If you're struggling to shoot small groups, it might not be the rifle. It might be an error in your setup or execution. Learning to recognize subtle mistakes will help you to shoot without excuses and give every rifle it's fair shake at the range.
There is skill involved in all types of shooting, but generally, rifle accuracy from a bench rest is about consistency and eliminating outside influences that limit the gun's capabilities.
Once you learn to recognize these 8 overlooked mistakes, you will see better results on target.
1. Improperly Mounted Scope
Do you know how to mount a scope? No, do you really know how to do it the right way? If not, check out these how to mount a scope instructions. You can also find videos and tutorials on many scope and gunsmith tool manufacturer websites.
It helps to start with quality bases and rings. Then be sure and level the gun in a vise and level the scope before securing it. Use a torque wrench to tighten screws to the manufacturer's specifications.
2. Unstable Rest
A stable rest is a no-brainer. It allows you to test the rifle, not your ability to hold it steady.
If you shoot prone often, it's fine to sight in from a stable bipod. Otherwise, a heavy bench rest is best.
3. Shooting in Bad Conditions
Do your load testing and sighting in early in the morning on calm days. This is when the temperature is lowest and mirage should be nonexistent. Shooting in poor conditions is like fouling your groups on purpose.
4. Inconsistent Shoulder Pressure
Every shooter finds a little bit different amount of shoulder pressure works best for his or her body and gun. There's not really a "right" amount of pressure, but heavy pressure is usually harder to repeat from shot to shot.
"You want uniform shoulder pressure," says Darrell Buell, a long-range shooting instructor and captain of the U.S. F-T/R rifle team. "Some guys prefer a lot of shoulder pressure. As long as you can calibrate it and make it the same every single time you'll have success."
5. Inconsistent Trigger Pull
The proper trigger pull is not a pull at all.
"The ideal trigger pull is more of a trigger press," says Buell. "If you're thinking 'pull,' too may people actually 'yank.'"
Learning to press a trigger--moving it straight to the rear without disturbing the sight picture--takes practice, either with live rounds or by dry-fire practice. You should be able to take up all the slack first, so at the exact moment you want to fire you can break the trigger.
"The idea is to pull that trigger and have as little external influence on the rifle as possble," adds Buell.
6. Too Much Barrel Heat
I have a .22-250 that will fire the first five-shot string into 1 inch at 100 yards every time I go to the range. But if I don't allow the barrel to cool, the groups open up to closer to 2 ½ inches.
If you aren't patient enough to wait on the barrel to cool, take along a .22 and plink between strings. Shoot in the shade when possible, and use a portable fan to blow air across the barrel if it's really hot.
7. Lack of Follow-Through and Focus
Failing to follow through is the Achilles heel of many shooters. The shot shouldn't "end" until after impact, so try to visualize every bullet impacting the target. Stay connected physically and mentally to the trigger until it breaks, and keep your head down and married to the stock through the shot.
If that doesn't work, try role-playing to sharpen your focus. Imagine you're making a perfect shot on a 6x6 bull or 175-inch whitetail. Or shoot a smaller target that requires greater concentration. You'll learn to pick an impact point, not an impact area.
8. Using the Wrong Ammo
Ammo selection is crucial. If shooting factory rifles, test five or six loads to see what performs best in your gun. If you reload, focus on consistency in your loading procedure as well. The goal is to make little clones from shot to shot. That way, you know that what you see on the target is the result of the gun's match with the ammo, not your poor reloading skills.