Projectile Dysfunction

Shooting Tight Groups Requires More Than Just Good Loads

Want to shoot groups like this? Range time, and checking your
equipment plus your ammunition is a must.

With Labor Day weekend approaching, serious hunters are heading to the gun range to make sure their hunting handgun or rifle is properly sighted — which is no small undertaking for some folks.

I’ve shot deer with handguns and rifles, and a couple of them were moving, so it is incumbent on anybody planning to stop live game to know where his/her bullet is going, and where it will punch a hole when it gets there.

However, there is much more to it than just sending bullets downrange.

Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of hours at the loading bench, cranking out everything from .38 Specials to .30-06 buck busters. It’s not necessarily rocket science, but it is science of a sort. Measured loads, consistent bullet weights (yeah, I actually do weigh my rifle bullets, and recently started doing the same with cast lead handgun bullets), good brass and the right propellant all play a role.

So, if my groups (or yours) open up like spilled marbles, clearly something has gone wrong. This is what range time and patience are for.

September is the right time to get this sorted out because in October or November, if you’re a hunter and a buck or bull wanders into your line of sight, you’ll be making a cold bore shot in less than ideal conditions. Everything has to work properly.

Paper Plate Principle

Many years ago, I used to help out at the public “sight-in” days at the local gun range on the two weekends leading up to the deer season opener.

The prevailing wisdom in those days was if a shooter could hit a paper plate at 100 yards, he/she could probably hit a deer at that range. I witnessed some folks who could barely accomplish that feat. It was a combination of factors. They were using last year’s ammunition, which may have been rattling around in their truck for a year, or they hadn’t cleaned their gun since the previous autumn. Occasionally a loose scope or mount was involved, or someone’s iron sight was out of adjustment.

I once wrote half-seriously how I’d ask these goobers where they were planning to hunt, so I could make sure to go somewhere else.

Dave checked his rifle barrel by sliding a dollar bill along the barrel
channel when his loads suddenly began flying all over the target.

One evening I took a recently re-stocked rifle to check the zero, and my rounds were all over the paper. I double-checked the loads, went back to weigh the bullets and they all scaled within 0.10-grain of one another. The powder charges had been individually weighed and the brass was all the same brand.

Then it occurred to me to check if the barrel was somehow making contact with the stock. Slipping a dollar bill under the barrel, it got about halfway down the barrel channel and stopped. A session of light sanding solved the problem. About two months later on a hunt in southeast Wyoming, I used that rifle to conk a 4×5-point mule deer buck at a paced-off 250 yards.

Sometimes it’s you and sometimes it’s the gun. Other times, it just might be the ammunition. A rifle might shoot to a different point of impact with factory loads using different weight and type of bullets than handloads. It’s not projectile dysfunction; it’s just a variation of components. Use your prep time to solve or prevent a problem!

Dave’s S&W Model 19 has been known to conk a rabbit or grouse here and there,
and he spends time at the range to make sure this sixgun still puts ‘em in the X-ring.

On a mid-spring afternoon in 1997, I took a visiting pal to the range and we took turns firing a scoped Thompson/Center Contender in .223 Remington, hitting targets consistently with factory ammunition. It was a gun I was testing for a magazine article, topped with a good long eye relief pistol scope, and it was pleasingly accurate with some rounds, less so with others, depending upon the bullet weight.

Maybe just for the sake of having tried it, I hauled out my 6-inch Colt Python and, off a sandbag rest using a two-hand hold, I cut loose with a cylinder-full of .357 Magnum handloads pushing 125-grain JHPs ahead of, as I recall, a pretty stout load of then-Hercules 2400. At 200 yards, with my pal sitting to my right, my shots connected with a steel plate, which was a little larger than a robust human torso. The telltale “clink” never fibs.

In years hence, I’ve tried to repeat the performance with varying results (mostly negative!). So, in addition to a good gun and good bullets, and the right conditions, along with eyes that were 25 years younger than they are now, a little luck never hurts!

In the final analysis, whether you use factory ammunition or brew your own, it is essential to know where your bullet will strike, regardless what gun you’re shooting. For the rest of this month, focus on that one issue and you won’t be sorry. Things to look for:

• Loose scope mounts. Handgun scope mounts can loosen under repeated recoil, same as mounts on large-caliber rifles. It has happened to me, and it can have disastrous consequences.

• Sight alignment. If you’re using metallic sights, check to see if they’ve been knocked out of alignment, either windage or elevation. I’ve had the rear sight on a 1911 bumped over in the dovetail enough to throw shots. I’ve also had to readjust the rear sight on my Python when I went from shooting mild .38s used for targets to full-house .357s for carry in the backcountry.

• Loose stock, if you’re using a rifle. Don’t laugh. Once at the range, I encountered a fellow whose rifle stock had somehow come loose from the barrel and action; not much, but enough to muck up his marksmanship. A couple of turns with a screwdriver fixed it, but the guy had to completely re-zero his rifle.

S&W Fights Back

A few weeks ago, Smith & Wesson President and CEO Mark Smith released a stinging reaction to the Democrat-controlled House Oversight Committee’s subpoena demanding information on sales and production numbers of the company’s semi-automatic rifles.

This came after Smith did not appear at a committee hearing — some described it as a “kangaroo court” whose mission was to affix blame on gun companies for mass shootings and skyrocketing violent crime — along with Ruger’s Chris Killoy and Daniel Defense founder Marty Daniel.

In his bristling statement, Smith bluntly observed, “A number of politicians and their lobbying partners in the media have recently sought to disparage Smith & Wesson. Some have had the audacity to suggest that after they have vilified, undermined and defunded law enforcement for years, supported prosecutors who refuse to hold criminals accountable for their actions, overseen the decay of our country’s mental health infrastructure, and generally promoted a culture of lawlessness, Smith & Wesson and other firearm manufacturers are somehow responsible for the crime wave that has predictably resulted from these destructive policies. But they are the ones to blame for the surge in violence and lawlessness, and they seek to avoid any responsibility for the crisis of violence they have created by attempting to shift the blame to Smith & Wesson, other firearm manufacturers and law-abiding gun owners.”

Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, weighed in: “We think Mark Smith speaks for the entire firearms community, from manufacturers on down to individual gun owners who are tired of being the whipping boys for congressional gun grabbers. For decades, Democrat anti-gunners have scapegoated gun makers and gun owners for their own ineptness in preventing crime and keeping our communities safe.”

Beaver State Blues

The Oregon Firearms Federation (OFF) is in full battle mode, fighting to defeat Ballot Measure 114 in November.

In an alert to Beaver State gun owners, OFF warned, “The measure essentially ends the sale of all firearms in Oregon for the foreseeable future and bans the sales of most shotguns and all standard capacity magazines forever.”

“You will need a ‘permit’ to buy any firearm which will require a class that may only be taught by police,” the alert added, “which virtually no police agency will be able to provide, and all your private information will be in a published database.”

OFF created a PAC to fight the measure, which may be the only gun control issue on any ballot anywhere in the U.S. this year. To learn more about the PAC, visit

Oregon grassroots activists are in a serious fight. If this can happen in Oregon, it can happen next year where you live. It’s eight weeks until the Nov. 8 election, and this will be one issue to watch because a victory will only embolden the gun prohibition lobby to try it elsewhere.

Criminal Cultivation

Want to know how to cultivate a budding criminal career? Treat a suspect like the judicial system did recently in Seattle, a city where — according to some critics — the criminal element seems to be in charge.

The Seattle Police Blotter occasionally offers educational reading, and the case involving a 16-year-old suspected drug dealer provides a textbook example of court coddling.

Back on July 19, Seattle’s finest arrested — after the obligatory foot chase — the teen, who had been observed allegedly selling what turned out to be fentanyl at the corner of 3rd Avenue and Pike, a location so notorious for drug sales it might qualify as a toxic site. The suspect not only had a bunch of pills and a wad of cash in his pockets, he was also packing a .40-caliber Ruger semi-auto pistol. It’s safe to say he didn’t purchase that gun legally.

While the prosecutor asked for jail, the judge released this kid following his first court appearance.

Skip ahead about three weeks. It’s now Aug. 4, and right there big as life, at the same street corner, is our hero, once again allegedly peddling illegal drugs. Once again there was a foot pursuit. This time, the suspect allegedly had cash, pills and a 9mm GLOCK pistol.

Once again, the prosecutor’s office wanted the teen held, and once again, the judge released him, and at last check, he had been fitted with an ankle monitor.

I read the charging documents in both cases. It was not explained where or how this fellow acquired two different handguns, but it was explained in both documents how packing heat at age 16 in Washington State is a violation of law.

If a judge releases a teenager on two drug/gun related beefs within three weeks of one another, who is responsible for any other crimes the suspect commits?

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