One thing I see people asking about on a regular basis is what kind of accuracy expectations they should have at varied ranges. It’s not an unreasonable question and especially with newer shooters, it happens to be on the forefront of people’s minds as they delve into Precision Rifle Shooting. Basically people want to know what their accuracy expectations should be. Is just hitting the target sufficient? Or should they be looking for more than that? If you can shoot a 1 Minute of Angle group at 100 yards, what kind of accuracy expectations should you have at 500 yards? Or 1000? This is the topic we’re going to be tackling in this article and hopefully that will give people a better idea of how they are performing and whether or not more improvement or instruction is warranted!
Accuracy Expectations – Unit of Measure
Obviously we have to establish what we’re going to use as a unit of measure to describe accuracy. The standard is the Minute of Angle (MOA). Minute of Angle is a system of angular measurement that can be applied to varying ranges. If your rifle produces a group measuring 1″ center to center of the bullet holes at 100 yards, then a 1 MOA group at 500 yards would be expected to be 5″ in size. The question becomes, how realistic is that? Even though the MOA system of measurement is exceedingly common in Precision Rifle Shooting, does it apply to accuracy expectations the same way? What are reasonable accuracy expectations? In order to talk about the expectations, we have to touch on what influences accuracy in the first place.
Factors Influencing Accuracy
Accuracy starts with the shooter and their understanding and grasp of the fundamentals of marksmanship. You can take a ten thousand dollar rifle and in the hands of a novice you would be lucky to hit the broad side of a barn. The shooter has to have a solid command of the fundamentals if they are to expect good accuracy from their rifle. The tendency is to blame the rifle, when often the shooter is more to blame. Most factory rifles like the Remington 700 and Savage offerings will shoot between 1-2 MOA out of the box. If you’re seeing a three or four inch group at 100 yards, you need to work on the fundamentals!
Fitting the stock to the shooter is equally important. If you are having to float your head in space to get proper eye alignment behind the scope, you are going to have consistency issues. If the stock is too long and you’re straining to get your finger on the trigger you may be executing your press with pressure to either side of the trigger blade. Ammunition is a factor. How well factory ammunition is in sync with your rifle will determine how accurate that ammunition is when fired from your rifle.
Lastly, the conditions of the day can have a tremendous effect on accuracy expectations. On a clear, calm day, my match gun groups at or under 1/4 MOA at 100 yards. I’ve been out at the range on days where the wind was whipping so hard it was actually pushing my head and torso side to side. Obviously all that movement reduces what my accuracy expectations are for the day. It’s nice to aspire to Benchrest size groups at long distances, but the name of the game in the tactical world is take what you get and roll with it.
Accuracy Expectations 100/500/1000
Assuming a fairly calm day, where the weather conditions are not influencing the shooter directly. Also assuming a properly fitted stock with, at a minimum, factory loaded, match grade, ammunition. I would expect, at a minimum, a 1 MOA accuracy level from the rifle at 100 yards, the same 1 MOA accuracy level at 500 yards, and a 2 MOA accuracy level at 1000 yards. This is not to say that you can’t hit a 1 MOA size target at 1000 yards with a 1 MOA gun. You can do it, but when you start getting past the 500 yard mark your ability to read and adjust to conditions becomes a much bigger factor than it is between 100 and 500 yards.
Accuracy isn’t linear. Just because you can shoot a 1″ group at 100 yards doesn’t mean you can do the same at 1000 yards. Errors in your grasp of the fundamentals are less apparent at 100 yards than they are at 1000 yards. In order to get a good understanding of accuracy expectations you have to consider what influences accuracy. That’s why we lead off with that part of the article. The 1 MOA at 100/500yds and 2 MOA at 1000yds is assuming all is right from the world and the shooter is using a factory rifle, factory ammunition, shooting from the prone position.
What about the shooting position? Or the quality of components? How do those affect accuracy expectations? When I say quality of components, I’m talking about the parts of your rifle. If you build yourself a match grade gun with a custom receiver or a trued factory receiver, match quality barrel, hand loaded ammunition, etc. that changes what your accuracy expectations are…at least from your equipment. With match quality components I would say you should get 1/2 MOA at 100/500yds distance and around 1 MOA or better at 1000yds. Again, skill of the shooter plays a big part in this, but the rifle itself should be capable of making repeated hits on a 1 MOA target at 1000yds with match quality components. The more you spend on parts, the better your accuracy expectations from the gun itself.
Shooting position is something like the weather, where it influences the shooter more than the gun. You can have a match grade rifle capable of 1/4 MOA accuracy in the prone position but guess what happens when you ask for a group on a 2 MOA target at 500 yards from the standing offhand position? I’ll tell you this, it won’t be a 1/4 MOA group. The stability of the position you are firing from is another big influence on accuracy expectations, and that’s already conceding an accurate gun and an experienced shooter. Toss in a novice shooter and a factory rifle and your accuracy expectations are getting lower and lower.
This article isn’t meant to knock anybody’s gear or level of shooting ability. In fact, I didn’t even want to go into great detail on the numbers side of accuracy expectations. I thought the better use of this article is to talk about some of the factors that influence accuracy expectations. What are things you can work on to make it better is a more productive conversation than putting numbers on what your accuracy expectations should be. I think the two levels of accuracy I mentioned are accurate given two different quality levels of rifle and ammunition. Beyond the rifle itself, we also mentioned several other factors that influence accuracy expectations. The mark of an experienced shooter is in the order of diagnosis when faced with a problem. An experienced shooter suspects himself first, his equipment second, and the weather and position third. Don’t fall into the trap of blaming your gear! If you have anything to add or a question, please use the comments below!