Fine Tune Your Rifle By Diagnosing Your Target

Having problems getting lead on target but you can't figure out why? It might not be you that's to blame. Click through the gallery to get a lesson from David E. Petzal on how to diagnose your rifle, and cure your misses, just by looking at the target. Group Therapy: If you can't even get a group it means: A) you can't shoot worth a damn; B) your scope reticle is broken and flopping around loose; C) your scope is slipping in its rings; D) your rifle's bedding screws have worked loose.
Wrong Prescription: Your rifle places two shots together and the third off in outer space. This means that whatever ammo (brand, grain, bullet design) you're shooting is almost right for the gun, but not quite. Find something else to shoot.
Up The Dosage: This one is for handloaders only. Everything else is fine--except you're shooting consistently vertical groups. This means you need just a little more powder. Assuming you notice no signs of excess pressure, add ½ grain at a time until they all shoot into one hole.
Sensitive To The Touch: You last sighted your rifle over a backpack, and now, when you check it again over sandbags, the groups are way high. Some rifles are extremely sensitive to the hardness of the rest. No matter what you sight in over, shoot your last group with your hand grasping the fore-end; that's how it will shoot in the field.
There's Some Swelling: Your rifle, which shot just fine last fall, is shooting way high, or way left, or way right. Check the barrel channel; there's a good chance the wood stock has swelled and is pressing on the barrel. Even synthetic-stocked rifles can do this if their bedding shifts or if the stock is poorly inletted.
Running A Temperature: The first group is fine, but subsequent groups print higher and higher on the target. This means you're shooting the barrel too hot. Your groups are rising either because of heat mirage, or because you've uncorked stresses in the barrel, or both. Let it cool down until it's cold.