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Painful Realization

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  • Painful Realization

    I have been handloading for a few decades now. I consider myself a decent shot and once earned my "expert marksman" award in ROTC. I enjoy the intellectual satisfaction of finding "the best load" for my rifles. I am methodical and perfectionistic in my technique, trying to do what I can to eliminate variables and human error in my quest for accuracy. Unfortunately, because of the demands of family, work, and a thousand other excuses, I don't get to shoot as often as I would like. That means that all my efforts at working up an excellent handload, with all my careful attention to detail, are really pointless. The "weak link" in my load development is not the wrong powder or the wrong primer or how far the bullet lies from the lands (etc.) -- it is me. My rifle shoots more accurately than I can shoot it. My loads are better than what my shooting can make use of, making it impossible to accurately evaluate a specific load. The "quest for accuracy" really assumes a shooter who is up to the task, which I suspect takes shooting hundreds or even thousands of rounds a year. There is a "zen" of shooting, even from a bench, which is part natural talent, and part learned skill. If you have an unreliable load, you can't master it, and if you haven't mastered it, how can you decide which load is most accurate. So my question is this: how can I eliminate the greatest single source of error in my handloading -- me? Once I know I have an excellent load for my excellent rifle, it is easier to evaluate errors in my shooting technique and to shoot confidently in the field. Is there a "best" rifle rest that minimizes human error? I would appreciate people's thoughts and suggestions, aside from lots and lots of practice with my target .22, for minimizing this major source of "handloading inaccuracy."
    "The best defense is not to be there when the blow arrives!"

  • #2
    I don't think there are any magic rifles, or calibers for that matter. You've answered your own question in my book, as there's simply no substitute for actually shooting enough to become proficient and stay that way. You share the dilema of many shooters in facing the challenge of managing to get out and do it, but in contrast to most others, you admit it.

    You are an unusually honest individual in admitting it though. Every time I hear about "bullet failure" and inadequate calibers, the hand wringers almost never admit the possibility of marksmanship error. It's simply not in human nature to admit our own failures and shortcomings.

    I suspect driver error sells more new guns and premium bullets than anything else. As rare as actual bullet failure is compared to markmanship failure, I don't think there's any other explanation. It's easy to come to that conclusion when watching shooters in the controlled conditions on a range, much less when contemplating the extra marksmanship challenges those same shooters face in the game fields.

    Sorry, but I can't offer any alternatives to shooting enough to build and keep proficiency.
    "Lay in the weeds and wait, and when you get your chance to say something, say something good."
    Merle Haggard


    • #3
      There is a solution to the problem, but a vary expensive solution unless you are a machinest with a milling machine and lots of time to use it.

      That is a rail gun, which is nothing more than a large adjustable clamp.

      Get ready for sticker shock.
      "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tryants." (Thomas Jefferson


      • #4
        Originally posted by Sako Workhorse View Post
        Is there a "best" rifle rest that minimizes human error? I would appreciate people's thoughts and suggestions, aside from lots and lots of practice with my target .22, for minimizing this major source of "handloading inaccuracy."
        Try using a Lead Sled. I don't own one, but I've used one at Rabbit Creek and I think it's great! Put enough weight on it and even my .458 is almost recoiless. As for sticker shock, they run around $120 or so.

        Oh, yeah. Rabbit Creek has two of them that they'll rent for $5 or so.
        Last edited by .338-06; 07-10-2007, 09:35. Reason: Senior moment
        I may be slow, but I get where I'm going!


        • #5
          I am jealous. When you have an expensive rifle or a less expensive rifle you have put the time or effort into tuning up to shoot better than you do you are lucky. Then shooting is fun as you get to work on perfecting your shot, and when you miss you know what the problem is. I have the opposite problem keeping hunting rifles shooting well. Its really frustrating to make good shots only to have them spreading all over the paper. How do you know its not shooter error? I shoot a friends expensive target rifle all tuned in and it makes a very tiny group. Are you sure you are the biggest source of error?
          I come home with an honestly earned feeling that something good has taken place. It makes no difference whether I got anything, it has to do with how the day was spent. Fred Bear


          • #6
            SW, it is a fact of life as a "shooter"- you are a shooter for sure. I share in the same delimma, not enough money to really be as accurate as I want to be with any of my rifles "all the time". I use the Lead Sled for load development and to obtain the accuracy adjustments needed per bullet load and after that it is just me.

            I guess the reason for "missing" is to be in the classified arena of being a "field shooter". There is no perfect situation that will always allow for a perfect shot no matter how well the rifle has been modified or how well your loads are built. Human error is a major part as a shooter-period. Just have to get use to it.

            Suppose the "best" rifle that I can recommend is the one that fits you and are you comfortable with it and two using the rifle rest does it shoot as good as it can? If so then that would be the rifle.

            I have high expectations of myself as well and it is disappointing when I can not make the shot for some "reason" and not bring home the winter meat. It could have been a twig in the way or too much wind (ha) or breathing irregularities, bum trigger-but never do I BLAME the scope-I can see thru it just fine

            Confidence will be there so long as you continue to shoot and shoot well and generally with one specific load. We are not God.

            Nothing wrong with "humble-pie" doesn't taste good but you will get over it.

            good shooting!


            • #7
              Weak Link...

              I have said that shooting is 10% physical, 89% mental and the rest is equipment. I say this so we won't get in the habit of blaming the equipment. If you believe this you are already a better shot.
              I think you're a believer based on your comments.

              This 99% is you the shooter. Of course the burden of selecting, adjusting, sighting and properly using this equipment falls on your shoulders also. We can quibble over the numbers, but you get the idea.

              I have pointed out to my students that the more equipment you have the greater this burden upon the shooter. I have also found that even though we have the most solid rest possible, we still don't get the best group. The dynamics of firing a gun are such that it brings with it a new set of variables that we cannot control or even understand without further study.

              The biggest selling point, and it is valid, is that these newer "contraptions" will reduce or control recoil which does in itself, help the shooter to make a better shot. They do however introduce a new set of variables. Does the rifle recoil the same with each shot? (does it bounce of the padded rest the same each shot) After each successive shot the padding gets pounded and is more dense and reacts differently.

              One of the biggest human variables in long rifle shooting is how the shooter manages recoil. The rifle butt must rest on the same muscles and with the same rearward pressure, and the same downward tension on the forend or the shot will be different from the last one. The most difficult thing to teach new shooters is this ergonomic melding of man and rifle to such an extent that we manage to break every shot the same.

              With pistol, the same thing exists. We analyze groups to tell the shooter if he heeled the shot or anticipated the shot or pushed the shot,.....we've all heard it. We place the butt of the rifle onto the shoulder in the same place the same way everytime, this an attempt to keep everything same-o-same-o. Stock weld is a factor also. Do we stick the face to the stock the same way everytime.

              We can diminish the effect of all these factor by going to a smaller (lower recoiling) caliber and to a heavier rifle. If heavy enough it will just lay there and can be shot with little human influence and therefore little adverse affect. For a big game hunting rifle this is not an option. We have to carry it and we have to shoot it in the field.

              A rest can make this easier but we must still do all those human factors properly and the same with each shot. I believe that smooth leather covered sand bags (filled with sand, not something else) on a concrete benchtop is the best rest available. Another very good rest is to use a bypod, correctly, without touching the forend to the barrel or twisting it, and develop a good technique to keep the butt pressure the same with each shot. Then place a rear bag under the butt and only the same shoulder behind it. I have made ...ah...few shots, thusly and all were loooong. I have used this technique standing over a wall or table and it is better for me than sitting.

              Sitting to shoot for many of us is some of our worst shots because it scrunches us down and hinders breathing and increases pulse level and rate. If the bench is tall enough this works ok, but if too short, it's not so good. The same could be said for prone. I cannot shoot good groups from prone due to this "rocking horse" effect.

              In summary, you can't beat a sand bag and the new gizmos help with recoil management but not grouping.

              One year many years ago (31) when I was a strong bullseye shooter and had shot several slow fire clean targets by that time. (That's 10 shots in a 3" ten ring at 50 yards) This of course is a one handed hold. Just a few weeks before the all Navy matches, the armorer wanted to test everybodys pistol. All were placed in a Ransom rest and ten shots fired. Just about everybody got their target to drool over and to claim that they had shot it, except me. I asked the chief about mine and he said he accidently threw it away. I forgot about it and went to the matches. I shot a an 881 with that old gun and that with a 200 at the slow fire course (hardball). After those matches were over my gun was confiscated and the armorer then showed me my Ransom rest target. I couldn't cover the group with my hat! The old chief told me. "That's why you didn't get to see your target, you wouldn't have been able to shoot that gun at all." He was right, I was devastated!
              Is there nothing so sacred on this earth that you aren't willing to kill or die for?


              • #8

                I firmly believe there is "zen" or maybe a "happy place" when shooting well. But like a lot of things the older you get the longer it takes to get back to the groove and the fewer opportunities come along to be in the "zen" A long time ago.. yuk.. it took only a few rounds to get back into form. Now it takes longer ...much longer. Enjoy your shooting prowess while young! Just this morning went the range to re-test a promising load for a 1895 Win in 35 Win. I've only been to the range twice in the last couple of months. It didn't take long to realize, as you described, it was almost a waste of time to burn ammo after the lay off. It does take time, and dedicated practice more for some than others to get back to a point where you are really testing a load for accuracy and not just contributing lead and greenhouse gases to the environment. Lately, even after regular shooting and being in form, irritating disruptions like being rocked by the muzzle blast or peppered in the face with powder flakes from a ported 30-378 on the next bench will usually render a load testing session useless- at least for me. Poor weather has a similar effect.

                So, for accuracy/load testing I've found a few things that help even after a lay-off from shooting. Recoil- try to manage it. I use a sissy pad with most guns. I think there is no way to shoot well off the bench if the recoil is a surprise or hurts even a little. Muzzle blast- same thing- I use both muffs and plugs for the loud ones. If I see the ported 30-378 shooter at the range I either go home or head to the coffee shot and solve the world's problems. Trigger- I shoot so many different guns that it is really tough sometimes to concentrate enough during trigger squeeze to get to the "zen" place and shoot well. That is a really big mental thing. Good triggers really help after not shooting for awhile. And, try to shoot when conditions are good and comfortable. Can't add much about equipment and good technique to what Murphy has posted. Good shooting!


                • #9
                  You first need to define how well you want to shoot, then figure out what time and money you can dedicate to that task.

                  For me, shooting well from a bench rest with a rifle is 3 shot groups consistantly under 1". That is what I strive for in handloads. I used to shoot alot, probably twice a week on average. Then I got busy with other projects and it seems like I'm lucky to shoot a few times a year. I have found that my shooting skills with a rifle from a rest are still there, but it's shooting offhand or with handguns that really shows how rusty I am.

                  If you really want to master your skills with a rifle, you need a really accurate rifle. If you have the means, commision a custom built bolt gun in .223 that is built to benchrest specs, albeit a chamber that will chamber factory ammo. Have it built heavy ~12 pounds. Such a gun with taylored handloads will print 1/4" or under groups for 5 shots, and most factory ammo will be hardpressed to exceed 1" groups for 5-10 shots. Such a gun will be very easy to shoot due to the mild recoil and solid feeling from the heft. It'll also be cheap to shoot. Top it with a 3.5-10 or 10x scope with elevation turrets, get a lazer rangefinder, and learn your loads drop. You'll be capable of amazing things with good equipment, and a reasonable ammount of time behind the trigger learning to use it to it's potential.

                  Don't waste your time fiddling with handloads if you need to master your shooting skills. And even when handloading, don't waste your time trying every little tweak. Find out how to get good loads with as little effort as possible. I also spend some time researching powders and bullets known to perform well in whatever chambering I'm working on. I usually dial in a load on the 2nd or 3rd load session, with less than 50 rounds capped.
                  Those that are successful in Alaska are those who are flexible, and allow the reality of life in Alaska to shape their dreams, vs. trying to force their dreams on the reality of Alaska.

                  If you have a tenuous grasp of reality, Alaska is not for you.


                  • #10
                    Funny, 25 years ago I wouldnt own a rifle unless I could get it to shoot MOA or less. The older I get the less I expect as far as accuracy. If I put together a load with a good rifle and it shoots 3 shots 1.5 MOA I quit.
                    We found the most important thing for our family is to get out the .22 rifles and practice off hand shooting.
                    I would rather be spending my time outdoors or fishing instead of getting that last degree of accuracy. If you enjoy the challenge then I suggest practice practice and more practice. But it can be a expensive addiction as far as a superior rifle and time spent.
                    Good luck to you


                    • #11

                      Thanks everybody for the helpful discussion. It's easy to lose perspective on some of these things. I appreciate your insights.
                      "The best defense is not to be there when the blow arrives!"


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