How to shoot tight groups

By By Otha Barham / outdoors editor
Aug. 9, 2002
Editor's note: The title does not introduce a treatise on the elimination of close knit organizations by sniper fire. Rather it has to do with shooting a rifle at targets for accuracy. A "group" refers to the holes in a target made by usually either 3 or 5 shots fired at 100 yards.
With volumes written to guide the perfectionist who finds himself or herself enamored with rifle accuracy, I will address only the practical side of reasonable accuracy for the hunter, specifically the hunter of big game. So we are not trying to split hairs here, just a patch of hair on the skin that covers a deer's ribs.
To really know where our rifle is hitting out there where the game is, we need to shoot at a lot of paper. Serious riflemen should shoot many more paper targets than they do game animals. The word is out that paper makes really poor stew, and this fact carried to extreme can lead some hunters to avoid shooting it. Don't let that happen to you.
Skipping all the things you do to a rifle to make it shoot straight like glass bedding the action, free-floating the barrel, testing all brands of ammunition, handloading, getting an expensive scope sight and adjustable trigger, etc. etc., lets assume you have an accurate rifle and move on to making the shot itself.
The elements
Here it is what you do to shoot near perfect groups with a rifle that has been tuned to shoot exactly where it points. Use a sturdy shooting bench. Relax, rest the fore end of the rifle on a sandbag or two and place the butt of the rifle on one smaller sandbag. With the rifle settled into moderate depressions in the sandbags, the scope's crosshairs should be looking a bit above the bulls-eye on the target. Both feet should be flat on the ground with the forward one quartering toward the target at about 45 degrees.
With the trigger hand grasping the pistol grip, the other hand has a firm grip on the rear sand bag. With the cheek firmly on the comb of the stock, sight through the scope and squeeze the rear sandbag, raising the stock until the crosshairs align on the target. Take a deep breath and let half of it out. Hold your breath, align the sight and press don't squeeze the trigger gently, concentrating on the center of the bull and with no thought of recoil.
Do this exactly the same way each time and your groups will be small and you can tell if the scope needs adjusting. Set deer rifles to hit three inches high at a hundred yards and you are set for hunting season.
Please don't tell me you don't shoot targets from a bench rest because that is not the way you shoot game. Of course it's not, but multiple shots from a sturdy rest are required to know exactly where your bullets are going at various distances. You will have plenty of factors working to cause a miss at game in the field. A permanent one, having a rifle that doesn't shoot where it is pointed, is one you don't need. The good news is that that is one we can prevent; and in advance when there is no pressure.
I have never become hooked on competitive shooting, but I am particular about where my hunting rifle throws bullets. I have learned what it takes to shoot well from a bench, although as most do, I forget often and throw bullets all over the target.
Winning group
However I was able to shoot a three-shot group tight enough to beat several gaggles of outdoor writers from across the South a couple of years ago. The group was well under an inch and the win netted me an expensive Remington rifle Last year I shot a group at the same event with the new Winchester .300 Short Magnum that measured just a few thousandths over half an inch. Had that company given away a rifle, I think it would have been mine. I used the techniques described above.
That new short magnum was chambered in the fine Model 70 Featherweight and it kicked the stew out of me, so thoroughly that after the two shots I made just to get acquainted with the round, I gave up my place to the next shooter and hobbled away to nurse my shoulder. The Winchester man called me back, declaring that I had a tight group going, which the spotting scope confirmed.
To complete the group, I sat back down and readjusted the rifle rest and sandbags. I fired away and shot that third round tight against the other two. The light rifle's heavy recoil and having to reestablish the shooting position are factors against accurate shooting. Avoid them. So yes, there was luck involved here. Had I shot subsequent groups, low flying birds and moles in shallow tunnels would likely have been in danger. But for once, I did everything right for three shots and had a little luck to boot.
Follow the time-tested steps to bench shooting noted above and you too will have a target now and then to brag about.

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