Many times it’s the little things that make the biggest difference in the way we shoot. I had a customer call me the other day and said the custom rifle he had bought from us would not shoot. I asked him what he was doing and what type of ammo he was shooting through the rifle. He told me that he had a gun shop mount his scope, they also sold him a lead sled and what they considered very good ammo. He wanted to return the rifle to have us check it out and figure out what we had done wrong.
We had shot the gun before we shipped it to the customer and knew it had shot very well. However some things can happen in shipping or maybe we didn’t tighten a stock screw before it left. When the rifle came in I took one look at it and started to laugh. The “quality” scope was a $200 Japanese scope with “made in China” stamped on it. The big box store who sold him the scope and had mounted it, had replaced the Talley Ultra-Light rings we had included on the rifle originally with a $15 dollar set of Tasco rings and not one of the screws had been torqued down or even tightened. The scope was set at about a 10 degree angle from being straight and you could see where it has slipped in the rings from shooting. Now, we never recommend shooting our rifles in a lead sled, they put pressure on the forend of the stock which changes the harmonics. I don’t think you are going to take a shooting bench or a vice when you are out hunting, so we always shoot the gun off sand bags with it against your shoulder like you would in a hunting situation. You could see marks on the stock where the vice had tried to hold the stock in place.
We mounted his $200 Japanese scope correctly in a set of good Talley Ultra-Light rings. We made sure the scope was straight and perpendicular with the bore of the rifle. If you don’t do this, your bullet will not only be dropping straight down but it will also be dropping to the side. With a 400 yard shot, the bullet can drop 30 inches and be right 15 inches without any wind effect. If a scope is loose in the rings, it can jump forward with every shot, then your groups will definitely open up. With a minimal .002” slip on a scope, the rifle will give you 2 inch groups at 100 yards!
With the scope mounted straight and tight we took his rifle back to the range and shot it at 100 yards. The scope had very heavy cross-hairs and no parallax adjustment but we were still able to shoot .650” groups with the rifle. Now this is not as good as when we shot the rifle before but when we shot the gun we had used a good 12 power target scope with good ammo which was built for this particular rifle.
There are so many little things that can make a rifle shoot better and don’t cost a great deal of money. First and foremost is to use good scope mounts. A good set of rings make a big difference in knowing the scope will not slip or come loose when shooting. Second, make sure the scope is mounted correctly and aligned with the axis of the rifle. If you never shoot past 100 yards then you will never know the difference, but if you plan on shooting long distance then you will need to have a straight scope. Make sure the base screws are torqued with a little Lok-Tite to the receiver. If a base screw comes loose or breaks, your shots will be erratic. You might get 2 or 3 shots together then have a flyer or your shots will start walking on you when you shoot. Having a loose or broken base screw can be hard to find and many times you have to remove and remount the scope before you know what is going wrong. Make sure the stock screws are snug. A loose stock screw can cause you to shoot bad groups. On a big caliber rifle which kicks hard, a loose stock screw can cause the action to slip in the stock and break a nice piece of wood. Make sure the rifle is not too long for you and that the eye relief is set right for you. If you are having to push your head forward to see clearly in the scope that either the rifle is too long or the scope is mounted too far forward. If you have to stretch your head to see every time, your eye won’t be in the same place every time, so your groups will change with every shot. Now we have just been talking about the scope, there are many other little things which make a big difference.
A good crisp trigger will make you a better shooter. If you have to concentrate on the trigger pull then you are not thinking about the cross-hairs or where the bullet needs to go. A clean gun will shoot better than a dirty gun. If a bullet has to push copper or brass out of its way as it goes down the barrel then it will shoot different as the brass and copper build up. Take the time to break in your barrel. If you will take an hour or two when you first get your new gun with shooting and cleaning after every shot for 10 to 20 shots, then your rifle will shoot better in the long run. Shoot good ammo and find out what your rifle likes. Even a good custom gun will be particular about types of ammo and bullet weights. You need to try several brands and weights to find what really shoots well in your gun. Last, take time to practice at the range. Don’t just shoot off a bench. Simulate as closely as you can, a real hunting scenario. Try shooting off hand or off a bipod or shooting sticks. One of the best experiences for someone who wants to take shooting to the next level would be to go to one of the long range shooting camps here in Texas. One of my favorites is the FTW SAAM course in Barksdale. Their instructors are former Navy Seals who really know their stuff when it comes to guns and shooting. It’s a fun experience and you come away with a new appreciation of what shooting is all about. And finally, the more practice you get, the better chance you will have when you have to make that once in a life time shot. The rifle and scope can’t do it all. The person behind the trigger has to be just as capable.