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Accuracy is all about Consistency

By Evan Honore

Over the last five years I have worked with the rifles listed below, helped by a good mate who has the will to learn and achieve to the same degree.

 

Where some of the rifles are duplicated above it’s because my mates own similar rifles. I am just establishing how many rifles I’ve dealt with in securing my findings.

 

THE GUNS

  • Browning X-Bolt 7mm Rem. Mag; 26” barrel, bedded, changed trigger
  • Browning X-Bolt .308, 20” barrel, bedded action
  • Ruger American .308, 18” barrel
  • Tikka T3 .308, 20” barrel, bedded action, adjusted trigger
  • Sako A7 .308, 22” barrel, bedded action, adjusted trigger
  • Remington 700SPS S/S Rem. Mag; 26” barrel, bedded action, floated barrel, Timney Calvin Elite trigger
  • Remington 700SPS S/S .308, 24” barrel, bedded action, floated barrel, Timney trigger
  • Remington 700SPS .223, 24” barrel, not bedded, changed trigger
  • Remington 700SPS S/S Rem. Mag; 26” barrel, bedded action, Timney Calvin Elite trigger
  • Remington 700 Long-Range Rem. Mag; 26” barrel
  • Remington 783 Rem. Mag; 26” barrel
  • Howa .308, 24” barrel
  • Winchester M70 .270, 22” barrel

 

The common factor with these rifles is that they’ve all shot half inch or smaller groups several times. They all took at least 400 rounds to settle down and start shooting consistently. It has been said many times that modern rifles only need 10 rounds through them to break them in. I am not an engineer but I think it takes more than 10 rounds to sort out machining marks in a barrel.

 

LET'S GO BACK TO THE BEGINNING

  1. You buy a new rifle
  2. Start some load development
  3. Sort out a reasonable load
  4. Then accuracy changes after approx. 100 rounds
  5. Keep shooting while trying to find another load
  6. Getting to 400 rounds, things start to settle down
  7. Your load now will be the same for all barrels of that calibre, give or take ½ a grain.

 

You could begin with a known load. For example when I bought my second 7mm Rem. Mag. I thought the load would be 70 grains of ADI 2225 shooting a 180 grain Berger VLD Hunting projectile. This is because my previous 7mm Mag. used this load. I then proceeded to put 400 rounds through this rifle at which point it started to settle down and show some real consistency. Remember – these Magnums do not show much variation in point of impact at 100 metres. You need to zero and shoot groups at 200m to find out what’s going on. At this range you should be looking for 1” groups.

 

A selection of the author’s hunting rifles.

 

I have witnessed five 7mm Rem. Mag. rifles that have all settled down after 400 rounds ranging from the cheapest Remington Model 783 to the most expensive – the Remington Long Range rifle. It appears from this that barrels on factory rifles are almost all produced to the same standard, therefore for the rifle manufacturers the cost savings must be in the actions and stocks.

 

“Remember that it’s the burning rate of the powder that changes the speed, not so much the quantity of the powder.”

 

All of the above 7mm Mag. rifles have been resin bedded correctly and all barrels have been floated. They all shoot Berger 168g and 180g VLD Hunting bullets and both these projectiles are best loaded with 70 grains of ADI 2225. Average speeds are 2800fps to 3000fps. There is a variation in the point of impact (POI) from summer to winter but the groups stay tight. When I changed to the 168g projectiles I found that that they were shooting even tighter groups.

 

With Magnum calibres Evan uses a 200 metre zero.

 

Results with the .308s were similar, from the most expensive Sako A7 .308 to the cheapest Ruger American .308. The powders for these rifles are ADI 2206H (45.5g) or ADI 2208 (also 45.5g). The projectiles are Hornady InterLock 150g and 165g (you need a 22-inch or longer barrel to shoot 165g). These loads consistently produce clover-leafs at 100 metres. In basic terms ½ inch and less. The InterLocks have also proven to be great deer killers.

 

WHY DO WE NEED TO SHOOT SO ACCURATELY? 

Shot placement is what it’s all about, whether your bullet is aimed at the spine or the front shoulder. Accuracy is important unless you want to spend hours looking for your kill or worse, the animal dies a slow death and you don’t find it at all. I believe that you must break bone or hit the spine or close to it. “Poleaxe” is the word we use for a successful kill. I had a look on YouTube recently and you can see how far a deer can run when it’s shot in
the heart, further back and there’s the risk of a gut shot.

 

A rifle that shoots ½ inch groups from a bench might shoot an 8-inch group or bigger from a standing position in the bush, or on the side of a hill within 30 metres of a roaring stag. You might not miss the stag but you could hit it somewhere that allows it to run off.

 

“With longer range hunting it is important to use a softer projectile to allow it to expand at the slower impact speeds, especially when the range exceeds 400 metres or thereabouts.”

 

Once you have your rifle shooting accurately you are able to concentrate on your own skills. It is very hard to improve your shooting with a rifle that throws bullets all over the place. I will admit that I am not a target shooter. Paper just doesn’t do it for me! Put a lemon on a rail at 100 metres and I cannot wait to hit it free hand or from a rest.

 

Accuracy at 100 or 200 metres also translates to accuracy at longer ranges, providing you can see your target through a good scope. I have a 6-18x scope on my 7mm Rem Mag and the same on my Remington 700 .308. I have shot milk bottles full of water, paint cans and gongs out to 1000m with the 7mm Rem Mag and 730m with the .308. I also dropped a sambar deer at 423m which is my record. I missed a red hind at 711m because I used the wrong bullet, but I have learnt from that.

 

LEFT & RIGHT: A one-hole 100 metre group shot with Evan’s .308 using Hornady 150 grain InterLocks and ADI 2206 powder; an excellent .308 group shot with 180 grain SST projectiles and AR 2208.

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Long range shooting is quite different from bush hunting but the basics are the same. Practice in both situations is most critical. I once heard some advice given over the counter in a sports shop, “Don’t waste time at the range, you’ll just wear out your barrel”. Rubbish! I wish I’d spent more time at the range when I was younger.

 

With longer range hunting it is important to use a softer projectile to allow it to expand at the slower impact speeds, especially when the range exceeds 400 metres or thereabouts. I personally have had success with Berger VLD Hunting at any range with the 7mm Rem Mag. The .308 InterLocks have also worked well out to 300m so far even though they are really designed for closer shooting. They are in fact constructed tough enough to hold together at high speed.

 

In both instances you need:

  • Good loads.
  • Good scopes.
  • Light triggers.
  • Lots of practice, ie; learning to allow for wind.

 

VELOCITY

Bullet speed is important. Two years ago I shot a stag in the chest at 20 metres with my .308. It ran off as though it hadn’t been hit although I did find it 40 metres away in a straight line or 80 metres following the route it took. The bullet appeared to have drilled a hole in the chest and had done minimal damage. Making it more important to me was the fact that the stag was carrying the biggest head I’ve ever shot. I hunted with a .270 for 25 years and have shot most of the stags during the roar in the chest. They normally Poleaxe.

 

“I would recommend a 22-inch barrel for bush work and general use with medium calibres, and 26-inch for long range Magnum calibres.” 

 

When I got out of the bush I went to the range and speed-tested that ammo. To my surprise the speed was a low 2300fps. I was using ADI 2209 so I changed to faster burning ADI 2206H and found a good load. The speed is now 2800fps and several deer shot with the new load have all dropped within two metres.

 

I guess this is how we learn and therefore I am sharing some of my information. I believe that projectiles should not be travelling slower than 2600fps but accuracy is still the top priority. Remember that it’s the burning rate of the powder that changes the speed, not so much the quantity of the powder.

 

RELOADING

I full length resize all my cases and use headspace gauges to set the sizing die. I prefer Norma cases and CCI primers for .308, .223, and .270, but I use Federal Mag Primers for 7mm Rem Mag. I also use Hornady lube that comes in a small bottle (just a smear is required). After resizing the brass is cleaned in a tumbler with walnut media followed by case trimming. I am using a neck thickness gauge and a trimmer (I’ve just started doing this so no results yet).

 

THE LOADS
7mm Rem. Mag.  ADI 2225 70gr 168g & 180g Berger VLD Hunting 
.270 Win. ADI 2217  58gr 150g Hornady InterLocks
.308 Win. ADI 2206H  45.5gr  150g & 165g Hornady InterLocks
  ADI 2208  45.5gr 150g & 165g Hornady InterLocks
  ADI 2208  45gr 180g Hornady SST
.223 Rem. ADI 2206H  25gr  55g Nosler & Hornady

 

I am not sure how many times I reload a case but it is a lot and I have found no need to anneal them. They normally crack in the neck when they reach the end of their life and at that stage they are so old they deserve to go into the bin for recycling.

 

RIFLE MAINTENANCE

I clean my rifles after every trip to the range (or bush). Having a clean rifle every time you come to use it gives you a benchmark to work from. If you choose not to clean it so often that’s fine but sooner or later your accuracy will be affected. Not knowing when this will happen is the issue. When your rifle is run in and shooting consistently you will find that a clean barrel shoots the same as a fouled barrel therefore you might as well clean it more often. I have told a few people over the years to go home and clean their barrels. This is after seeing them standing there with a puzzled look wondering why their groups today are twice the size they were the previous day!

 

While on the subject – WARNING: Beware of getting cleaning products all over your Timney triggers, it can cause them to malfunction. Use a bore guide to prevent trigger contamination. The symptoms are: (1) The safety stops working. (2) Sudden trigger creep. (3) Delayed firing pin activation (30 seconds). This is scary stuff but I have struck this behaviour with four different Timneys so far. It has never happened with my Sako or Tikka factory triggers. As per normal the suppliers deny it has ever happened before. I do use Eliminator branded solvent which does a great job of cleaning the bore.

 

TO RECAP FROM THE START

Several of my rifles needed work before I even used them:

 

Remington 700: Nice rifle, needed barrel floated, action bedded, trigger replaced (Timney Calvin Elite).

 

Browning X-Bolt: Re-bed action (factory job done by a blind person). Trigger too heavy (gunsmith to fix).

 

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Tikka and Sako: Only required a trigger adjustment and action bedding.

 

It is worth considering the following items when you’re buying a new rifle:

  • How easy is it to single load your rifle?
  • Can the mag fall out easily?
  • Is it nice to hold and carry?
  • Does it come up onto the shoulder correctly?
  • Can the bolt be dismantled easily for maintenance?
  • Can you put plastic foam into the stock to deaden the hollow sound?
  • Can you operate the bolt with the safety on?

 

BARREL LENGTH

The length of the barrel not only affects the balance and how easy the rifle is to carry – it also affects the size/weight of projectile that can be used successfully, ie; accurately. For example: A 22-inch .308 barrel can shoot 165g projectiles maximum, whereas a 24-inch barrel can shoot a 180g. Consider one of the most common barrel lengths, 20-inch. Great for the bush but you are limited to a 150g projectile max. This is fine though because this weight will do the job if you place the bullet correctly.

 

A 7mm Rem. Mag. can shoot 180 grain projectiles with a 26-inch barrel and this is the preferred length for long range shooting. I’m writing here about standard factory barrels with standard twist rates. I would recommend a 22-inch barrel for bush work and general use with medium calibres, and 26-inch for long range Magnum calibres.

 

LEFT & RIGHT: This is the kind of consistency you can expect once you’ve run your rifle in properly and found the right load.

 

We have recently changed to muzzle brakes instead of suppressors. The reason is that the muzzle brakes allow you to shoot without losing sight of your target in the scope. Muzzle brakes reduce recoil a lot more than suppressors, however they are only practical for long range shooting or use on a range where there is time to use ear protection. The noise is loud and I do not use a muzzle brake when I’m bush hunting.

 

SUMMARY

What I have written is true and correct to my knowledge and I have physically proven it, not just read about it in a book. I chose to write this article because I enjoy learning and have always had much enjoyment from hunting. I believe that sharing knowledge is great. I read all the hunting magazines and have watched a lot of YouTube. I see a lot of common mistakes being made in my opinion. We all have choices and opinions. I will suggest also that instead of blaming yourself for a bad shot, check your gun out first.

 

Anyway, my friend and I chose to find things out for ourselves. It has opened our eyes and the rewards have been well worth it. We definitely don’t know it all – often you think you have things sorted, you see a pattern develop, then “bang”, it all changes.

 

Evan harvested this sika hind with a 100m neck shot during a mid-winter hunt in the Central North Island.

 

Experiment for yourself, it’s the traditional Kiwi way. This is why it has taken me five years to get ready to write this article. There is certainly a lot of rubbish said over the counter to entice people to buy. I even heard a retailer recently tell a young guy to go home with his new rifle and pull it apart and adjust the trigger. The problem is that this model rifle didn’t have a tension adjustable trigger... Dangerous stuff.

 

The best rifle is the one that you are happy with and the one that can shoot straight and consistently. Get a 7mm-08 or a 6.5 Creedmoor – they are fashionable, but .28 Nosler is creeping in too. Hey, I don’t want to be out of date! I bet the deer would rather be shot with a trendier, flatter-shooting calibre.

 

I get concerned that a lot of people out there can’t get their rifles to shoot straight so they give up and sell them which is why I decided to share our findings.

 

To the hunters out there, never give up. Break bone and eat well! Success is bliss!

 

Evan

 

uneeda@xtra.co.nz

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