Accuracy: It's All Relative
May 09, 2019
Many years ago, I had a Sako 6 PPC that would, with Sako factory ammunition, print quarter-inch groups so reliably that I was sorely disappointed if one ballooned past a half-inch. That was one supremely accurate factory rifle. It also was, in short order, extremely boring.
More recently, I’ve been shooting a Stevens rifle chambered for .25-20 Single Shot—a target rifle that was, in its day, comparable in reputation to that Sako—and at one point I could not get it to put a hole in a foot-square target at 15 yards. Fifteen yards.
I would have fallen to my knees in gratitude if the Stevens had put five shots anywhere on a target at 100 yards, with the bullets flying straight and not keyholing. That would have constituted gratifying accuracy.
Years ago, I had a friend who was a serious benchrest shooter and long-range varmint hunter. His passion for the .220 Swift was almost indecent. One day, he walked into the local diner and announced that he had just purchased a Winchester ’95 in .38-72 and had a set of loading dies on the way. That rifle shot patterns, not groups—about Light Mod, according to one witness—but my pal was determined he was going to get it shooting to big-game accuracy and go deer hunting.
When I questioned him, he confessed he felt he’d gone about as far as he could go with the .220 Swift and his benchrest rifles. He wanted a change of pace and was sure the .38-72 would provide it. Indeed it would. After months of waiting, he finally received his custom dies, was casting suitable bullets, learning how to fashion his own brass, and reported that he was getting the occasional group at 100 yards that measured under a foot. Not bad, he thought, with iron sights. It was measurable progress, and that was really all he wanted.
Since my experience with the Sako 6 PPC in the early 1990s, universal standards of accuracy have changed dramatically. At that time, Kenny Jarrett’s guarantee of half-inch groups with his rifles and tailored ammunition was radical; today, every other rifle company is making such a guarantee. (In my experience, only Jarrett rifles have actually delivered, but that’s a different issue.)
Instead of being an almost unattainable goal, half-inch groups have become the minimum acceptable standard—not for benchrest, which is far beyond that, but for everyday hunting rifles. At the same time—and here is the contradiction—such groups need only be three shots, not the five-shot standard of the 1960s or the 10-shot standard of 1910. On the one hand, we toughen the standard, while on the other, we ease off on the difficulty of getting there, which, it seems to me, pretty much renders the whole process pointless.
The Stevens target rifle I mentioned is a Model 47 “Modern Range” Schützen rifle built on the No. 44½ action more than a century ago. Such rifles were capable of extraordinary accuracy. Author Gerald O. Kelver wrote of a friend’s rifle—this one a .28-30—that could be counted on to hit a half-dollar at 100 yards, 10 shots out of 10. He also quoted the guarantee issued by Milton Farrow with each of his target rifles: 10 consecutive shots into a 4.0-inch circle at 200 yards. For higher grades, Stevens guaranteed 10 shots in a 3.5-inch circle.
If that seems mediocre, consider this: That equates to 10 shots into 1.75 inches at 100 yards, and there are very, very few modern factory rifles that will do that.
As for my Stevens, we progress. It will now plant shot after shot into a standard target at 100 yards, and the groups are tightening as I vary the velocity, bullet temper, width of driving bands, and powder type. One of these days, it may meet Farrow’s standard. If it doesn’t, I will have had a lot of fun trying—far more than I ever got shooting the Sako 6 PPC into one predictable quarter-inch group after another.