    Rifle accuracy ranges from “minute of eyeball” to “minute of deer”, depending on the individual’s standards. Bottom line for me is that most factory rifles can be significantly improved by having the lawyer-proof triggers corrected. Add a skim-bedding job that will hold the barreled-action consistently into the stock and accuracy will usually improve significantly.

    There is one other secret to accuracy that just plain works. Get out there and pull the trigger. Learn from your misses so that you can prevent bad shots. Stay with the basics of breathing, trigger control, natural point of aim and effective rests. Learn to shoot in wind. Matter of fact we should practice in lousy weather and shoot from improvised field positions as much as possible. I have never heard of a deer being shot from a bench-rest. I do keep hearing about half-inch groups with out of the box rifles and factory ammo. Sure wish I could do that…
  2. Len Backus

    Len Backus Administrator Staff Member

    May 2, 2001
    Ian, this is one of the most helpful and significant articles I have ever read!

  3. redbone

    redbone Well-Known Member

    Jul 3, 2005
    Thank you of the INFO

    Can we get another Story
  4. Ian M

    Ian M Well-Known Member

    May 3, 2001
    This is just for you.

    Far across the huge valley a tiny vertical white object looked out of place in the green vegetation. Although our target frame was over fifteen feet tall and four feet wide at seven hundred yards it was small – very small. Invisible to the naked eye are two six-inch round ShootNSee targets positioned at the top of the target paper. These are our aiming points for an interesting exercise as we determine our long-range bullet drops.

    Essentially we start at 100 yards and maintain the same point of aim each time we move farther out. We fire groups at 100, 200, 300, 350, 375, 400, 425, 450, 475, 500, 525, 550, 575, 600, 625, 650, 675 and 700 yards. By always aiming at the original aiming point gravity pulls the bullets down the large cardboard sheets that are stapled to the front of the target frame. This is a time-consuming process since we have to relocate our firing position seventeen times. I believe that it gives us the best drop info for our long range hunting.

    The stand is built of eight foot two-by-four boards. My partner designed it to be somewhat portable. The entire frame collapses so we can transport it in our trucks. When we take the big frame out to our long-range shooting spot we drag it with ropes like a toboggan. We use an electric screw-driver and long wood-screws to assemble the frame, then staple large sheets of heavy cardboard for a facing.

    Since the target frame is so tall we must brace it against the constant prairie winds. We pound steel pegs into the ground and use nylon straps to keep the frame from blowing over. We also place large boulders on the base-boards to hold the frame in place. Although we have shot in some ugly winds the big frame has never toppled – so far.

    We start our shooting at one hundred yards shooting prone with the rifle supported by a Harris bipod and a beenie bag at the butt. We usually fire three-shot groups. Sometimes we will go with five-shot groups but we find that three good shots will do the job.

    We have three other styles of long range targets. First is the large steel hanging plate. We suspend a four foot by two foot sheet of 3/8ths or 1/2 inch steel plate from chains attached to an old swing-set. We spray-paint the plate white and only shoot at it at 600 yards or longer. The large size ensures that we will hit somewhere on the plate. We make corrections from the first hits to move the point of impact to the point of aim. Bullet splats can be seen out to 1000 yards easily and hits can be heard as a “gonnng” from that distance.

    Our second steel target is smaller and designed to fall over when hit. We simply weld an inverted “T” base onto 12 to 15 inch squares of 1/2 inch steel plate. We use two 12 inch pieced of t-bar to make the base. The target is then sprayed white and setup at whatever distance we wish to practice. We recently dropped the size of this target down to six by six inches for more challenge. These targets fall backward when hit and the bullet makes a good ringing sound.

    Our third target is a commercial design from LV Steel Targets in Las Vegas, Nevada. These targets swing backwards when hit, then return to the vertical position. There is also an excellent sound when they are hit. We use the LV’s from 350 yards out. They are so hard that the bullet merely blows the paint away forming a nice visible splat. I have two sizes of LV targets, the smaller target is very challenging at 700 yards. We use the larger target at long distance and also to help catch hits at closer range in high winds. Check out to see all the sizes and shapes available. These targets are very well made and reasonably priced. They are adjustable for various impact energies.

    We have one other target that provides a lot of great practice – rocks. Providing you have a safe area to shoot rocks are excellent long-range targets. They are usually at unknown and uneven distances that emulate hunting situations. The optimum shooting location does not have much vegetation so your bullets throw up dust. We ensure that there are no buildings, roads or livestock within a five mile radius when shooting across open valleys. Some of our locations are hilly so the bullets simply smack into the dirt. Ricochets are not an issue when the range is extreme where we shoot. This may be because the bullets are coming down in an extreme angle and their velocity and energy is diminished.

    Regardless of target, the serious long range shooter has to get out and shoot. Practice is essential to develop and maintain wind reading skills and the degree of marksmanship required. We utilize the shooter/spotter technique so the shooter can concentrate on his marksmanship. The spotter is responsible for elevation and windage calls and he records all the shooting data.

    Virtually all of our long-range practice is shot from prone. We use Harris bipods up front and beenie-bags from Triad Tactical for the butt. After a lot of shooting our prone accuracy approaches the groups we obtain from the bench. The spotter lays or sits directly behind the shooter so that he can watch each bullets flight to the target. This is called catching the swirl or trace. With top quality spotting scopes we can pickup the bullet at about 300 yards and follow its trajectory to the target. Has to be seen to be appreciate. This is a reality. Experienced spotters use the swirl for deciding how to compensate for wind and elevation errors. The ability to see bullet swirl is a skill that must be developed in the field. Light conditions, backgrounds and optics influence whether swirl can be seen and how well it is spotted.

    I mentioned that the spotter keeps a data book. Maintaining data is one of the most important aspects of practice. The more data we have regarding wind, light, temperatures and other factors the better we can learn to shoot long. Gravity is a relative constant so elevation is not difficult to determine. Wind is the enemy. We must also consider air temps, light, humidity, elevation above sea-level and other factors since they all effect ignition properties and trajectory.

    Long range shooting is addictive. It becomes a passion with many shooters. I have to make a confession. I enjoy shooting steel plates and busting small far-off rocks virtually as much as I enjoy long-range hunting. My friends and I practice so we can make long kills if required. We do not pass up on close shots nor would we ever move back to extend the distance of a hunting shot. There are circumstances where the long shot is the only option. We prepare for those days and have had great success from 500 to just under 800 yards. During a CWD cull my friends and I have killed over 60 mule deer without one lost animal.

    Practice is the key to long range shooting proficiency. This requires a safe place to shoot, good partners, suitable equipment and lots of time and ammo. I find that many older shooters drift into the sport because they have the time and resources. Long range shooting can involve formal target competition, varminting and big game hunts and shooting steel and rocks. The challenge of hitting far-off targets with confidence and consistency has to be experienced to be appreciated. Maybe it is time for you to give it a try

    Since I wrote this I have acquired some great targets from lvsteeltargets. They are better than homebuilts. Also ordered a gong and life-sized deer from Metal Spinning Targets (7941 Black Street Road, LeRoy, New York 14482, (585) 768-7260 . More on those targets as I get better info. Deer has moving lungs and heart.

    Will keep you informed.
  5. Sasquatch

    Sasquatch Well-Known Member

    Mar 6, 2005
    I liked both of the mini articles. Liked the second one so much I am going to have to go and shoot my little white dot now.
  6. sniper2

    sniper2 Well-Known Member

    Jan 10, 2003
    That is frightening, you sound accurate... /ubbthreads/images/graemlins/wink.gif
  7. Ian M

    Ian M Well-Known Member

    May 3, 2001
    Anyone who does much shooting accumulates gear and accessories that become essential at the range or in the field. This is a fact for shotgunners, handgunners, muzzleloaders and rimfire/centerfire rifle shooters. I am a rifle-nut so I will discuss the best means for transporting important shooting gear to the range or field.

    Essentially there are two styles of gear containers – soft and hard-sided. Soft containers are usually canvas or nylon tote-bags. Hard containers would be plastic, wood or metal boxes. Sounds simple, so what is the deal about how we take gear to the range? Bottom line is that a good range-bag or box can make or break your shooting day. I have seen many individuals trying to make-do without essential gear because they forgot to pack properly. A good range container always has the essentials in it ready to go.

    Why do we need good containers for the gear we use at the rifle range? First, to avoid the frustration of arriving at the range and finding that your shooting-muffs, pedestal, spotting scope, sandbags, ammo or some other essential did not make the trip. Second, to protect expensive gear from loss, travel abuse and weather. Third, for the piece of mind that your containers have a place for everything and everything is in its place. Sounds corny but that last reason is important if you shoot a lot.

    Since I do a lot of shooting I use a combination of hard and soft containers. Lets start with the hard-sided boxes. My chronographs travel in super-strong plastic tool-boxes called Tuff-Boxes. These industrial strength tool boxes are large enough to hold a lot of gear and they are – tough! These boxes are available at most hardware, automotive and building material suppliers. I have lined the Tuff-Boxes with closed-cell foam to protect the Oehler instruments. The boxes are large enough to hold a significant amount of accessories and spare parts.

    Several manufacturers offer dedicated plastic containers for storing firearms cleaning and maintenance products. I use a great box made by PAST that has lots of storage, removable trays and handy rifle-holders for supporting the firearm during cleaning. I am a barrel-cleaning fanatic so my cleaning kit is very comprehensive. I keep it stocked with the best cleaning and maintenance chemicals and accessories available.

    While I am discussing traveling with cleaning gear I should mention the importance of protective containers for your cleaning rods. Cleaning rods should be protected from dirt, scratches and bending. A machinist buddy made custom aluminum holders for my cleaning rods that provide excellent protection when I am traveling. You can also purchase plastic cleaning rod containers that do a good job from Sinclair International.

    I have seen a wide variety of solid gear-boxes at the range. Fishing tackle boxes, tool-boxes and military surplus ammo-boxes are the most common. Some guys go to great lengths to fashion custom wooden range-boxes. Frequently these boxes are sub-divided and contain a variety of trays and holders. Let’s face it, gear like spotting scopes, tripods, sand-bags, note-books, ammo and basic gunsmithing tools should not travel loose in the back of a pickup.

    Buy the best tool or tackle box possible. I have seen hinges and snaps break on heavily loaded plastic tool-boxes. I have also experienced a couple of failures attributed to deterioration caused by the sun and aging. Plastic gets brittle after a certain period of time. Metal boxes avoid this but they are heavier and not available in as many sizes.

    By far my favorite shooting accessories are a pair of soft-sided range-bags. When I consider how much I use these bags compared to the rest of my equipment they are amazing. These bags have been from the arctic to the Rio Grande. They have traveled in canoes and Zodiacs, helicopters and floatplanes, on horseback and countless miles in the back of pickups. Even though I have owned them for about ten years they are still as good as new. These bags are so reliable that I tend to take them for granted. The fact is they are the best investment I have made for outdoors gear.

    I must warn you that good bags are not cheap. Some people will not be able to rationalize spending two hundred dollars on a gear-bag. Consider how much money you might have invested in your spotting scope, laser rangefinder, tripods, window mounts, binocs, electronic shooting muffs, wind meters, GPS and digital camera and the two hundred dollars is not unreasonable.

    My bags are made by Filson and they are called Rugged Twill Compartment Cases. Filson makes this case in two sizes, the large #265 and the slightly smaller #264. The #264 is also called the original compartment case and it is ten inches deep, nine inches high and fourteen inches wide. The larger #265 is twelve inches deep, ten inches high and sixteen inches wide. The bags are available in dark tan or a nice Otter green.

    I recently obtained another Filson bag, a brand new model called the Sportsman’s Bag. This bag has lots of interior storage space and two large outer pockets that will be ideal for note-books, range data cards, targets, pens and markers, my digital camera and other small objects.

    What is so special about these bags? First, they are manufactured using the best material available – period! The canvas is super rugged and oil finished to repel moisture. The leather straps and re-enforcement is the same quality used in fine saddles. The zippers are the biggest and strongest made. These bags are assembled with extra-ordinary care. All of the double stitching is perfect and not one seam has opened or split despite continuous heavy loading. Filson bags come with removable shoulder straps that make longer totes easier.

    I am not touting these bags because of their name or because they look good. I honestly believe these bags are the best investment a shooter can make. Granted there are much less expensive tote-bags available but no other bag is designed to take the abuse and hard use that my Filsons take everyday. I do not know how many times I have thought to myself, “You cannot overload a Filson…” as I crammed a few more boxes of ammo into a case before leaving for a shoot.

    When I first started using the soft-sided cases I was a bit concerned about protecting optics from severe bumps. Fact is that the spotting scope, laser and binocs are easily padded by surrounding with other soft gear. The ‘soft” nature of these bags actually makes them easier to fit into irregular spaces such as the cargo compartment of Super Cubs or heavily loaded pickups.

    Bob Allen, Dillon, Cabela’s, Browning, Boyt and Uncle Mikes all sell nice looking range-bags. No doubt there are others on the market.

    When I head out to the range or field I never have to look for essential gear – because my Filsons are always loaded and ready to go.