by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier
This report covers:
- Reading room
- The absurdity of sub groups
- What lit the candle?
- 10-shot groups and dinosaur ballistics
Yesterday’s series on collecting was a story that just burst out of me. I couldn’t stop it — it’s writing itself. Well, today’s report is the same way.
Like so many of you I have a dedicated reading room in my house. It’s a small room across the hall from my office, and I go there periodically throughout the day to sit and ponder the meaning of life. I also do other things, but they aren’t the subject of this report.
I was in my reading room last Friday, flipping through the pages of the September 2017 Guns magazine, when I came across a statement that stunned me. It was the caption to a table of group sizes for the .22-caliber Ruger American Rimfire Target rifle. I’ll present it here and then discuss it.
” NOTES: Groups [ listed above ] the product or 4 out of 5 shots at 50 yards.”
Well, they are honest! That caption is below a table of group sizes for 7 different rounds. All of them were under one inch. Excuse me, but have we really sunk this low?
The best 4 of 5 shots tells me next to nothing about the accuracy of this Ruger rifle — other than the fact that author didn’t want to print the size of the group made by all 5 shots! Of course the “groups” are small. They are manufactured that way. I will explain what I mean in the remainder of this report.
The absurdity of sub groups
Sometimes when something doesn’t sit quite right for me I think about it for a while before realizing what’s wrong. Last Friday was such a time, and, because I often spend a little longer in my reading room, it was the perfect place to reflect.
I can give you three different reasons why a 4 out of 5-shot group is wrong.
Reason 1. If I take this approach out to its absurd limit, I can illustrate just how slanted and biased it is. Instead of 4 out of 5 shots, let me present the best 5 of 20 shots for my groups. Yes, that is not what the table I’m citing did, but it’s headed in the same direction.
Five pellets went into 0.354-inches at 50 yards. All 20 shots are in 2.681-inches. Which group best represents the rifles’ accuracy?
I sometimes comment on sub groups within a main group. But I never tell you that is the main group’s size.
Do you see how not including all the shots is deceptive? If you can’t see that then the rest of my report may not make any sense, either.
Reason 2. Instead of reporting the best 4 out of 5 shots, what if I report the number of bullets that land in a certain-sized group — one that we are all used to reading — say one inch? That is a take on the first idea, but with a twist. That table might look something like this.
Shots landing in less than one inch between centers at 50 yards. All these groups are based on 10 shots.
Nine RWS Superdome pellets went into 0.947-inches at 50 yards. Ten shots are in 1.443-inches. Which group represents the rifles’ accuracy? Incidentally, I can carve out a couple good 5-shots groups if I want to.
Here is the same table presented in a conventional fashion. All these groups are 10 shots, measured center top center of the two widest holes.
JSB Exact RS……………………….1.916-inches
H&N Baracuda Match 4.50mm……2.73-inches
If I want to take the emphasis off true accuracy I can disguise it by the way I present the data.
Reason 3. Only report the ammunition that groups within a stated parameter. Maybe I test 5 different pellets, but only 2 give me the results I’m looking for. Those are the ones I present and the rest get shoved under the carpet.
When I write about the accuracy of an airgun I do publish the best group. I do that because I want my readers to know what that gun is capable of. But I almost always show the rest of the story, as well. I at least show other representative groups. Sometimes, if a particular pellet is going everywhere I might not show that group, but that’s more because that group is so large that I would have to shrink it to fit the size constraints of the images I am allowed to publish in the blog. When that happens, though, I do tell you about it.
What lit the candle?
I didn’t react to this magazine issue out of the blue. No — I was already spring-loaded by a certain Guns author who has been reporting 3-shot groups for years. I won’t name the writer, because in this particular issue of the magazine, sub-group reporting was across the board! Not just one author did it. It was done by no less than five different authors in as many articles. Only two gun writers in this issue reported all the shots they fired, and they reported 3-shot groups and 4-shot groups, respectively! Folks, this type of reporting is not one man’s decision; this is an editorial policy!
Why would an entire magazine format its technical reports this way? Well, you have to be around this stuff all the time to know why any writer would do this and why an editor would not only permit it, but seemingly encourage it. I know because I have seen behind the curtain. I almost want to turn this into a contest, to see how many of you can guess the reason. But I won’t make you wait.
Advertisers want to sell products. The days when a company was proud of its name and the things it made are mostly gone. They will never go away entirely, but when a company buys its principal product from another manufacturer and then sells it without laying a finger on the item; when they can push it into a high-volume distribution network, the marketing department of that company needs to be able to say something good about the product. I am not the man you want to test your gun when you want to push product. You want somebody who is willing and able to massage the data into a pleasing format that can be presented in a compelling way.
I toyed with the notion of taking a well-known inferior product and writing it up in the same fashion as the gun writers I’m slamming, but then I remembered Orson Wells’ famous 1938 radio broadcast dramatization of War of the Worlds that put thousands into a panic. I would put a disclaimer at the beginning and end of my report, but I know that some folks just read the captions. Marketing departments know that, too.
10-shot groups and dinosaur ballistics
This is why I usually shoot 10-shot groups in my tests. Because statistically, 10 shots are as revealing as one thousand shots. Not always, but a very high percentage of the time, they are. Five-shot groups are usually smaller than 10-shot groups and three shots are just a rough guess. But the best 4 of 5 shots — that’s deception at work.
Ten-shot groups were the order of business a century ago. It wasn’t until after World War II that we started seeing 5-shot groups. At the rate we are now going, by the year 2025 the one-shot group may be in vogue.
I’m calling 10-shot groups “dinosaur ballistics” because who, besides a dinosaur like me, would shoot them? They are much too cumbersome for today’s fast-paced gun writers, plus they wouldn’t put many of the guns being tested in a good light. Of course they could always just lie about the groups they shoot, but nobody wants to do that! Do they?