Testing Rifles: You Know a Good Gun Right Away

_By David E. Petzal
_
Reading the comments to our Best of the Best tests on the website, I noted that people were pissing and whining that some of what we tested cost way too much for those who can barely afford a Happy Meal, and that I did not shoot enough to draw accurate conclusions about whether rifles shot well or not.

My fellow Americans: If you can't afford expensive stuff, tough. This is the land of opportunity. Go out and manage a hedge fund instead of what you're doing. We test what comes in, regardless of price. As for not shooting enough, one of the things I've learned over decades of testing rifles is that the good ones shoot well from the get-go and the bad ones disgrace themselves immediately.

One good group is not enough to tell you anything for sure. I've shot many factory rifles that came with a single sensational test-target group which I could never duplicate. If you get two good, or bad, groups it can still be coincidence. But with three, there's very little doubt. You can go on and shoot two more groups, or ten more, and you're going to keep getting the same thing.

Some rifles will shoot one brand of ammo or bullet weight into huge, disgusting groups, but do sensationally with another. This does not happen often. The usual pattern is that an accurate rifle will shoot everything at least acceptably and some loads really well.

In the last 30 years (which is how long I've been Rifles Editor), I think I've had something like a half-dozen guns that I shot at great length even when they wouldn't produce right away. I did this because they all had good pedigrees (meaning that they came from people who knew how to build rifles, and because I had a lot of money in them) and they damned well should have shot. Of the six, I eventually got three to shoot very well, but only with one load. The other three continued to dishonor themselves and were sent down the road. In both cases, it cost me a lot of money for components.

But for something like Best of the Best, where I have perhaps 10 or a dozen rifles to shoot and not a lot of time in which to do it, it's senseless to pour ammunition through them when you can see, right up front, whether they're any good or not.