December 11, 2013
Testing a Rifle's Accuracy
By David E. Petzal
In one of the threads to my NFL post, I was asked if the Smith & Wesson Model 10 AR in .308 would make a good deer rifle, and how accurate was it? My reply was that any .308 makes a good deer rifle; there are few cartridges that do so many things as well as a .308. As for the rest, it gets more complicated.
When I’m asked if a rifle is “accurate,” I have no idea what that means. If you’re going to use the Model 10 as a short-range deer-dumper it’s accurate if it shoots 2-inch groups at 100 yards, because that’s more than enough to do the job. If you’d like to take it to F-Class 600-yard rifle matches and shoot it in the Tactical Class, it better put five shots in ½-inch or less at 100 yards if you wish to avoid being humiliated, because that’s what’s required.
So “accurate” is relative. Indeed, when you think about it, the whole concept of gun “testing” is as full of shuck and jive as Obamacare. First, there is the statistical problem. Gun tests are based on someone like me getting one gun and seeing how well it shoots but, as the SEALs say, “One is nothing.” In order to have any kind of statistical validity, I would probably have to shoot 10 (or 20, or 50) different rifles of the same model and caliber, made days or weeks apart. This is because all rifles are individuals, and serial number 1999834 may be a marvel while 1999835 might be good only for propping open a door.
I can say that some rifles do shoot very well because I’ve had the chance to try out half a dozen and speak with people who have shot them, and form an opinion. Most Savages shoot well; the tactical and varmint guns really group. Everything I’ve had from Thompson/Center has done fine, and a couple of rifles have been astounding. All the Weatherby Vanguard Series 2 rifles have been great. All the Tikkas and Sakos I’ve shot in recent years have been very accurate and sometimes eye-bugging. Most of the recent Ruger 77s I’ve shot have been very good. But much beyond that it does not go. I work on Colonel Townsend Whelen’s principle that only accurate rifles are interesting, and it costs too much and takes too much time to fool with the ones that you know are going to be inaccurate.
Then there is the shooter. If I recommend a rifle to someone and he can’t shoot worth a damn he will buy the rifle and then blame me when it won’t group. Judging by what I see there are not all that many people who know how to shoot a rifle correctly, even from a bench rest. Nor do I have any control over what kind of ammo the rifle is fed. Are you going to load your new .30/06 with Federal Match or military-surplus ball that was made with mercuric primers and has been sitting in a warehouse in Trieste, Italy, since Elvis Presley started to make it big? The results will be quite different.
During this past week I was asked my opinion of a Remington 722 in .257 Roberts that had occupied the corner of a garage for years and was available very, very cheaply, and a Browning BLR 81 in .30/06 that was being used for close-range (100-150 yards) whitetail hunting in Missouri in a spot where most shots come fast.
To which I replied: If the 722’s bore is not rusted it will probably group at least well. It was an economy rifle, but shot quite nicely for the time. The .257 Roberts is one of our great hunting rounds, soft-kicking and very effective, but is badly underloaded by the companies who still produce it, and finding Roberts ammo can be both a problem and expensive. The last time I shot a Model 722 at length was probably 50 years ago, so I’m relying on memory, and you have to factor that in.
And about the BLR: It’s a handy, reliable, light rifle with a frightful trigger and odd looks that will handle close-range whitetail hunting in exemplary fashion. Will it be accurate? I have no doubt it will be accurate enough. And how can you argue with the .30/06? Again, I’ve probably not shot a BLR since the early 70s.
The point is that you can test only so many rifles, and that asking opinions, even of a person as old, wise, and experienced as myself, is like betting on horseraces. You can look at the bloodlines, and at past performance, and who the trainer is, and who’s up (which was trackspeak for who the jockey is), and at-the-track conditions but in the end it’s still gambling, and so it is with rifles. If such were not the case, this hobby would not be half the fun it is.