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http://www.chuckhawks.com/practical_accuracy.htm

Hunting Rifle Accuracy:
Enough is Enough!

By Chuck Hawks

I believe it was Townsend Whelen who wrote that, "Only accurate rifles are interesting." As a general proposition I would tend to agree with him. Few things are more frustrating than a firearm that cannot be made to consistently hit the target.

Accuracy is important, but not all important. Especially on the Internet, accuracy has taken on an almost mythical status. No one seems willing to admit to shooting groups larger than 1 minute of angle (MOA). I have read absurd discussions on shooting forums about how to shave 1/10th MOA from a hunting rifle's performance, and postings from (obviously inexperienced) shooters distressed because their new rifle could not produce sub-1" groups at 100 yards. It is as if these shooters are living in some sort of alternative reality.

Professional gun writers contribute to this mythology by routinely reporting rifle "tests" in which every advertiser's smokepole routinely shoots 1" groups (or smaller) at 100 yards. Ditto for every factory load, regardless of caliber or purpose. Sure they do!

I have written it before and I will write it again: these groups are achieved on a word processor, not in the field. At best what the writer means is that once, when the stars were momentarily aligned in the sky, he shot a 1" group with the test rifle. He will never admit in print that he shot 9 other groups ranging in size from 2" to 4" with the same rifle.

But the inexperienced and the gullible take these "test reports" to heart. The most absurd exaggeration is accepted without question, and endlessly repeated (and embellished) online. The boldest liars become authorities on marksmanship and rifle performance. It would be depressing if it were not so absurd!

Accuracy is relative. Realistically, there is no such thing as absolute accuracy, by which I mean a rifle capable of 0.0 MOA accuracy. Some specialized rifles can come very close, shooting what may look like one-hole groups, but there is always some variation, caused by the fact that no rifle or bullet is truly perfect. There is always some manufacturing tolerance, a tiny "plus or minus" factor in anything made by man that falls short of absolute perfection.

Accuracy can be defined in terms of group size at a given range, such as a 1" three shot group at 100 yards or 100 meters, measured from center to center of the points of impact. It can also be defined in terms of the angular dispersion of the bullets. Angle is described in terms of degrees, minutes of arc, and seconds of arc. There are 360 degrees in a full circle, 60 minutes of arc in one degree, and 60 seconds of arc in one arc-minute. For practical purposes, one minute of angle equals a 1" group (center to center) at 100 yards.

What is meant by the term "practical" as applied to accuracy? The dictionary defines practical as: "Capable of being used or put into effect; useful." So the next question must be: accuracy useful for hunting what kind of game, at what range?

For the purposes of this little piece the answer to that question are the common species of antelope, goat, sheep, and deer hunted in North America (and similar size game worldwide). These are often called medium size big game animals, or sometimes just medium game, and they range in size from the smallish pronghorn antelope and sub-species of whitetail deer weighing about 90 pounds on the hoof to sheep, mountain goats and mule deer than might average up to 200 pounds. Even very large members of these species seldom exceed 300 pounds in live weight.

The smallest of these animals offers about an 8" diameter heart-lung kill area, and most offer a 10" kill area. So, to be conservative, let's say that our rifle needs to be able to put its bullets (from a cold barrel) into about a 6" circle at whatever range our skill and the trajectory of the cartridge we are using allows. This leaves a little room for error on even the smallest medium game animals.

For the hunter using a 100-150 yard hunting rifle, such as rifles chambered for what are fundamentally pistol cartridges (.357 Magnum, .44-40, .44 Magnum, etc.) or low pressure cartridges like the .38-55 and .45-70, a 4 MOA group will suffice. 4" groups at 100 yards don't look very impressive at the range, but 4 MOA groups mean all bullets within a 6" circle at 150 yards, about the maximum useful range of this class of cartridges. A .44 Magnum rifle that will put all of its bullets into a 4" circle at 100 yards is a deadly deer rifle, as accurate as it needs to be.

A 200 yard hunting rifle, such as a .30-30, .35 Remington, or .444 Marlin needs to print 3 MOA (3") groups at 100 yards. This means that all of the bullets will be landing inside of a 6" circle at 200 yards. A North American hunter can take any deer, sheep, pronghorn, or goat with such a rifle. In Townsend Whelen's day, few hunting rifles would shoot better than that. Many will today, but practically speaking it doesn't matter. 3 MOA is good enough for 100% kills out to at least 200 yards. A 200 yard rifle that shoots 1 MOA groups is not one whit deadlier than one that shoots 3 MOA groups.

The hunter with a long range rifle capable of taking medium game at 300 yards (such as a 6mm Remington, .25-06, .270 Winchester, 7mm Magnum or .300 Magnum), needs a rifle that averages 2 MOA groups. Those 2" groups at 100 yards will open to 6" at 300 yards. Very few hunters can take advantage of more accuracy than that in the field, so 2 MOA represents the practical limit of accuracy for most hunters. I am sure that Col. Whelen would have classified such a rifle as very "interesting." Of course, it is nice if Old Betsy will shoot even smaller groups at the rifle range, but it is simply not necessary from a practical standpoint.

For the master shot with a trajectory table developed for his specific rifle and load, a high quality rangefinder, a solid rest, and shooting an ultra-long range cartridge like the .257 Weatherby Magnum, 7mm Remington Ultra Mag, or .30-378 Magnum, a 400 yard shot might be justified. If so, that hunter needs a rifle that will reliably shoot into 1.5 MOA. 1.5 MOA means a rifle that groups within 3" at 200 yards and 6" at 400 yards. This is a very interesting rifle indeed, particularly considering the muzzle blast and recoil of most ultra-long range cartridges. Such rifles are quite scarce in the real world. At 400 yards the merest twitch by the hunter, or a puff of wind 200 yards away, will throw the bullet clear out of the kill area. The inherent accuracy of the rifle has become a secondary consideration of relatively minor importance compared to other variables.

Groups better than 1.5 MOA are swell to brag about online, but irrevelant in the field. Accuracy beyond the practical limit is simply unnecessary. No one is justified in taking shots longer than 400 yards with any hunting rifle or cartridge. Sub-1 MOA rifles are as useless to the hunter as tits on the proverbial bull. Many factors are more important to a humane and successful hunt.

Perhaps paramount among these is the terminal performance of the bullet. It must penetrate into the vitals of the game to do its job, and it must have expanded to destroy the maximum amount of tissue once it gets there. An adequately accurate bullet that does a good job of killing game is far preferable to a brilliantly accurate bullet that does a marginal job when it hits the target. So while I always test a number of bullets and loads in each of my hunting rifles to find the one that gives the best accuracy, I test only bullets that are widely regarded as appropriate for the velocity and type of hunting for which they will be used.

My .257 Weatherby Magnum rifle, for example, will shoot at or just under 1.5 MOA (1.5" at 100 yards) with Weatherby factory loads using the premium 120 grain Nosler Partition bullet. The same rifle will shoot into 1 MOA or a little less at the same distance with Weatherby factory loads using the 100 grain Spire Point bullet. On light game the Spire Point is a deadly bullet, but for general purpose hunting I load up with the Nosler Partition cartridges. The advantage of the heavier, super-deadly Partition bullet far outweighs a paltry .5 MOA difference in accuracy.
 

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My .223 Howa bolt-action can knock a flea off a nat's _ss at 100 paces!!Where does that fit in? :lol: :lol: ;)
 

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hostilenativelibertarian.
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:blink: WOW :blink: :sniper:
 

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Poor flea :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol:
 

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I totally agree with all of this. I shut up an AR guy the other day at a gun shop. He said that he liked the look and feel of a mini, but because it was not as accurate as his AR he would not get one. I asked him. What groups can you get from you AR? He said 1 MOA. I told him that on average, an out of the box mini can get 4 MOA. He said see, that's what I mean. I then said to him. Lets talk real world. Out in the woods with no rest, no bench, no pillow. Run 300 yards and off hand shoot at a target at 100 yards. He said most likely 4 to 6in. groups. I just looked at him and smiled, he knew I had him. I'm a happy guy with my deer rifle that I get 1 1/2 in. with at 100 yards off the bench. I then stand and fire 5 rounds off hand. And most times I can keep them with in 5in. The last 5 years I have taken 5 shots off hand or elbows on knees and have taken 5 deer. The closest shot was 110 yards. and the long was 175. And all 5 deer did not know that I could not shoot MOA with my rifle. All they knew is that they are dead.
 

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:cannon:

I,ve got to agree with cameraman. I've tried for a long time to get benchrest accuracy from my hunting rifles and finally had to admit to myself that " hey, dumba**, it's for hunting, not competition"
I've tweaked bullet combiations, powder charges, primers, floated, non-floated, you name it. Still looking for that sub MOA group consistently. Not going to happen with my gear. Oh Well, make do with what ya got.
SCOTTYDOG
 

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I'm in agreement here too. Look what our founding father's shot with...... muzzleloaders that not only put meat on the table but served them well in establishing this nation. Their firearms were certainly not MOA shooters but they knew their guns, where they shot and they hit what they needed to. Good ol' Kentucky Windage !

I realize that a lot of today's shooters only have the target ranges on which to pursue shooting which has led to the pursuit of paper punching accuracy. Nothing wrong with that. But the practical side for a lot of us is simply hitting targets consistently in the 50 to 200 yard range which most guns will let you do. You do need to know your gun and what you are feeding it. I shoot a lot on my range, but prefer bowling pins. metal plates, cans and water jugs to paper targets. Much more relaxing and enjoyable for me. Just my 2 cents worth (not adjusted for inflation.)

metaldoc :usa:
 

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Most of the shooting my son and I do is plinking. Clay birds, cans, golf balls, poker chips and so on. Lots of 22LR, and 223. And I'm now looking into a mini 30. I have had my share of AK's and SKS's, but shooting south paw, I do not like the controls of eather. And with a scope I can work on bring home meat in the fall. Most times in the fall I will do some plinking with my 06, but that can run you into the poor house. So I plan on doing a lot of 100 yrd off hand work with the 30. My other 2 mini's are 223 standards with peeps. And the AR is set up for my son. In a nut shell, my 06 shoots MOB. Min of bambi. That's all I need.
 

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:lol: :lol: :lol: :lol:

HEH HEH
MOB, Minute Of Bambi. Gotta remember that one next time I get frustrated with accuracy. Thanks for the giggle.
SCOTTYDOG
 

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hehe my m14 shoots 4 moa offhand consistantly, and thats all i need. unless i'm hunting squirrels or something, then i end up trying to support it on something. but still, i'm completly happey with 4moa, 4moa will drop a man out to 500 yrds.
 

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I'm not picking at all. But like the guy I was talking about before. He is a bench rest hero. And in the real world. Or at lest my world. Good enough is good enough. I have no problem with some one that is chasing the perfect load. I for one am not good enough and I drink to much Coke to have a low heart rate. But I don't want the one holes to tell me my mini is a hunk of junk because it only shoots 3 MOA. Its good enough for my needs.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
"I have written it before and I will write it again: these groups are achieved on a word processor, not in the field. At best what the writer means is that once, when the stars were momentarily aligned in the sky, he shot a 1" group with the test rifle. He will never admit in print that he shot 9 other groups ranging in size from 2" to 4" with the same rifle."

I don't think he is saying it's not possible, just not common.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Beautiful shooting.
I see five targets, with what can best be described as art printed on them.
How many years have you been shooting?
Do you ever shoot 2"-4"?
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
I'd give the tip of my pinky to have shot that last group.

I grew up in the southern tier of upstate New York, the shots were never that long.
I think my longest hunting shot ever was about ninety yards.
(a woodchuck, 7mm Rem Mag. BDL with iron sights, I have a vari-X III Leupold on it now)

Caveat: I know a lot of hunters, I don't know any competing benchrest shooters.
But it still seems to me if it was that easy to shoot sub moa everybody would be doing it,
so I would see a lot of it and not just hear a lot about it.

You shoot well.
Do you realize how well?
 

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I can and have shot under 1 MOA, but its just not important to me. These are very nice groups. But I go back to my point before. There are no benches and sand bags out in the woods. And I do not set in a blind. I still hunt from the ground. And I like to stock. A few times I have had to move to get in a place to make a clean shot. So the breathing is up, the heart is up and the deer is moving. That to me is what is important. That's why I do not shoot much from a bench. Its not real world. Well, not my world. I once had to run about 20 yrds and leaning on a tree. I hit a 8 point on the run at 320 yrds. Best and most likely luckest shot I ever made.
 

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That's just it. I can if I want to. But I chose not too. I do most of my shooting off hand. You know, real worl stuff. The last time I benched my 06. The best 3 shot group was just under .875 at 100. And that's using factory ammo. Not hand loads. So like I said. I bench it to make sure the zero is where I want it. And then go to off hand work. You have your way and I have mine. But I can tell you, you learn more off hand than you ever will off a bench. Ever see and bench over looking a steap valley. Or pointing up hill. I have not. But I have a few places that I go out and shoot that are just like that. Up and down hill. Some places you have to pump in the sun shine its so steap. That's where you learn how to shoot in the woods. Where your bullet will end up shooting up or down hill is not the same as off the bench on a flat range. CM is done with his one. The horse is dead.
 

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C-man
I use a ground blind, and yes there is a bench w/bags in it. Of course the average distance for the last 5years (50 deer) I've shot is right in the 235yd range (only shot 2 at under 50yd in my life). I'm prepaired (mentaly) go past 450yd, but don't as I would be encroaching on other hunters terratory (neighbors fenceline).
I reguarly shoot from my blind (read MY field conditions) at targets out to 600yd (same neighbor helps me put out targets and joins me for practice sessions).

The point of all this is, 3-4MOA accuracy works for some conditions but it dosn't work for all, while .5MOA works for all conditions but may not be necessory for some. Besides, as 7mm stated, it's great for your confidance knowing that the rifle/ammo is capable.
 

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:huh: I do not care about those whom would like to believe that mediocre groups from a perfectly good firearm are acceptable.I have to side with 7mm on the fact that a tight grouping gun is the one to appreciate.For those people who believe that close is good enough-then remember that counts only in horshoes and handgrenades.I have been verbally assaulted about performing"brain surgery"on deer with a mini-because it could be done with a mini that was tuned well enough to shoot under 1MOA,I have many varmint rifles that shoot .5MOA,And a 7mag that I built from spare parts that shoots less than 1MOA,and yes-all of these guns took time to tune and load for to get the right combinations of bullet and loads.But their is a great deal of satisfaction af taking a shot on a groundhog at 225 yards
that you can only see the eye/ear /and top of head and you have aproximately a 3/4"target to effect a kill.BTDT with a bolt action .223!And as far as offhand/running shots-the same gun used to take jack rabbits in the desert out to 150yds with witnesses.So if you do not suscribe to finely tuned accurate firearms,please refrain from insulting those of us who happen to like them.CQC skills is for the young who heal quicker if they survive,I like to keep my quarry at a distance and therefore like a "long range shootin iron". <_< :sniper:

One other thing;No-one is a great shot without shooting 1000s of rounds of ammo to practice.Even after they become highly proficient-they still need to continue to practice and finely "hone"their shooting skills-under all all shooting conditions-not just at the range.You have to go out and challenge your abilities to better yourself,and that means "burning powder". :ph34r:

"Learn where the gun shoots-then learn to shoot the gun" B)
 

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Originally posted by magnomark@Apr 24 2004, 10:44 AM


One other thing;No-one is a great shot without shooting 1000s of rounds of ammo to practice.Even after they become highly proficient-they still need to continue to practice and finely "hone"their shooting skills-under all all shooting conditions-not just at the range.You have to go out and challenge your abilities to better yourself,and that means "burning powder". :ph34r:

"Learn where the gun shoots-then learn to shoot the gun" B)

Magnomark, you hit the nail on the head here.

I know a lot of "deer hunters" that shoot less than a box of ammo a year. Maybe a half dozen rounds before the season opens and if they hit a paper plate target it's good enough. Self deluded macho guys !

Good shooters burn a lot of ammo and they know their guns.

Metaldoc :usa:
 

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:D :usa: I gotta agree - and disagree. A 4MOA rifle is ok for most hunting at 100 yards or less, if you are satisfied with it and can shoot it well. Unfortunately, a 4"MOA from a bench usually translates into 8" to 10" MOA in the field for most shooters. That is especially true if your huffing and puffing, your hands are a bit shakey and the adrenalin in coursing through your veins. Even for a really good shot, the bench rest groups usually translate into around double or more in the field. To me, that means my 1" MOA rifle is still a 6" MOA gun at 300 yards in the field. If your aim is off by 2" at 200 yards, your shot is probably going to be well out of the kill zone with a 4" MOA rifle while it is still a sure kill with a 1" MOA. Years ago, most rifles would not shoot MOA out of the box and only a few would do so with rifle and ammo tuning. Somewhere around the late 70s or early 80s, rifle manufacturers began to wake up to the fact that shooters wanted more accuracy. Since then, it has evolved to the point that most quality rifles will shoot MOA out of the box, with the right ammo/load. You may find an occasional lemon but, for the most part, we are being treated to rifles that used to be in the realm of custom built and tuned rifles. Bolt action and single shots being the most likely to acheive this kind of accuracy and most heard about, but autos and levers are also much more accurate than most people think. Mainly because most shooters do not take the time and make the effort to find the best factory load or work up a good load for it. For many years, my "go to" rifle was a Remington M740 in .280 Remington. It was made in 1956 and was all original. For most of those years it wore a Weaver K4 scope. Yes, with the right loads, it was a MOA rifle - most of the time. I don't remember ever shooting over a 1 1/2" group with it using my loads. Also got more than a few 1/2" groups but I"d guess it averaged between 3/4" and 1 1/4" groups. I now mainly shoot a Marlin .444 Guide Gun. With factory Hornady 265 gr loads, it averages 1 1/2" groups at 100 yards. I'm still aquiring reloading and bullet casting equipment, but expect to work up some loads with cast bullets to match or exceed that. This one I did do some tuning on, though. I did a trigger job, slicked up the action and am in the process of doing a fire-lap job to reduce or eliminate leading with hot loaded cast bullets. With this one, I will settle for 1" to 2" MOA as it will be used only for 100 yard or less shots in the heavily overgrown thickets of south Mississippi. Maybe another trip to Colorado or New Mexico for elk someday, too. My next most used rifle is a T/C Greyhawk .50 caliber ML. With a 320 gr Maxi Ball and 100 gr of Pyrodex, it too averages 1 1/2" MOA. This with a light bore swabbing after each 3 shot group. BTW, all my groups are 3 shots. I do not like to have to wait between shots for a barrel to cool off and feel this a more realistic grouping in hunting rifles. Now for the varmint rifles. My custom Mauser actioned 6mm-06 used to shoot sub 1/2" groups all day long for the first 2,000 rounds or so. I set the barrel back once and replaced it once before I finally gave in to the fact that it was just too much over-bore and was eroding the throat much too fast. Then there were a pair of 22-250s that would both keep their groups inside a dime. There was even a series 180 Mini-14 that out of the box was frequently a MOA rifle with the right ammo - including surplus ball. Almost everything I put through went into 2" or less.
 
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