RELOADERS CORNER: The Value of Accuracy

Can you take a focus on accuracy too far, or never far enough? Here are some thoughts on why better accuracy (really) matters…

Glen Zediker

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Anyone who has ever read one of my books knows the extent of tickiness that can be involved in handloading. Competitive shooters also tend to get pretty wrapped up and sometimes entrenched hopelessly in technical rifle details. All these things we do are done in the hope of better accuracy: smaller shot groups.

Why bother with tickiness? Well, the answer (always) depends on the level of tickiness afoot and on the level of reward we get from it. No other answer makes any sense.

Accuracy always matters. If you do something different or new in the handloading process and see better shot groups, that no doubt was worth it. Ultimately, it was worth it. It might have been upgrading tools, experimenting with components, one or more case prep steps you hadn’t tried before. It’s still always a payback over the expense, time, and effort. But. It’s another level, attaining another level. It’s stepped up. I’ve compared all this to other endeavors where attaining that new level forever eclipses the old. But then there’s also the time and the effort. When I load ammunition, I consider its purpose. I do not turn case necks for ammo that’s going through my old SP1 on a Sunday afternoon of tin can hunting with my sons. For that, I’m interested in volume and function: the best way to load a lot of .223 Rem. with bulk-packed bullets and ball gunpowder, and with the fewest number of steps. We need a lot of ammo because we have eradicated entire species of discarded objects.

But, let’s for the rest of this assume that the sole purpose is the smallest group sizes we can get, day in and day out. That’s easier to talk about and make sense of, because, no doubt, there are factors that influence it, and I do know what they are.

I’ve always judged accuracy by group size. No shock. Most people do it thataway. I’m also way on more concerned with the worst group my combination shows me than I am the best group. Not everyone views that the same. When it gets down to it, though, I want to know what the worst shot I can anticipate might be because that information is very valuable in adjusting for the next shot. Now I’m talking about shooting for score in a tournament.

I picture a circle that outlines the group size I warrant for my rifle/ammo combination. For my own purpose of clarity, I call it “the accuracy cone.” This circle gets bigger the farther I’m shooting. Shots outside that circle need correction, shots inside that probably don’t. Yes, no, I don’t always launch a perfect shot. So honesty matters, objective evaluation of the shot break.

Group ilustration
You are always shooting a group! You might be aiming at one point but you’re shooting a group. The aiming point is really the center of the group. That’s a “zero,” by the way, or that’s how to zero, but this is straying beyond the levee here. This drawing is a representation of the importance of smaller group sizes. One of the biggest helps that great accuracy provides is that it’s clear when there’s need for sight correction, and when there isn’t. The smaller circle the ammo covers on a target face, the more defining sight corrections can be. If that’s not clear: A perfect shot break on a correct sight setting at 600 yards from a 1 MOA combination means that a shot 3 inches left, right, up, or down away from target center is still a “perfect” shot, even though the perforation point was imperfect. With a 1/4 MOA combination, we’re defining “perfect” with more certainty, because “imperfect” is anything outside 1 inch of target center. Follow? This isn’t just theory.

Mathematically-oriented people may tell you (and I understand this) that testing with 3-round groups provides accurate feedback of a round’s performance. It has to do with probabilities and such. However! I believe too much in luck, or as Buddy Dave calls it, “The Bullet Fairy.” Math-folk will further tell you that the more rounds fired the bigger the shot groupings will become. I’ve seen many instances where that wasn’t true, where the first two or three rounds defined the outer edge of what ultimately became a 10-shot group. I can’t argue with math, but I can argue with myself to the point that I want to see more rounds, and more groups, before I cook up a big batch of a component combination and call it good, or call it “match ammo.”

If you are a competitive shooter, better accuracy helps you get all the points you hold for. We can’t, any of us, ask for more than that. If you are a varmint hunter, it means a close miss may become a hit. The smaller the target the more it matters, or the smaller the goal area on a target is. Aim small, miss small. So let’s miss smaller… Examples can continue, and they might involve a trophy elk in New Mexico, or something even more important to stop in its tracks. It’s doesn’t really matter if the target is 10 feet away, or 10 yards, or 1000 yards, a more accurate firearm is a more effective tool. You can’t miss! Or you sure don’t want to.

accuracy cone
This equals that. Accuracy, on-target group size, is a “cone” that gets wider, expands across distance. A 1/2-inch 100 yard gun is not a 5-inch 1000 yard gun. It shoots bigger than that. However! A solid load-test group like this one David Tubb fired at 288 yards held up on down the pike at 1000. Tip: velocity consistency is a key to keeping a group together at extended distances.

The value of accuracy is undeniable, but the value of time and effort and expense does indeed have a limit. No, I don’t do “everything” possible to my ammo to make it perfect. I have found a few things that really help, things that are reasonably (by my standards) good paybacks. Another tip: Get a good barrel! Honestly: that gets the most from whatever you do, or don’t do, to help the cause.

This article is adapted from Glen’s newest book, Top-Grade Ammo, available at Midsouth HERE. For more information on that and other books by Glen, visit

5 thoughts on “RELOADERS CORNER: The Value of Accuracy”

  1. Since this is an article on accuracy it must be okay to nitpick? I’ve recently attended an Appleseed Project refresher on fundamentals. It seems to me, the caption under the shot group picture is worded poorly. It starts with a 1 MOA example but uses the center of a circle as a point of reference. 1 MOA at 600 yards is a 6″ circle but if the point of reference is the center of the circle, then the distance to any point on that circle from the center is 3″ or 1/2 MOA which is the radius of the circle. The second example tries to magnify that effect but its unclear if the frame of reference is still the center of the circle. The math is that 1/4 MOA @ 600 yards = 1.5″. If the frame of reference is still the center of the circle, then the shot can only fall .75″ off center to describe a 1.5″ 1/4 MOA circle at 600 yards.

    Caption under two gentlemen and two targets comparing 288 yard accuracy to 1,000 yard accuracy implies MOA varies based on range. Huh? The statement I’m trying to understand is a 1/2 MOA gun at 100 yards is not a 5″ gun at 1,000 yards?? If the word used was “gunner” I would agree.
    Getting the math out of the way, 1 MOA at 1,000 yard is 10″ so 1/2 MOA at 1,000 yards would be 5″. Under ideal conditions, I would certainly expect 1/2 MOA performance to be consistent across any range. I thought that was fundamental, is it wrong? I get that we never shoot under ideal conditions but I would have thought the variations that change 1/2 MOA at 100 yards to something else at 1,000 yards are NOT the “Gun” or the ammo but real world variations / atmospheric conditions which have to be compensated for by a Skilled shooter. I recently observed an ARA match (.22LR @ 50 yards) and the shooters were using 4 “flags” to gauge the wind. I was shocked that at times the wind was behaving differently across all 4 flags in just 50 yards. I would hate for someone to read that caption and think that because they can shoot 1/2 MOA at 100 yards and they are not shooting 1/2 MOA at 1,000 yards it must be the guns fault and they need a new gun. While it’s not the intent, its possible to read it to say that just by changing his rifle he could “magically” shoot 1/2 MOA at 1,000 yards. The substance of the article is small imperfections add up to big changes at long distances and I’m just trying to help eliminate some small imperfections that might lead to gross misunderstanding in inexperienced shooters like myself.

    1. If you have done any long range shooting, you will realize what Glen was saying – or trying to say. There are many more variables that come into play at extended ranges than just wind, and a rifle/load combination which gives you a 1/2 MOA group at 100 yards (0.524 “) will not necessarily give you a 1/2 MOA group (5.24”) at 1000 yards – even in the absence of any wind whatsoever. Most competitors who shoot long range don’t even bother to test load development groups at 100 yards because it’s too short a distance to give you an accurate reading as to what the load will do at extended ranges. A VERY simplified way to put this is that many bullets have not “settled down” until they are past 300 yards. Sometimes the inverse is true – a load which shoots 1 MOA at 100 yards might shoot consistently 3/4 MOA at 300 – which intuitively does not make sense, I know. If you look up Hornady’s doppler radar research on plastic tipped bullets at extended ranges, this will give you a very good real world example of other “stuff” (non-technical term, LOL) that occurs at extended ranges that would not show up shooting test groups at 100 yards.

  2. Falkor Defense likes to call shooting one excellent group that may be considered “luck” as “riding the unicorn” cracks me up but its pretty accurate. Pun intended. They build awesome AR based rifles by the way!

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