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GUNS Magazine November 2010 - Page 16

• JOHN BArSNeSS • HOW WEll dOES YOUR RiFlE SHOOT? Good groups depend on many factors. couple of years ago a young man called me, explaining he had A a problem with his custom-barreled .300 Winchester magnum and needed some handloading help. “I’m only getting 4" groups at 500 yards,” he said. It turned out he’d put close to 1,000 rounds through the barrel, searching for even better accuracy. A few questions brought forth the particulars. He was shooting 5-shot groups, not the 3-shot groups more commonly seen from big-game rifles these days. The barrel was a mediumweight Lilja. In my experience, Dan Lilja makes excellent barrels. The young man also listed the bullets and powders he’d tried. The longer we spoke, the more I wished we were talking in person, so I could grab his shoulders and shake his head vigorously. The .300 was his elk rifle, and the last time I looked even small elk typically have lungs a lot bigger than 4" across. Plus, he’d probably already shot the best accuracy out of his barrel, searching for a load that put them all in to the same hole at more than a quarter of a mile. Modern rifles and bullets are very accurate, and in my experience sub-MOA 5-shot groups are really good at any range from any rifle portable enough to actually hunt elk, instead of snipe them. load, so finally I suggested shooting 3-shot groups, because his barrel was probably heating up while shooting five shots, and the heat waves were no doubt interfering with his aim. He may have even believed me, because I never heard from him again. Magic of “3” In reality, I suggested 3-shot groups because three shots stand a much better chance of landing in a psychologically small cluster than five shots. This is the reason so many of today’s hunters shoot 3-shot groups at 100 yards: Once in a while they’ll shoot a 1-hole group they can cut from the target and show their shooting buddies. This doesn’t mean their factory .280 is a genuine “1/2-MOA” rifle, any more than the high percentage of blonde women in America means a sudden influx of Swedish immigrants. But like blondes, tiny groups make a lot of guys feel better. I’ve kept track of 3-shot and 5-shot groups from the same rifles in the last 25 years, and it turns out average group size very much follows the rules of chance. Five divided by three is 1.667, and if 3-shot groups from a rifle average 1", 5-shot groups from today,mostbig-gamehuntersshoot3-shot groups,becausetheyoftenprovidethose tinybraggingclusters. No Magic? What the guy wanted was a Magic Load that would suddenly turn his already accurate elk rifle into a 1-hole wonder. I didn’t know of such a the same rifle will average around 1.7". (A professional statistician could probably come up with an even more precise ratio, but I had just enough contact with statistics in college to put more faith in range results.) If the young man with the unsatisfactory .300 Winchester Magnum switched to 3-shot groups, odds are his rifle would suddenly become one of those halfMOA wonders, and he wouldn’t bug anybody about Magic Loads. The truth is that neither 3-shot nor 5-shot groups really tell us much about the consistent accuracy of a rifle. Back in ancient times, when a writer named Col. Townsend Whelen frequently contributed to shooting magazines, 10-shot groups were often fired, especially from varmint rifles. The Colonel’s goal was a genuine 1", 10-shot group at 100 yards. Even today this indicates a very accurate varmint rifle, especially a factory rifle firing factory ammunition. When I test a new varmint rifle, once the rifle is sighted in I often fire a 10-shot group. If it’s around an inch, then the rifle shows the potential to be very accurate. Longer Ranges Howlongshouldyouwaitbetweenshotsattherange?Itdependsonwhatyouwanttoknow. If the rifle is often going to be used at ranges longer than 100 yards (and most are these days), then once an accurate load is found at 100 yards, 16 WWW.GUNSMAGAZINE.COM • NOVEMBER 2010

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