Degrees Of Rifle Shooting Accuracy

By Ian McMurchy

Rifle shooting accuracy is an interesting topic since we all have different opinions on what rifle accuracy 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 rifle accuracy. I am talking real world shooting accuracy in terms that hunters can relate to. Seems in recent years the magic minute of angle that used to be the standard for rifle shooting accuracy has shrunk to "a half inch at one hundred yards".

Matter of fact I hear a lot of three-eighths 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 rifle shooting 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 achieving rifle accuracy averaging one-inch groups with most factory rifles I test. Matter of fact many groups I shoot average closer to two inches in accuracy. 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 shooting accuracy do I get? Most factory rifles, right out of the box, are shooting around two to three inches with factory ammo. Some will not come close to that mark in shooting accuracy despite trying several makes of ammo. Find ammo the rifle likes and this can shrink down to the inch shooting accuracy 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 in accuracy 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 rifle shooting 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 rifles require less luck than the U.S. brands with the exception of Weatherbys, particularly Vanguards.

What do I mean by getting lucky in shooting accuracy? Some rifles are tack-drivers right out of the box. I believe that the odds are strongly against this degree of shooting accuracy happening with most brands. One exception is the Weatherby Vanguard MOA rifle 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 rifle accuracy today? Here are some numbers – they are only numbers but they work for me in defining rifle shooting accuracy. 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 be shooting 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 uncommon. 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…
  • Like
Reactions: durrelltn