5 Little Known Reasons You Miss The First Shot

In Blog by Rich2 Comments

This article is going to focus on 5 little known reasons people will often miss the first shot, also called the cold bore shot. The term cold bore refers to the fact that the barrel is cool and has not been fired. There is a large difference between cold bore shots and clean bore shots. We’re going to discuss those differences and run down the list of 5 reasons people have difficulty making that first shot of the day. Most are easy to address and can be worked out with a little bit of effort. This list isn’t meant to be all encompassing, but rather a short checklist of items you can run down if your first shot of the day is consistently a miss!

#5 – Bad Zero

One of the more common issues that causes shooters to miss the first, and subsequent shots thereafter, is a bad or wandering zero. You need to take care when you zero your rifle to try and have it be the most consistent setting for your rifle possible. For example, I highly suggest you zero the gun from the prone shooting position. You may not always be prone, but by zeroing the gun from the prone position, you eliminate a lot of the variables that can cause a less than precise zero. Understand that zeros are flexible and finite. It doesn’t take much to alter it, so don’t get in a habit of being angry when it moves.

I recommend making your first few rounds of a shooting day at 100 yards, or at whatever distance you chose to zero your gun. Do it from the prone position. Ideally you should be able to punch the center of the bulls eye out of the target from the prone position on demand. So make your first shot of the day at 100 yards. The other reason I recommend this is because I’ve gone entire shooting sessions at times thinking I’ve completely lost my touch. I couldn’t hit anything, I got frustrated, I burned through ammunition trying to figure out why my wind calls were useless and my elevation was all over the place. When the light bulb finally clicked on and I checked my zero, it was off. So make your first shots at your zero distance both for practice, and to verify your zero before you move on to harder targets. If you don’t want to miss the first shot,  you need a solid zero.

#4 – Carefree Shooting

Have a stake in the results of your shots. What I’m talking about when I say Carefree Shooting is going to the range, loading up the gun, and blasting away without much care or effort put into the result. Don’t approach the target from the “if I miss the first shot, I’ll walk the next one in” angle. Pretend every shot is the one shot you’re going to get at the Trophy Animal on the hunting trip. Pretend every shot you take is points towards placing better at a match. Pretend every shot is potentially life or death if you’re an LEO/MIL shooter. The point here is, attach some significance to all your shots and your performance.

Take the time to observe the wind conditions. Verify what you think the wind is doing with your Kestrel. Are you using the right Density Altitude card? Is your scope dialed to the proper distance? A lot of instructors call this a ‘mental checklist’ and it’s a good way to look at it. Run down that checklist and make sure all your ducks in a row. I’ve seen guys in competition drop down and shoot at MOA or even Sub-MOA targets without any reservation at all. If you give them a 2 MOA target rack where a miss means a zero score, the brakes are screeching. Watch the same shooters fire at a large target with a hostage flapper where a hit on the no-shoot target is a negative point and people slow way down and take a lot more care in their shots. That’s what I’m talking about, care about the result and you’ll do a lot better, and you are less likely to miss the first shot.

#3 – Parallax Error

Set the damn parallax knob to the right setting! This only has to be off by a little bit and even small changes of the angle of your eyeball behind the scope can produce shift in where the reticle appears to be lined up on the target. It’s easy to do, and it’s even easier to forget! Line the reticle up centered on the target and twist the parallax knob until the image is focused and clear. Then shift your head a little bit side to side and see if the crosshair moves. If you shift your head to the right and the center of the reticle moves to the left, you still have parallax error in the image. Adjust the dial until you can move your head but the reticle stays glued to the same spot on the target! Otherwise you may miss the first shot!

#2 – Clean Bore

We have the Military to thank for a lot of people’s incessant cleaning habits. I’m not knocking the practice of having a clean weapon. You want it to work and you want things to be reliable. However, in the precision shooting game, there is going to be a noticeable shift in the bullet’s point of impact when you fire the first round through a gun that was just cleaned, and a gun with a fouled barrel. Small imperfections in the barrel will fill in with bits of copper, carbon, dirt, etc. as you shoot the gun. It’s different for every rifle. If you don’t want to miss the first shot, pay attention to your cleaning practices.

There’s nothing wrong with cleaning your rifle. Instead of doing it at home, bring your cleaning gear with you to the range. When you are about done for the day, clean the barrel up in whichever manner you subscribe to. To avoid a situation on the next range day where you miss the first shot, foul the barrel again before you put the gun away. It will generally take around 5 rounds to do. I like to put at least 10 rounds through the gun after cleaning before I consider the point of impact stable enough to zero the gun or check the gun’s zero setting. If you watch the first few rounds after cleaning, even if you had the gun zeroed “dead nuts center” it will be a miss. Then as subsequent rounds are fired, the point of impact will slip over to where the zero is. Make note of how many rounds it takes to accomplish that and write it down!

#1 – Cold Shooter Syndrome

There are elements of this back in reason #4 but the basic premise is that we all tend to do a little better after we’ve warmed up! So how do you warm up before you first the first round? Especially since we don’t want to miss the first shot!? Dry firing is your answer. I try to make a habit of doing 5-10 slow and deliberate trigger presses with an empty gun at the start of every shooting session. I pay close attention to my reticle and my trigger press. If I have developed a flinch or a slap in my trigger press, I will keep dry firing until it goes away and the reticle stays locked in place when I drop the firing pin. Then, when I’ve warmed up with dry fire, I’ll take my first live ammunition shots at the target.


I’ve found this to be an excellent way to avoid a miss on the first shot. I give credit to Rifles Only for the test and find it spot on in practice. If you believe you have a gun that has a problem with a shift in point of impact on the first round or rounds, shoot another gun at the start of your shooting session. Make sure you’ve completely warmed up on a separate rifle, then pull out the gun with the first round shift. Does it still shift? Maybe it’s not the gun at all. Maybe it’s cold shooter syndrome! A little dry firing at the start of your session can help alleviate the issue! If you have a tip or trick to not miss the first shot, drop them in the comments below!

Owner and Proprietor of AccuracyTech, LLC. Rich is a Firearms Enthusiast, Precision Rifle Competitor, and Writer. He is committed to bringing readers quality reviews and articles related to the Precision Shooting Sports. If you have any questions for him, please use the contact form on the site.


  1. Thank you for your insightful instructions. I’ve always wondered, if it was cold vs. fouled barrels that make impact changes. I believe I’ve been cleaning my Hart barreled 700 in .308 too much, as I know it is a bug-holer but haven’t been getting good groups until it has fired a few rounds. I thought it was seating depth problems. When I clean, I’m not getting any color on the patches. (except for powder residue) Over cleaning, I guess. Looks like my load development will have to begin over.
    The question I have, is as follows…….If you’ve broken in your barrel properly, how often would you clean, and how many (approximately) foulers would you shoot, before resuming testing? Again, I thank you for your expertise.

    1. Author

      Glad it has helped, Tony. I will clean my barrel briefly after around 300-400 rounds since the last cleaning or when accuracy drops off. Whichever comes first.

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