M ost gun writers tend to get all wrapped around the axle over accuracy, velocity, trajectory, and other minutiae relating to firearms, and I am no different.
I hate inaccurate rifles; I like the flattest trajectory I can get, and I generally try to get the highest practical velocity from any rifle I am hunting with. If my rifle will shoot an inch at 100 yards I want to make it shoot 3/4 of an inch, if it will shoot 3/4, I want it to shoot a half. All of the above criteria are good, but just how much is really needed by the mythical average hunter?
When I was a teenager I had a 1917 Eddystone Enfield .30-06, in which I had immense confidence. Actually it was my father’s gun, but I shot it for deer, coyotes, bobcats, foxes, and jackrabbits, and almost never missed. I even killed a prairie dog or two with it. I never actually shot the old gun for group on a target, but since I killed so much game with it I figured it was supremely accurate, even though it wore the original battle sights.
Then one day Dad decided to mount a scope on it. After the job was done we took it to the range to sight it in. The first group of three shots ran nearly six inches.
I was flabbergasted. After we shot up all our ammo trying to get it sighted in (No! It was not a scope problem.), we had discovered that instead of being extremely accurate it would just barely manage four-inch groups.
I had killed all that game because the gun was sufficiently accurate to make the shots at the ranges I was shooting. Had Dad not mounted a scope on the old gun I would have gone through life believing it was a one-hole shooter. There just has to be a lesson there somewhere.
Since white-tailed deer are the most common big game animal in Texas, let’s use them as an example. The kill zone of an average whitetail buck is just about the size of an 11-inch paper plate. This means that if you hold in the center of a deer’s chest you have, roughly, 5 ½ inches to play with in any direction. That is why my old Enfield with its four-inch groups never let me down.
Over the years I have sat in a lot of deer blinds. I can count on my fingers those where the shot would have been more than 125 yards. I would guess that the average distance from the blind to the feeder was more like 85 to 100 yards. Now, just exactly why do we need rifles that will shoot 1/2-inch groups to make shots at those distances when the kill zone is almost a foot across?
Answer: We don’t!
Back in the early 1960s, when I first began reading magazines and books on hunting and shooting, a rifle that would group less than two inches at 100 yards was considered accurate, and rifles that would group one inch were rare as chaste and modest exotic dancers. Those hunters killed deer just as efficiently with their “inaccurate” rifles as we do with our super accurate guns. I even read once that legendary Carlos Hathcock’s Vietnam sniper rifle would group about two inches. He picked it because it always held its zero, not because it was the most accurate.
The truth is that most hunters couldn’t tell you whether his rifle was shooting ½-inch groups or four-inch groups unless he was shooting from a solid bench rest over sand bags. In the same manner, a gun that shoots 2 ½-inch 100 yard, three-shot groups is sufficiently accurate for the vast majority of our hunting.
Most of you, if you will be truthful, will admit he, or she, hasn’t killed a deer at more than 300 yards in his life. Personally, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of deer that I have shot at 300 yards and beyond, and I have killed a lot more deer than the average hunter—no brag, just fact.
A famous writer and hunter once said: “Only accurate rifles are interesting.”
That’s why we want our tack drivers, not because we really need them, but because we can have them. Also, they give us a sense of confidence that’s just not there with a rifle that’s just okay, That confidence makes us better hunters.
I had supreme confidence in my Enfield, as long as I didn’t know how accurate it really was. Afterwards my confidence in it was shattered. Besides, who can brag about a rifle that shoots two-inch groups?
If you are satisfied with your old smoke pole that shoots minute-of-coyote, there is really no reason to trade it for a more accurate rifle. However, if you want a new rifle that will stack its bullets one on top of the other, there is no reason you shouldn’t have it. Today most factory rifles will come closer to the mythical minute-of-angle than they will to the two- to three-inch groups with which our fathers and grandfathers were contented. That does, I believe, make them more interesting. But, please, don’t try to tell me they are necessary.
Email Steve LaMascus at
Email Steve LaMascus at [email protected]