Pistol 5-shot group

How Many Shots In A Group?

5 and 3-shot groups
5 and 3-shot groups

Q: When testing rifles, I notice that sometimes you use 3-shot groups and other times 5-shot groups. Why is this? Also, what kind of accuracy would you look for in commercial hunting rifles and varmint rifles?
Robert Clancy

A: If the hunting rifle is a light sporter with a slim barrel, I shoot 3-shot groups, but use 5-shot groups for standard weight rifles. Varmint rifles with heavy barrels are also judged on what they will do with three shot groups. As for 3-shot groups, unless I already knew that rifle, I’d base nothing on a 3-shot group. Mathematically, if you want to get a valid result, you

Pistol 5-shot group

should fire ten such groups and average them. Five shot groups for accuracy are reasonably good, but I’d recommend shooting at least five such groups and taking the average. Realistically, no one needs a rifle to group 1/4″ inch consistently even for the smallest varmints. In the field where one will be shooting varmints, often there will be some breeze or mirage beyond the ability of the shooter to overcome. Most of the .17 Remington rifles I shot would group as well as 1/2 to 3/4 inch with good handloads. Most .22-250s and Swifts would group into 1-1/4-1-1/2″ but the most accurate varmint rifles I ever struck were Remington Model 700s in .204 Ruger which consistently grouped from 1/8-1/4″. One thing’s for sure, very small groups will be scattered through a day’s testing. Too many guys fire a few shots, get one good group and stop there, calling the smallest group the gun’s normal placement. They are just kidding themselves.




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Nick Harvey

The late Nick Harvey (1931-2024) was one of the world's most experienced and knowledgeable gun writers, a true legend of the business. He wrote about firearms and hunting for about 70 years, published many books and uncounted articles, and travelled the world to hunt and shoot. His reloading manuals are highly sought after, and his knowledge of the subject was unmatched. He was Sporting Shooter's Technical Editor for almost 50 years. His work lives on here as part of his legacy to us all.