What is Target Grouping and Why is it Important?
When it comes to the concept of marksmanship fundamentals, having the ability to deliver quality grouping shots is critical to improving the accuracy of your rifle.
For many firearm owners, one or two trips to the range where they can go through the motions of sighting/zeroing their rifle, and they'll call it good. Right?
Wrong! At its most basic level, producing accurate grouping shots comes down to routine practice and the ability to react to human error.
Now that we know WHAT target grouping is, we can move on to the more important/fun questions - How do I perform a grouping drill? What is the ideal distance? What type of ammo should I use? How many groups should I shoot?
Sample Target Group Test
Like most practice drills, there are many different methods when shooting a rifle for grouping shots. While the following method works for me, I would encourage any firearm owner to try different ways to see which works best for them.
Starting with a good shooting rifle and 110 rounds of ammunition, I conducted my drill over several days while never firing more than 25 shots per day.
First, I fired ONE 20-shot group, ONE 10-shot group, FIVE 5-shot groups, and FIVE 3-shot groups. Next, I shot TEN 2-shot groups. To finish, I fired FIVE two-shot groups (twice).
The results were quite interesting. You would think the most significant groupings would be the ones with the most shots, and while that WAS generally the case, it was not the rule.
SAMPLE TEST RESULTS
Method Shots Fired Average Group Size
1, 20-shot group 20 2.106
1, 10-shot group 10 1.200
5, 5-shot groups 25 1.011
5, 3-shot groups 15 0.711
10, 2-shot groups 20 0.738
5, 2-shot groups 10 0.683
5, 2-shot groups 10 0.792
Overall Average 1.034
Factors That can Alter your Tight Grouping
There are several things at play here. First, we're trying to measure the precision of the rifle and ammunition combination. No rifle/load combination can shoot the same hole every time. Still, no human is capable of shooting perfectly every time either.
In fact, the most significant variable in the mix is human error. The more shots you take, the more you increase your chances of making a mistake.
For argument's sake, let's assume that out of 7-10 shots, you'll make at least one lousy shot. You might think you can fire 10 perfect shots in a row, but you can't. (If you could, you'd be the world champion.)
If you fire 25 shots, at least two or three of those are likely to be bad. So, why was the average of my 5, five-shot groups – 25 shots – smaller than the single 20-shot group.
Well, that is why we shoot multiple groups instead of one. I'm sure I made a few bad shots while firing those 25 shots, but by firing more groups, the human error gets lost in the average.
Data vs Shooter Fatigue
When shooting groups, the more you shoot, the better the data set you'll have to evaluate. I believe it's best to keep the shots per group between three and seven, hoping to fire some groups that may be free of human error.
If you begin to fatigue after 15 shots, then shooting 5 three-shot or 3 five-shot groups is a better idea. Recoil tolerance plays a big part in this process.
There's another consideration when it comes to shooting/evaluating groups at different distances. Suppose you shot a group at 100 yards that measured 2.5 inches. Ballistically that should translate to a 5.0-inch group at 200 yards and a 7.5-inch group at 300 yards. Reality is a little different.
This is primarily due, again, to human error. Pulling a shot a quarter inch off at 100 yards should be a half-inch off at 200 yards. But when it comes to longer distances, it's not the pulling of the shot as much as the aiming error that gets you.
The smaller a target appears in your riflescope, the harder it is to aim with precision. Additionally, the parallax in rifle scopes can contribute to a shooter's aiming errors as the distances increase.
Target Distance and Grouping Size
Regarding target grouping at a distance, based on my experience, with the sight-system you're using you can expect your shot groups to increase between 2 & 2.4x whenever the distance to the target is doubled.
This is because your aim could be slightly off, there could be some parallax in your scope at that distance, or that unseen evil thing we call wind could be the culprit.
For all the same reasons, you'll want to shoot multiple groups at 100 yards, and you'll want to do the same at greater distances.
Shooting accurately and producing tight shot groups is fun when everything is going well, but let's face it - nobody likes missing the target.
If I had one final takeaway for new shooters to remember, it is that multiple groups are essential.
No matter the distance or shot count, a single target group will only allow you to make assumptions. An example of one is indicative, not definitive. One box of ammo – 20 rounds –should be enough to make a well-informed decision about a load's compatibility with your rifle.
The more groups you fire, the more accurate your data will be. Balance the groups and shots per group with your shooting skill and fatigue level for the best results.
For example, practicing shooting five, 3-shot, or three, 5-shot groups makes a lot more sense and leaves fewer rounds for another grouping when/if you recognize any issues.
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