Reloading Ammo: What’s Acceptable Hunting Accuracy?

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Certainly, reloading components and rifles have vastly improved over the years, hunting accuracy remains a fairly forgiving game.

How Accurate Do You Need To Be Hunting?:

  • Most game is still taken within 250 yards.
  • 2 MOA ammunition and rifle will theoretically eep all its shots in a 6-inch target 300 yards out.
  • 1.5 MOA ammunition and rifle will theoretically keep all its shots in a 6-inch target 400 yards out.
  • Either is more than accurate for most big-game hunting scenarios.

I’ve seen it happen to a good number of avid reloaders—and I’ve had it happen to me. You get so wrapped up in the numbers, and you go so far down the rabbit hole, that the goal of what you’re doing gets lost in the mix.

Our goal as reloaders is to produce the best ammunition available, but I’ve seen so many guys become completely obsessed by velocities, bullet runout, standard deviation or extreme spread. Yes, we need to have good information regarding the ammunition we create, but for those of us who load our ammunition for hunting, there’s a different set of tolerances that apply.

The author’s .308 Winchester and a 1.5-MOA group. This rifle has taken many different species, even though it isn’t the most accurate.
The author’s .308 Winchester and a 1.5-MOA group. This rifle has taken many different species, even though it isn’t the most accurate.

What’s acceptable hunting accuracy? Well, we’ve got an impressive lineup of hunting rifles that offer a guarantee of sub-MOA accuracy. Is sub-MOA accuracy required for all hunting rifles, or can it be a deal-breaker?

Recalibrating Reloading Goals

As a younger man, when a hunting rifle or handload printed a three-shot group at or under an inch, it was noteworthy. Many rifles—especially with the factory ammo of yesteryear—would hover around 1.5 to 2 MOA. In spite of those numbers, a whole lot of game animals were put in the freezer. Looking at the numbers, a rifle that steadily prints 2-MOA groups will—theoretically, and wind deflection values aside—keep all of its shots in a 6-inch circle at 300 yards; lower that number to 1.5 MOA and you’ll keep the shots in a 6-inch circle at 400 yards.

This probably works for the average hunter’s situation, considering that in spite of modern equipment and trends, I’d comfortably wager the predominant shot distance at game animals, country-wide remains inside of 250 yards. Should your rifle print 1-MOA groups, or any fraction thereof, all the better, but a rifle printing 1.5 MOA isn’t a cause for concern or disappointment.

Apply this theory to reloading, and you can easily see the problem areas at the end of the spectrum.

First, we have the “worry wart,” who constantly strives for the last few fps and the most consistent velocities or turns his nose up at a 1-inch group. There’ll be pounds of varying powders, boxes of different primer types and more equipment cast aside because it was deemed unsatisfactory. For a hunter, it may very well be excessive.

Second, we have “Mr. Good Enough.” He’ll cobble together a handload, and so long as it goes bang and gives some modicum of accuracy, call it a day and go hunting—having no idea of the actual velocities or other parameters. Somewhere in the middle is where I feel the blend of results and sanity exists. Remember, the goal is to actually go hunting with the ammunition at some point.

I like my guns to shoot well, and I won’t deny the fact that I’m proud when my .300 Winchester or .280 Ackley Improved puts three shots into a ½-inch group. Who wouldn’t be? But I don’t lose sleep when my .308 Winchester—in a Ruger 77 MKII—prints those same 1¼-inch groups it’s been printing for a quarter-century. I’m comfortable with that, as it’s truly enough accuracy for a hunting rifle.

A five-shot group from handloaded .270 ammo. While it measures 1.4 MOA and might not be inspiring, it’ll suffice for nearly all hunting situations.
A five-shot group from handloaded .270 ammo. While it measures 1.4 MOA and might not be inspiring, it’ll suffice for nearly all hunting situations.

I firmly believe that every reloader should own a good chronograph, or some means of accurately measuring velocity, in order to know how to predict trajectories, but so many people become obsessed with the numbers registered on that machine. I understand that you wouldn’t want a Magnum cartridge to run 300-fps slower than the norm—after all, you bought the cartridge for its speed—but I wouldn’t lose sleep over 100 fps.

Instead, find that classic blend of velocity and accuracy that, as a hunter, serves well and makes you happy without stressing to the point where the magic of the wilderness is being obscured by the data of your handload.

One area I feel should certainly become a focal point for the hunter who handloads is the premium bullet market. It’s true that mankind nearly wiped a good number of species out of existence with pure lead bullets, but as hunters, we owe it to our game animals to deliver the quickest, most humane kill possible, and there are a good number of premium projectiles that deliver exactly that.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the November 2020 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.


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2 COMMENTS

  1. “What’s acceptable hunting accuracy”? The ability to make a clean, one shot kill. It all depends on the guy/gal behind the trigger.

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