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Accuracy Vs. Precision

Accuracy Vs. Precision

We American shooters have some of our terms confused, and I blame it on gun’riters — myself included. Here’s the gist of it. We often talk about how accurate our pistols and revolvers are. That is a misnomer. The pure mechanical ability of a pistol or revolver to place one bullet closely to another with little or no human influence is actually its precision capability. A subfactor to that is the quality of ammunition you feed it. To paraphrase computer-speak: It’s “junk in/ junk out” in regards to ammunition, whether it be handloads or factory loads.

Accuracy is the ability of the shooter to actually place a bullet to the spot at which he aimed. In simple terms — hitting with it. Factors to be considered in accurate shooting are the quality of the handgun and ammunition, but also the fit of the grip to a shooter’s hand, recoil and noise, ability to see the sights and the level of skill possessed by the shooter.

If I’m shooting an issue Model 1911 model, it’s a fact its hammer will draw blood from the web of my shooting hand time after time. The time frame with which I will shoot accurately with that pistol is limited to how long I can stand hammer bite. Conversely, if I wrap a piece of tape — even a Band-Aid — over that area, I can shoot a stock 1911 all day without becoming inaccurate with it.

A revolver like Freedom Arms’ .454 Casull is a similar but different matter. Those big 5-shooters are incredibly precise when fired from a bench or machine rest, but I’m able to get about two rounds out before I become hopelessly inaccurate with one. Their immense recoil and noise take their toll on me quickly, even though I’ve been firing centerfire handguns since 1966.

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Duke says his accuracy potential with Model 1911’s is limited, due to their drawing
blood from his hand. If that area of his hand is pre-bandaged he can shoot 1911’s
accurately for long periods of time.

Groups?

It’s my feeling “shooting for groups” probably came about in the 20th century. I have never found a reference to shooting groups — either with rifles or handguns — in first person accounts from the 19th century. In fact almost all references to shooting handguns accurately from that era talk about firing them offhand — standing and using only one hand. In fact, at least until the Korean War and likely longer, I know US Army and Marine Corps troops were trained to shoot their handguns 1-handed, standing.

Without proof to back me up — but with over 50 years of studying the matter — I think the idea of group shooting came about when people started writing about guns in periodicals. There needed to be some method by which they could evaluate the quality of the test gun. To stand up and shoot a newly introduced handgun with one hand didn’t prove much about it unless the shooter was a world-class shot, and the readers knew it. Most writers were not world-class shots, so group shooting evolved as a way to quantify one part of the overall quality of a gun.

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When the human factor is removed from handgun testing then the
tester is determining its “precision” capability — not its accuracy.

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Although this group proves the handgun firing it is capable of good precision …
… accurate shooting with it would be difficult because it’s not sighted in properly.

Stand And Deliver

When embarking on my gun’riting career over 40 years ago, one of the first accessories I bought was a machine rest. That was because I knew trying to fire big bore, especially magnum big bore handguns, from a sandbag benchrest would gain me no usable information. I was just not a good enough shot, or better said — the longevity of my skill was not up to lengthy shooting sessions. I tested handguns for their precision but actually wrote it up by referring to the level of “accuracy” they were delivering in terms or 5-, 10- or even 12-shot groups on paper. I just didn’t know better.

What is ironic is at that time I was an above average 1- or 2-handed offhand pistol or revolver shot. For recreation in those early years I used to set up paper targets at 25 yards and strive to deliver every bullet into the black bullseye. I even did that practice only loading the handgun (any handgun) one round at a time. Without actually knowing it I was striving to be “accurate” with those handguns.

Of course my writing is not going to switch things around. We’re not suddenly going to change terminology. But I’d like to stress an important point. No one ever developed the hand/eye coordination to deliver bullets to point-of-aim by spending hour upon hour behind a machine rest or in shooting groups from a sandbag rest. That skill comes from standing up — and shooting with your hands.
By Mike “Duke” Venturino
Photos By Yvonne Venturino

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