Cut by a Razor

If you look back at the last year of the blog, it stands out from the previous writing and shooting. I really got stuck on something that’s not very practical. I developed an obsession with my grouping, which seemed to be getting worse and worse (both the groups and the obsession). Most every shot was fired from prone with a bipod using a rear bag. I could have chosen to pursue something more practical when my efforts to shoot one hole groups didn’t pan out, but I didn’t. I just kept chasing something that never seemed to get any closer.

I see other people’s tight groups all the time on the internet. I’m a decent shooter. I’ve even shot a few of the sub-half minute groups myself. It really bugged me that for some reason I couldn’t do it with my rifle.

I was also thinking of shooting tight groups as sort of a prerequisite for doing other stuff that was more interesting. How am I going to get feedback on my wind reading if I can’t ensure that the bullet is even going to go where I tell it to? How am I going to hit a 2 MOA target at 600 yards in a complex wind pattern if I can’t shoot a 2 MOA group at 100 yards in a predictable wind pattern? It’s a very sequential development of skill, and it became somewhat of an obsession to “fix” whatever was keeping me from shooting well.

One quirk about me is that I tend to blame myself first whenever there is a problem. I’ve seen a lot of shooters that couldn’t shoot, and when confronted with evidence to that effect, would immediately resort to messing with equipment. This scenario is what led me to come up with what I called “Rifleslinger’s Razor”, which says, “Do not blame equipment for deficiencies in performance that could otherwise be explained by faulty technique.” I certainly did not want to become that shooter, so the overriding tendency is to blame myself instead of my equipment.

Another one of my quirks is that I have always thought it’s possible to make due with lesser equipment if the skill level is worked hard enough to overcome the deficiency. It’s really cool to show up with an average piece of equipment and by virtue of skill overcome those with better equipment and lesser skill. Then after the fact it always strokes the ego to talk about those fools with the high dollar equipment that don’t know how to use it (despite the obvious fact that talking trash is never a way to improve one’s own game). That didn’t always happen, but it’s easy enough to pick out the things you want to remember and disregard the things you don’t.

Being more accurate as a shooter than your rifle is capable of is a very frustrating thing. The bad part is, I was convinced that I was getting worse.  Way back in 2011, when I was just getting started as a blogger, I went through my prone results and proved that I was more accurate than my Sako 75.  I was still shooting 10 shot groups for the blog back then, and I was able to beat the Sako’s 1.6 MOA bipod and rear bag group by using a shooting sling in unsupported prone with the Remington and shooting a 1.3 MOA group. A third group using the Remington with a bipod and bag was a modestly accurate 0.8 MOA ten shot group. All of these groups were fired in less than a minute. Knowing that the Sako was obviously not as intrinsically accurate as I was did not help my confidence in that system, but at least I was able to figure out that it wasn’t me.

A 10 shot bipod group with my old blog rifle, a Sako 75 30-06.  Approximately 1.6 MOA.  The pace was approximately 10 seconds per round.  I knew that I was more accurate than this rifle was capable of shooting.

A 10 shot group using the accurized Remington 700, shot from unsupported prone using a sling.  1.3 MOA.  Quite a bit better than the above bipod group from the Sako, and shaped like a normally distributed group.


The use of a bipod for support with the Remington shrinks the group even further.  It’s about half the size of the equivalent group from the Sako, fired on the same day by the same person (me).

I had learned a lot in the year and a half that passed from the time I shot those groups. I don’t know why I thought I had gotten so much worse.  I think it was just the gradual changes slowly over time and I got used to seeing what I was seeing.  Sometimes I would see the FN print 2 or 3 shots right on top of each other, then it would throw something completely wild.  How could it be something fundamental, like a bad barrel, if it would put 2 or 3 right on top of each other?

Here’s how I got to that point from the beginning.  Here’s the very first group I shot with the FN:

I wrote off the “flier” as some sort of component seating phenomenon- 1st Stage of denial.

Here is a good representation of what kind of groups I got shooting from bipod prone over the next 9 months or so with the rifle.  The captions aren’t intended to be sane, but are meant to convey what I might have been thinking at the time:

OK.  Not great, but I can live with that.

What did I do?

12 shots at 100, returning to zero three times from waaayyy out there.  That’s actually pretty respectable.

Same thing, same day, on a different spot on the target.  Wouldn’t have been too bad except for that one.  I shot a lot of rounds that day.  It could have been me.

Must have been me, huh?

2012-09-14 001 019
“Sure, it’s a little big, but that’s 10 shots and I’m sure the fliers must have been me.”  Maybe it just seemed big after I’d been shooting 5 shot groups for a while.  Compare it to the 10 shots from the Sako 75 that I thought were horrible just a year or so earlier.

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10 rounds FGMM, 158 yards.  “Was it the wind or something?”  Actually 158 is a lot farther than just 100…” (uh, not really).

A mental disorder has now firmly set in, and the beginning of a failed series of experiments intended to figure out just what I was doing wrong!!!

Someone else on the trigger.  I guess it wasn’t a trigger control issue.

Wow!  That was great, except for that one that I messed up.

2- 1point24 inches
Wow!  That was great except for those 2 that I messed up.

I don’t know how I might have rationalized this.  But looking back on shooting at the Sportsman’s challenge and some of the “tricky wind conditions” makes me wonder about how tricky that wind really was.

Taking a fresh position for every shot.  I guess it wasn’t caused by some recoil induced position degradation.

Wow!  She loves me!

2point08 point47 and point24
She loves me not.  It went like this, the four shots on the left were four shots of an intended 5 shot group.  One of the shots on the right was the 5th.  I decided to shoot that stray bullet hole and basically did.  That will pretty much throw you for a loop.

4-16-13 0point98
She loves me!

4-16-13 168 TAP 0point97
Maybe I could live with this…

4-17-13 1point12
I think I’ve cured it.  Sub moa from 126 yards!!!

4-17-13 1point69
Oh CRAP!!!

Deja vu all over again, with a new stock this time.

The last experiment I tried was ball and dummy.  Every time I shot for the next couple months, it included ball and dummy.  Guess what.  I did not see anything that would lead me to believe I could be causing any of the extreme deviation in the above photos.  Just about every time I clicked on a dummy in the chamber it was rock solid.  This finally got me to admit that it might not be me.  Sometimes it’s alright to admit that your equipment is not up to snuff. I think one of the main reasons I didn’t want to admit it is that I had been dreading the cost of fixing it.  In the end it’s just what needs to be done.

I called up the gunsmith that did the work on the Remington that I used to shoot two of the groups at the top of the article.  I was asking about getting the rifle bedded, trued, and some trigger work done.  I thought this would help if the barrel was maybe still alright.  He said sure.  Then he started describing what a barrel will look like when it goes bad.  He said something like this, “You might see 3 or 4 shots grouping real nicely, then you’ll shoot another, and it will be way off.  You start wondering if you’re doing something wrong.”  I wondered to myself if he’d been standing over my shoulder the entire time.

I took the rifle in and he slugged the muzzle end.  The bore was not concentric and the smallest part was 0.309.  Too bad I couldn’t afford a new barrel.  I hope to provide more uplifting information when the rifle gets back to me.


11 thoughts on “Cut by a Razor

  1. Every shot you fire is a part of the whole population of shots fired. Assuming a truly random distribution any particular shot most likely will be within +/- one sigma of the mean radial distance from the aiming/zero point. Then again that shot could be +/- two or three sigma radial distance from the aiming/zero point.

    Those shots we’d all like to declare as “flyers” or “outliers” more likely than not are simply minority members of the population that decided to “show up for work” that day.

    I won’t turn this comment into a lecture in Statistics 101 but it remains a mathematical law that some of your shots are going to “ruin your pretty groups”.

    Accept it and drive on.

    • It’s funny that you should mention this. During my break, or maybe a little before, I picked up the Sniper’s Notebook by John Simpson. He goes into detail about dispersion. It’s funny, because after reading it seems so common sense that it’s as if I had already known it, but was lead astray by marketing and seeing very selective internet posting of shot groups.

      To use your language I’m well into the “driving on” phase. The way the FN was shooting, if I were to put an aggregate group large enough to get an idea of what I could realistically expect from it, was still unacceptable for my expectations of the size target I expect to hit. It was a real eye opener for me on rifle performance, quality, wear, and that sometimes things need to be fixed or replaced (another one of those obvious things that broke people like me want to live in denial about). I can tell that the barrel on the Remington is starting to go south, but still a lot better than the FN was doing. The difference now is that I can realize it’s not all on me if I don’t shoot a 20 round 0.25 MOA group.

  2. Put a link to a Pay Pal account on your blog. Maybe enough of us would take pity on you and chip in enough money to buy you a new barrel. Hey…it could happen! 🙂

  3. I don’t see a problem with chasing grouping. That is just shorthand for chasing consistency. The hallmark of a rifleman is consistency.

    Give a blind monkey enough ammo, he can eventually hit any target. Groups matter.

    • I agree that groups matter, but all I was doing was beating a dead horse. That’s all I was doing, and mostly in one position, under as controlled as setting as I could manage. I just had too much emotionally invested in hoping that my rifle would work like I expected it to.

      For what I’m doing, I look at group shooting as a diagnostic tool in terms of knowing the limitations of my system under different conditions. It’s a necessity, but as a point of departure for me to reach my goal.

  4. The group that matters is that first shot! right where you’re looking ,because it’s all down hill from there, besides for a host of reason’s ether you or the target are gonna move ,so I question the benefit of pounding round after round down range from the same position at a stationary target at known distance ,after the diagnostic work is done- just saying
    A good coach and spotter would be invaluable ,we all should be so fortunate huh

    • Rawhider, that’s a really good point that, speaking only for myself, often gets overlooked. I once read that archery maven Fred Bear’s practice session sometimes consisted of shooting only a single arrow because that simulated all of the shots he was likely to shoot on any given hunting day.

      I often find that my best shots are usually my first ones, be it with a rifle, pistol, or bow. Heck if I know why, but that’s not a bad problem to have if one is talking about hunting, where the first shot is the most important. For pure marksmanship practice during extended sessions, however, it can be vexing.

      RS, I know the groups you’ve posted haven’t always been to your liking, and I commend your honesty in posting the good with the (relatively) bad, but looking at things from a purely practical point of view, just about any shot from those groups should be good enough to hit any living thing (no matter how many legs they walk on) out to sane ranges and put it/them down decisively. This, to me, is the criteria of an accurate rifle/rifleman combination. If I am wrong, would someone please enlighten me so I may improve my thinking?

      BTW, lest I be misunderstood, I didn’t intend the above to mean one shouldn’t strive for continual improvement.

      Finally, welcome back, RS, it’s good to hear from you again.

      • Thanks for the welcome back. I’m sure I was always in your heart or some such nonsense 🙂

        I would agree that the first shot is the most important one, so hopefully it counts. I’m doing everything I can to make sure that it does.

        In terms of good enough, I realize I’m pointing out the obvious, but it’s all relative to time, terrain, target, etc. At the moment, I’m not really trying to push the envelope for its own sake. Challenges and emergencies arise due to low probability events. It’s like teaching my daughter how to drive. Getting to the point of cruising down the road is no big deal. It’s how to deal with the driver who runs the stop sign or changes lanes abruptly, how to drive in a blizzard (or to know when not to), that actually make a competent driver. A new driver doesn’t even understand their limitations. Shooting is a lot like driving, except for the number of people who are actually good shooters, or maybe it is a lot like driving.

        As for the groups, it’s the same idea. The probability for the rifle to fire one of those really truly “turd” shots might be very low, but understanding that the possibility exists, and in what magnitude, could in some cases mean the difference from success and catastrophic failure. To come to that understanding, I need to not only put some rounds downrange, but I need to come to an understanding as to what the results are telling me about what I might and might not be capable of when I really need to perform.

  5. I’m glad you upgraded your rifle. Dealing with a cranky gun is like being in a bad relationship; you never know what mood she’s going to be in when you need to shoot.

    What barrel did you get for your rifle? What chambering? Are you staying with .308?

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