Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Thinking About Rifles - II

I'm continuing to think about rifles, particularly practical rifles, and attempting to define in my mind what a practical rifle might be.  Accuracy is a big part of rifle marksmanhip, and in reading Cooper's Commentaries from January 1995, we stumble upon this little blurb.
Having nothing to lose, I am going to climb out on a loose limb and make a horrifying statement. To wit: group size is spinach.
Well, wash my mouth out with soap! To a large number of smallarms enthusiasts in the world, group size is everything. If that is the way they want it, that is all right with me, but I must say that these people are devoting a great deal of attention to an essentially trivial matter. Certainly a very accurate rifle - or pistol - is a satisfying instrument to own and use. Whether it makes any difference in practical application is another matter. Consider for a moment that group size is normally measured by group diameter from the impact centers of the two widest shots in the group. Consider further that even if that is a good measure, group radius is of considerably more interest, since group radius measures the distance between the theoretical point of aim and the worst shot in the group. And let us further consider that in any given group the majority of hits is likely to be located in the center of the group, so we can further cut down the "range probable error" to one-quarter of group diameter. In no case do we know of a man who can shoot well enough to appreciate that. I was told recently by a colleague that he was attempting to do some head-size groups at 500 meters coming up summer. I responded that I had once shot an ornamental 500-meter group with an SSG, using 1962 Lake City Match ammunition, but that since I had shot it from a bench it did not really count. I did not wish to hurt his feelings, but I do wish to point out that what the shooter can do from a bench is no measure of how he can shoot.
Interesting, especially as a large part of my shooting is from a bench.  I find the bench an especially useful tool when evaluating a rifle, laying a zero, or testing reloads.  I think that what the Colonel was saying is that we'd be better served by getting away from the bench and learning to shoot the rifle.  Only hits count, so after we've used the tools to make sure that the rifle shoots where it looks, get away from the bench and learn to shoot the rifle.

I should ponder this at greater length.


Old NFO said...

Good points! In conversations with some old Nam snipers (USMC) they said the Winchesters used were 3-4 MOA accuracy, but they were firing COM, not head shots, so it was 'close enough for government work'...

Realistically a basic rifle today will shoot to 2 MOA or better. What one needs to do, as you say, is to SHOOT the rifle as you would in the field, e.g. not sitting comfortably at a bench.

Anonymous said...

Exactly! But really awkward at most ranges.

My old joints really dislike going prone, or kneeling, on the typical concrete apron. The lovely rain of hot brass from the adjacent station adds that certain something to a range trip, also.

Steve McKenna

Jester said...

I agree with everything said above. Today everyone is obsessed with a sub MOA bench rest paper target. That is a great thing to have as a tool of measure for knowing the weapon's potential as well as a measuring stick for one's off hand skill. What this means is that if you start missing shots while in the field you can attribute that to you, not that the rifle is off. A bench rest shot target with a particular load is a good control for what the thing is able to do. Once a load is dialed in for a rifle you should just be out there shooting that rifle in any position except the bench possible.

Ryan said...

The point about accuracy is valid though I sort of always looked at it that way. Assuming a zeroed rifle it is reasonable to think the intended target is at the center of the group. I imagine the MOA group in inches at that distance to think of capability.

As to shooting from a bench I generally agree with you on the uses of zeroing, evaluation and sports that shoot from a bench. However the thinking that you can do X from a bench so you can do it from the prone is sure to make a person humble.

It probably makes the most sense to shoot from the positions that fit your intended purposes.

Anonymous said...

All the above maybe true BUT it does not allow for those the shoot from the bench for small groups because they enjoy it.
Not al shooting has to be to prepair for the field or for self defence. Lots of people shoot just for the pleasure of shooting.

Gerry N. said...

I have a metric carload of rifles, most in .30 cal. One is in 8x57mm one is in 6.5x55mm Swedish. I count .303 Brit. as .30cal. I cast almost all my bullets these days, the ones I hunt with as well. Light to medium weight bullets pushed by more or less faster powders constitute most of my centerfire shooting and most of my centerfire shooting is plinking. Knocking over an alder sapling or sending a rock the size of a cantalope skidding off, both at random ranges shot off-hand is great fun. It's a crying shame that there are no plinking ranges where one can do this kind of thing. I'm lucky, I suppose, that I have areas available within a 2-2 1/2 hour drive where plinking's acceptable and safe. I've killed a lot of rocks over the years. Some of the best times were plinking with a .50 muzzleloader.

Hunting jackrabbits with a T-C Hawken will sharpen your shooting and build your humility.

Gerry N.