How to improve your firearm accuracy.
No one shoots as accurately standing as they would from a rest. One-inch groups typically become four inches, even for a well-practiced shooter. If the gun can only produce four-inch groups, the same shooter would be looking at at least seven-inch groups. Most shooters instinctively try to compensate for gun errors and scatter actually increases at a rate far greater than the gun itself would dictate. Shooter error can double or quadruple from incorrect attempts at compensation, so 10-16-inch groups are more likely from a four-inch grouping gun. Tight grouping guns cause little need to compensate, so their value to standing hunting type shots may actually be considerably greater than one might expect.
Many shooters believe that they must be perfectly steady to be accurate. No one is perfectly steady. Your eyes, brain and muscles are constantly making corrective adjustments. The key to shooting accuracy is timing rather than perfect steadiness. Being in touch with your own rhythms of motion will allow you to pull the trigger at the proper instant when your sight is aligned with the target. Like any other hand and eye coordination skill, practice is necessary.
If you live in an urban area, frequent practice can be a problem. A high quality air rifle or pistol is an excellent way to keep in practice. Precision spring-piston air guns, such as an RWS or Beeman, can produce minute of angle accuracy. They are quiet and are great for bad weather practice for anyone. Don't expect a $30 Chinese model to be good enough. It's important that the air gun quality be sufficient to reward your practice efforts with true accuracy feedback.
Like any other coordination skill, shooting accuracy can be adversely affected by various personal factors. For example, alcohol or caffeine will change your rhythms of motion and timing. Excitement and fatigue will produce variation as well, but practice should be done under their influence so real situations are more predictable. A shooting match is good for excitement. Hike and shoot is good for fatigue and hard breathing practice. Lighting and standing balance also have significant effects on accuracy.
We've set up a woodland hunting shooting range -- going up and down hills, with odd stances, a variety of lighting, and various distances. It consists of nine targets set up much like field archery ranges. You learn and gain a lot toward good hunting accuracy from this type of practice. We use target stands that set up quickly and easily. They are made by setting two electric fence posts (or three-foot-long 5/16" diameter steel rods) about three feet apart and sliding a piece of 18-inch-wide poultry netting (one-inch chicken wire) onto and spanning between them. The targets are held up by spring-type clothes pins. This arrangement is surprisingly durable and costs under $5 per target stand. You lose an occasional clothespin, but the wire mesh lasts several hundred rounds. Be sure there is a safe backstop for the bullets.
Iron sights are commonly misused by aligning with the bottom of a target circle. This creates considerable error at longer or shorter distances. Aim at the center and adjust the sights to a reasonable elevation zero distance. Twenty-five to 75 yards for rimfire and 100 to 300 yards for high power rifles are suitable distances. A 25 yard zero on some high power rifles can result in bullet impact more than a couple of feet too high at 150 yards. It's fine to initially adjust your sights or scope from a rest, but recheck and if necessary adjust for standing shooting.
Many times an improper rest or improper use of a rest will cause considerable deviation. With a long gun, your point of aim for rest or standing shooting should be very close to the same. If it isn't, your rest method or standing shooting style needs to be adjusted. Most handguns will not shoot the same, rest to standing, due to considerable muzzle flip, low velocities and the inability to rest it properly. Long gun or short, do not let the barrel itself touch anything. Clampon or attach to the barrel bipods are not good for accuracy.
Scopes are a common cause of poor accuracy from an otherwise accurate gun. Scopes, rings and mounts are very often loose or unstable. A few thousandths of an inch of scope wiggle equals inches at 100 yards. One of the best ways to check scope stability is with a bore sighter. The expanding arbor type works best. Clamp the gun down solidly and install the bore sighter. Look through the scope, then twist, torque and bump it by hand. If the aim point on the grid changes from its original location, when you release the scope, it is somehow unstable and repair is needed. (Note: Removing and replacing the bore sighter on the gun may not result in exactly the same grid location every time. Their repeatable accuracy isn't that good.)
If the eyepiece is not locked solidly, a scope will not be accurate. The same is true if the front lens assembly isn't fully tightened. The magnification or objective adjustment can cause the point of impact to change. Look at a bore sighter while turning them to check for that problem.
See-through type rings twist and shift under recoil forces far more easily than low solid mounting. The higher a scope is mounted, the greater the vertical offsets at various distances.
One- to two-power magnification works well for both-eyes-open shots, and if it's over 4X to 7X, it may be more hurt than help when making standing shots. The wider the view, the shorter the eye relief.
Variable power models give up brightness and sharpness as compared to fixed power. They are also less sturdy, more bulky and weigh more. Scopes make many guns top heavy and poorly balanced. The lightest ones add a pound, but two pounds is closer to the average weight gain for scope, rings, and mount.
Flinching will ruin the finest accuracy potential. Usually this psychological difficulty clears up with practice and familiarity. If you close your eyes as you pull the trigger, tense up, or yank the trigger, you will not hit your target well. If your gun is inflicting genuine pain, have it repaired. Install a recoil pad and/or recoil suppresser. If sharp edges cut or bite, round them or wear gloves. Don't choose over-powered calibers. If your rifle is for targets and hunting white-tail deer, a .308, .270 or even a good 30-30 is plenty of power. The .300 or .338 magnums are not more inherently accurate and the abuse to your shoulder and steadiness can harm effective accuracy. You are also likely to practice more with a less abusive caliber.
Practicing with a lower power caliber will transfer learned skills to a hard kicking one. The .22 LR is cheap to shoot but bullet drop is a distraction at much over 50 yards. The .223 is a good choice whether you handload or not. The .22 Hornet shoots quite flat to over 100 yards, has accuracy equal to or better than most high power hunting guns, has minimal bark and kick, and is cheap to handload.
Personal ergonomic factors influence effective accuracy. A rifle that is too lightweight cannot be held as steady as a heavier one. Too heavy is equally bad, plus it will wear you out faster. A pistol grip stock makes the trigger-to-shoulder distance less critical. They are also very good for rest shooting. A stock design that lets you tuck one arm against your torso while standing can improve steadiness. A rifle balanced on your off hand will usually produce better target accuracy than a forward held combat style grip. A gun that allows both shooting styles and has a good fore end for rest use will be the most versatile.
Avoid grasping when shooting. It's virtually impossible to manually control muzzle rise or recoil with any consistency. If your rest shooting hits higher on the target than your standing shooting, you are probably trying to "hold the gun down." Be sure that the butt is properly against your shoulder, then once the gun is balanced, relax your grasp before pulling the trigger.
The same is true for handgun shooting, only more so. You need to let your arms rise freely with the recoil as well as use as little grasping as possible.
Trigger quality is important to your sense of timing. A trigger that breaks before or after it is expected to will wreck accuracy. An adjustable trigger or doing your own trigger tuning can make a noticeable difference. Consistency and predictability are more important than having a super light pull. Concentrate first on eliminating creep and slicking the function. Then experiment with pull weight until the best standing accuracy is achieved. Rest shooting accuracy will likely be quite good once tuned for standing, but the best trigger pull for rest shooting frequently produces poor accuracy from standing shots.
Reprinted with permission from Project MOA, a manual on bore conditioning and accuracy improvements. To order Basic Accuracy Improvement, send $15 to: Walnut Creek Enterprises, POB 70, Annapolis, MO 63620.
DAN JINCKS WALNUT CREEK ENTERPRISES PO Box 70 ANNAPOLIS, MO 63620