Since I was about seven years old, shooting has been a passion of mine. When I got that first Daisy bee bee gun for Christmas and started shooting squirrels off of my grandmother’s bird feeder, I was hooked.
I moved on to my grandfather’s .22 rifle and then was given a Marlin 30-30 rifle when I was 12. I loved target practice, and eventually started competing in rifle tournaments.
My family has always taken pride in being a solid shot from a long distance. I heard a story as a child that my grandfather and some friends were sitting by their trucks up on a ridge drinking beer after a long morning of hunting. Down on the field below my grandfather noticed a good-sized buck running across at a decent speed.
At about 300 yards he set down his beer, took one open-sights shot, dropped the deer, and finished his beer. This may have been exaggerated over the years, but it made me smile to tell that story to my son.
Any marksman knows that tiny little changes in our shooting routine can make all the difference in the world. Sometimes we get into a slump in which we start having trouble with accuracy without an obvious reason. It is almost like getting the ‘shanks’ in golf. A tiny little adjustment in your equipment or shot process and the whole thing is out of whack.
When this happens, you must diagnose the issue like a doctor would diagnose an illness. You must consider your potential causes and narrow it down using process of elimination.
There are several reasons for inaccuracy that you might not consider initially. In this article, we will cover eight of the biggest mistakes you can make while shooting, and how to correct them.
Your rest is your foundation for an accurate shot. The stability of your rifle and the stability of your rest both equally affect your ability to keep your sights on target. The more solid your rest is, the better chance you have of keeping the rifle steady. This may seem like a simple thing, but many people overlook the importance.
Last deer season it was cold and pouring rain on opening morning, so my son and I hunted from the truck. We parked at the top of a hill on a large utility right of way on my uncle’s land. Several deer came out into the clearing at 200-300 yards. Normally with a scope and a good rest this would be a done deal.
However, the truck was running and the vibrations from the engine were making my rest unsteady. I was having a hard time keeping the crosshairs on the kill zone. I ended up waiting until a deer came in to about 150 yards and dropped him with a heart shot.
The point is that even the tiniest wobble or instability in your rest will make a big difference. When you are target shooting, try to use a heavy bench rest that will not move on you.
Do not use your support hand too much. Just let the rest do its job to support the weight of the rifle and allow you to pivot to line up your shot.
A rifle scope is only as good as the quality of its mount. No matter how powerful your scope is, your shots will be inaccurate if the mount is loose. There is nothing wrong with mounting your scope yourself, but you need to do it the right way. Make sure you buy quality rings and bases.
You can mount your scope with a normal mount which blocks the open sights. You can also use a raised mount so that you can still see under your scope to use the open sights if needed. This can be helpful if your target is moving, or your lighting is not ideal.
To mount your scope, first you need to hold the rifle steady in a vise grip. Be sure to use some sort of padding so the vise doesn’t mess up the finish. Once it is level and secure, you can install the scope following the instructions. I suggest using a torque wrench to tighten everything to factory specifications.
One issue with scopes is that you can sight them in perfectly, but it will do you no good if your scope gets bumped on the way to shoot. The key to keeping your scope accurate is to tighten screws on the mount to manufacturers specs.
In addition, you must be careful how you transport your rifle with the scope mounted. I suggest a hard-shell case that is wide enough for the rifle with the scope. This will protect the scope and prevent it from being bumped. You should still be careful with the rifle and place it in a secure spot in the vehicle where it will not move around.
I took my survival .22 rifle with me on a survival challenge a few years ago.
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I was headed to Kentucky and didn’t know what to expect, but I thought there might be some squirrels or possums that would work for dinner. I packed my rifle into my pack with the four-power scope mounted on it. When we arrived on site, we had to hike a few miles to get to camp. On the way I saw a squirrel at 30 yards. I got out my rifle, aimed, and fired. I missed completely.
Then I realized that my scope mount had loosened on the trip, and the scope was almost falling off. If you are careful about mounting and transport, this will not happen to you.
You can also buy a laser rifle sighting tool. These devices have bullet sized tips that hold them inside the bore of your rifle at the proper angle. On the other end is a laser that projects the path of the bullet.
If this laser dot lines up with the crosshairs on your scope, you are good to go. If not, you will need to make adjustments. Many professional guides and hunters that fly with their rifles use these tools every time they shoot.
This is one issue I have recently had myself. When I get really comfortable with a weapon, I sometimes loosen my shoulder pressure. Every shooter has their own preference on how much shoulder pressure to apply with the stock of the rifle.
If you use very little shoulder pressure, the rifle is more likely to move when you pull the trigger. You don’t necessarily need to pull your rifle as hard as you can into your shoulder, but there should be a moderate amount of pressure.
Really the key is consistency. No matter how much shoulder pressure you prefer, you need to stick to that amount of pressure every time you fire. Accuracy is all about consistency and repetition.
It is no different from a basketball player going through the same free throw routine every shot. Before you take each shot, just ask yourself “Is this the right amount of shoulder pressure?” Then you can settle in to line up your shot.
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While you may not have much control over this one, it is a variable that we must consider. Temperature, wind, lighting, and distractions can all factor in to your ability to shoot consistently. When you need your groupings to be consistent, find ideal conditions for shooting.
If it is too hot out, you can deal with mirage as the heat affects your view of the target. If it is too cold, you could be a little shaky when taking your shot. Obviously, wind can greatly affect your accuracy, especially at longer distances.
The sun location might cause glare on your scope lens, so be cautious about sun location in relation to your shooting direction. Low lighting on cloudy days or at dawn and dusk can make shooting more difficult.
Also, if you are at an outdoor range and there are people making lots of noise, it can make it hard to focus on your shots.
Jerking the Trigger
The way you pull the trigger on your rifle can completely throw off your shots if you aren’t careful. This is quite common when people are new to shooting, but it can happen to anyone.
The proper way to pull the trigger is to firmly squeeze it. Sometimes people will jerk the trigger when they are ready to shoot. This typically will move the rifle to the left or right producing an inaccurate shot.
You want to pull the trigger in a way that it does not move the barrel of the rifle at all. This means the movement needs to be straight back at a steady speed.
You also need to be sure the trigger rests in the center of the first section of your trigger finger. If the trigger hits that section of your finger to the left or right, it will mess up your trigger pull.
With every sport that involves a projectile, follow through is drilled into our heads. Whether it is football, golf, baseball, archery, or marksmanship, you must follow through. This looks a little different for each scenario.
With each of these sports, there are certain mechanics that make your shot or throw more accurate. Follow through is the process of holding to these mechanics after the shot or throw to ensure that you don’t flinch at the last second.
For example, follow through is huge with a golf shot. I used to take lessons, and I was always told to keep my head down and keep my left elbow locked, until the ball is well on its way. If I did not follow these steps, I would look up as I took my shot and would slice it or shank it every time.
With shooting a rifle, you simply need to hold your aim until the bullet hits the target. Your natural reaction is sometimes to pull your head up and look at the target immediately after you fire.
This can cause you to jerk the rifle and miss your target. Keep your rifle still with your crosshairs on the target until the bullet hits. Then you can review your shot.
You wouldn’t think it, but the heat produced by repeated shots can affect the barrel of your rifle. If you are shooting on a hot day and fire over and over, your groupings could get two or even three times as large because of the heat.
Try to let your barrel cool every few shots. You can also shoot in the shade or bring a portable fan to help cool the barrel. If nothing else, you can bring a few different rifles and switch periodically so you always shoot with a cool barrel.
Ammunition and Reloading
Any time I purchase a rifle, I like to take the time to find an ideal ammunition for my needs. I like to buy small boxes of three or four different rounds and try them all out. Whichever ammunition gets me the best groupings is generally the one I go with after that point.
If you switch ammunition types, there will always be difference in accuracy. You want to try and use the same ammo every time you shoot once you find a favorite.
You also need to be consistent with your loading procedure. You wouldn’t think about it, but how you load your magazine or rifle does affect your shots. The angle of the bullet as you load it, the force you use, and the speed at which you reload can affect the rounds. Just develop a routine and do it the same way every time. There is no right or wrong method as long as there is consistency.
I hope this helps you figure out how to fix any mistakes you may be making while shooting your rifle. If your groupings are not as tight as usual, go down the list.
Before you change anything, take notes on each of the eight areas we discussed. Identify the ones where you could need improvement and eliminate the rest. Then, take each one and try to fix that issue and only that issue.
If fixing that issue fixes your groupings, you found the problem. If not, move on to the next potential issue. Eventually you will figure out what you are doing wrong and get back to those quarter-sized groupings you like.