How Accurate Does Your Hunting Gun Need to Be?

An ethical hunter’s primary responsibility: ensure that he or she takes game in the most humane way possible. All other responsibilities fall by the wayside if we don’t act as reliable servants to Mother Nature. Hippie Talk aside, let’s talk accuracy . . .

Contrary to what you see in Hollywood, 80-200 lbs. mammals aren’t that hard to kill (all apologies to Bruce Willis and the Die Hard series). One well placed shot is all we need. However, as hunters we can sometimes focus too hard on creating the most accurate rifle out there without paying attention to the biggest variable: us!

I have seen far too many hunters seduced by the latest, greatest round or gun that offers great knock down power, flat trajectories, and mild recoil. They’ll buy a gun with a thumbhole stock, drop hundreds of dollars on trigger work, thousands on a piece of glass, and spend $1.50 per round to shoot it. All this money and time, and they’ll shoot 20 rounds through their gun each year. Worst of all, every shot will be at less than 100 yards.

In Leghorn’s article about the $500 long range shooter, he talks about the gun shooting 2” groups at 100 yards and therefore having a cone of uncertainty with a diameter of 20” at 1000 yards. Sure sounds like a lot until you start thinking about it, and realize that a 20” diameter circle really isn’t that big. At 100 yards, that 2” circle may as well be a pinpoint. Look at how much more you have to spend to make that circle 1” smaller.

So why all the talk and dollars to make a sub 1 MOA gun? Leghorn saved enough money on his gun to buy five years worth of good ammo compared to the guy in the stall next to me who has dropped at least $2500 on his gun and optics. My money is on Leghorn to be the better shooter when hunting season comes around.

And with that said, it comes time for you to have an honest conversation with yourself about how you hunt. What ranges do you normally shoot at? What ranges are you competent at? At what range is your bullet most effective? Do you get buck fever when the big one comes out of the brush? Are you going to be running and gunning? Will you be in a warm blind with a solid rest? Your hunting rig depends on all of these factors.

Let’s take my gun as an example. I shoot a Ruger M77 Mark II with a Leupold VX-II 3-9 X 40 mm scope and a Timney trigger. I can rest it on sandbags at my local indoor range and put 5 holes on paper at 100 yards that can be covered with a quarter. I recently took it to a range north of me on a particularly windy day and put three rounds in a row on a man-sized target at 500 yards.

The gun is plenty capable of extreme accuracy even with factory loads. However, I don’t feel comfortable shooting past 150 yards. While the gun’s cone of uncertainty at that range may only be 2 inches in diameter, I know that mine is probably 7-10”.  I hunt out of my truck, and I’m usually pretty excited about taking a tasty animal. My lack of solid rest and excitement related shaking mean that I don’t feel that I can make an ethical kill past 150 yards. I am not 100% confident that I put a round where it needs to go to reliably end the life of my prey. If I can’t feel fully confident of that, I shouldn’t even have my finger on the trigger.

This site spends a good amount of time talking about training for the self-defense situation that we all hope will never happen. Hunting shouldn’t be any different. If anything, as hunters we should adopt that mindset more readily. The likelihood of Brad encountering a situation where he has to squeeze the trigger on his Kimber is low. The odds that I’ll put another living being in my sights in the next year are 100%. What good does taking my gun to the range and killing paper at $1.25/shot accomplish if I’m not training for how I hunt.

At the end of the day, you need to evaluate how you hunt and develop an honest assessment of the gun you need to use for the mission. I’m willing to bet that a little soul searching will reveal that you don’t practice like you hunt. Find out how you hunt, pick the gun that is right for the job, and shoot the hell out of it in various mock hunting situations.

Now go forth and collect tasty morsels!

 

comments

  1. avatar Charles says:

    I’ve noticed the same phenomenon with photographers. They get all myopic about the gear and forget about the most important part of any discipline: practice, which involves diligence, patience and attention.

    Of course there are other factors as well, like talent. However, I have seen people with no apparent talent who refused to give up, and they tended to make a pretty respectable go of it. In other words, we agree. People can make do with less if they are willing to try.

  2. avatar I_Like_Pie says:

    Amen to someone with a practical voice in the sea of idiocy. I can not argue with anything you said.

    People don’t know any better than this are lulled into spending money thinking that somehow a 1/2 moa gun will make you a better shooter than a 2 moa gun. Maybe if you strap it to a bench and totally remove the human element.

    Truth is that anything that can hit a tennis ball at 100 yards is an accurate rifle.
    Oh yeah…..Benchrest shooters are annoyingly anal people. I feel sorry for their spouses.

  3. avatar Ken says:

    Your first sentence could be a topic all by itself. I wonder what the consensus here might be. On another site, some yahoo posted pics of a deer he had killed using 5-6 blasts of birdshot, gloating over his righteous kill. I made a comment about how such crap is what gives hunters/ing a bad name, mentioned hunting ethics, blah blah blah. Silly me. Quite a s**t storm came my way from numerous posters. Hunting ethics? What’s that? Where they were, deer are vermin, to be eliminated in any way possible. Etc, etc, on and on.
    Was I wrong? Is there any such thing “hunting ethics” any more? We used to call such guys “trash hunters”. No longer?

    1. avatar Todd AF Vet says:

      Yes there is such a thing as “Hunting Ethics”. I practice it. I agree with the OP. Most hunters should decide what they are tracking and taking and practice for that range. I.E. If you are in Bow range you do not need 1/2 MoA weapon. If it is longer ranges they should practice for that range with their hunting weapon. Weapons should be used and not just sit in a box 51 weeks of the year. A well trained shooter can do remarkable things with very basic weapons.

  4. avatar Chris Dumm says:

    I don’t spend nearly enough time practicing offhand shooting, which is how a lot of hunting shots have to be taken. Judging by my results at the range or the shooting quarry, I would probably limit myself to offhand shots of 100 yards or even less.

  5. avatar Joe Grine says:

    My problem with actually using expensive rifles in the field is that I end up treating them with kid gloves because I don’t want to risk getting them dinged up, etc. That adds a bit of stress that I don’t need in the field. So for a real workhorse hunting rifle, I agree that something less expensive is the way to go (Savage, Howa 1500, T/C, etc.), even if you sacrifice a bit of accuracy. In my review of the T/C Icon, I had originaly noted that they are producing Hogue overmolded stocks for that rifle, which helps with that issue – that may have not make it past the edits.

    I do think a good trigger is really important, so I won’t spare any expense on making sure that the trigger is first class. Given your use of a Timney, I suspect that you agree with this assessment. These days, many of the companies (Savage and T/C, for example) are putting really nice, adjustable triggers even on their mid-level guns.

    BTW – I’m certainly willing to take a 400-500 meter shot on a coyote, deer, or antelope IF I have a comfortable (prone, bi-pod or pack supported) shooting position and time to set my dope, but, as you know, you don’t always get that luxery in the field.

    1. avatar Tyler Kee says:

      You are spot on with the trigger comment. The stock one on this gun was absolutely terrible. Paying to have that trigger installed and adjusted by a professional was money well spent.

      And yes, a solid rest and time to set your dope can go a long way to giving you the confidence to squeeze the trigger. Part two of that is making sure that your bullet of choice will have enough energy at that range to make a clean kill.

  6. avatar miforest says:

    this is a great point. up untill 20 or so years ago ammo just wasn’t that great , and 2 ” was great for a hunting rifle. however , ammo is so good that even cheaper marlin x7’s Mossberg, and savage rifles will shoot 1″ all day long and cost less than $ 400.

    if you go to gunbroker and buy a box of vintage ammo , even from a name brand, you see this.

  7. avatar karlb says:

    When I was just out of college, I worked at a large retail store that specialized in stereo, TV, and photography equipment. We called the spec-oriented customers “weenies,” as in camera weenies, or stereo weenies (this was before TVs became “home entertainment systems”): these were people more interested in their equipment than in listening to music or creating memorable photographs. While they had passion, it seemed misplaced. I have a feeling that many people who have fly-to-the-moon weapons are a bit like this.

  8. avatar Ralph says:

    Great article, Tyler, and a perfect comment from karlb as well. We have all become gun weenies (the w word has not gone out of style) to one extent or another. Don’t a lot of gun people own at least one safe queen? Well, that’s fine as far as it goes. Wanting a sub-MOA rifle is one thing, but having one isn’t all that’s it’s cracked up to be. Joe Grine’s observation is true: most people who take a very expensive rifle into the field don’t have a good time with it. When the same folks take a sub-$500 rifle into the field, they have more fun and put the same game on the table.

  9. avatar tdiinva says:

    I was a gun show looking at 308s and I he showed me this bolt action model with a bipod. It was really a sniper rifle. When I told him that I couldn’t see much use for this kind firearm he told that “I could shoot deer from ridge line to another.” My response was “that’s fine and good but my chances of finding the deer 500 yards away in the forest were nil so why would I want to buy something like that? ”

    The shooter is more important than the rifle he is using. A $3000 Weatherby is a waste of money on someone like me because I won’t be any more accurate with it than I would be with a Mossberg, Remington or Savage product. The only reason to get a higher priced rifle is material quality and that probably ends with a Browning product.

    As Manfred von Richthofen once said “It’s not the crate, it’s the man in the crate.”

    1. avatar Todd AF Vet says:

      +1

    2. avatar Bob H says:

      “I could shoot deer from (one) ridge line to another.”
      OK, but would he be willing to walk down the one ridge and up the other one and then back again carrying the deer?

  10. avatar Rudy says:

    Very well written article. And very interesting to read. What else pleases me – you probably first guys in “those internets” (at least from those I reading :)) who start to oppose “price tag race” trend. I wouldn’t mind when somebody can honestly afford some expensive item and use it properly. Or when person buy new weapon just because he can’t squeeze from his current one more. I don’t know, like turning AK into sub-MOA rifle :). But when price tag racing turns to racing for price tag sake? It seems too many people looking for gun with “+20 to accuracy, +50 to respect” :).

    And ethics… Some people refuse to search for their wounded game. “What for, it’s just the way of life, whats the difference between me wounding that game or it was wounded by another animal”. And they name themselves “just keeping it real’ists and nativists”.
    Sorry, if I offended someone.

  11. avatar Magoo says:

    I need 2 MOA or better to be ethically comfortable with the shots I will generally take. Any more accuracy than that is useless to the vast majority of shooters, but often that’s not the point. People appreciate quality equipment and there’s nothing wrong with that.

    You can look at it this way: If only people who need .5 MOA rifles bought them, they’d be a lot more expensive than they are. Every avocation has patrons and benefactors. Don’t be a Hater.

    1. avatar Ralph says:

      “Don’t be a Hater”?????

      Considering the source, that’s the funniest thing I’ve ever read.

    2. avatar tdiinva says:

      Magoo a Wi doesn’t count.

      1. avatar Bob H says:

        That was evil, but in a great way. +1

  12. avatar mikeb302000 says:

    “Reliable servants of Mother Nature,” that’s a riot. You do know most hunters just like to shoot things and only a tiny percentage take the ethical responsible seriously, don’t you?

    Hunting animals is sick, even worse than shooting at paper targets and fantasyzing about killing bad guys.

    1. avatar Rudy says:

      Are you vegetarian?

  13. avatar tdiinva says:

    I get it Mike. You don’t like guns and the people who have them. You are so much more intelligence than us and so morally superior. Good luck when you run into a mountain lion in the woods or thug on the streets. Rest assured that if I see it happening I will honor your wishes on not complete the cycle of violence

    1. avatar Bob H says:

      Do you suppose we could get him to wear some sort of identifying cap or patch? Something that indicates he doesn’t want me to intervene? I’d really hate to waste expensive ammunition just to discover he was anti-gun and didn’t want me to help.

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