- November 10, 2016 at 2:33 am #31163Rattlesnake CharlieParticipant
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Just read what I believe is a good article in the most recent issue of Rifle magazine that I got electronically today. In the Down Range column by Mike Venturino, he stresses that group size is just the beginning. I hope I don’t get hammered for some legal issue with posting it here, but I think it is good enough to risk. The gun rags seldom print anything but what pushes their advertising budget.
If a rifle is going to have a purpose – hunting, defense or competition – it needs to be ready before the first shot is fired. (That’s as opposed to a wall-hanger or item for a collection.) Readiness doesn’t mean only having proven itself capable of decent groups. Whether scoped or iron sighted, rifles must be zeroed properly, and it must feed and eject its correct ammunition. Much more importantly, the shooter needs to be proficient with it.
The American shooter’s excessive focus on groups is one of the biggest fallacies in rifle shooting. Certainly the rifle must put the shooter’s chosen ammunition into reasonable clusters. Afterward, groups mean nothing. Those are almost fighting words to some modern riflemen, but they are true. What counts is actually hitting a target.
It seems to me that the concept of “group” as the most important factor in rifle marksmanship arose from gun writers. In the beginning of firearms publications, editors and writers needed something to quantify their evaluations of rifles. They could write that said piece looked good and functioned properly, but was it “accurate?” Hence the “group concept” came about. The American Rifleman probably has handled the task better than any other magazine by shooting a test rifle using five, five-shot groups. Ever notice that such groups are seldom consistent from smallest to largest? That is a fact of shooting a string of groups; there will be a smallest and a largest and then some others in the middle.
Like every other gun writer of my era, I bought into the group concept and still do to a lesser degree. In fact, I am a darn good group shooter from benchrest, but times change and so has my attitude. Nowadays I feel that when a rifle clusters bullets tightly enough for its shooting purpose, the bench shooting should be finished. The big-game hunter, varmint hunter, competitor or home defender must determine that criteria for his rifles.
No matter how precise a rifle might be, from muzzleloaders to those specialized for long-range competition, its inherent capabil- ity is useless if its sighting equipment is not zeroed. The purpose for the shooting dictates at what distance its zero should be set. For instance, a home defense rifle of some sort may not need zeroing for more than 50 feet. By contrast, my .222 Remington Magnum kept by the door for coyotes is zeroed for 100 yards. My BPCR hunting rifles were likewise set to hit dead on at 100 yards. When I hunted avidly with modern, bolt-action rifles, their scopes were adjusted for bullet impact about 2 to 3 inches high at 100 yards. Depending on exactly what caliber, bullet and velocity those rifles were firing, their zeros were somewhere between 200 and 300 yards.
Zero isn’t the only important factor. Another is where that rifle is going to put its first shot from a clean, cold barrel. In fact, many semiautomatic rifles tend to put their first shot significantly out of the group formed by following shots regardless of how many times it’s been fired. M1 Garands often do that, and recent shooting with a Ruger Mini-30 had shown the same tendency. The generally accepted theory for such semiautomatic behavior is that the first round is chambered by physically releasing the bolt, whereas the following rounds are chambered by the cartridge’s gas causing the mechanical operation of the bolt.
Aside from semiautomatic rifles, however, any other type of rifle can throw its first shot from a clean, cold barrel somewhere besides where it is aimed. Usually the errant bullet strays not far enough to matter, say at 100 yards, but it’s smart to check its placement at 200 or even 300 yards. (That’s as far as I can shoot at home to test matters.) I’ve been surprised to observe that with some rifles the first bullet will wander far enough to turn a killing shot into a wounding one at 300 yards.
Why would this happen? A cold barrel could throw the first shot, due to its own stress or a pressure point in its bedding, or for some other reason I cannot even fathom. A reason I do understand is caused by the compulsive gun-cleaning sort of guy who fills the barrel with solvent or oil after sighting in. That almost assures a flyer for its first shot in the field.
Then there is the matter of being proficient with the rifle. As said, I am a darn good shot from a sandbag rest when shooting groups – even to the point of winning a few bucks at it a time or two. Then came competitions and the discovery that I wasn’t nearly as good a tack-driving rifle shooter when away from sandbags.
Here’s one way to observe a shooter’s level of rifle proficiency: Hand them a bolt action or levergun and tell them to shoot three shots offhand. Neophytes will lower the rifle from their shoulders while they operate the bolt or lever. Experienced shooters will not. Yvonne learned to keep her levergun shouldered all by herself during the years we shot cowboy action events. Every instructor teaching self-defense tactics with rifles tells students to keep theirs shouldered and ready even when the threat is down or gone away.
Surprising to me have been the times that I’ve observed people experiencing no trouble loading and shooting their rifles but fiddle- fumble around unloading it. In fact, I think it’s a good bet more people have accidental discharges during unloading than at any other time while using rifles.
For a shooter, bringing himself and his rifle to complete readiness is not a one-time affair. It’s a cumulative effort needing time and experience.
- November 10, 2016 at 5:35 am #31166GoodsteelKeymaster
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- November 10, 2016 at 3:43 pm #31170popperParticipant
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Agree, functionality of purpose. I will add that from my testing, PC eliminates the first shot flyer in my S.A. ARs. Haven’t noticed any using jacketed.
- November 11, 2016 at 2:17 pm #31193sundogParticipant
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All due respect to MV, but that article should have been titled “RIFLEMAN Readiness”. Also, their was no mention of preparation for environmental conditions.
Beware the man with one rifle…
- November 11, 2016 at 8:28 pm #31206redriverhunterParticipant
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thanks for posting. I have often thought about taking a target to the range and shooting from a cold dirty barrel only once and taking back and doing all over again another day . The part about getting away from the bench OHHH how that rings true for me. good article thanks rrh
- November 17, 2016 at 11:49 pm #31344JPHollaParticipant
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I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon where people will sooner insult themselves than insult their gun. It’s odd because these types of people are generally some of the most boastful. We see it in the near-excellent group with those flyers “that were probably me.” If you ask virtually any shooter what percentage of the time they could hold 10MOA unsupported, most will say 100%. I shoot at a competition with the first stage of five, 5″ targets at 50 yards, and it is shocking how many people miss most (or all) of them with a scoped or iron-sighted rifle. I would just about imagine most of them spend most of their time “shooting for groups” from a bench. I’ve never understood the people who go to their closest big-box store and buy the cheapest rifle available (that comes with a cheap scope installed from the factory) and shoot from a bench with a front and rear rest as though they were in a benchrest competition. And that’s all they ever do! With factory ammo!–normally the same type of ammo every time! No load testing, no load development, just shoot one three shot group after another and brag about their “sub-MOA” rifle. I don’t get it. They’re not trying to improve their equipment, they’re not trying to improve themselves, they’re just trying to aggrandize the cheapest rifle they could find (which anyone could go out and buy for the cheapest price possible) as though it was a nice, custom rifle. I just don’t understand why this makes them feel as though they are accomplishing something…
- November 18, 2016 at 2:17 am #31353Rattlesnake CharlieParticipant
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Interestingly enough, a cheap rifle with factory ammo can usually always bring home the bacon if the shooter does his part. I saw this time and again growing up with farmers/ranchers who owned only three firearms. One each of .22 rifle, 12 ga shotgun, and some military surplus rifle. All were merely tools, just like the long handled shovel or fence stretchers in the bed of the pickup truck. One guy I worked for had a 3/4 ton Ford 4-wd I used to haul silage with. I forked it on by hand and off by hand every morning before school and every night after school. On weekends, I used the S&W .22 revolver lashed to the steering column in an well weathered holster to reduce the jack rabbit population (I did always use my own ammo). It was just another tool. I personally now own too many firearms to become proficient with them all. But, I do like to admire them visually and even fondle them often.
- November 18, 2016 at 5:55 am #31359GoodsteelKeymaster
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Wow. I couldn’t have said it better myself. I really don’t think they know what they are doing. I suspect most are lucky to afford the cheap wally world rifle and they certainly cant afford to shoot much, nor would they get very far on a shoestring budget. Three shots from a bench is all they can do, and they make up the difference with bluster. They blame themselves for bad groups because it feigns honesty while being a blatant cop out for not taking the time to become proficient with their firearm. Sad part is, everybody sees right through it.
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