Last fall, I grabbed my 30-06 rifle and headed to the range to make sure it was shooting properly. Good thing I did because my target looked like someone swapped my rifle for a shotgun with buckshot. There were shots all over the place.
Putting three shots into a 1-inch circle is the gold standard. I can settle for 1.5 or maybe 2 inches for a rifle used strictly for hunting, but if it shoots any worse it goes back in the gun locker until I figure out what's wrong, and that's exactly what I did.
I decided to make the 30-06 my winter project, so I sent the scope back to the manufacturer to get it checked out, then carefully remounted it. I reload my own ammo, and I carefully weighed each charge so I was confident that it was consistent.
I shot it again, and it was still erratic. Sometimes it shot tight clusters around that inch mark, and on rare occasions smaller, but most times they were spread two inches or more, which is unacceptable.
Things get challenging at this point. I have to figure out how to get those shots consistently closer together and tease out what's causing the problem. I am shooting at 100 yards and trying to put three shots within an inch of each other. If I flinch, jerk the trigger, or just waver a little when I am squeezing the trigger, the shot is off and so is the three-shot group.
To figure out if the gun or myself is the problem, I bring along another rifle that's always shot extremely well, either my .308 or my 22-250. If they don't shoot 1-inch groups, I know I am the problem because they've done it so often it's almost boring.
I also enlisted shooting expert Ron Spomer of Boise. He has decades of experience with shooting and hunting and fixed many errant rifles, and I talked to guys at local gun shops to get their opinions on what the problem may be.
This weekend, I got it shooting closer to where I want by free floating the barrel and letting the rifle cool down between each three-shot group.
Now it gets tricky. I can get it to shoot under 2-inch groups, which is nothing special, but acceptable for a hunting rifle. Getting the gun to shoot groups that are half an inch or inch tighter is going to require subtle tweaks that can be hard to measure because the difference between a good group and a bad group is often one bullet straying half an inch at 100 yards.
Why bother, you might ask? One thing, it makes me a better shooter and helps me understand what makes a rifle work. Another thing, when I take it hunting next fall, I will have total confidence that it will deliver a bullet exactly where I need it go.