Hunting rifle accuracy
Shooting from a hastily adopted field rest can't match benchrest accuracy

Unrealistic ideas about accuracy

The importance of accuracy has been over-emphasised for so long that shooters have been brainwashed into suffering a loss of confidence in their rifles and loads unless the level of accuracy is up to benchrest standards.

I would be satisfied with a rifle and load that shot 1½-inch groups, day in and day out, and carried enough power to score one-shot kills over what I consider to be normal hunting distances.

Hunting rifle accuracy
This group measured 1½ inches and will be just as effective in field as a more accurate load. Many hunting rifles don’t average better than this

Accuracy is admirable to some extent. There is no such thing as too much accuracy. 

Yet the importance of velocity and energy is often ignored in our fixation with accuracy.

It only makes sense to evaluate how much accuracy is really necessary for the kind of hunting you do; the size of the game, the kind of terrain and the likely distances you’ll be shooting at. How much accuracy can you really use?

Shooting from a benchrest at a range is necessary to sight-in your rifle but it doesn’t compare to the type of shots likely to be taken in the field. 

Most of the big game I’ve shot at any distance has been taken with the aid of some hastily assumed rest; a rock or tree has helped me take many a head of game.

Hunting rifle accuracy
Offhand shooting rarely gives you any chance of matching 3MOA accuracy

In open country I’ll often use a sitting position, particularly where grass and bushes are too high to shoot from prone. 

On shots I’ve taken up close, say from 50 to 100 metres, offhand was the only choice, simply because there wasn’t time to look for a rest at such close range. 

Prone is probably the steadiest and most accurate of the unaided shooting positions. 

From a practical standpoint then, it’s unlikely that I’ll be able to hold within even two inches (5cm) of where I’m aiming under field conditions on the average, even in the best of circumstances.

For offhand shots or other shots taken in a hurry, I wouldn’t even be able to hold three inches (76mm) of accuracy in the field at 100 metres. 

Given that this is accurate enough for game hunting, let’s examine two other factors which should be taken into account when assembling a good hunting load: velocity and energy, along with how much of each is retained over the long haul. 

Rifle hunting accuracy
Tall grass and bushes often necessitates using the sitting position which is universally the most useful of all

Higher velocity results in a flatter trajectory, which means range estimation becomes less critical. In the event you misjudge the range and the game is farther away than you reckoned, you’re more likely to score a good hit than missing or wounding.

Thus, high velocity is an aid to accurate, effective shooting in the field since it improves your ability to land the bullet in a vital area. It also means less wind drift. There’s less chance for the game to move between the time the trigger is pressed and when the bullet arrives on target. 

These factors are seldom considered when shooting groups because most shooters fire at relatively short distances at still targets when they’re checking accuracy. The advantage in wind drift and drop are apparent only at longer ranges, but that’s also where a higher level of accuracy is needed.

The two are interrelated since the higher the velocity, the greater the energy. And the higher the velocity and energy, the harder the bullet will hit and the more shocking power it will have. 

Radial velocity imparted to the surrounding tissue will cause a large cavity to form in the bullet’s wake. And the amount of tissue damage is what largely contributes to anchoring game in its tracks. 

Hunting rifle accuracy
The ideal hunting bullet is one that will hold together at close range and still expand sufficiently at long range. These are Nosler Partitions

The faster a bullet is going when it hits, a greater assurance of adequate bullet expansion. This becomes very important at longer ranges with rifle cartridges, since when velocity and energy are too low there is little or no bullet expansion, resulting in decreased shock, energy, and tissue destruction — that is, reduced killing power.

With equal bullet expansion, higher velocity gives deeper penetration, all else being equal. Deeper penetration can make all the difference between a bullet reaching or not reaching the vital organs. 

It can mean the difference between an exit wound which produces a good blood trail or no exit wound and almost no blood trail. 

Another factor which shooters seldom consider is that higher velocity means a higher rotational velocity which is another type of kinetic energy separate from linear velocity. The faster the bullet rotates, the more rotational kinetic energy is transmitted to the quarry; it’s a factor that aids in bullet expansion due to the increased centrifugal force and stability imparted by the spin. 

When you take all of these factors into consideration it becomes abundantly clear that accuracy is not the be all and end all. 

In fact, higher velocity actually aids your ability to hit what you’re shooting at. 

Of course, higher energy and velocity are usually accompanied by additional recoil and muzzle blast. But again, this is another factor which needs to be kept in perspective.

There are a lot of variables to felt recoil besides the velocity of the bullet. The amount of powder used, the shape of the rifle’s stock, the type of buttpad and whether the rifle has a muzzle brake are all factors that bear more significance than how much the velocity is boosted. 

Don’t ignore accuracy altogether, but don’t concentrate entirely on it and overlook other important factors when in search of the perfect game load.




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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.