What qualifies as acceptable accuracy in a rifle?
The answer to that question has changed over time.
In the 1700s, when the Pennsylvania longrifle was the standard for high quality firearms, hitting an apple at 100 yards was considered quite the feat, said Cole McCulloch, who teaches long-range shooting as founder, owner and operator of the Peacemaker National Training Center in Glengary, W.Va.
“We wouldn’t consider that very accurate today,” he said.
The current world record for a 10-shot group at 1,000 yards, he said, measures 2.6872 inches across.
That would be tough to match, for sure. But anyone can become a better long-range shot if they keep some things in mind.
For starters, McCulloch recommends sighting in at no more than 100 yards.
A rifle “system” consists of three parts, he said: the rifle, including scope, the ammunition and the shooter. All three have to work well for a shot to be true.
Shooting initially at 100 yards – as opposed to say 500 – will eliminate variables, like wind, and give the shooter a better idea of where his system stands, McCulloch said. The goal is to “set standards” that can be measured, he said.
“The best way to do that is to accept what the bench tells us. Accept what you can learn from the shooting bench,” McCulloch said.
Make adjustments from there, he said.
There are several ways to do that, said Bob Hart, a champion long-range shooter and fourth generation custom rifle maker at Robert W. Hart and Son Inc. in Nescopack, Pa.
One is by tweaking a rifle’s trigger, he said.
Most factory triggers are hard to squeeze, he said, something borne out of liability concerns. That’s bad because he believes most mistakes in long-range shooting “are made before the bullet exits the barrel.”
“If you have a heavy trigger, and you anticipate it, you’re constantly fighting it to get it to go off when it should,” Hart said.
When it comes to scopes, he suggests adding a level to those on guns that will be used to shoot targets more than 500 yards away. They function just like the level on a bow sight, keeping the shooter from canting his firearm one way or the other.
McCulloch and Hart both recommend matching ammunition to the firearm.
Factory rifles are made, by necessity, to be able to handle all kinds of ammunition, Hart said. That’s because the maker of a 30-06 rifle doesn’t know what brand or what grain a shooter might use, from what country of origin.
“Whatever it is, it has to be able to chamber in that gun and be stable,” Hart said.
Rifles have “twist” in the barrel, though, McCulloch said. A gun with an 8-inch twist will make a bullet completely rotate once every eight inches, for example.
A barrel with a 1-in-8 twist will handle certain bullet weights better than another with a 1-in-7 or 1-in-10 twist, he said.
Long-range shooters need to find the ammunition that works best in their firearm, he said. He offered an analogy.
“When we think about ammo, we need to think about it like shoes,” he said.
A person who wears a size 10 can walk into a store and order shoes. If the salesman brings back a pair of “size 24 Shaquille O’Neals” has technically given them what they want.
“Are they shoes? Sure. But can you walk in them? Not very well,” McCulloch said.
Sometimes, gun manufacturers list the ideal bullet for that firearm in the owner’s manual, McCulloch said.
Even then, shooters should spend time on the range, running various brands of ammunition through their gun to see what performs best, hart said. Custom ammunition is another option, he added.
“You’ll oftentimes find that one kind of ammunition shoots remarkably better than another in that particular gun,” McCulloch said.