Hast Seen The White Whale?

“I’ll chase him round Good Hope, and round the Horn, and round the Norway Maelstrom, and round perdition’s flames before I give him up. And this is what ye have shipped for, men! to chase that white whale on both sides of land, and over all sides of earth, till he spouts black blood and rolls fin out.”
–Captain Ahab

Like Ahab, I am chasing an elusive quarry and find myself unable to let it go.  I keep expecting that one day I’ll get down in prone with the bipod and I will finally begin shooting those magical “sub moa” groups I hunger for.  I’ve tweaked small aspects of my technique and have fired countless groups and dot drills, all without achieving the desired effect.  What’s more, I’ve noticed that my ability has gotten worse.

I decided that the most effective way to deal with this problem is to be methodical about it.  This type of approach has been very helpful in the past.  One of the last things I did as an Appleseed instructor, and probably the most worthwhile thing, was to help my daughter make Rifleman a few years back.  This was her 3rdor 4th shoot and I don’t believe she had really improved as a shooter up to that point.

On day 1 there had been no improvement and quite possibly some deterioration.  On the way home I went into deep thinking mode.  I decided that yelling “BY THE NUMBERS” as I walked by was not having the desired effect.  She was not failing- it was I who was failing her as an instructor.  I decided that she would not improve if neither she nor I could tell why she was not getting better.  On Sunday I decided that I was not going to walk the firing line and doll out tender morsels of shooting advice.  I was going to troubleshoot with my daughter until it clicked.

We tried left side and right side (she is cross dominant but is stubborn about shooting right handed).  We tried me working the trigger with her shooting.  We tried a lot of things.  Then we tried a scope.  Several of those things made a difference.  I don’t remember which, if any one, was the most significant, but she made Rifleman by that afternoon.

I decided that I needed to coach myself in a more methodical manner, instead of yelling at myself, “STRAIGHT BACK!  LOAD THE BIPOD!”  (I get weird looks at the range, but they tend to stop immediately and leave when they realize I’m looking back at them through the back of my head).  I sat down and made a list of things that could possibly detract from my precision.  Here is what I wrote:

            -Trigger control
            -Flinch/jerk/buck
            -Scope parallax/inconsistent cheekweld
            -Bipod itself inducing mechanical inconsistency
            -Position breaking down
            -Bolt handle position
            -Rear bag flinch
            -Bipod over/under loaded
            -Scope broken
            -Single loading vs. magazine loading
            -Hot chamber affecting powder burn
            -My rifle has a bad problem
            -SLG has suggested that the stock is junk and that a new one would 
              probably result in the single biggest improvement I could make.

I decided to break this way down and begin to test these things individually.  I decided that I would use 5 round groups as a method for comparison.  I also decided that I would remove the cold bore round from the equation, which would leave me free to test more than one thing in a single shooting session.

Day 1 was to include a three round group including the cold bore, a control group, and a partner activated trigger press group.  I placed the bull’s-eye of each target 36” from the ground.  The scope was set to 9x.  There was very little wind, approximately 1-3 mph from approximately 5 o’clock.  I also finally took the 0.2 mils out of my zero to center it up a bit better.

I found something interesting during the cold bore group.

Bad group 
3.89″
I was being quite careful and deliberate without fussing the shot.  Breathing was methodical, trigger press straight to the rear, good sight picture, surprise break.  I’m willing to take responsibility for my bad shooting, but I know I did not do that.  Perhaps I have been too willing to take responsibility.  That was really weird.

During my 5 shot control group I tried to put a consistent 30 seconds between each shot, chambering each round immediately after the previous one was fired.  I did the best I could.  The results were consistent with my experience with this rifle from a bipod at 100 yards.

IMG_1549
1.41″

The next 5 rounds used the same position.  I had not gotten up from the previous 5. I had a partner activate the trigger.  She used her index finger on the trigger and the thumb behind the triggerguard in a pinching motion with both finger and thumb straight.  During several dry fire runs I did not see the reticle move from the target.  During live fire I maintained the same position.  To ensure I was in a consistent place in my breathing cycle I vocalized my exhalations so she would know when I was at respiratory pause.  I maintained a laser-like focus of my reticle on the bull’s-eye while waiting for the shot to break.

This type of drill would theoretically rule out both trigger jerk and any type of flinch response.  The results were slightly different in character, but not in overall quality from the control group.  This group was actually larger.

IMG_1550    
1.67″
More experimentation to follow…

17 thoughts on “Hast Seen The White Whale?

  1. Four immediate questions come to mind.

    How many rounds do you have through this barrel? A worn-out barrel could presumably cause accuracy issues.

    How solid of a lock-up do you have with this action? If cartridges don’t seat consistently, that could throw your groups.

    Are you sure that your scope is solidly mounted? Could it be moving in the mount, or could the reticle itself have loosened within the scope?

    And of course, are you shooting the exact same spec ammo each time?

    I only ask because it seems like your six steps are solid as is your position, and you know how to find your NPOA. If YOU are doing everything well (and it sounds like you are), then you have a mechanical issue. Unfortunately, I stink at diagnosing any more than that over the Internet. 🙂

    • Bob,

      As of this moment I probably have 1430 rounds or so. I’d have to check my data book to be more precise, but I’m within +/- 30 or so.

      I’m not sure about the action. It’s one of the last Model 70’s that was made at USRAC before they started making all of them in South Carolina, so it doesn’t have the benefit of all the new machines they’re using now.

      The rings are properly torqued, as is the base. The base isn’t bedded. The top group with the wild shot might have been the first target I shot after taking the scope out of the rings, the rings off the base, and the base off the rifle to make sure the torque on everything was good, which it was.

      I’ve been shooting a batch of handloads from about 3-4 years ago. They were not developed specifically for this rifle. The charge weights were done by my wife while I seated the bullets. She was EXTREMELY particular about the scale indicator being in PRECISELY the right spot.

      I believe that my experiments are starting to yield some hazy answers, but I’m about 6 posts ahead of myself.

    • Slinger,
      Perhaps where and when your rifle was manufactured holds some clues. I have been reading the second edition of Terry Wieland’s Dangerous Game Rifles where he suggests that it was not before time when the old Winchester factory was closed down and moved to the newer FN facility. The machinery and tooling was well beyond its use-by date and was beginning to effect the quality of the product. Perhaps you have some tolerance issues?

    • I’ve wondered about that. I “talked” with Ben Voss, who works for FN, and appears to be a pretty straight shooter about the USRAC rifles vs. the South Carolina ones. He said that the workers at USRAC were more skilled, but the machinery better at Fredericksburg.

      Time will tell.

  2. What happens with a really good .22 and ammunition it likes ,that might be a tell as you would have a known base to work from and decide technique or equipment…. just a thought ,I have to do that every so often it seems

    • A .22 makes a lot of sense with the range limitations I have now. I need to budget for a scope on my .22. I got frustrated with the sights and took them off (they were “dainty”).

    • How about using a scope off the center fire- The only advantage of a dedicated .22 scope is 22 scopes are set for parallax free a 50 yds ,but maybe you have parallax adj objective ? Hope you got some rimfire ammo as that is really hard to come by in my neck of the woods – heard Spokane was worse

    • Take a look at the Leupold EFR Scope (Extended Focus Range). It has a parallax adjustment down to 10m. It’s billed as a rimfire scope but is built to the same standards as other Leupolds, and you can use it on a .308 or whatever you have, as well as the .22lr. I use it because I have an indoor range nearby (25yd); I have quick release levers for the rings, and different risers, so I can use it on all my rifles. The adjustments aren’t the best – notch type where you have to use a coin or screwdriver – but it’s very versatile. And the parallax adjustment is necessary for 25yd. I’m only shooting 1.5-2.0 MOA but I’m sure it’s possible to do better with this scope in the right hands. And +1 on the other comment endorsing Federal Gold Medal Match .308; I’ve shot my best groups with that ammo. — Ulysses MT

  3. Suggestion…. Get a box, just one, of Federal Match .308 ammo, and shoot four, five shot groups from the bench, from as solid a position as you can get. Use that as a baseline to rule out ammo and inherent accuracy problems. I have never owned a rifle that wouldn’t shoot Federal Match well.

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