What is accuracy?
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
Announcement: Pyramyd Air’s Big Shot of the Month for February is Tyrone Daye. He’ll receive a $100 gift card. Congratulations! If you’d like a chance to be the next Big Shot, you can enter on Pyramyd Air’s Facebook page.
Tyrone Daye is the Big Shot of the Month on Pyramyd Air’s facebook page.
I’m writing this on the heels of writing several reports that deal with accuracy. One was a test of the Cometa Fusion Premier Star in .22 caliber that I struggled with for many months. Another was the most recent part of the Twist-rate test, which taught me a lesson or two. Just yesterday, I shot a smoothbore Diana 25 that I thought would do well to group 10 pellets in 1.5 inches at 10 meters and was shocked when it grouped 10 pellets in one-third inch!
All the while during these tests, I was thinking about accuracy. What is it and how do I test it, so I’m getting the results I think I am, instead of proving some expectation of mine and missing the boat altogether?
Last week, I made an offhand remark to someone that R. Lee Ermey (Gunny) and I have two different outlooks on accuracy. He’s concerned about hitting a bullseye target at 600 yards with a battle rifle — and believe me, that isn’t an easy thing to do with any rifle. But I said I was concerned with the “ultimate accuracy” of a rifle, if that means anything. What I was trying to say was that my accuracy concerns are how close a certain gun can group 10 shots at a given distance. Ermey wants to hit the target and score high, and I want to put 10 shots into a small group. You might think we’re after the same thing, but we’re not.
I don’t really care where my shots go, as long as they’re all together because I can always adjust the sights to move the group wherever I want. Gunny says he wants to hit the target in the center to get the highest score, because a score is what he is after. A tight 10-shot group that’s out in the white would not be good for him. But it’s fine for me.
I say that if the rifle can group them well, I can always hit the target. But is that true? Perhaps not. Hunters and long-range benchrest shooters both know that if you don’t know how to account for the effects of wind on the bullet in flight, you may have the most accurate rifle and still miss your target. And you can’t get used to 7 different rifles that shoot seven different types of ammunition. You can learn one gun well, which is why we say, “Beware of the man with just one gun — he probably knows how to use it.”
The effects of tiring
During my testing, I often worry if I’m doing my best. At the start of any shooting test, I wonder if I’ve settled down enough to say that my results are the best I can do. Or am I handicapping the gun I’m testing because I’m not yet in the groove?
Later on in the test, I worry about tiring out and becoming sloppy. This is a real concern with some powerful spring guns that are physically very tiring to shoot. That little Diana 25 was a breeze to shoot, because the gun did not fight me at every turn. I just relaxed and shot. And the Talon SS that I shot 120 times in the twist-rate test was so easy to shoot that I never took my face from the gun once a group was started. I just opened the bolt, loaded and shot while looking at the target through the scope all the time. Nothing could have been easier.
The Cometa Fusion, in sharp contrast, required all the hold technique I could muster, and even then it felt twitchy. Forty shots with a gun like that is a hard day’s work. But before we crucify the Fusion or any other powerful springer, there’s something else to consider — accuracy.
If I’m confident that a certain gun with a certain load is going to shoot where I expect it to, the gun can be a Missouri mule to shoot and I don’t care. My 1903A3 Springfield rifle is such a rifle. Its buttstock is too short for me by two inches, and the comb is also too low…so the rifle socks me in the kisser every time I pull the trigger. But it’s so darned accurate that I don’t mind the abuse. As funny as it may seem, I can put up with a lot if a gun will lay them in where they’re supposed to go.
My Ballard rifle is another one that kicks me pretty bad. The stock drops away from the face too much, which gives it a running start when the recoil starts. And I have to have my kisser next to the tang sight to get the best results, so I’m just asking for it. But the rifle does shoot well, and that’s all I really care about. I want it to shoot better, but I will suffer the side effects of recoil in return for what I get.
As pretty as it looks, this 38-55 Ballard kicks pretty hard!
I guess it’s something like a woman giving birth. During the process, she is acutely aware of all that is happening, and things don’t seem that good; but if everything turns out well, she soon forgets what she had to go through. Don’t read that remark to your wife, though, because I think I’ve taken too much license with an analogy.
What about plinking?
Lest you think I’m being too toffee-nosed about shooting, I like to plink as much as the next guy. But I like doing it with a rifle that hits the target every time. I’ve had guns that looked horrible on paper; but when it came time to bounce the Coke can, they could do it every time. Or, hit dirt clods on the berm. Or (shudder) break glass bottles — not that I ever did that. I’m just saying!
A bullet hole two inches from a group at 50 yards brings a frown, but when I’m shooting a Winchester model 61 pump and I hit just under the small dirt clod, the spray of dirt tells me to adjust up. So, I shuck the forearm to load another round and try to disintegrate the clod. I would hate to see what that looks like on paper, but if I know where a certain rifle shoots with a certain cartridge, why, I’m Annie Oakley without the dress!
So — where do the bullets belong?
They belong on target — right? So, why don’t they go there when the gun is known to be accurate? Here’s something to think about. Two guys have a gun battle at 20 feet. Each one empties his gun at the other guy with a total of 31 rounds being expended. And neither party gets a scratch. Yet their guns are both accurate. Why is that? It’s called “buck fever,” though I imagine law enforcement has other terms for it. And it happens all the time.
The more politically correct version is that the youngster on his first hunt cannot place a bullet in the deer’s body, even though he’s demonstrated an ability to do so numerous times. You can’t hit what you want to miss.
Accuracy has little to do with the willingness to discharge a bullet into an animal or person. Some people aren’t bothered by it in the slightest. Wild Bill Hickok was notorious for being able to shoot men. Contrary to myth, he wasn’t always the fastest gun. But he always had the fortitude to do the job, while his opponents did not for various reasons.
So — the good hunter is not necessarily the most accurate shooter, nor is he the shooter with the most accurate gun. Accuracy matters to some extent, but intent is more of a determinant than how ultimately accurate the gun is.
The target shooter may never fill his game ticket, and the good hunter may miss the bull altogether. Don’t confuse accuracy with success or intent.
My brother-in-law believes that accuracy is when the bullet hits the center of the bullseye, and he’s right. But so am I when I believe that a tight group outside the bull is also an aspect of accuracy. Like so many things, your definition of accuracy depends on what you mean and what you intend to do.