This quick checklist will help you think about your own habits and aim to change them in order to give you the results you are looking for, and it also acts like a reminder on the topics covered.
These skills relate to rifle accuracy from a bench rest and in order to improve, you will want to aim for consistency, and also eliminating outside influences (namely the shooter) that limit the gun's capabilities. Poor groups are usually all about the "operator", and not the rifle.
Once you learn to recognize these 10 subtle mistakes, you will be able to self-correct and get tighter groups.
Check parallax before every shot
Parallax problems occur when your scope's objective and the reticle are not on the same focal plane, parallax error can be significant at longer ranges, and will affect shot placement. Just adjusting the parallax knob is not enough, it's also best to do a manual check by moving your head around to ensure the reticle doesn't move around. As you change ranges or the position of a shot, you need to re-check and remove parallax errors.
Unstable or moving rest
A stable rest is critical for consistent groups. Getting "low" or using a benchrest is the key here. Also, if the "rest" moves after every shot (which it can do under recoil), then you are forced to set up the next shot again, losing consistency. Get as stable as you can under the conditions, but don't expect a good group without a solid rest.
Shooting in poor conditions
You should try and zero your rifle in no wind and under good conditions, not too bright and hot. Having a rifle based off a "no wind" reading is important to being able to hold your shots correctly off a baseline. Also, shooting in the heat can mean big issues with "mirage", which makes shooting accurately harder through a scope, as well as having potential effects on the powder burn and associated muzzle velocity.
Inconsistent shoulder pressure
Shoulder pressure is hard to explain as it's different for everyone. Differing calibers, with differing recoil, need the appropriate pressure to control the shot. Higher recoiling rifles tend to need more shoulder pressure to keep a good group. The key is to try and calibrate in your mind, the pressure required for your rifle and to keep that amount consistent between every shot.
Poor trigger control
Again, consistency is key to the trigger "press". Try and have a smooth, clean break each time. Always pull your trigger finger directly to the rear and follow through after the shot. Do not snatch or jerk the trigger in a rush, use the same technique every time, no matter what is happening with the shot.
This is another issue that really opens up your groups. Different barrels and rifle calibers cause differing amounts of heat buildup, as does the weather and position of the rifle (i.e. better in the shade). Be aware how many shots you can fire between rest periods, allowing the rifle to cool back to a consistent performance. If you get vertical "shot stringing", then it can be a sign the barrel is too hot, and you have to wait between the next string of shots.
Poor follow through
You must control the urge to take your head off the gun and look downrange at the shot. Keep your head on the stock, and eyes on the target for 2s after the shot. Try and see the shot hit, and if you need to make adjustments, even with a spotter. Follow through also means running the bolt for the next shot without moving the rifle position, and keeping the trigger pull at the rear until the shot has impacted. This way, you avoid upsetting the rifle aim point during the shot.
Using the wrong ammo
It is amazing how differing ammunition can work in the same rifle. Many times one load will out perform another, especially if they are hand loads. Poor quality ammunition can be very inconsistent and inaccurate. Always use match quality ammo. or hand loads, if you can, in order to get quality consistent groups.
Check rifle cant before every shot
Rifle cant is a real issue, again at longer distances is where it has an effect. It can push your shots wide and you need to check it every shot, as it's very easy to cant the rifle with even a small body movement. Every rifle you own should have a bubble level on the scope or rail to allow you to make a quick "level check" before you pull the trigger.
Check natural point of aim before every shot
Not using NPA for every shot will be one of the biggest reasons for poor performance. You need to take the time to get that right, preferably having only a vertical component of your breathing (and reticle movement), allowing you to come back to the same on-target position every time at the respiratory pause point. If you get vertical "shot stringing" then that's a sign of poor breath control, and not finding the NPA after each shot.
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