Do your rifle shooting skills need improvement, or do you need better equipment? Here's how to decide, from rifle marksmanship instructor and Gun Digest author Peter Lessler:
Accuracy requirements for center-fire big game rifles vary. The kill zone of an antelope might be as small as six or seven inches, while that of an elk or moose will be ten to twelve inches or even larger. Therefore, even if our rifle/ammo combination shoots 1.5 inches at 100 yards, and say five inches at 300 yards, we can reasonably expect to land a shot in the kill zone of even an antelope at 300 yards if we do everything right. As you can see, such accuracy would suffice for any larger animal at that distance, and even further. Even a garden-variety rifle shooting six-inch groups at 300 yards will do the job on a deer or an elk inside that range – if the shooter can steadily hold correctly.
Therefore, while having a rifle that shoots sub-inch groups off the bench at 100 yards is nice and will help your confidence level in your equipment, please don’t think it’s at all necessary for general-purpose big-game hunting out to 300 yards. There are other and better ways to build confidence in yourself, as we shall see, and I believe that, as long as your equipment is not inferior to your task, your rifle shooting skill matters more than your equipment.
Example: A shooter who takes ten shots at a 10-inch target at 300 yards from an unsupported field position (no bipod, rest or shooting sticks) with a rifle capable of a three- to four-inch group at that distance, and who only gets five or fewer hits on that target, will gain far more hits by learning better marksmanship skills than by buying a rifle that shoots a 1.5-inch group at 300 yards.
If the original equipment will easily do the task, the reasons for missing are not the equipment, but the shooter, so trying to improve the equipment does nothing to solve the problem. A more accurate rifle might gain one or even two more hits in this scenario, but a properly skilled marksman can take that 3-4-inches-at-300 rifle and shoot all ten shots into a nice round five- to six-inch group dead center in the target from prone with a sling.
This may make perfect sense to you, but I have run into some folks who would shake their heads and first go for that 1.5-inch rifle. For some, it’s way more fun (and easier!) to buy better equipment than to work up a sweat in long sessions of position practice. Please, try to not let an obsession for perfect equipment prevent you from perfecting yourself.
The purpose of perfecting yourself is to be able to shoot up to the capabilities of your rifle. In my not-so-humble opinion, to buy new, better equipment with extra, expensive capabilities you cannot even come close to applying is a waste of money which would be better spent on practice ammo with your current rifle. When you can shoot up to the capabilities of your current rifle, that is the time to upgrade.
SHOOTING DRILL: MEASURE YOUR CURRENT ABILITY
Before applying the techniques and training from this book, first try a simple exercise to measure your current ability level. This is the “Plate Drill” (thanks to John Schaefer of Arizona).
Take a paper plate (9-10-inch diameter) set at 100 yards and take ten shots at it, time limit two minutes. Start the drill standing with the rifle slung on your shoulder and loaded with no more than five rounds. Shoot from any position you desire, but NOT off a bench, bipod, or other rest. Use your sling if you so desire.
Run this test a couple of times and note how many times you hit the plate, the time required, group size, and the position you used. Later, after learning and practicing the techniques, you can try it again and see what improvements you’ve made.
Peter's new book, Gun Digest Shooter's Guide to Rifle Marksmanship is available from the Gun Digest Store. When you order, remember to use promo code INSIDEGDB to get free standard U.S. shipping* on your order. Thanks for reading the Books blog!
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