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Sumbria.vikramaditya [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Is your rifle’s accuracy not what you’d hoped it would be? Well, there are a few things that can improve it. However, there’s a good chance things like upgrading your scope, adding a match-grade barrel or a new stock aren’t going to make as big a difference as you’d think. Much of rifle accuracy, just as with shooting any type of firearm, has more to do with the shooter than the gun.

Usually, it comes down to operator error or a different link in the chain that you might not have considered.

So, how to tighten up those groups? Here are some shooting tips that can help.

Sgt. Matthew Callahan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
First is to examine your trigger pull. Many people assume that a heavy trigger leads to bad shooting; in reality it’s more that bad trigger technique does. That’s not to say a trigger job by a competent ‘smith or a Timney replacement won’t make shooting more enjoyable, but most of the time it’s because you pulled the thing wrong.

It happens to all of us. Don’t be too hard on yourself, Atticus Flinch.

The legendary hunter W.D.M. “Karamojo” Bell was an expert rifle shot, pulling off incredible feats of marksmanship before variable-powered scopes really existed. He mastered a rear-quarter brain shot that allowed him to drop more than 8,000 elephants with small calibers like .275 Rigby (7x57mm Mauser) and .318 Westley Richards.

He was observed shooting cormorants on the wing and jumping fish out of the air with a rifle. How?

Dry fire practice. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Dry firing. Thousands and thousands of trigger pulls. While on the march, he would practice his trigger pull on distant landmarks. It’s some of the best practice you can do.

Shoulder your rifle and balance an empty case, a coin or a battery on it. Then pull the trigger. Does the object move or fall off? If so, you need to work on your trigger pull until it doesn’t.

I, Arthurrh [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Second, another possible cause of rifle accuracy issues is your iron sights or your scope. Even good optics with sturdy mounting systems are susceptible to being knocked and iron sights need to be adjusted occasionally.

Have you checked your zero lately?

Check your scope rings and base as well. They do come loose over time, and may need adjustment.

Per G. Arvidsson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Third, another tip for long-range rifle shooting concerns ammunition. We all experiment from time. Some shooters have several loads they cycle through.

While ammunition is merely a tool for accomplishing a task, you will really benefit for finding the best load for your particular gun.

You’ll notice some loads group tighter than others, some might hit to the left or right or hit lower than others. A good tip is to find the one (or a few) that works best and, unless it’s impossible, stick to that one.

For instance, I’ve found that my Model 70 in .30-06 is the most accurate with Remington Core Lokt 165-grain ammunition. It requires the least amount of adjustment to zero and I consistently shoot 1 MOA groups. (Consistent 1-inch groups is impressive considering the gun is several decades old, and I therefore bought it used.)

Since it’s my hunting rifle, and I don’t live in grizzly country, that load in that caliber will harvest all the game I can hunt in this area including deer, black bear, elk and – if I manage to ever draw the tag – moose. Since it also has the benefit of being widely available and incredibly cheap, I don’t shoot anything else.

Drop table. Credit: metroplex/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA

Fourth, a corollary to the question of ammunition, is to become intimately familiar with the drop table for the round you shoot, in addition to how it corresponds to your rifle scope’s reticle. Not knowing the appropriate drop at the appropriate distance is a crucial mistake when it comes to rifle accuracy.

This is especially important for long-range rifle shooting, as your success or failure lives and dies by how you estimate the drop. Granted, buying a scope that can adjust for range will help, but only so much.

Before I became a believer in the Pick One Load And Stick To It school, I made the dunder-headed error of grabbing some 180-grain Nosler Partition for a hunt instead of the 165-grain pills I normally used. Partition is better, I said to myself, so I assumed (key word there!) that everything would work out for the best.

Normally, with my rifle zeroed four inches high at 100 yards for 165-grain Core Lokt, I only need to hold six inches to one foot over the back of a deer to put the bullet in the chest cavity at 400 yards.

However, what I neglected to find out before hitting the field was that I should have doubled the holdover for that distance with 180-grain Federal Partition, which I discovered when I missed a trophy four-point whitetail right at the end of shooting light.

It was an idiotic mistake, for which I have been kicking myself ever since. Better a clean miss due to being a moron than a bad hit and a wounded deer that you can’t recover, so there’s that, but it was a pretty stupid mistake.

This isn’t to say you can’t run multiple loads in one rifle, but you’d better know the ballistics for whatever loads you DO run and know them well.

U.S. Navy photo /Released [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Top tip number five is to clean your rifle. Scrub that barrel clean. Make sure your receiver is clean as well, and all parts are lubricated. If your rifle is fed with detachable magazines, make sure they’re clean and working well, too.

Just as with shooting pistols, reliability and rifle accuracy are both aided with a clean, well-oiled, and cared-for gun. This can be the difference between success at the range or in competition or hunting afield, and wretched, frustrating failure.

Cellule Communication [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
The sixth tip is to get in better physical shape. Breathing and dealing with stress are just as much a part of shooting as the trigger pull and your equipment, both of which are aided by doing some cardio. This will help with rifle accuracy, pistol accuracy, and actually just general overall quality of life.

A lot of us need more of it. Run more. Do some burpees. Stop eating junky food. Don’t want to join a gym? Get yourself a 16-kilo kettlebell. A few sets of Russian swings will have you entering a world of pain, Smokie, but it’s the good for you kind.

There are plenty of KB routines on the internet, ranging from good-for-beginners to “did the guy from ‘Hellraiser’ dream this up?” and you can do them all at home. [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Seventh and lastly, shoot more. Look, there’s generally a correlation between how accurate a person is and the amount that they shoot. Your rifle accuracy will improve the more you shoot your rifle, just as with shooting a pistol, a shotgun, a bow, whatever. It’s incredibly basic, but it’s also true.

Besides, you get to do more shooting! That’s just good fun, provided, of course, that you’re doing so safely. And who among us doesn’t want to shoot more than we do?

Have any other suggestions? Feel like bashing me for my bone-headed mistake that led to a fruitless deer season? Actually think “Star Wars” is better when Han Solo doesn’t shoot first? (You’re wrong.) Sound off in the comments!

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    • Or a drop-block, or break-action rifle.

      I find with students that teaching them on a rifle without a “fast follow-up” provision forces them to think more about this shot.

      A gun/shooting mentor of mine, now in his 80’s, liked to tell me “Make every shot a deliberate, considered shot.” This was sagacity offered to me whilst he was observing my low hit rate with a semi-auto .22LR on ground squirrels.

      Switching to a bolt-action rifle immediately caused me to slow down and stop taking low-likelihood shots. It wasn’t so much any improvement in the equipment. Instead of flipping two rounds downrange to do the work that one should have, I waiting for the right moment, then worked on the fundamentals again, so I would make the shot count. My hit rate doubled in two days (from about one-third of shots hitting, to two-thirds+ of shots hitting), and I further improved with two more weeks of re-visiting the fundamentals.

      • A double barrel rifle is on my wish list but most of the ones I see cost more than my truck. And it’s a 2017.

        • Nor do Ruger No. 1s, but double rifles tend to be pretty pricey.

        • Doubles (S x S) are cool but are very sensitive to the ammo. Best to use whatever they were originally regulated for. The maker will usually let you know.

          Sabatti sold a ton of halfway decent yet Spartan double rifles a few years back through Cabela’s. There are still some of those in circulation, usually around $4K.

          I believe one of the primary problems with decent longer range (beyond 150 yards) shooting is to decide exactly what one should focus on as the trigger is pressed. Service rifle sights in matches are pretty easy, scopes and various recticles are a different thing, especially if there is no objective lens adjustment for distances both very short (not a BFD) and out beyond the 150 yard mark, where the recticle may tend to waver as it’s no longer “in” the same focal plane as the target.

          I also do not get very good results when shooting beyond 200 yds with my Harris Bipod resting on a hard surface as in the picture at the top of the page. Maybe it’s just me, but I doubt it.

    • That depends on the semi-auto and I don’t mean Camp Perry where semi-autos have ruled for decades. I had a HK SL6 that would drive tacks. On the lookout for a SL7 at a reasonable price. Forty years ago I had a Remington 742 (of all things) when Federal came out with their premium line of ammo it would shoot sub MOA with the 165 Sierra boat tail. That said, in general, I prefer a bolt gun for most work.

      • “drop more than 8,000 elephants”

        That’s not hunting. That’s a psychosis. No wonder big game hunters in Africa developed such a bad name.

        • He was a game culler, killing off the sick and the weak, he didn’t just do it for kicks.

        • “Famous as one of the most successful ivory hunters of his time”

          “Bell shot 1,011 elephants during his career; all of them bulls apart from 28 cows.”

          That is not culling for the health of the heard, just bringing home the ivory. I am glad that the actual number is a lot less than the 8000 listed in the article.

    • #9 find out which is your dominate eye.
      You would be surprised how many right handed people are left eye dominate. And vice versa.
      A bit of tape on the eyeglass for awhile solved that issue for me.

  1. Or spend a weekend at a Project Appleseed event. You’ll learn the art of field marksmanship and come away with a step change in your ability to make teensy groups with a rack grade rifle. All of your recommendations are sound, but most problems lie with the shooter.

    • Be prepared to find out that you suck at hitting the targets. By the end of the first weekend while you might not, actually odds are WILL not make a rifleman badge you will have more little holes in the parts of the target where you want them to be. I enjoyed the weekends doing this and will try again for the patch sometime this year.
      The last 2 years I’ve been having eye problems so no use trying unless I wanted to use a scope. I want to do it with iron sights.

    • This is sound advice.
      I attended a few Appleseed clinics and practiced a lot of what they taught until it was second nature. They teach basic field rifle marksmanship.
      I know what the other person means about eye trouble. I am older and use a scope. I am still trying to shoot with irons but I bear no shame and I have a Rifleman patch for my jacket.

  2. Get an air rifle and a shooting gallery for your back yard. Shoot everyday 50 to 100 rounds with three to four different models. You will become a great shooter following the techniques mentioned above. Most of all, learn how to master the artillery hold.

  3. You should know all these things and much more… b4 u pick up a gun unless u want to be a dirt shooter.

  4. “He was observed shooting cormorants on the wing and jumping fish out of the air with a rifle. How?”
    As good as dry fire practice is, it was not the way that Bell did it.
    Bell learned to make every shot count by hunting for a living in Alaska at about age 18. He went far out from the settlements to find game to sell to the miners. Meat was at premium prices then. Bell tried gold mining and discovered that he’d much rather hunt, than haul hot rocks for a living. The first winter he ran out of rifle ammo and learned to kill Elk and Moose with a hogleg Colt .45, which was all he had, instead. The fact that his ‘partner’, who transported the meat back for sale with a dogsled robbed him blind, does not change the fact that he did learn that skill, and that was something his ‘friend’ couldn’t steal from him.

  5. Get settled in, riful not moving, close your eyes, open them and if your cross hairs are still on target that’s when I know I can yank the trigger and compensate the recoil with a good flinch.

  6. I found service rifle competition to be the best training for hunting. Anyone can shoot fine off the bench in their own time. Service shooting is learning to shoot under stress and when you’re not ready. And from standing, sitting, and prone positions with only the sling for support.

    I’m yet to find benchrests in the middle of the forest with animals exactly at 50 and 100 yards.

    • Southern Cross,

      That has to be tip number 10: use a sling!

      I was stunned at how much more stable I was the first time I used a sling on a rifle. Without a sling, my inherent shakiness (for lack of a better word) tended to cover something like a 12 inch diameter circle at 100 yards. With a sling, my inherent shakiness tended to cover something like a 5 inch diameter circle at 100 yards. That is with respect to shooting offhand by the way. I don’t know whether using a sling on a good bench rest with sand bags would improve accuracy since I have never thought to try that.

      • Preach it. Being shown the proper way to sling seriously stabilized my shooting, and if I flex my muscles a bit, I get even steadier. A built-in tripod, any time you want…

    • Bone support.

      99% of shooters muscle the rifle onto the target. If you have to do that you’re doing it wrong and you’ll never qualify as Expert.


  7. I shoot an Armalite AR-10. The only modification is their facotry polished top end trigger. Topped with a Leupold VXR Patrol 1.25x4x20 milrad scope. The cross hairs are a little coarse for real precision long distance but you can also focus on something as close as 20 feet or so. I bought 200 rounds of HPR 168grain math grade…unfortunately they’re out of business now, as I understand it. That’s a bummer because I bought the HPR’s to be the only round to put through this rig. I zeroed the thing at 250 yards. +3.75 at 150 yds…-4.0 at 300. Depending on what you’re shooting at that’s pretty much hold on out to 300 yards.

    I know y’all are going to poo poo this but the last three round group I shot was 1.5 inches at 250 yards off a bench with my forearm grip that splits to a bipod.

    Unless you are into real precision at long, long distances…don’t give up on those auto loaders. Besides, I got 20 chances. 😀

  8. With respect to #6 if your response to a workout is “did the guy from ‘Hellraiser’ dream this up?” and you’re not nearing a competition you’re probably doing it wrong. This is the Achilles’ heel of Crossfit IMHO.

    I used to think that killing it was the way to go but that’s not what professional athletes who last in their sport do and for good reason. If you take it to 70-80% consistently with occasionally maxing it out you’ll get better results because you’ll get into a state of, as much as I hate the term, “flow” where it’s not so challenging that you burn yourself out but it’s challenging enough that you don’t get bored. You also won’t have recovery down-time which you should have, at most, rarely.

    The guy who puts in an hour at the gym Monday through Friday, gives it 80% and enjoys himself will get better results than the guy who kills it Tuesday and Thursday for two hours at a time. At the end of the week the first guy has an extra hour, by the end of the year, assuming two weeks vacation, he’s spent an extra 50 hours at the gym and done so at a very, very significantly reduced risk of injury. He’s making slow but steady gains and getting in the extra hours as well while not tearing up his body to the point he has to enter a recovery mode.

    I used to think that whole concept was nonsense but after getting out of the hospital at 97lbs and giving it a try, I assure you that it works better and, at this point I have to admit that the argument is probably correct that this is almost certainly why Russia produces so many great wrestlers and Cuba produces so many great boxers.

    You can probably apply this to shooting as well. Don’t shoot until you’re sick of it or your groups to go shit. Shoot less per session and shoot more sessions. You’ll enjoy it more and get a greater benefit out of it too because at the end of the year you actually shot more and spent more time shooting in a way that’s useful.

    • I agree, I found for myself shooting trap, that if I shoot more then two boxes an outing I’ll start to shoot poorly and just end up reinforcing a bad habit. Right now if I shoot one box on an outing I’ll shoot a 23 out of 25. Unless the wind is blowing good, then it’s like trying to shoot UFOs.

      On exercise. Since November I’ve been doing push ups and as of April squats, preferably twice daily. Honestly I was surprised that I dropped 20lbs from starting out just shy of 250lbs when I just did the push ups. Then I got on the scale this morning and it said I weigh 222lbs. I’m right at six foot… And I’m just doing 20 of each, not the most stressing amount or thing to do but it has shown results.

  9. 1) Shoot, shoot, shoot, and shoot some more…there is no substitute for shooting more…
    2) Load your own…each rifle will have a sweet spot, a load that will be more consistent that all the others…

    You can have the best, most expensive equipment in the world, BUT if you don’t have the fundamentals down, you’ll just be another trigger puller…

  10. I don’t know how true this is, but I was told by a couple of SF snipers that they will not clean their bore and it actually gives them tighter groups. When the fouling gets to the point where the groups start to get bigger, they will clean the bore then shoot it until it has just enough fouling to make the shots group at their tightest. I am more of a CQB and pistol guy so I welcome feedback on this.

    • That’s essentially correct, you NEVER want to clean your bore/barrel to factory new…Generally, after a shooting session, I just rune a bore snake with a little solvent to remove the carbon fouling, leaving some copper fouling behind…The biggest mistake people make when getting and shooting a new rifle, not following a break in procedure…they just go out and blast away, not minding how hot the barrel gets, and then down the road, they wonder why they can’t get the rifle sighted in better than 1 MOA…

  11. Had a single shot bolt action savage .22 as my first gun in northern Minn. Put lots of stuff in the freezer. Grouse on the wing, ducks, squirrel, rabbits and, gasp!, the occasional white tail. Learning to shoot with an empty belly is a great way to learn.

    • So you have fond memories of poaching? With friends like you; who needs enemies?

  12. Pro Tip: Make sure your spouse is supportive of your hobby. You don’t need that aggro staring at you everytime you leave the house.

    • Experiment and find out 🙂

      I’m not trying to be flippant, try different combinations and see what works best with your particular rifle…

      • That’s no flippant… I’ll show you flippant!

        No, seriously Geoff is right. You can take two of the same make and model and sometimes they like different bullet weights. I’d start by looking up the recommendations for your rifle as a starting point then trying rounds in different directions in terms of weight.

        When you get a new barrel on her, repeat that experiment. Sometimes they come out the same, sometimes not.

  13. I would like to upgrade my gun that will be used for my hitting activities. Thank you for sharing here as well the importance of checking its scope rings too. I also agree with you that adjustments must be made.

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