January 03, 2011
Acceptable handgun accuracy is a topic that is always hotly debated.
Acceptable handgun accuracy is a topic that is always hotly debated.
Acceptable" accuracy has a different meaning for different shooters. To find the level of accuracy that puts you at the top of your shooting discipline you will need to spend plenty of time at the shooting range.
It would help if we could define exactly what "acceptable" means. But that word has a different meaning to different shooters. The bullseye shooter wants the tightest groups possible so that he will be guaranteed of winning the pistol match. The handgun hunter wants to be able to bring down that trophy buck with one well-placed shot. And the fellow who packs a defensive handgun just wants to be able to get home alive.
When I got into police work PPC competition was all the rage. We soon found that a quality DA revolver could be tuned up and carefully mated to a target handload with the expectations of delivering 1-inch groups at 25 yards from a sandbag rest. Bullseye shooters came to expect the same thing from their 1911 target pistols after they had been treated to the loving care of custom pistolsmiths such as Jimmy Clark and Armond Swenson. Some folks even attempted their own accuracy tune-up on their .45 autos.
They would tighten the slide and frame rail fit until the slightest burr or foreign particle would cause the slide to fail to go completely into battery. These same shade-tree gunsmiths would file on the 1911's sear until the point that when the slide release was tripped the hammer would follow it forward. I suspect these efforts to improve accuracy are what gave the 1911 pistol the undeserved reputation for being unreliable. Mind you, all of this was being done whilst in the chase for tight groups and greater accuracy.
But I'm not all that convinced 1-inch groups at 25 yards are really needed.
In handgun hunting we can pretty well say that the hunter's maximum practical range is that range at which he can keep all of his shots inside an 8-inch circle. When that circle is centered on the shoulder of a whitetail buck, a black bear, or an elk, the handgunner's shots will be going into the critter's boiler room.
The defensive handgunner will also do quite nicely if he keeps his shots inside an 8-inch circle. To demonstrate this point just stick a picnic plate on a silhouette target and you'll see what I mean. The center of that circle ought to be just about where the second button on a man's shirt would be. Proper defensive ammunition, dropped into that circle, should do the job just about every time. (If it doesn't, the bad guy's probably wearing a ballistic vest.)
But while 1-inch groups may not have the practical value that some might think, they can have a great deal of psychological value. A pistol/ammo combination that gives good tight groups can be a real confidence builder.
Imagine sitting in your deer blind when that 150-class whitetail buck steps out at about 35 paces. Imagine further that you've got your Ruger .44 Magnum Blackhawk handy. That same Ruger .44 Magnum with its tuned action and carefully selected hunting ammunition. That same gun you've practiced with and know that you can deliver your hunting load into 1.25 to 1.75 inches at that range. That's the kind of confidence I'm talking about. The kind that says, "Mr. Buck, if I want you, you're mine!"
The same is certainly true for the person who carries a handgun for defensive purposes. A violent encounter is assuredly not a nice thing. It is, in fact, an experience to be avoided if at all possible. But imagine you're carrying a handgun that is capable of putting your defensive ammunition into 1.25 inches at 25 yards.
And, further, you are carrying the same handgun that you just used last weekend to win your regional IDPA match. When the balloon goes up and you turn to deal with a deadly threat, your thoughts should be, "They told me this might happen...I had hoped it wouldn't happen...but I know what to do about it." An accurate handgun will go a long way towards helping you develop this sort of winning mindset.
Getting To That Accuracy Goal
Developing accuracy with a particular handgun usually requires a series of procedures. I would begin by having the gun tuned up. I want it to have sights, not necessarily adjustable, that are easy to see. And I want it to have a light, clean-breaking trigger; 3-4 pounds is usually about right.
In an autoloading pistol I want the slide rails, barrel, and barrel bushing, if there is one, to be mated for smooth, reliable function.
In a revolver it's important that the chamber throats of the cylinder be very closely matched to the barrel diameter. If I plan to shoot a lot of cast-bullet loads I will also have the barrel throat opened to about 11 degrees. All of these functions will allow a bullet of the proper diameter to travel smoothly from the cylinder through the barrel without distortion.
The next step is to carefully select the ammunition that will be used. The shooter must first decide which bullet weight and velocity he wants and find the most accurate load, factory or handload, in that category. There's no quick fix to this task. You're going to put a lot of lead downrange.
Finally, you become a part of the practical accuracy equation. Make sure you are holding the gun the same way for each shot. It's amazing how much a change of grip can change group size and location. Also, when shooting from sandbags, or any other kind of rest, I don't recommend letting any part of the handgun touch any part of the rest. I hold the handgun in a two-hand hold and rest my forearms on the sandbags. I don't want the gun smacking into anything while I am trying to obtain an accurate group.
Sometimes it's not as much about an accurate handgun as it is becoming a more accurate shot. Several years ago, a handgun manufacturer sent the same .44 Magnum revolver to me, Layne Simpson, and a third writer for gun test articles in our various magazines. None of us knew that we were testing the same gun (I only found out after the fact). In our separate reports Layne and I pretty well scored the .44 Magnum the same.
We used similar ammo, at similar ranges, and obtained similar accuracy results. This was a pretty nice, accurate sixgun. The third writer reported terrible groups and poor accuracy and just really didn't have too much good to say about this particular handgun. I've often wondered if the gun just suddenly got bad or if the writer might have needed to spend a bit more time on the shooting range.
By now you should realize that there are a lot of factors involv
ed in this business of handgun accuracy. And it is not an issue that will be resolved with one 30-minute stint at the shooting range. Start with a fine-tuned, well-fitted handgun. Shoot enough ammo to find the bullet weight and velocity your gun seems to like best. And, finally, develop a personal shooting style that encourages continuity and accuracy.
This search for an accurate handgun will take time at the shooting bench and many trips to the gun range. So, let me see...you're going to go to the range more often, you're going to shoot more ammo and a larger variety of ammo, and you're going to improve your shooting skills. And you're doing all of this for the sake of improving accuracy. If there's a downside to this plan, I can't find it.
See you on the range.