Marksmanship - Precision & Accuracy

Mar 11, 2011

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Written By - Greg Dykstra
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"I got myself a new rifle and I'm really happy with it. It's a 1/2 MOA shooter all day long, if I do my part."How many times have you been reading a forum somewhere and come across a post like that, where yet another shooter is claiming to be able to shoot 1/2 minute? Most of the time this is in reference to the groups they are seeing at 100yds. What they usually fail to mention is that the 1/2" group is not located anywhere near the point of aim. So while it may be precise, it is not accurate. Be sure to keep reading if you aren't aware there is a difference. 

Everyone wants to be a sniper these days it would seem. The gun forums all across the internet are filled with people that want to be the next Marky Mark and shoot beef stew cans from a mile away. This has a couple of side effects in the shooting world. The first is that there are thousands of shooters "getting into the precision rifle game" for the first time. The second is that there are a long line of snake oil salesmen and profiteers that will gladly sell these people anything they can. These days, there is a proverbial mine field of shooting schools and training centers aimed at these people's wallets. While some are quite good, the vast majority are mediocre at best and at worst, criminal in their misdirection of a new shooter's ambition. 

If you have a couple thousand dollars to spend on shooting schools, then by all means go ahead and go to the one that earns your business. However, times are tough and not many can afford that luxury but would still like to become a proficient shooter. Only one thing will get this person to become a skilled marksman and that is practice. Through practice, someone can become familiar with something they were previously unfamiliar with. They can learn, adapt, and overcome obstacles through repetition. This is what we will focus on in this article. 

One of the most important things to consider when trying to get the most out of your rifle is to have realistic expectations. There are lots of good shooters, but very few great shooters. What I mean by that is that very few people put in the time and effort required to produce accurate and precise results consistently. These people don't have as many "off days" when shooting. So while you may read about a lot of people making ridiculously far shots every time they pick up a rifle, there is usually a convenient lack of witnesses. Your goal should be to gain experience and push yourself to improve based on your own abilities, rather than the abilities of others. This will make you much more relaxed in your training, and you will get more from it. 

As I stated above, there is a difference between precision and accuracy. In the figure below you can see how each is represented on the target. 

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Precision can best be described by a tight group of shots. This is the goal of most benchrest competitions. The location of the group doesn't matter nearly as much as the size of the group. A tightly grouped cluster of shots that is not close to the center of the target is still precise, but it is not accurate. 

Accuracy is when a shot or shots impact the intended target. This is the goal of most shooters outside of specialized competition. If you are shooting at a deer, you must hit it in the vital area to ensure a kill. So precise shots that are 6" from your point of aim is unacceptable. It's not very important to cluster 5 shots close together but it is very important that the first shot hits as close to the point of aim as possible. 

Precision and accuracy is the combination of the two. In this instance, shot after shot impacts very close to the point of aim every time. This is generally what every shooter is going for. When you are aiming for something, you want to hit it, and you want to do that consistently. Precision and accuracy are both required to accomplish this. 

The easiest way to think about this is that precision is a function of the rifle. Accuracy on the other hand, is a function of the shooter. Through handloading or ammo testing and choosing quality components, you can ensure the rifle is precise. After the rifle is precise, it must be zeroed and fired in a manner that it will be accurate. Now obviously, a poor shooter can make an otherwise precise and accurate rifle, be neither. So in reality, precision and accuracy are both a function of the combination of the rifle and the shooter. Both must work together perfectly to be accurate and precise. 

There are a few training tools that a person can use to measure how precise and accurate they are. The simplest for most is the "dot drill." As you can imagine, this is simply a bunch of dot's printed on a piece of paper. You can shoot it at whatever distance you like, with whatever size dots you want. This is a very objective measurement of the skill a shooter possesses with a particular rifle in a given position or condition. This method was pioneered by the good folks at Rifles Only training facility in Texas. They continue to use it in various situations and configurations in their precision rifle courses. 

Dot Drill Target

Dot Drill Databook Page

Above is the link to both the target, and the associated databook page. It is very important that you track the conditions every time you shoot this target so you can not only keep track of your temperature adjusted zero, but also identify any specific condition that you have trouble shooting in. 

The target itself is a collection of 20 individual 1/2" dots. The idea is that you fire one shot per dot, with a total of 20 shots per page. At the end, record your score on the databook page. This is about as honest evaluation of yourself and your rifle as you are going to find. It is typically shot at 100yds, but can be placed closer or farther depending on your skill level and caliber of rifle. I'll often practice with this target at 50yds with 22LR. If you clean this target easily, then you need to put a time limit on yourself, change positions, or put the target farther away. That being said, I haven't met anyone that can grab their rifle, lay down, and clean this target at 100yds every time. A benchrester can do it easy enough, but when asked to prone out in the dirt with a bipod... things change drastically!

So, the next time you have someone claiming they can shoot "1/2 MOA all day long," just have them shoot one of these targets in your presence and find out for yourself if they are full of it, or as good as they say they are!

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