Shooting groups gets a lot of attention in the precision rifle world. Right or wrong, shooting groups are often used as the standard for testing the accuracy potential of a shooting system. I say shooting system because that’s what we’re talking about. Shooting groups tests the shooter, the rifle, and the ammunition, and how well they interact together to create an aggregate accuracy potential in the form of a tight group. Some of the reasons your shooting system doesn’t produce tight groups might surprise you. So here’s a list of some common reasons your groups don’t look like this one!
7 – Factory Barrel
The number seven item on our list of things that wreck your potential when shooting groups is a factory barrel. I’m saying this upfront, many many factory barrels shoot great. The other items on the list are more important, check those first! However, if you’ve done all you can and it seems like a tight shooting rifle system is beyond your reach, consider having a quality brand barrel installed. We’re talking about the difference between mass produced barrels with low accuracy requirements and refinements and a true “match grade” barrel from brands like Bartlein, Krieger, Criterion, Rock Creek, White Oak, etc. The more care that is given to the producing a quality barrel the better chance of a great shooting gun!
6 – Factory Ammunition
This is low on the list, but it can contribute to the accuracy potential of the shooting system. Factory loaded ammunition isn’t always very consistent. In fact, most of it is pretty inconsistent. However you can still get great accuracy when shooting groups with factory ammunition, but you have to find a factory load your rifle likes. Try different brands and loadings and pick stuff that is specifically loaded with consistency and accuracy at long range in mind. Federal Gold Medal Match is the standard in this area. However, there are also excellent offerings available from Hornady and Black Hills. So don’t be afraid to experiment with other brands. Look for “match grade” ammunition!
5 – No Rear Stock Support
The number five reason on our list of things that will contribute to crappy results when shooting groups is no rear stock support. We’re talking about bags here folks. If you don’t have a bean bag for underneath the rear of your stock, get one! You need to be able to consistently support the rear of the rifle. If it’s floating above the ground, or the bench, in space…you’ve introduced a ton of movement and variation. Kiss your dream of a tight group goodbye! If you are shooting groups, you need to minimize as much of the rifle’s movement as humanly possible.
4 – Parallax Error
Our number four reason for lousy results when shooting groups is parallax error. You set parallax with the knob on the side of the scope, often referred to as the focus knob! Remember, just because an image is in focus does not mean it is parallax free. After you have the image crisp and in focus, move your head ever so slighty side to side or up and down and watch the reticle. If it moves, there is parallax error in the image and that can affect your point of impact and your consistency! The reticle, when the scope image is parallax free, should appear to be fixed on the target. If moving your eye behind the scope moves the crosshairs to a different point on the target, you’re doing it wrong!
3 – Inconsistent Cheek Weld
Our number three biggest reason for poor results when shooting groups is an inconsistent cheek weld. Many people never take the time to set their cheek weld up properly. You should be able to comfortably rest the weight of your head on the stock and have your eyeball line up with proper eye relief directly behind the scope every time. If you have to lift your head or support any of the weight up off the stock, you don’t have it set right. Consistency is everything, you want this dialed in. Consider upgrading your stock or adding something like the Karsten cheek rest if your stock doesn’t have an adjustable cheek comb. Don’t gopher head between shots, either! Just picking your head up between shots can introduce enough variation to open up your group when you are shooting groups!
2 – Breathing!
Our number two reason for poor performance when shooting groups is breathing. Specifically, releasing the shot at a point other than the bottom of your breathing cycle. You want to release the shot at the bottom, where your lungs are empty, during your natural respiratory pause. It is the most consistent point in the breathing cycle where your chest cavity is the same size. As your lungs fill with air your chest expands. If you fire the shot at different points in your breathing cycle you will have varying amounts of air in your lungs. That contributes to how your body rests against the ground, the bench you are shooting from, whatever. Remember consistency is the name of the game so break the shot at the bottom of your breathing cycle! You can read more on this here!
1 – Slapping the Trigger
This is our number one reason for people that complain of trouble when shooting groups. You need to press the trigger to the rear and hold it back after the rifle fires. Don’t release pressure off the trigger shoe with the pad of your finger until you see the result of your shot. That will ensure that you are not influencing the rifle and moving it off target prior to the bullet’s exit at the muzzle. A tight group is indicative of consistency. If you are releasing pressure on the trigger at different times that will introduce variation in your muscles that are holding the rifle on target. Any variation is bad in this instance so try not to do this! We’ve written an article specifically about the topic of Trigger Control you can read for reference.