Matthew Cameron ponders where you draw the line when it comes to achieving supreme accuracy
The question of group size and the number of shots that are used to shoot any group opens up veritable minefields of opinion, folklore and plain misinformation. Everyone has a correct evaluation.
Group size really came under pressure following the formation of the Benchrest Association in the USA on a formal basis in 1947. Some of the shooters of the day simply refused to accept convention and set out to improve rifle accuracy. When you look at today’s groups, I think it is fair to suggest they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. Along the way they have forced rifle manufacturers to lift their standards.
Exactly just when Minute of Angle (MOA) became the holy grail of rifle shooters I am unable to say, but after many years it has reached a stage whereby achieving such a status in any rifle has forgotten logic and practicality.
Indeed, in some rifles the effort to shoot MOA may be an exercise in futility and an unachievable goal. So, we must look at what the rifle is to be used for. Do we need MOA capability for a .45-70 cartridge in a lever-actioned rifle whose sole use is to shoot pigs in the swamps at ranges under 100 yards? I would suggest that the practical answer is no, we do not.
Do we need MOA capability for a big game rifle to shoot large animals? Many years ago, Townsend Whelen, an American rifleman and writer, said that only accurate rifles are interesting. Perhaps, but like a lot of other issues in shooting, where do you draw the line?
If we do decide that whatever the use of our rifle it must meet the MOA criteria, are you aware that it could be mechanically impossible? The associated ammunition and telescopic sights may render the required result unattainable no matter how good the intent, rifle or ammunition.
The accuracy of any number of hunting rifles worldwide is constantly debatable. The problem is that hunting rarely provides the perfect shot for the person pulling the trigger. Animals on the run are a further problem. Under such a situation I suggest that precise aiming is almost impossible. So, the question is for this type of shooting is do we need a rifle capable of shooting MOA?
The counter argument might be that unless the rifle/cartridge combination has some accuracy you will miss anyway. But the whole point is that if the accuracy of a rifle is only 1.5 MOA you are going to be within three inches at 200 yards.
A hit on any reasonable sized animal within this range will cause enough damage to stop such a creature almost instantly, no matter where the projectile strikes and hopefully expands. But I would agree that in the worst-case scenario it may only slow the animal down.
Another issue in the rifleman’s favour within perhaps the past 15 years or so is the accuracy of modern-day rifles. Computer-controlled machinery that makes the rifles is much better than previously ‑ indeed the same applies to factory ammunition. It is not so long ago that one American gun scribe suggested that MOA rifles in the main were figments of imagination and mainly shot on a keyboard. All I can say is that he was not trying hard to attain this standard.
Personal experience within the family has seen the addition of a few new rifles in the past 10 years or so. The addition of a .25-06 Remington came as a package deal that suited my eldest son’s budget together with a 6x telescopic sight, certainly an entry level rifle. Load development centred around two projectiles – 117gr Hornady SST and a 100gr Custom protector point. Sometimes it will shoot MOA with either load but normally it is an honest 1.25 MOA rifle. This accuracy is more than adequate out to at least 400 yards and more than suitable for the task.
The same applies to my 6.5x55mm cartridge in a Tikka T3 rifle. We needed another hunting rifle. True, we already had a .270 Winchester and a .30-06 in the family gun safe, but the thought was perhaps it was time for something different. The 6.5x55mm fitted our requirements admirably. Known to be accurate since its release some 120 years earlier, the long, slim projectiles seemed to have good penetration.
We did a lot of research and decided to concentrate on Custom 140gr and 160gr projectile weights using the protector point design. We had used this projectile in other calibres; it has never let us down. The result of load development was a pleasant surprise ‑ AR2209 propelled the 140gr projectiles and AR2217 produced the best accuracy with the 160-grainers. Both loads were sub-MOA and continue to be so.
Away from the paper targets, under hunting conditions, the projectiles in either weight work efficiently on game animals. None have escaped the first shot. In this case while the sub-MOA accuracy was a bonus in terms of performance, when we consider the normal range of use if the rifle had only grouped around 1.5 MOA, in terms of accuracy, it would still be in the acceptable bracket.
Americans have a fascination with 6.5 calibre projectiles. They have been available for a long time, as has the 6.5x55mm cartridge which incidentally will do everything and more than the current crop of 6.5mm cartridges in a same quality rifle.
When load developing any cartridge, accuracy coupled with reasonable velocity is the first requirement.
A rarely talked about issue is that you may have an accurate rifle but, under the prevailing conditions, are you capable of using that accuracy? Often hunters must take shots from less-than-ideal conditions or refuse the shot entirely. Good accuracy is a requirement as long shots may be the only ones available due to terrain.
The accuracy requirements of the long-range varmint or target shooter are another matter entirely. I often hear the phrase: “That a particular rifle has more accuracy than you can use.” Try telling that to a benchrest shooter or the long-range varmint hunter. For the benchrest rifleman, often the winning margin is measured in thousands of an inch.
There is a reason why long-range varmint hunters have adopted the benchrest shooters’ techniques when producing ammunition ‑ stated simply, they work. So, for the target or the long-range varmint shooter we need a rifle with the best grouping capability we can attain. End of story.
As mentioned, accuracy is not a singular issue. It is always the summation of many separate items that are all brought together in the one package which allows the best accuracy to be attained. However, the other associated matter is exactly how you shoot the rifle. Do you set the rifle up, hold it and shoot the same for each shot?
I will admit that when a rifle is shot off bags with a steady rest and there is a shot out of the group, the shooter no longer merely blames a random event. Usually there is a reasonable explanation. If confident the hold was correct, and the trigger was not pulled instead of squeezed, the next most likely issue was a velocity variation. Such happenings are tough to eliminate, as you can take the utmost care with ammunition preparation and they will still occur. But I suggest, to a lesser frequency. Almost invariably if there is a velocity variation, it is that shot which is most distant from the group centre.
A ½” group at 100 yards is a 2½” group at 500 yards while a 1” group at 100 yards is 5” in size at 500 yards, which is enough to miss a rabbit entirely. So, you can see the advantage of the smaller group.
We have always been fussy about brass and how it is prepared for long-range shooting. We believe that while time-consuming, it is time well spent. Weighing of brass and projectiles are controversial subjects; it is up to you to carry out your own research as to what works and what is myth. Personally, our family weigh and always have. The same applies to case annealing, as we anneal every time brass crosses our reloading bench.
Finally, yes group size does matter and one-shot kills are essential for hunters but, you have to be realistic and flexible enough to match the group size attained to the type of hunting and expected ranges involved. You should also be aware that some cartridges, such as the .308/.243 Winchester, group and others are flexible and will shoot a wide array of components accurately. Other cases may be less forgiving.