max acceptible group size on game


Well-Known Member
Jul 17, 2001
Walla Walla, WA
I was wondering what you all consider to be the maximum acceptible group size for deer, black bear and elk. If my gun, load and self are able to consistently shoot 1.5 MOA (I put 9 shots into 7.4" at 500 yards with 6 of those in 3.4" from prone with bipod and sling like I would be shooting at game in the field) at what range should I limit my shots on game? Would the range at which I am getting 10" groups be the place to stop or do you limit it to 8" or 12" or what? My thought it that I would not want to be taking shots beyond which range I could get 10" groups. Those who are shooting game at 2000 yards what kind of groups can you consistently shoot at 2000 yards? My understanding is that 7" groups at 1000 yards is very good (which is to say that the better competitors rarely average better than 7" for several matches). I know that some shoot 3" groups but on average I think that 7" groups are more the norm for the better competitors. I doubt that 14" groups at 2000 yards would be the norm. Generally doubling the range more than doubles the group size. So would 20" groups be the norm? Are you really comfortable taking a shot at an animal that will very possibly be 10" away from point of aim? Just curious what your limitations are. Thanks, Rufous.

The kill zone (lungs and heart) for a deer is 17" (mule deer)
For an elk it's over 24".

This is not counting the back bone, neck, head or shoulder hits. Shoulders are a much bigger target (elk) and with the cartridges we use, they go down in a hurry no matter where from the above mentioned, they are hit. We aim for the kill zone first and click to that area.
If the wind moves the bullet a bit, the animal still goes down. If it's still alive and down, we go for the kill zone or head if we feel we can get it.

If you can keep your accuracy within the kill zone of the animal your after, you should have no problems.

As they say, It all depends on the "Nut" behind the bolt.

You can judge your distance you want to shoot on the above kill zone measurments.

Darryl Cassel

[ 01-30-2002: Message edited by: Darryl Cassel ]
Darryl, you have no doubt killed more game than I ever will but your kill zone figures seem optomistic to me:

"The kill zone (lungs and heart) for a deer is 17" (mule deer). For an elk it's over 24".
This is not counting the back bone, neck, head or shoulder hits. Shoulders are a much bigger target (elk) and with the cartridges we use, they go down in a hurry no matter where from the above mentioned, they are hit. We aim for the kill zone first and click to that area."

My Leupold VariX III scope has a built in range finder (fit the deer in between the thick part of the bottom vertical crosswire and its intersection with the horizontal crosswire by turning the power ring and then look at corresponding yardage figure). They are assuming 16" for brisket to backbone- all hair included. I know that one can shoot too low and hit the animal without it being fatal. I believe one could put a bullet between the top of the lungs and the spine without a fatal hit. You stated that for deer you figure on 17" for just the lungs and heart. Do you mean 17" vertical or horizontal or both? Thanks, Rufous.
I do not shot a scope with a built in rangefinder so you have to decide which distance you want to make as your max shot.

I range the animal so I know exactly how far he is and then go to the drop chart. When putting on the clicks for the distance required there is no guess work except for the wind and we eleiminate much of that too. We then are able to hold right on the kill zone.

Sure you can put a bullet below the back bone and above the lungs and it won't kill the game. If you hold dead on the middle area just behind the shoulder and your scope and rifle are on for that distance, you should be all right.
Go practice shooting full size deer targets at different yardages with your scope rifle combination. Make it every 50 MEASURED yards.

Darryl Cassel
Darryl, I use the same technique as you. I range the distance to target with laser and then adjust my scopes elevation for that yardage. My point with the Leupold scope was that they thought (and many other places I have read) that the average deer would be about 16" top to bottom. So I wonder how you come up with a 17" heart/lung kill zone on deer. I understand that at long range groups are generally more horizontal than vertical due to wind. If there were no wind then groups would be round. If the shooter were perfect in their wind estimation then groups would be round but as they are not groups would more likely have more horizontal dispersion than vertical. So are you saying that the 17" heart/lung kill zone is vertical or horizontal or round/spherical? Thanks for the clarification. I think for my hunting style and equipment limitations I will limit my shots to about 600 yards for big game. I have not shot my newly rebarreled 300 Win Mag at that distance yet but at 400 and 500 yards it seems to put all shots into 1.5 MOA. Rufous.
I'm no expert,and this is my opinion, but I think we are talking about two different things here, and this is why group size does not really equal effective lethal distance.
The way I figure max distance is I set my target a long way out then take the shot. My target is the size of the kill zone. On really long shots I take a sighter first.
I take one deliberate shot. If I hit, I am within my capabilities. If I miss then the distance is too far.
If I keep shooting at that same target things will change. the wind will change, the sun will change,my gun will become hot and dirty and eventually I will miss.That is what happens when shooting a group,conditions change.(tolerence stacking)
But I don't shoot a 10 shot string at animals. I look for consistent deliberate hits. Milk jugs for deer,soda cans for groundhogs,poker chips for rabbits,and bottle caps for squirrels. My experience has been that groups are a lot bigger than delibrate hit capabilities.
Mule deer are MUCH bigger then a whitetail and that is what I was refering to. A whitetail kill zone is 12 to 14".
The next time you kill a deer, inspect his lung and heart cavity when you open him up.
You will get an idea of the kill zone.

You mentioned two cross hairs in your scope (i thought) one at the top and one at the bottom of the animal. I thought you were using a ranging type scope.

If your far enough away and are not sure, you must take a sighter shot 100yds or more in front or behind the animal to see where your impact is.

As has always been mentioned---This is a TEAM sport and you should NEVER attemt it alone unless the yardage and rifle is shooting DEAD on and you are not reaching out to far. I would say, you should stick to around 500 yards as your max range without a spotter with you until your more comfortable with putting the bullet where you want it..
Some lone shooters can go further but, they must practice most of the off season to do it.

Good luck

[ 01-30-2002: Message edited by: Darryl Cassel ]
I think frankg is right yall are talking about two differnt shooting circumstances.From how we shoot,group size(within reason)does not matter as much as you think.Shooting prone at 1000 yds. a 10 shot group in ten inches CENTERED on target is pretty tough.But putting one or two shots in a ten inch target is not all that hard.For instance wonce we sight are guns in at 100yds. and we know that the gun is capeble of holding .7 to .8 MOA at distance we rarely ever shoot for group size agian.We shoot on 15in. square gongs and chest size(18in. tall 24in. wide) gongs.When we shoot we call hit and engage the next one. To miss one out to 800yds with the first shot is rare.When we take a shot we control the situation,competiters at matches cant.

We used to measure the deer killed,even on small southern deer you have about a 17in. square to shoot at.At long range as long as you hit the body it really doesn't matter.The deer dont react the same as one hit at close range.All that really matters to us(me)is consitant one or two shot hits not group size once the barrel has heated up or the wind changes or everything else that efectes the shot.

Last deer season I shot a group which I felt was important. I used a target with 15 one inch measurments above the bull. I leave my scope set for 300yds untill necessary to adjust it for a longer shot. Every 4 days or so, I put up the same target at 100 yds, cranked up the elevation to 15 minutes, and placed another shot to the group, and then set the scope back to the 300 yd zero. As the season progressed, and the group developed, I had a pretty good idea as to what I could expect with first shot/cold barrel/scope adjustment, and knew that the system was still working. A good thing to know!
I find that range finding scopes to to inaccurate when it comes to jugding distance to many diffearant size critters out there. The only accurate method is a good laser range finder. I have tested mine with a laser survey instrument and found it to be well with in the advertized range. plus or minus one yard.
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