A look at accuracy and precision

If you’re a long range hunter (varmints to big game) or tactical shooter, or just anyone interested in hitting small targets at long range with one or few rifle shots, this message is for you. If you’re a long range prone, F-class, or Benchrest shooter, this may still be interesting for you but not as relevant given that these disciplines allow sighter shots before a record string is fired.

Far too often I hear of shooters agonizing over improving the precision of their hunting rifle from 1.0 MOA groups to .5 MOA groups, or from .5 MOA groups to .25 MOA groups. While a precise rifle/ammo combination that’s capable of shooting small groups is an asset to the long range shooter, the challenge of hitting targets at long range involves more than just shooting small groups.

Group size is a measure of precision. Regardless of where the group is on the target, a small group means good precision. However, to hit targets at long range, you also need accuracy. Accuracy is the measure of how close your shots hit in relation to your point of aim. The importance of accuracy is often overlooked because many shooters think that: “Precision is the hard part, and once I get my group size down, all I have to do is adjust my scope to hit in the center of the target and I’m good-to-go”. If you’re only interested in hitting targets at short range, this logic is sound. However, if you’re trying to hit distant targets where range, wind, and other variables have a great effect on your bullets’ trajectory, then accuracy is not necessarily so easy to achieve. You have to understand the effects of bullet drop, wind deflection, rifle cant, shooting at uphill/downhill angles, etc. If you don’t know how to measure and account for these variables, you won’t hit your target regardless of how much precision your rifle is capable of.

The point of this article is not to teach the reader about all of the details and variables involved in long range shooting. The point is just to provoke some thought about the relative importance of accuracy and precision in certain shooting objectives. As with many challenges, the greatest success is often realized when a balanced approach is taken as opposed to focusing completely on one aspect of the task while ignoring others. A dragster with the most powerful engine doesn’t win if the tires don’t get good traction.

Precision is very important, but for those hunters who spend all their time at the loading bench trying to make a 1 MOA rifle shoot ½ MOA groups, my advice is to consider a more balanced approach and do things to improve your accuracy as well as your precision. Get out and practice shooting the rifle at long range. Learn how your rifles’ point of impact is affected by shooting from various positions, not just a solid bench rest. Learn about the variables that affect your trajectory and how to correct your sights so the bullet hits your point of aim. Applying effort in these areas will improve your accuracy, and your success at hitting targets at long range.

Bryan Litz