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Make Your Rifle a Dependable Tack Driver

Get your factory rifles to shoot as well as ours do.
Photo by Outdoor Life Online Editor
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Do gun writers do their best shooting with a typewriter? It's downright treason to suggest that any member of the SOGS (Saintly Order of Gun Scribes) would stoop to such callow legerdemain, but the charge is issued often enough that one has to wonder. On the other hand, could it be that gun writers use special tricks and techniques to wring the best possible performance out of the guns they write about -- techniques that the typical shooter knows nothing about? To
illustrate this possibility, let's use ol' Squint Freebore, who tests guns and writes about them in Blast & Boom Journal, as an example.



Though Squint is the gun writer everyone loves to hate ("I tell it like it is," he reminds us on every page), he has a devoted following, and every gun he writes about gets a sales boost. But that's where the problems begin, as we'll see when we consider Squint's latest field test, an in-depth look at the new Austrian-made Super Sniper. He reports that because of its unique reverse-ratchet rifling and laser-aligned firing pin, the Super Sniper will punch a tidy cloverleaf group at 100 meters without half trying. "Wow!" you react. "It's the Alpha Male of rifles," Squint says, noting its sexy banana-clip magazines and camo-patterned thumbhole stock made of space-age polymer plastic. Squint says the paramilitary look is fashionable for hunting rifles these days and the Super Sniper would be his number-one choice for close-up-and-personal encounters with feral hogs and beasts of similar temperament. "Wow!" again you say. That settles it. You're convinced. You gotta have the first Super Sniper in town. Just wait until the guys out at the gun club see you cut those tiny cloverleaf groups. Heck, Squint says if the shooter does his part, the bullets will all go in one ragged hole.

So that eagerly anticipated Saturday morning arrives and you uncase your glistening Super Sniper at the club range. After a few sighting shots and adjustments to your new Brighteyes 3-9x56 scope (another of Squint's recommendations), you snuggle down on the bench and commence to duplicate ol' Squint's cloverleaf. Somewhere you read that it's best to wait a minute between shots so the barrel will cool, so you squeeze off each shot at 60-second intervals. Squint would be proud of the way you've got it all together. You might even write him a letter and send him one of the tiny groups you shoot with your Super Sniper. They might even print it in Blast & Boom.
Now the moment of truth is at hand and you stroll downrange for a close look at your target, followed by a gaggle of Saturday-morning range loafers who have been cooing over your Super Sniper. Life is sweet. One, two, three you count, all the shots are there but in a heart-wrenching instant you discover that the three holes don't form a cloverleaf, but a crude triangle that could be covered only by a cabbage leaf.



"Why, I can do better than that with Old Betsy, my .30/30 deer rifle," one of the range loafers announces with a wheezing guffaw, followed by a chorus of snickers from his fellows. You start to explain that there must be something amiss with your ammo, or the scope, but then full realization settles in and bewilderment is replaced by stark rage. "Squint lied to me. Wait till he hears from me. I'll never believe another word he writes and I'm canceling my subscription to Blast & Boom!"



"Yeah," chimes in one of the onlookers as he puts his hand between your three bullet holes, emphasizing the group's girth, "he suckered me into buying that Wilderness Wizard single-shot last year. Said it would put three shots in a bug hole, but he musta' been talking about bugs as big as buffalo."



"Squint just writes what the advertising salesmen at Blast & Boom tell him to," adds another voice. "The bigger the ad, the smaller the group. All gun writers are the same -- they do their shooting with a typewriter."



Anthat is how ugly rumors about gun writers get started.



The Outdoor Life Method

I can't speak for other writers, but personally I'm not at all surprised when the scenario described above unfolds. It's not that ol' Squint set out to bamboozle any of his beloved readers, but he, along with others of his craft, has a few tricks up his sleeve that help squeeze the last fraction of minute-of-angle accuracy out of the rifle and ammo he tests. Here at outdoor life we follow a strict policy of absolute honesty when reporting the performance of the guns we test. To that end each gun is evaluated and test-fired by a team of shooters made up of members of our editorial staff and other
select shooters with broad-based firearms skills and experience.



"Yeah, so what," you may be thinking. "The gunmakers send you select guns that perform better than what the average Joe buys." Actually, the exact opposite is usually closer to the truth. Quite often, in order to meet our deadlines, we are sent preproduction models that haven't had all the bugs worked out. Such was the situation last year when, for our June/July Gear Test 2000 issue, our jury tested Mossberg's new single-shot rifle. Accuracy did not live up to expectations, yet we had no choice but to report what our test targets showed. As it turned out, the lack of accuracy was caused by faulty assembly. By the time the Mossberg rifle was in actual production the problem we discovered had been eliminated and the rifles you buy are all the better for it. There have been a number of similar "bug-finding" episodes in our experience.



Just as we strive to offer you, our reader, the fairest possible report, we also make every effort to give the guns sent to us for evaluation the best chance to deliver their best performance. This is where our testing procedures depart -- sometimes radically -- from the way you and Joe Average check out a new rifle at the club range, and perhaps explains how Squint Freebore gets the great accuracy he reports in Blast & Boom. And if you are willing to go that extra mile -- sometimes several miles -- you can duplicate ol' Squint's results for real.



Our test policy mandates that a firearm cannot be physically altered to improve performance. For example, if it is apparent that a rifle's accuracy can be improved by, say, removing or adding to the stock's pressure on the barrel, we will not make that physical alteration. However, there are several tricks of a temporary nature that we frequently employ to enhance a rifle's shootability and accuracy. Stated clearly, we remove, wherever possible, existing impediments to accuracy.



How We Do It

The evaluation procedure begins with our thoroughly cleaning the firearm, inside and out. Heavy greases and rust proofings that might interfere with the operation are removed and operating parts are inspected. Next, the inside
of the barrel is examined with a high-magnification optic probe that shows the rifling on a monitor.



The quality of the bore is graded on a one-to-five scale, with the grade added to our final evaluation score. A breech-to-muzzle video of the bore is made at this time and filed for later reference and possible consultation with the manufacturer (i.e., if the maker quibbles about our evaluation we have the proof). An optic probe is also poked into recesses such as locking lug wells that otherwise could not be inspected. What we discover -- or don't discover -- by peering into these remote nooks and crannies helps to guide our impression of the manufacturer's commitment, or perhaps lack thereof, to building a quality firearm. Either way, it affects a gun's final score.



Though you might assume that gunmakers do not welcome criticisms of their products, the exact opposite is usually the case. Nearly all gunmakers realize our criticisms are well intended and more often than not they aren't aware a problem exists. Thus critiques are welcome, especially regarding new models not yet in full production.


Triggering Accuracy

Since bolt-action rifles are generally more accurate than other types, they are subject to more scrutiny in the accuracy phase of our testing -- especially models that are specifically promoted as delivering long-range accuracy for big game, varmints or target shooting. This scrutiny includes removing the stock and closely inspecting the inletting, which is a significant factor in bolt-action rifle accuracy.



While the barreled action is out of the stock the trigger pull is weighed, and if the trigger mechanism is adjustable, we readjust it to its lowest safe setting. This is one of ol' Squint's tricks, too, because a rifle with a light pull is much easier to shoot accurately. Liability lawsuits against makers of consumer products being what they are these days, guns routinely leave the factory with a trigger pull of five pounds or more. Though such heavy trigger pulls may be "lawyer proof," they also make it difficult to get a shot off -- especially a series of shots -- without somewhat disturbing an otherwise careful aim.



Our definition of the lowest "safe" trigger setting is where the mechanism is adjusted to minimum weight of pull and trigger creep without the sear accidentally releasing when the bolt is repeatedly slammed closed. The range of weight adjustability along with trigger creep (the movement of a trigger before the sear releaser) and trigger backlash (motion after the sear release) are recorded and contribute -- or deduct -- from a gun's final score. Though the trigger is returned to its original setting before being sent back to the maker, for the time being we leave it at a minimal weight for our shooting tests. This is consistent with our policy of removing whatever impediments there may be to a rifle's accuracy during bench-testing.



Taking Stock

Another way we give a rifle a fair chance to prove itself is by returning the barreled action to the stock with more care than is normal with factory assembly. If there is loose fore-and-aft movement of the metal in the stock (there usually is), we slide the action rearward so there is solid contact between the recoil lug and the stock's lug mortice. (Rifles that creep rearward in the stock, shot to shot, may initially exhibit a tendency to shift point of impact.) The front action is then torqued to full tightness before the rear screw.



The screws are tightened with a torque wrench to a uniform 65 inch-pounds, which most accuracy specialists agree to be the screw pressure most likely to yield optimum accuracy. As the rear screw is tightened, close attention is paid to any tendencies of the stock to bend. Excess movement (there is always a little) signals imprecise inletting, which in turn causes unwanted stock or rexists. Thus critiques are welcome, especially regarding new models not yet in full production.


Triggering Accuracy

Since bolt-action rifles are generally more accurate than other types, they are subject to more scrutiny in the accuracy phase of our testing -- especially models that are specifically promoted as delivering long-range accuracy for big game, varmints or target shooting. This scrutiny includes removing the stock and closely inspecting the inletting, which is a significant factor in bolt-action rifle accuracy.



While the barreled action is out of the stock the trigger pull is weighed, and if the trigger mechanism is adjustable, we readjust it to its lowest safe setting. This is one of ol' Squint's tricks, too, because a rifle with a light pull is much easier to shoot accurately. Liability lawsuits against makers of consumer products being what they are these days, guns routinely leave the factory with a trigger pull of five pounds or more. Though such heavy trigger pulls may be "lawyer proof," they also make it difficult to get a shot off -- especially a series of shots -- without somewhat disturbing an otherwise careful aim.



Our definition of the lowest "safe" trigger setting is where the mechanism is adjusted to minimum weight of pull and trigger creep without the sear accidentally releasing when the bolt is repeatedly slammed closed. The range of weight adjustability along with trigger creep (the movement of a trigger before the sear releaser) and trigger backlash (motion after the sear release) are recorded and contribute -- or deduct -- from a gun's final score. Though the trigger is returned to its original setting before being sent back to the maker, for the time being we leave it at a minimal weight for our shooting tests. This is consistent with our policy of removing whatever impediments there may be to a rifle's accuracy during bench-testing.



Taking Stock

Another way we give a rifle a fair chance to prove itself is by returning the barreled action to the stock with more care than is normal with factory assembly. If there is loose fore-and-aft movement of the metal in the stock (there usually is), we slide the action rearward so there is solid contact between the recoil lug and the stock's lug mortice. (Rifles that creep rearward in the stock, shot to shot, may initially exhibit a tendency to shift point of impact.) The front action is then torqued to full tightness before the rear screw.



The screws are tightened with a torque wrench to a uniform 65 inch-pounds, which most accuracy specialists agree to be the screw pressure most likely to yield optimum accuracy. As the rear screw is tightened, close attention is paid to any tendencies of the stock to bend. Excess movement (there is always a little) signals imprecise inletting, which in turn causes unwanted stock or re

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