Test Rounds for Accuracy

Test Rounds for Accuracy

Hunters are obsessed with accurate rifles — but often mystified as to why some are and some are not. Gunsmiths and even custom gun makers admit they are often mystified, too. Despite the best barrels and most careful rifle construction — using all of their accurizing tricks, gun makers still find rifles that won't shoot.

The average hunter doesn't have the time, resources or know-how to "accurize" a rifle, but he can easily conduct a series of tests that reveal the most accurate ammunition a rifle will shoot.

It's a well known fact that some rifles shoot poorly until fed one specific load. Something about the combination of powder charge and bullet shape/weight/construction combine to maximize accuracy. Finding this load should be every hunter's first step toward hunting and shooting precision. And here's how to do it.

Do all your accuracy testing from a solid bench with solid gun support. A critical first step is to tighten all scope mount screws to manufacturer recommended levels — usually about 18 inch pounds.


  1. First, select your three or five favorite loads/bullets and buy a box of each. To save $, just get two at a time and pit the winner against a new load later. Use the excess "inaccurate" loads for field practice. Don't be afraid to get bullets heavier and lighter than you might prefer. Game animals rarely notice the difference between 130, 140, 150 and 160-grain bullets, but your rifle might.
  2. Set up a rock-solid bench/table and enough sand bags or other rifle supports to hold the rifle dead steady as you shoot. It isn't a fair test to shoot from pillows or coats laid over your truck hood.
  3. Adjust the diopter ring on your scope so the reticle appears crisp and sharp against a clear background. If the scope has a parallax adjustment, dial that until the target at 100 yards is as sharp as possible.
  4. Calm yourself, align crosshair on target, note how much the reticle moves against the target as you breathe and squeeze the trigger ON AN EMPTY CHAMBER. When you hear the click of the firing pin falling, note where the reticle was on the target. It should not have moved. Do this dry firing many times until you SEE that you are not flinching or moving the rifle.
  5. Load a single round into the chamber and squeeze off one shot with the same precision you did while dry firing.
  6. Repeat step 4 as necessary to end any flinching. Then repeat step 5 two more times. Do not adjust your scope turrets at any time during this 3-shot test firing (as long as bullets are hitting the target.) You are watching for how closely three bullets land to one another.
  7. Repeat this 3-shot test firing with your next load. Compare the two. To be safe, shoot one or two more 3-shot groups. Select the load that is most accurate. Don't worry if one shoots lower or higher than the other. Final zeroing comes later.
  8. If both loads group within 1/2" of one another, select the winner based on bullet type/weight/construction that matches your hunting needs. You don't want to pit a thin-skinned varmint bullet against a moose or a bonded bullet against a ground hog.
  9. Understand what "hunting accuracy" is. A load that consistently keeps three consecutive shots inside 2 inches (2MOA) sounds horribly inaccurate, but that 2 MOA load will park bullets within 4 inches of your Point-of-Aim at 400 yards. On the 12" to 16" vital zone of a deer's chest, that's a killing hit every time.
  10. If unsatisfied with the accuracy your first two test loads deliver, try a new load or two.

It will cost you to test drive ammo like this, but wouldn't you rather spend $200 on ammo before the hunt than blow a $4,000 hunting trip by missing that 6x6 elk?

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Your equipment is an important part of the team