We get a lot of inquiries about big game hunting rifles from guys in search of the one-hole group. While this quest is admirable and I do believe that we should strive to bring our hunting rigs to their full potential, in order to be a successful hunter in my opinion one does not have to have benchrest accuracy.
Many times we are asking a rifle to perform beyond its capabilities and we are disappointed with what should be adequate hunting performance. I have several examples of these rifles in my own safe and am perfectly happy with them, as long as I adhere to their range and circumstance restrictions.
Minute of angle (or less) accuracy is a fine thing in a hunting rifle but we sometimes forget that we achieved that accuracy level on the shooting bench under controlled conditions; these factors go right out the window when the sleet is blowing in your face and the deer is trotting through the timber at 150 yards.
This is why I try to recommend to anyone that asks that you should: 1) practice at the bench to know what your rifle and load will do at certain ranges and; 2) get off the bench and practice off-hand, sitting and prone at unknown distances on life-size targets.
After spending a month or so shooting my Marlin 1893 .30/30 on and off the bench at 50, 100 and 150 yards I gained enough confidence with the gun to take it to the deer woods. The area that I regularly hunt has shooting possibilities from the end of the barrel to 1,000 yards, so I chose to stay in the timber where any opportunities presented would be within my self-imposed range restrictions.
Because I derive much of my hunting pleasure from the gun I carry, it was no sacrifice to pass up a few borderline shooting opportunities and take only the shots that “felt” right. This particular rifle couldn’t produce a 1-inch three-shot group if it was set in concrete and shot by the Almighty Himself, Because I recognize the limitations and “hunt the gun” I have killed every deer at which I have shot with it.
This article appeared in the September 14, 2009 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine. Click Here to learn more about this issue.
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Unless we are talking about long-range hunting, and here I mean 300 yards or more, it just isn’t required that a hunting rifle be a “one-holer”. With today’s rifles, loads and telescopic sights, 300 yards may seem shorter than ever before but until you have practiced at that range and actually seen what you can do with your chosen rifle, you have no business shooting at game at that distance.
Yes, it makes it easier to hit a small target with an accurate rifle but even the most accurate bench gun will not make up for poor choices in shot selection or a bad technique. I know plenty of guys that have rifles that regularly produce sub-MOA groups at the 100-yard bench only to find out that they can’t keep three rounds in a Number 2 washtub at 300.
Practical hunting accuracy is the accuracy necessary to deliver every time a killing shot within your maximum range requirement and your capability to shoot. Try this simple experiment, if you dare. Buy a life-size cardboard deer silhouette target at the local sports shop.
Place the target at different distances and have at it from different practical shooting positions, doing your best to honestly simulate hunting situations.
Don’t wait until there is fur in the scope to find out that you need more practice.
Given the choice between two identical rifles, one of which is demonstrably more accurate from the bench than the other, of course we would choose the more accurate gun; but we seem to get hung up on the bench accuracy when it comes to hunting rifles.
Given the choice between a handy, pert rifle that fits my physique and hunting style but will only make 8-inch groups at 300 yards and one that is longer/heavier/less “shootable” or comfortable for me but will deliver from the bench 2-inch groups at the same 300 yards, I’ll be shooting the gun that fits me.
Why? Because I know that with a rifle with which I am comfortable I will be much faster and more confident at closer ranges. At ranges approaching the 300 yard stripe I’ll either: a) try to get closer; b) take extreme care to make sure the shooting situation is right and that I have done all I can to hit what I aim at, or c) I won’t shoot. Since my hunting style is “walk a while, sit a while”, this is what works for me.
If you sit in a box blind for your hunting where you are sure of a solid rest I honestly can only see three reason for missing: a bad shooting choice, too much of a hurry or you don’t know your gun.
Then it wouldn’t matter if you were shooting a laser.
Walt Hampton is a professional gunsmith and writer from Virginia. He and his son Wade operate Buck Mountain Rifle Works, manufacturing semi-finished gun stocks and building custom rifles on order. Visit his website at www.buckmountainrifleworks.com or write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.